Ingrown beard hairs (pseudofolliculitis barbae) is inflammation caused by hairs that curl so that the tips puncture the skin.
This hair disorder most often occurs in the beard area of black men with tightly curled hair who shave. It can also occur in women who shave, especially in the groin area. Each ingrown hair results in a tiny, mildly painful pimple with a barely visible hair curling into the center. Scarring can result.
Doctors diagnose the condition by its typical appearance.
Treatment involves teasing the tips of any ingrown hairs out of the skin with the point of a needle or sharp tweezers. If there is much inflammation, doctors sometimes give low potency topical steroids or an antibiotic cream or pill. Benzoyl peroxide creams and retinoid creams can be helpful as well.
The best preventive treatment is to stop shaving and grow the beard. When the hairs are longer, they do not curl back and puncture the skin.
A man who does not want a beard can use a depilatory (a liquid or cream preparation that removes unwanted hair), although it often irritates the skin. Also, hair can be permanently removed with electrolysis or with laser treatment (see Noncancerous Skin Growths: Growths and Malformations of the Vessels). People who must shave should wet the beard first and should shave in the same direction in which the hair grows. People should avoid shaving closely with multiple razor strokes. Applying eflornithine cream may help by slowing hair growth.
Last full review/revision September 2012 by Wendy S. Levinbook, MD