Pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB) is a common complaint among darker-skinned patients with coarse curly hair. Patients present with follicular papules in the beard from ingrown hairs that can eventually result in postinflammatory pigmentary alternation and scarring. While these symptoms are most common in men, women may be affected as well, as PFB is not limited to the beard area; it may occur in any other area with thick, coarse curly hair, including the bikini area and axillae.
Some tips for treating PFB:
If the patient doesn’t mind growing a beard, advise him to grow one! The chances of having ingrown hairs that stimulate this condition are less if the hairs are not plucked or shaved, or are kept at least a few millimeters long.
If hair removal/grooming is a must, options include clipping the hairs with a protector; using a self-cleaning electric razor (replacing the blades at least every 2 years); and using thick shaving gel with either a single or twin blade razor, or a chemical depilatory.
Laser hair removal is also an option in the right candidate, particularly with longer pulsed (1,064 nm or 810 nm) lasers in darker-skinned individuals. Eflornithine 12% twice daily for 16 weeks has been shown to work synergistically with laser hair removal. Electrolysis may be helpful for hairs that do not respond to laser hair removal with longer pulsed lasers, such as grey hairs.
If shaving is a must, advise patients to:
• Apply warm compresses to the beard area for a few minutes prior to shaving. In addition, using a mild exfoliant or loofah or toothbrush in a circular motion will help allow any ingrown hairs to be more easily plucked or released at the skin surface.
• Use shaving gel and a sharp razor each time.
• Do not pull the skin taut.
• Do not shave against the direction of hair growth.
• Take short strokes and do not shave back and forth over the same areas.
• After shaving, use a soothing aftershave or hydrocortisone 1% lotion.
Products such as PFB Vanish, which contain salicylic, glycolic, and/or lactic acid, are helpful in some patients after hair removal to prevent ingrown hairs. One version of PFB Vanish contains antipigment ingredients to also address hyperpigmentation.
If inflammatory papules or pustules are present, a combination benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin topical gels (such as Benzaclin, Duac, or Acanya) can be used. Patients with severe inflammation may require oral antibiotics.
Using a topical retinoid at night or a combination retinoid product with hydroquinone can be helpful especially in cases of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. However, use caution when prescribing retinoids for patients with darker skin, as irritation from these products may lead to postinflammatory pigmentary alteration. Remind patients to avoid drying products, such as toners, if topical retinoids are used.
For severe or refractory postinflammatory hyperpigmentation or inflammatory papules, chemical peels with 20%-30% salicylic acid can be helpful.
What are your PFB solutions? The more we share our clinical insights, the better we will be able to achieve improved treatment results for our patients.
Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. Do you have questions about treating patients with dark skin? If so, send them to email@example.com.