Razor bumps are a cruel joke. You go through all this effort shaving your legs or face so the skin is smooth and soft, and next thing you know, angry little red bumps start popping up. What gives? But here's the good news: You can easily treat them. And the great news: With the right techniques and tools, you might be able to prevent them altogether.
Here's our full guide to tending to razor bumps—from treatments, prevention, and what to do about that pesky bikini line.
What causes razor bumps?
"Razor bumps are essentially ingrown hairs in areas where you shave," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. "When you shave, the free edge of the hair is cut below the surface of the skin. When the free edge of the hair becomes trapped within the skin, it will grow on itself and curl under the skin rather than growing freely to the surface."
This develops into pimple-like red spots. It may feel sore and inflamed. And in more severe cases, it might become infected, which will look like a large, puss-filled cyst. In either case, these might last a while—around two weeks.
If you are someone who feels you develop them more frequently than your friends, well, it might be your shaving technique (more on that later), or it could be something out of your control: your hair texture.
Those with curly, thick strands can be more prone to shaving bumps. "Curly hair is more likely not to grow out cleanly through the surface of the skin," says Zeichner.
This is also the reason you might find more frequent bumps around areas that hair naturally grows in coarser—like your bikini line or beards. This is why those with beards might mistake razor burn for acne on or around the jawline (it could, of course, be a combination of breakouts and ingrown hairs).
How to get rid of razor bumps:
So you have razor bumps: Now what? First up, it's very important to take a break from shaving, which will only exacerbate the issue.
Treat the bumps
"It helps dry out the angry bump and exfoliate dead cells from the surface of the skin to open the blocked pore," says Zeichner.
Even if it's on your body, feel free to simply use your favorite acne face treatment and gently apply it to the inflamed bumps.
If it's a larger area of razor bumps, though, a proper body exfoliant is likely more economical.
For an all-natural route: Tea tree oil is also another popular natural option because of its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
After the product formula dries, rub on something soothing to help the redness and puffiness go down.
If you're looking for a calming body lotion, look for ingredient such as:
Treat minor infections
If it's on the infected end of the spectrum, you'll need to apply a topical first aid ointment: Curoxen is a natural antibacterial formula Regularly clean and reapply until it heals.
If it's really bad, will need to visit a dermatologist to perform extractions. Never, ever perform extractions on your own.
How do you prevent them?
"Shaving is an interaction between the hair, the skin, and the razor," says Zeichner, and all three components should come into consideration when you are talking about prevention.
Invest in a razor
If that sounds costly, might we suggest signing up for a subscription service—the razors are usually much cheaper than the drug store versions and delivered to your door.
Prep the skin
As for the preparation, shave after your shower: "When the skin and the hairs are soft and well hydrated," says Zeichner.
And generously apply your shave gel, cream, or oil: Proper lubrication is key so you don't drag and scrape the skin's surface. Bonus? These will also help soften and hydrate the skin.
Shave with the grain
During the shave, always go with the grain, or the hair's growth pattern, in single strokes. Along the shin, for example, that will be shaving down—not up, like most shaving commercials will have you believe. This might get tricky around rounded areas where growth patterns might go in different directions, so just take it slower in those areas.
Shaving is a form of physical exfoliation, as you're scraping off dead skin cells along with hair. So it's essential to moisturize after.
Plus, it's just always good practice to moisturize right after the shower. All the water that is on the skin needs to be sealed in with an occlusive ingredient, like an oil or cream, or it will quickly evaporate—leaving you drier than before.
One way to avoid razor bumps is to avoid using a razor altogether! There are many alternatives to shaving that will lessen your chances of developing ingrown hairs.
Laser hair removal
This is the most effective route to take for hair removal. According to board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., laser hair removal treatments emit light of a wavelength that is absorbed by melanin and the root of the hair. "That light energy is converted to heat, which permanently damages and destroys hair follicles," she says.
Lasers (be it in office or using at home tools) offer a more permanent solution to hair removal. However, these sessions can be costly and require multiple appointments.
- Semi-permanent hair removal. It won't remove 100% of hair forever, but it will reduce it significantly. And if the hair grows back, it's usually much finer.
- Effective. There's a reason this is the gold-standard of hair removal.
- Costly. You can expect to pay $100 to $500 a session (typically upward of 12 sessions are needed). Home devices can range between $100 to $300.
- Not all lasers are appropriate for all skin tones or hair colors.
- Can be painful for some.
Waxing is an excellent alternative to shaving. It involves applying wax on the skin that adheres itself to the hair follicle, which is then ripped out. There is still a risk of developing ingrown hairs with waxing, but that risk is reduced with time.
- Lasts several weeks.
- Offers a smoother finish. In fact, Lorena de Olivera, co-owner and lead esthetician at The Wax & Skin Lounge, told mbg that you can "reduce ingrown hair and post-inflammatory pigmentation often caused by lesions."
- Overtime, hairs will grow back sparser and thinner. "Waxing removes hair from the root, causing damage to the hair follicle," de Olivera explains. "So over time and with consistency, hair growth will become finer and patchy."
- Costs more than shaving. Professional waxes can cost anywhere between $20 and $80, depending on the body area.
Sugaring paste is made from 100% natural ingredients—sugar, lemon, and water. The gloop is able to penetrate the hair follicle and adhere to individual hairs before removing them at the root.
- All-natural formula
- Often it's more hygienic. "Sugaring can also be more hygienic than waxing because double-dipping isn't a possibility," says Courtney Claghorn, founder of the sugaring studio SUGARED + BRONZED.
- Better for sensitive skin and even further reduces the risk of ingrowns. For those with sensitive skin, sugaring may be your go-to. Because it pulls the hair in the same direction it grows, it can be less abrasive on the skin and prevent hair breakage (a precursor for those gnarly ingrowns). "Removing hair in the same direction of growth significantly reduces the tension put on the hair, making it less likely to break during the removal process," says Amanda Mulea, licensed esthetician at SUGARED + BRONZED.
- Not as effective at getting all the hairs out in one go
Razor burn or bump: What's the difference?
While the phrases are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference. Like we've noted previously, razor bumps are just the colloquial term for in grown hairs that arise from shaving.
Razor burn, on the other hand, is generally what we refer to as what occurs immediately following shaving—that stinging, inflamed, hot rash that comes up from post shower.
But rather than angry isolated bumps, these tend to be smaller and all over.
Let's talk about the bikini line: Safety tips
I'm sure you don't want to mess with this very delicate area—but given your bikini line comes into contact with plenty of friction from underwear and clothing, it tends to be an area that gets plenty of bumps. Here's our safety tips:
- Stick to products formulated for the bikini line, like Fur Ingrown Concentrate, Flamingo Ingrown Spot Treatment or Bushbalm Nude Ingrown Hair Oil, as they will have ingredients that are safe for the area.
- Glow slow and steady while you shave, as not to irritate the area.
- Wear loose, breathable undergarments that don't chafe against newly shaved skin.
- Stick to waxing as that lessens the chance of ingrowns.
Razor bumps are annoying but so very common. If you get them frequently, it's likely because you have curly hair, and they tend to get trapped easier under the skin. Luckily, they are easy to treat when you get them (exfoliate and soothe), and with proper shaving techniques, you likely can prevent them. If not, try a professional option like sugaring or waxing.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.