Barber's itch, also called sycosis barbae, is an inflammatory condition of hair follicles in the beard area of the face. It is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and becomes aggravated by shaving or rough fabrics. Barber's itch is a variation of Folliculitis, the general term used for infection of the hair follicles.
The infection is usually characterized by a small-white pus-filled pimples around the tiny pockets of one or more hair follicles. It is usually mild, however, itching can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. On some occasions, it is painful too.
Mild folliculitis clears up on its own within a few days. However, severe infection may cause scarring and permanent loss of hair. Deep recurring infection might require medical treatment.
Usually, barber's itch is caused by a Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The bacterial invasion mostly occurs when you have damaged hair follicles. Damaged hair follicles can be caused by the following:
¢ Excessive shaving or tight clothing
¢ Excessive sweating
Although anyone can develop, certain risk factors make them more vulnerable, such as:
- Medical conditions which suppress your resistance to infection, such as chronic leukemia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and organ transplantation
- Skin trauma from injury or surgery
- Preexisting skin conditions such as dermatitis and acne
- Long-term antibiotic acne therapies
- Topical corticosteroid therapy
- Being overweight or obese
- Prolonged usage of heat-trapping clothing such as waders and high boots
- Bathing in hot water
Signs and Symptoms
Barber's itch is usually marked by an itchy, small white pus-filled pimples in the beard area of the face. It usually occurs when men begin shaving that causes scarring and makes the skin susceptible to bacterial invasion and infection. Small pustules appear at first on the upper lip, chin and jaw, then become more prevalent as shaving continues.
Mild cases of barber's itch may not cause serious complications. However, severe cases can cause furunculosis (larger red bumps that are more painful), scarring and permanent hair loss.
Test and Diagnosis
Barber's itch is usually diagnosed based on the general appearance of the skin. In some cases, a microbial culture of the pus may be sent to the laboratory to determine presence of bacteria. In some cases, a small skin biopsy may be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment and Drugs
Barber's itch usually disappears on its own in about a few weeks. However, persistent and recurring infection will likely require treatment. Treatment varies depending on the severity of the infection. In most cases, a topical or oral antibiotic cream is prescribed. Your doctor may also recommend to avoid shaving in the area during the entire course of treatment or until the infection heals. If you must shave, electric razor or clean razor blade is recommended.
If the infection becomes so severe and keeps coming back, laser treatment may be an option.
For those who do not prefer using medications, there are many ways to prevent barber's itch or keep it from spreading:
¢ Use mild antibacterial soap during bath or shower. Bath or shower after vigorous activities to avoid oils from building up inside the skin pores.
¢ Avoid sharing towels, washcloths, or other personal items. Make sure also that towel used on the face is always clean.
¢ Avoid scratching the bumps.
¢ Avoid shaving the bumps. If you must shave, change the razor blade each time.
¢ Avoid using oils on your skin. Oils can trap bacteria in the pores of your skin and can cause folliculitis.