It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: You've just shaved and are ready to show off smooth legs in a flirty dress. But then you notice a raised, red bump that starts to feel tender to the touch — razor bumps strike again!
This beauty mishap always seems to wreak havoc at the most inopportune moments, but you don’t have to accept razor bumps as inevitable. TODAY Style consulted dermatologists to unearth the secret behind avoiding and getting rid of razor bumps so you can feel ready for summer!
What is a razor bump?
Anyone who’s ever had a razor bump can tell you how aggravating these pesky raised bumps are. Typically found where a hair follicle emerges from the surface of the skin, razor bumps can sometimes be mistaken for acne.
“Depending on the color of your skin, razor bumps can look like red bumps in Caucasians, but in darker skin types the bumps are usually darker brown in color,” said Dr. Noelani González, director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West in New York City.
Much like acne, razor bumps can feel tender or painful when inflamed, but what you experience as a razor bump might be a bit different than what your friends see or feel.
“A razor bump is a colloquial term for redness and bumps after shaving, not something specific. But dermatologically, it can include any number of issues, most commonly folliculitis and pseudofolliculitis barbae,” said Dr. Robert Anolik, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.
When hair follicles become irritated, folliculitis can occur, causing redness and swelling (bumps). “It tends to appear dotted because the majority of the inflammation is at the hair root,” Anolik said.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae, on the other hand, is a bit different. “It’s an inflammatory reaction to the hair shaft reentering the skin — like with ingrown hairs,” said Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist in New York City.
How to prevent razor bumps
Shaving can be tedious, and it's sometimes tempting to rush through the process. But following these shaving best practices can help prevent pesky razor bumps down the line.
- Shave in the right direction: “If you shave in many different directions, you increase the chances of razor bumps, irritation and even ingrown hairs," Engelman said. "It is best to shave in the direction your hair grows or against it."
- Don’t shave too close to the skin: “When you pull your skin taut to get that close shave, once you release it, your skin goes over that hair shaft that you just cut and the hair will start growing under your skin, causing the bumps. This is especially common if you have thick, coarse or curly hair,” González said.
- Use the best tools: “Prevent future razor bumps and ingrown hairs by making sure you are using a sharp razor,” Engelman said. And don’t forget to keep your razors clean, and swap them out often!
- Exfoliate regularly: "Getting rid of dead skin cells on the surface before you shave can help you avoid hairs getting caught under your skin," González said.
- Keep skin moisturized: "Use a moisturizing cream or shaving gel, and also moisturize right after you shave. Try using a moisturizer with salicylic acid or glycolic acid to gently exfoliate the skin," González said.
Try as you might, you can't always avoid a razor bump, and some people are just more naturally prone to them.
"Razor bumps are more common in darker skin types, and in people who have thick, coarse and curly hair. Same goes for those areas of the body that have thicker, coarse hairs like the pubic area and beard area in men," González said.
How to get rid of razor bumps
Razor bumps happen! And when they do, you typically want immediate relief. Although there's no instant cure-all for razor bumps, there are a few ways to help send them quickly on their way.
- Douse your skin with cool water after shaving to help soothe it.
- Dealing with a tricky razor bump? Gonzálezsuggests combining a retinoid, topical steroid and/or an antibacterial product.
- Consider using a toner with ingredients like aloe, witch hazel and willow bark to tackle inflammation and kill bacteria. But Anolikrecommends treading lightly, as toners can sometimes irritate raw skin.
- If you notice regular razor bumps, González suggests visiting a board-certified dermatologist and trying laser hair removal to get to the root of the problem.
Must-Have Preshave Products
1. Yes to Coconut Polishing Body Scrub, $7, Walmart
Set the tone for beautiful, razor bump-free skin by exfoliating regularly. Store this baby in your shower and scrub gently before shaving once a week!
2. Paula's Choice Resist Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Lotion Treatment, $29, Amazon
Board-certified dermatologist Mary Lupo recommends using a retinoid to prevent dead skin buildup that can keep hairs from clearing the surface of your skin. This one from Paula's Choice helps refresh skin with a blend of antioxidants.
Must-Have Shaving Products
1. Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel, $4, Amazon
This bestselling shave gel features soothing ingredients like oat and vitamin E to help hydrate and protect skin against razor bumps.
2. Gillette Venus Platinum Extra Smooth Metal Handle Women's Razor, $11, Amazon
This five-blade razor is one of our favorites and features a water-activated ribbon of moisture to help you get a clean shave without irritating your skin.
3. Philips SatinShave Advanced Women’s Electric Shaver, $35 (usually $40), Amazon
Hate having to switch out razor blades? Opt for a rechargeable razor complete with a cleaning brush to keep your razor in the best shape possible and avoid razor bumps.
Must-Have Post-Shave Products
1. Dickinson’s Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner With Rosewater, $6, Walmart
This affordable toner helps tackle razor bumps head-on without using potentially irritating alcohol.
2. Cortizone 10 Plus Ultra Moisturizing Cream, $8 for 2 ounces (usually $11), Amazon
Dermatologists swear by cortisone to help with itchy, irritated skin, so it's always good to have a tube on hand in case a razor bump pops up.
3. Up&Up 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Gel Max. Strength Acne Medication, $3, Target
Cortisone and benzoyl peroxide go hand in hand as beauty cabinet must-haves, and this gel form of the multitasking ingredient can help soothe irritated skin.
4. CeraVe SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin, $13 (usually $16), Amazon
Moisturize and exfoliate the skin after shaving with this targeted lotion featuring salicylic acid.