How to get rid of razor bumps on the legs

Woman shaving legs with MDacne Soothing Shave Cream

Raise your hand if you've ever been personally victimized by razor bumps...those small, red bumps that “pop up” on the legs, armpits, and bikini area that foil our attempts to achieve soft, smooth skin. Yep, we've all (except for a lucky few) been there and had those. So what exactly are razor bumps and how can you avoid them while shaving your lower half? Check out our dermatologist insight and recommendations below!

What are razor bumps?

Razor bumps are pimple-like lesions (also called “folliculitis) caused by inflammation of the hair follicle. When hair follicles become irritated and inflamed, they turn into swollen bumps that appear red for people with lighter skin tones and dark brown for people with darker skin tones. Though razor bumps can affect all skin types and tones, they tend to be more common for people with sensitive skin as well as people (and areas of the body) that have thicker, coarse, and curly hair (hello, bikini zone!).

While these bumps tend to heal on their own over time without the need for additional treatment, they also tend to reappear once the area is shaved again. So, what’s a girl (or guy) to do? The good news is that there are certain products and techniques you can use (and avoid) to help prevent razor bumps from popping up in the first place.

Razor bumps vs. razor burn

Woman on beach with smooth shaved legs without razor bumps

Contrary to popular belief, razor bumps are not the same thing as razor burn! Here’s how you can tell the difference:

  • Razor burn is a type of skin irritation caused by shaving dry skin or using a dull razor blade. Razor burn will appear immediately after shaving as redness and irritation covering most of the area shaved.

  • Razor bumps, on the other hand, can develop several days after hair removal, once the the the irritated hair follicles get red and swollen. As opposed to a broad rash-like redness, they appear as small red or brown dots and bumps.

How to get rid of razor bumps

Women in bathtub preparing to shave legs

Like most skin ailments, the best way to get rid of razor bumps is to prevent them in the first place! The key is to curate a shaving experience that causes minimal trauma to the skin. Here are some tips to help achieve a smooth, bump-free shave on your lower half.

  1. Shave at night: Shaving in the morning is actually the worst time to shave your legs! The reason is that your legs swell slightly as your sleep, which can make hair retreat back into its follicles. For best results, save your shave for later in the day if you can.

  2. Prep your legs: try to shave your legs after a warm shower or, preferably, a nice bath. Soaking in warm water allows the hairs to soften, making them easier to shave.

  3. Don’t exfoliate first: Exfoliating before shaving may seem like a good idea to help slough off dead skin cells. However, doing so can be over-irritating to the skin. Be mindful that shaving itself will produce a gentle exfoliation if done correctly, so exfoliating before (or after) might be overdoing it.

  4. Use a shaving cream: Shaving gels and shaving foams that come in those aerosol spray cans—while convenient to use—are not helping your cause. These products usually contain alcohol or other astringents that dry out the skin, increasing the risk of trauma and irritation. A better option is to use a shaving cream designed for sensitive skin with anti-inflammatory ingredients to help soothe the skin.

  5. Use a good, sharp razor blade: Dull razors will pull on the hair and cause invisible micro lacerations on your skin, creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and infection—yuck! Make sure you use a clean, sharp blade (replaced every 4-5 uses) and rinse the razor well after every use.

  6. Shave in the direction of hair growth (not against the grain): Not sure what that means? Take your hand and move it along your leg. If your hair is being pushed down, you are following the grain. If it’s being pushed up (probably feels more prickly!), you’re going against the grain.

  7. Moisturize: Your post-shave routine is a super important step in preventing razor bumps and moisturizing the skin after hair removal is very important. After shaving, pat your legs dry with a towel (don’t rub, which can cause further irritation!) and apply an oil-free moisturizer. This will hydrate, soften, and protect your skin as well as ease any feeling of itch from existing razor bumps or razor burn that you may have gotten before reading this blog! Pro tip: Find a moisturizer that is both oil-free and alcohol-free to avoid irritating your skin and clogging your skin pores.

  8. Do not mess with your skin!: Trying to release ingrown hairs by picking, poking and “popping” is generally a bad idea. These procedures tend to cause more inflammation and irritation and increase the risk for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots). Additionally, using tools like needles or tweezers to dig out ingrown hair can cause bacterial infections and scarring. Be patient and gentle with your skin!

  9. Avoid home remedies: While home remedies and DIY tricks using products and ingredients from your kitchen or medicine cabinet (such as lemon juice and tea tree oil) may seem like a good, natural way to clear up razor bumps, these “tips and tricks” tend to do more harm than good as even natural products can cause significant irritation and even burn the skin. Therefore, we recommend sticking to clinically tested products methods that will help prevent razor bumps from occurring in the first place.

  10. *Severe cases* use a topical hydrocortisone cream: Razor bumps that appear sig officially inflamed or are taking extra time to heal may be aided with a topical steroid. These creams—available at any drugstore— will reduce inflammation and help expedite the healing process. If you don’t notice any changes in your razor burn after two to three days even the use of hydrocortisone, it’s time to call your dermatologist. They can prescribe prescription-strength steroids and antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent it from worsening to a serious condition.

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