A man’s home may be his castle, but men spend more time looking at their face than their front door thanks to that morning ritual called shaving. Shaving complications are not uncommon. Fortunately most cuts, bumps and rashes related to shaving are minor.
Local dermatologists concur that the most serious shaving malady they encounter is pseudofolliculitis barbae. The sine qua non is a shaved face populated by dozens to hundreds of ingrown, irritated hairs causing a crop of small inflammatory nodules called razor bumps. With repeated close shaving over these small bumps, bacteria move into these inflamed ingrown hair nodules causing troublesome infections.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae begins as freshly shaved hairs take an immediate twist as they grow out from a shaven area doubling back into the skin rather than growing straight. This condition is much more common for black men with thicker and curlier beards, especially if they have inherited a specific gene that runs in families that confers the sudden curl on reemerging shaved hairs.
“I have that Mississippi sensitive, fragile skin. If I shave my neck closely against the direction of my beard growth, I develop pseudofolliculitis barbae. Us pinks get it too,” says Dr. John Yarborough, now retired but affectionately known as the emeritus “big bunny rabbit” dermatologist of New Orleans.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae can be an aggravating condition to manage with continued shaving. The irritated bumps go away if the person stops shaving. An electric razor is sometimes kinder to skin surfaces for folks prone to pseudofolliculitis barbae, but some men need to avoid shaving altogether resorting to just a close trim if not a beard.
“Pseudofolliculitis barbae can lead to keloids. I have treated black males with keloids at the back of their neck where their barbers have shaved closely over time,” says Dr. William Coleman III, a local dermatologist who’s also editor of the peer-reviewed journal published by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Keloids are claw-like growths of abnormal skin that grow over and above normal skin as expanding scars around areas of irritation or trauma. Again, there’s a strong genetic predisposition to keloid formation.
Irritated areas of blotched red skin after shaving in the absence of raised bumps is what most folks call razor burn. These minor skin rashes are more common on the neck than on the face, and those prone to such rashes qualify for the sensitive skin label. Most men shave against the direction of hair growth to achieve a closer shave. Those prone to razor burn on the neck should try shaving just with the direction of the hair growth or maybe switch to an electric razor.
All sorts of theories abound on why men remove facial hair in the first place. The one I like is war-based. A beard is a readily available appendage that can be grabbed by enemy in battle. Cavemen raked sharp pieces of flint or broken shells to scrape off facial hair. Julius Caesar used tweezers to clear his face before battle. The introduction of the straight carbon steel razors simplified the task by the 1800s, as surgeons and barbers comingled their training and skills ushering in the sartorial revolution.
Shaving as an industry began in Boston in the early 1900s. The Gillette Safety Razor Company opened a factory to manufacture safety razors with the double-edged disposable blade your grandfather used. Initial sales were sluggish, and then came World War I. The chemically savvy Germans turned deadly gases into battlefield weapons, and gas masks became de rigueur for our troops. Gas masks didn’t have a good fit over beards so the military turned to Gillette. The returning victorious and clean-shaven Doughboys vaulted Gillette into the forefront of American commerce.
More recent shaving options exponentially increased decision-making for men. Since the 1991 debut of twin-blade cartridges, the blade count continues to rise. In ’98 Gillette introduced the three-blade Mach III, a continued best seller. Schick countered with the four-blade Quattro. Gillette then upped the ante by two with the Fusion, six blades in all with five parallel for the beard and an accessory single blade for sideburns. But other options complicate the selection process – handle design, fixed or pivoting head, lubricating strips and battery-powered vibration.
To sort out all these conundrums of which razor had the edge and to sort out all the shaving creams and lathers, I turned to male dermatologists. Yes, I realize women dermatologists are just as knowledgeable as their male colleagues, but most females don’t shave their faces. Besides, male dermatologists, while obviously not extinct, do seem to be a declining species since those days when doctors Betty McBurney and Nia Terezakis were local gender pioneers.
Using names from the American Academy of Dermatologists “find a dermatologist” website, I spent a couple of hours calling around. The ones I reached weren’t a randomized sampling of male dermatologists in the area. I abandoned attempts to reach those surrounded by more than two telephone prompts to press this or that button or if waiting music or repeating messages became irritating.
Only a couple of the dermatologists could recite the actual commercial name of their razor or shaving cream preference. I used their description to assign a brand name for each (see box). As goes the nation, so go area dermatologists. Gillette led the survey with their two- and three-blade models being the most popular. Next in popularity were various electric razors. Schick three and four blade models brought up the rear.
“I have had a couple of hot towel shaves at Adrian Gill,” said Dr. Yarborough revealing his secret shaving vice. “I get in a high swoon lying back in that chair letting them shave away for 30 or 40 minutes. Getting messed over and made over like that is a fine treat.”
