Barber’s Itch (Sycosis vulgaris)

—Description.—Barber’s itch well illustrates that in the wonderful defensive mechanism with which nature has clothed the human body, certain loopholes have been left through which germs may, with comparative ease, enter into the interior. The story centers about pus germs which enter the hair sacs and, since the hair is lifeless, except in its deepest parts, encounter little or no resistance until the depths are reached. The defensive powers of the body realize that the germs are in a sort of enclosed bag and since there is no great urgency, they go about their task rather leisurely. The affected part is but slightly reddened and swollen, but here and there one sees tiny, raised lumps, some solid, others containing pus, but each showing a hair in the center. This eruption is a signal that the defense is now alert, that it is marshaling its white cells, as well as other cells, so as to wall off these germs and slowly starve them into submission. In the course of time, practically all of the eruptions contain pus and, finally, the pus escapes and crusts form. Usually at this juncture, the skin about the eruptions shows evidences of great resistance, and redness, swelling, and some thickness are now seen. A certain amount of itching, burning, and soreness is also experienced. At first the hair is firmly attached, but later on it loosens and can be pulled out with ease. The sufferer should not be discouraged by this slow progress towards recovery, as this affliction is usually of long duration, months and even years being necessary for a cure. The disease confines its activities to the bearded area, the upper lip, and in severe cases the eyebrows. It is found only among males.

Cause and Contagion.—Barber’s itch is caused by pus germs which enter such normal openings of the skin as the hair sacs. This disease may be contracted in shaving, through use of towels, brushes, or combs in public establishments, and also through contact with pillows, lounges, and reclining chairs of public resting places. Neither heredity, nor the act of shaving favors this condition; however, a lowering of the body resistance would appear to be a contributing factor, as these particular germs seem to be present on the skin of most persons. The constant bathing of the upper lip by discharges from colds is a rather common source of barber’s itch confined to the upper lip.

Suggestions for Treatment.—As this is a most obstinate disease, it is urged that the advice of a skin specialist be sought as soon as the eruption appears. An individual shaving outfit is the best preventive.