The razor's edge
For some men, shaving is not an option
June 15, 1996
Web posted at: 3:30 p.m. EDT
By Correspondent Jonathan Lynch
(CNN) -- It's a man's ritual. A kind of modern sacrificial rite to welcome the sunrise.
Like the drugged victims of the ancient Aztecs, we enter the ritual sleepy, with a shadowy face and droopy eyes. We paint our faces with white foam, or perhaps some eerie green translucent gel, then out comes the blade.
Slowly, steadily -- for to botch the ritual could have dire cosmetic consequences -- we bring the blade up to the throat, and cut.
But nothing dies, except perhaps a few skin cells. I'm not talking about human sacrifice, just shaving.
For most men, it's no big deal. We are willing to risk a nick here and there, in order to look our best. It's a part of the corporate culture to be clean shaven, well groomed and well dressed. Some companies even make this image a job requirement, and that's where some problems come in.
Shaving can be painful and disfiguring for men who suffer from pseudofolliculitis. It's a crooked hair disorder in which whiskers make a U-turn. They either come to the surface and grow back into the skin, or poke through the side of the hair follicle and never make it to the surface. Curly haired men are most likely to experience these ingrown hairs.
When the hair enters the skin, the immune system treats it as a foreign body and responds to the intrusion by swelling, producing puss cells and eventually forming a cyst. This sounds pretty bad, and can be rather painful. Simply removing the ingrown hair is normally sufficient treatment.
Experts believe that about half of men with curly hair sometimes experience these symptoms, and they can usually be prevented by shaving very carefully, or using an electric razor. But sometimes, especially in men of African descent, the problem can be much worse.
This is a man we'll call "Edward" -- he prefers that we not use his real name.
The scar on his neck is a keloid. It occurs when the skin is cut or scraped, and instead of growing back properly, the skin creates scar tissue that just keeps on growing and getting larger. It's not cancerous, although it's growth does seem tumor-like.
The picture was taken after Edward had the original keloid removed, and because the skin cells were still producing scar tissue, it grew back. That's when Edward went to Dr. Stephen Gordon, a plastic surgeon. Dr. Gordon surgically removed the keloids, then used radiation and steroid injections to curb further scar tissue growth.
This tendency to overproduce scar tissue is inherited, and according to Dr. Gordon, those genes are primarily African. African-American men often have enough traces of other races in their blood to prevent serious keloid formation. If a person's skin reacts to shaving by growing keloids, it would probably be best to see a dermatologist for advice on how to shave, or whether to shave at all.
But what if that clean shaven look is a job requirement? Some men have lost jobs for refusing to shave. The website for the American Academy of Dermatology is a good place for medical advice.
If you find life to be too painful on the razor's edge, a dermatologist, or even a good barber, might be able to help.
Sometimes though, the only choice is to be like Edward, and just let the beard grow.
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