Leaving the Shaving to Cesar
My vote for the top $40 thrill in town for any man is a shave by Cesar Rivera. His Magazine Street Barber Shop (4224 Magazine St., 267-7823, MagazineStBarberShop.com) is exactly that, a three chair traditional barbershop, not a retail store for expensive shaving supplies with a few barber chairs tucked into the rear.
Late one recent Saturday afternoon, Cesar showed me around. An antique Premium Sterilizer was gurgling with boiling water as steam saturated the mounds of shaving towels. A latherizer machine nearby was primed to pump hot, creamy lather at the touch of a button.
“A warning, this is a hot towel shave, not a warm one,” said Rivera who cautioned me to keep my eyes closed as he smothered my face with a steaming towel leaving a nose hole for breathing. One hot towel, another hot towel, a rubdown with the hot lather and then the first pass with the razor. Another hot towel, an application of Cesar’s secret formula shave oil, a fourth hot towel and more razor passes with and against the direction of beard growth.
“I use a new Mach 3 blade for each customer. I like the way the pivoting head glides across the skin unlike the less forgiving straight razor. I do like the straight razor for touchup, but the one I use isn’t a real straight razor. It is a disposable single blade,” Rivera said as he zeroed in on my sideburns and neck area.
“Then I apply shave balm and finish with a fifth hot towel. The sixth and last towel comes from the freezer. It closes the pores and brings back the elasticity to the warmed skin. And, if you’ve fallen to sleep, it wakes you right up.”
Local Dermatologists Share Their Favorite Shaving Accessories
Name: Martin Claiborne, MD, Uptown
Razor: Schick Hydro 3, three blades with water-activated skin conditioners
Shaving cream: Barbasol, cheaper the better
Comments: "I believe the three-bladed Schick is the least irritating and longest lasting for a thick beard."’
Name: William Coleman, III, MD, Harahan
Razor: Gillette Atra, twin-blade with a rotating head
Shaving cream: "Whatever my wife brings home"
Comments: "The blade probably makes little difference unless there are ingrown hair or chronic rash problems."
Name: Robert DeBellevue, MD, Kenner
Razor: Schick Quattro, four blades for shaving with a separate lagniappe edging blade
Shaving Cream: Aveeno Shave Gel
Comments: "Some Aesop Moroccan Neroli Shaving Serum from Australia for a splurge. Expensive but nice."
Name: Eric M. Finley, MD, Uptown
Razor: Gillette Sensor Excel, a popular double blade around since 1993
Shaving Cream: Neutrogena Shave Gel
Comments: "Guys have less wrinkles in the beard area later in life due to peeling or exfoliating effect of shaving."
Name: Robert Jones, MD, Marrero
Razor: electric razor from Wal-Mart
Shaving Cream: None
Comments: "I have a beard but no mustache so I don't have much to shave."
Name: Ricardo Martinez, MD, Metairie
Razor: Gillette Mach 3, three blades angled for a close shave with minimal strokes
Shaving Cream: Old Spice Regular Foam in the red can
Comments: "I am Cuban with delicate skin but a tough beard… If I go on a trip I take a Braun as it cuts down on the liquids getting through security. "
Name: Lee Nesbitt, MD, Metairie
Razor: Gillette Mach 3 or Sensor 3
Shaving Cream: Noxzema Sensitive Skin Shave Cream
Comments: "Contact dermatitis can be a problem with some aftershave lotions and fragrances."
Name: Edward Petard, MD, Lakeview
Razor: Gillette Fusion, Gillette Fusion, five blades for the beard and a sixth blade for the sideburns
Shaving Cream: Edge Gel lathered into a foam
Comments: "I'm a foam sorta guy. My Gillette Fusion gives a close shave with few nicks."
Name: Jeffrey Poole, MD, Metairie
Razor: Gillette Mach3
Shaving Cream: Gillette Series Sensitive Skin Shave Foam
Comments: "Three blades or less are better… Cold water gives a tad closer shave than hot since skin contracts."
Name: Richard Sherman, MD, Uptown
Razor: Gillette Sensor Excel with its pivotal head
Shaving Cream: Aveeno Fragrance Free Shave Gel
Comments: "I prefer not using the three to four blades razors."
Name: Eric Tabor, MD, Slidell
Razor: Electric but "I don't know the brand."
Shaving Cream: None
Comments: "Why do you want to know all this? Call coming in. Gotta go."
Name: Michael Weil, MD, Slidell
Razor: Gillette Fusion
Shaving Cream: Aveeno Fragrance Free Shave Gel
Comments: "Those single or double blades tend to tug or pull."