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Stop razor burn and bumps with this expert advice

Say goodbye to inflamed skin.

A person shaves their legs with a razor inside a shower stall. Credit: Getty Images / Moyo Studio

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If you regularly shave your face or shave your body, you’ve no doubt experienced redness, bumps, or a burning sensation at least once post-shave. Depending on the sensitivity of your skin, you may think it’s an inevitable part of attaining hairlessness.

As it turns out, there are not one but two common irritations that shaving can cause: razor burn and razor bumps. To learn what tools and precautionary steps you can take to avoid them, we spoke with Dr. Farah Moustafa, a dermatologist and the director of laser and cosmetics with Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

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What is razor burn?

A person shaving their beard with a razor and shaving cream.
Credit: Getty Images / EHStock

Razor burn can appear as red or bumpy skin post-shave.

Razor burn occurs right after you’ve finished shaving and consists of a hot, prickly rash that may itch or have bumps. Razor burn goes away on its own anywhere from a few hours to a day post-shave. You’re more prone to razor burn if you have sensitive skin.

What are razor bumps?

A leg with razor bumps on it and a blue razor resting against it.
Credit: Getty Images / Ocskaymark

Razor bumps are ingrown hairs that cause inflammation.

Razor bumps, a.k.a. pseudofolliculitis barbae, typically appear on the skin once the shaved hair has begun growing back, within a few days post-shave. This type of irritation presents as itchy, painful, and tender bumps on that skin. The bumps are caused by ingrown hairs, or hairs that become trapped under the skin’s surface instead of growing up and out, resulting in the hair follicle becoming inflamed. Ingrown hairs—and therefore razor bumps—are more common with coarser or curlier hair.

The easiest way to determine if your issue is razor burn or razor bumps is to pay attention to how soon after shaving you feel irritation. Luckily, both have the same preventative steps, so going forward, you can be bump- and redness-free.

Step 1: Soak your skin prior to shaving

Whether you’re shaving your beard or legs, you want to soak the hair and skin with warm or hot water first, for at least five minutes. “It’s going to help soften the skin so it’s less prone to injury with a razor,” Moustafa says. “It’ll lessen your chance of razor burn or subsequent razor bumps.”

Step 2: Apply lubrication

You’ll want some form of lubrication for shaving—shaving cream, body wash, or conditioner all work. After the skin is good and soaked with water, apply the product. Moustafa recommends choosing an option that’s fragrance-free and hypoallergenic if you have sensitive skin or are prone to razor burn. “You’re not [just] shaving the hair, you’re disrupting the skin that the razor is gliding over, so having a nice, thick layer of shaving cream is going to help your razor glide smoothly over the area,” Moustafa says.

Step 3: Choose the right razor

The more blades a razor has, the closer a shave you’ll get. However, Moustafa recommends avoiding such a close shave by using a one- or two-blade razor. “The closer the shave, the more trauma to the skin and the more likely that you’re going to get an injury to the skin,” Moustafa says. “Even if it’s not an actual nick that you see, for example, there’s microscopic trauma.” In fact, those four- or five-blade razors are designed to lift the hair from the follicle and cut it beneath the surface, meaning it will have to grow out from inside the follicle—for folks prone to ingrown hairs, this is the exact scenario for them to occur.

If you’re of the school of thought that more blades are better, try going down to two blades and see if your issues lessen before opting for a one-bladed safety razor.

Step 4: Shave in the direction of hair growth in short strokes

Rather than shaving against the grain, shave in the direction that your hair grows to minimize trauma to the skin and avoid cutting hair too short where it could reemerge ingrown. And instead of gliding the razor all the way across your cheek or down your leg in one pass, take shorter strokes, rinsing the razor in between each one to remove the buildup of hair in the razor, which can contribute to irritation.

Step 5: Replace your razor often

Avoid using rusty or worn-down blades—which can nick sensitive skin—by replacing your blade or cartridge often. For the extremely sensitive, Moustafa recommends disposing of the blade after every use, or maybe after every two or three times, if you store the razor in a dry spot. Removing the razor from the shower—or even better, the bathroom entirely—will keep moisture and steam from causing the blades to become dull or damaged. “A sharp blade will be better because you don’t need to apply as much pressure on the skin,” Moustafa says.

Step 6: Soothe shaved areas post-shower

If you’re prone to razor burn specifically (not ingrown hairs), apply a cool compress to the skin once you’ve finished shaving. Then, follow up with an unscented, hypoallergenic moisturizer that’ll hydrate and replenish the skin barrier that’s been altered from shaving.

How do you treat razor burn once you have it?

A person applies moisturizer over their shaved beard.
Credit: Getty Images / Ivan balvan

Moisturize your skin with a fragrance-free cream after shaving to avoid razor burn.

Razor burn calms down on its own, but you can apply a fragrance-free moisturizer, aloe vera, or a cool compress to the skin to provide relief until it goes away. If you have persistent razor burn, or it lasts longer than a day, consider consulting your dermatologist, as they may be able to prescribe a topical steroid.

How do you treat razor bumps once you have them?

A person wrapped in a bath towel bends down and applies skincare to legs.
Credit: Getty Images / jacoblund

To avoid ingrown hairs, apply an exfoliant to the skin after shaving.

Pseudofolliculitis barbae refers to hyperactivity in an ingrown hair, which Moustafa says presents similar to acne with inflamed bumps. For this reason, acne treatments like exfoliating retinoids or acids work well to prevent and quell inflammation. Prior to shaving, Moustafa recommends applying salicylic acid to the skin and allowing the chemical exfoliant to sit and dissolve excess skin cells and keratin that may get trapped in the hair follicles while you’re shaving and cause inflammation. Many reviewers swear by Tend Skin, which is formulated for reducing post-razor irritation, too.

If razor bumps have already formed, try using a benzoyl peroxide wash on the affected area to dry the skin out and calm inflammation—it’s also antimicrobial, meaning it’ll stop the growth of bacteria.

If you have chronic razor bumps and have tried several over-the-counter treatment methods, consult a dermatologist for prescription options or even laser hair-removal treatments to circumvent the need to shave entirely.

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