Health & Fitness

Help! My Barber Gave Me an Infection

Close up of a man’s hair seen through a
Close up of a man’s hair seen through a magnifying glass. FILE PHOTO 

Most Kenyan men dedicate a good portion of their grooming time at the barber’s. Although standards of hygiene have improved over the years, there are some skin problems that one can still pick from the barbershop.

Fungal skin problems

Fungal skin problems, popularly known as ‘mashilingi’ or scalp ringworms, can be picked up from a barbershop.

This happens when the barber shaves your head or wipes you with a towel used on a person with ringworms. Fungus is very hardy and can survive normal cleaning methods popularly used in most barbershops.

How to reduce fungal skin problems:


Insist that the barber uses a fresh towel. Ask him/her to show you what he uses to clean his equipment. If he uses only soap and water, it may not be sufficient. Ensure that the cleaning product has the ability to destroy all germs, including fungi. If you are not sure or comfortable with the cleaning techniques, take your own shaver and towel to the barber.


This is thought to be a problem for young children especially those in boarding schools. However, men pick these parasites from barbershops. Usually, these bugs are passed on through use of dirty brushes and combs. Although it is more common on the scalp, these parasites can invade the beard as well.

How to avoid lice:

Usually, this responsibility lies with the barber. He/she should not shave a customer with head or beard lice as it can spread to all his other clients. If you accidentally shave a person and find that they have lice, clean the equipment with medicated solutions designed to kill lice and destroy their eggs. These are available in most supermarkets. If you have a brush or any other equipment that cannot be properly cleaned, discard it.

Razor bumps

These can occur on both the beard and scalp (the medical name for this is pseudofolliculitis barbae and pseudofolliculitis nuchae respectively). These painful, itchy pimples either occur on the scalp or beard after shaving. On the scalp, they tend to occur at the back of the head. These pimples are actually ingrown hairs.

An ingrown hair is one that grows inward back into the skin instead of outwards. It tends to be more common in men of African descent. Although it can occur after any mode of hair removal, it is more common after shaving. Razor bumps can also occur in the armpit and groin.

Razor bumps cause skin irritation because the body treats the ingrown hair as a foreign body and reacts to it. It can cause the surrounding skin to darken and have even been associated with infection (the pimple looks whitish and is painful). Most cases of ingrown hairs clear on their own.

Why do black men get razor bumps more often?

Curly hair has a curved follicle that has a greater predisposition to curve inward when growing back after a shave.

Mistakes by the barber that cause razor bumps

  • Pulling the skin during shaving: This allows the cut hair to recoil back into the skin and grown inward instead of outwards.
  • Shaving against the direction of hair growth.
  • Poor tweezing technique can leave a bit of hair under the skin surface.
  • Giving you an unlubricated shave.
  • Using a blunt razor.

Complications of razor bumps

Most razor bumps clear completely if properly cared for. However, one can get permanent scarring (keloids) from poorly managed razor bumps. In addition, severe skin infections can occur due to poor skin care regimens.

Shaving tips to help avoid razor bumps

  • Wash the skin with warm water before shaving.
  • Use a mild cleanser or soap to avoid irritation when washing the skin.
  • A warm towel compress applied to the face or scalp may also be helpful during a shave.
  • Avoid dry shaving; instead apply a lubricating shaving cream before you shave. If you do not like using shaving creams, a mild soap may be used.
  • Do not pull the skin tightly when shaving.
  • Always use a sharp blade to shave.
  • Shave in the direction that the hair grows.
  • Use light strokes when shaving.
  • If you are using a manual shaver, rinse the blade regularly (preferably after each stroke).
  • Rinse the skin thoroughly after shaving.
  • Apply moisturiser or lotion after the shave.
  • It may also be useful to regularly exfoliate the skin between shaves (if you do not wish to use commercial exfoliating products, you can opt for a soft face towel and use it to gently rub off dead skin).
  • Switching to an electric razor may be useful in reducing ingrown hairs.
  • If you are using an electric shaver, hold it slightly away from the skin.
  • If you opt to use hair removal creams, ensure that they do not irritate the skin.
  • Laser hair removal is available locally but is quite expensive. In addition, care should be taken when selecting this as the hair removal technique can cause skin darkening, blisters and scars.

What to do

Most razor bumps clear within one to six months. If you have a severe case, visit your dermatologist who may provide various creams that reduce skin irritation and remove dead skin cells. Once the razor bumps have cleared, consider changing your shaving technique.


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