Amid an already growing movement around shedding body hair stigmas, the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders empowered more individuals to groom on their own terms. But for those who choose to shave, one thing remains universal: a desire to avoid irritation. “No matter how you groom, no one deserves ingrowns or razor bumps,” says Laura Schubert, cofounder of the pubic hair and skin company Fur. In exploring how to get rid of razor bumps, it’s clear that taking the right steps to avoid them in the first place is just as important as treating them. From smooth shaving to doing targeted treatments for ingrown hairs, here experts lay out every facet of how to get rid of razor bumps.
What are razor bumps?
When it comes to razor-related sensitivity, irritation comes in different forms on the body, whether it’s appearing on the legs, underarms, or bikini line. “Both ingrown hairs and razor burn will appear as red bumps; however, razor burn bumps tend to be smaller in size and often appear in clusters, similar to a rash, whereas an ingrown bump is usually larger, often with a white head, and sometimes with a hair sticking out of it,” explains Schubert.
What causes razor bumps?
According to Elyse Love, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, the causes are twofold. “Ingrown hairs form when a hair becomes trapped underneath the skin as the hair grows outward,” says Love, adding this can also happen if the hair grows above the surface of the skin and curls backwards, proceeding to grow into the skin (this is most common in those with curly to kinky hair because the hair does not grow in one direction). The second kind of irritation shaving presents is “several small, possibly itchy flesh colored bumps in the area that was shaved,” says Love. There are many things that can contribute to each of these kinds of irritation—especially in the bikini area. “Hairs often have a curved growth pattern and can get trapped underneath the skin as they begin to grow back, forming bumps,” says Blair Murphy Rose, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City and the Hamptons. “Pressure from panties, swimsuits, or other tight clothing also make this area particularly prone to ingrowns and irritation.”
How do you prevent razor bumps while shaving?
First, it needs to be acknowledged that shaving increases the likelihood of ingrown hairs forming. That’s the reality, and if you want to take maximum precaution towards razor bumps, trimming is a safer option. “The hairs are cut less close to the skin and are therefore less likely to curve back down into the skin,” says Rose. That being said, if you are shaving, the first step in best practices is choosing the right razor. While you might be inclined to think the more blades the better, that’s not always the case—especially in avoiding razor bumps. “The closer the shave is to the skin, the easier it is for hairs to get stuck underneath the epidermis or outermost layer of the skin,” says Rose. In this spirit, old-school safety razors, like OUI the People’s single-blade stainless Sensitive Skin razor, have been on the rise. “Designed to apply just the right amount of pressure, [safety razors] glide across the surface of the skin, gently removing the hair rather than tugging and pulling like multi-blade plastic razors,” explains Karen Young, founder of OUI the People. “The result is a super close, smooth shave without irritated skin and inflamed follicles. Because the hair is removed from the surface of the skin, rather than below it, there is little chance of it getting trapped in the follicle.” If you’re not using a single-blade safety razor, remember: Less blade is more. “It’s preferable to stick to one to two blade only razors because it allows for a more precise and even shave,” says Love. “It’s more difficult to control the glide of a five or six blade blade razor.”
And no matter your razor of choice, shaving cream is non-negotiable. “It’s essential to minimize the occurrence of irritation and ingrown hairs, as shaving cream allows the razor blade to glide along the skin smoothly without friction, which decreases irritation and allows for even cutting of the hair,” explains Love, whose go-to recommendation to her patients is the eos Shea Butter Shave Cream as it’s laced with shea butter and oils to soothe the skin while shaving and can be rubbed into the skin for an after-shave effect.
Additionally, you must ensure the razor you’re using is still sharp and clean. “A dull blade will drag against the skin and cause nicks, ingrowns, and razor burn,” cautions Schubert. “You also want to make sure it’s not clogged with dead skin or hair when you use it.” Another important facet of avoiding shaving irritation is direction, especially when it comes to different areas of the body. “While there are plenty of areas that you can shave against the grain, like legs and armpits, ultimately your pubic skin is much thinner and more delicate, so it’s best to shave in the same direction as your hair naturally grows,” says Schubert.
How do you prevent razor bumps with skin care?
Skin care prior to and after shaving is important for preventing razor bumps from forming. The most important prep step is exfoliation, which helps prevent hairs from being trapped and forming bumps. To lift dead skin cells and buildup gently, Rose recommends chemical exfoliation using a gentle alpha- or beta-hydroxy acid (glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids are among her favorites) cleanser or wipe regularly, and washing the area with a washcloth to loosen dead skin. “By reducing the thickness of the outer layer of skin, it becomes harder for pores to get clogged and hairs to get trapped, which is the goal,” says Rose. After shaving and stepping out of the shower, seal in moisture (“Dry skin is a hotbed for ingrown hairs,” cautions Young). A supercharged body lotion will hydrate and nourish the skin. Better yet, consider a formula infused with exfoliating ingredients, like First Aid Beauty’s Smoothing Body Lotion with 10% AHA, which will improve skin texture over time and set the stage for smoother shave.
How do you treat pre-existing razor bumps?
“First, stop all attempts to remove hair,” says Young. “Don’t try to pluck, pull, shave, wax, or cut hair in the area where you’ve got ingrowns as it can introduce an infection.” Instead, she suggests going over the inflamed area with a soft washcloth soaked in warm water in slow, circular motions to gently exfoliate. “This will remove dead skin cells and allow the follicle to breathe,” she explains. Follow this up with a targeted treatment designed to eradicate ingrowns, like Oui the People’s Cheat Sheet or Ingrown Eliminator Serum. If the situation isn’t improving, Rose recommends visiting a dermatologist, particularly in the case of a cyst formation, where prescription topical antibiotics are often used to treat ingrown hairs.