POSTED: 30 Aug 2023

What Causes Razor Bumps and How To Prevent Them? Here are the Best Treatments According to Doctors

Every grooming routine has its perks and pitfalls, and for many, the battle with razor bumps ranks high on the list of problems. Often mistaken for acne, keratosis pilaris or ingrown hairs, these are raised and often painful bumps that appear after shaving. They’re incredibly common and affect both many and women. Whilst they can be distressing, there are several ways to stop and treat razor bumps. In this article we explore what causes them and review the best treatments for how to get rid of and prevent razor bumps.

What Are Razor Bumps?

Razor bumps, are medically known as pseudofolliculitis barbae. They are inflamed, often pimple-like irritations that appear after shaving. They’re essentially hair strands that, after being cut, curl back into the skin. This leads to inflammation. It’s a common condition, especially among those with curly hair and skin of colour. Razor bumps can occur anywhere shaving occurs. The most common areas are on the face, legs and groin or bikini zone.

Causes of Razor Bumps

Understanding what causes pseudofolliculitis barbae is key to figuring out how to prevent and stop razor bumps. There are three main risk factors. The first is improper shaving technique. This is the leading cause of razor bumps. Pressing too hard on the skin, using a blunt blade, or shaving against the grain can lead to inflamed irritations. The second factor is your hair type. People with curly or coarse hair are more susceptible. This is because the hair is more likely to curl back and re-enter the skin after being cut. This results in inflammation. The third is sensitive skin. This type of skin is more reactive to the physical act of shaving. This leads to irritation and inflammation.

Beyond these three main causes, environmental factors can also play a part. In particular, heat and humidity, can exacerbate the condition. As can the using shaving products that don’t adequately protect or lubricate the skin.

How to Prevent Razor Bumps

Whilst you can’t do much about factors that make you more prone to razor bumps like skin and hair type, you can still take steps to prevent them. The below steps will reduce irritation and inflammation which are the main drivers:

  • Pre-Shave Prep: hydrate the skin and open up pores with warm water before shaving. Better still shave after a warm shower or bath. Using a gentle exfoliating scrub or gentle acid exfoliant can also help in lifting the hair and removing dead skin cells.
  • Quality Razors: invest in a good quality sharp razor. Remember to change blades regularly. This will ensure clean cuts and avoid bacterial buildup.
  • Shaving Cream: a good hydrating shaving cream or gel acts as a cushion. This allows the razor to glide and reduces irritation. If you want a closer shave, reapply your shaving cream and make a second pass.
  • Shave in the Right Direction: always shave in the direction of hair growth. Before you start, feel your skin with your fingertips to figure out the direction in which your hair naturally grows. Always shave in the direction of hair growth (“with the grain”). If your hair grows in different directions you can train it to grow in one way by regularly brushing it with a tooth brush.
  • Cold Compress: immediately post-shaving, apply a cold compress. This can reduce irritation and prevent inflammation.
  • Aftercare: apply a moisturising aftershave or lotion to keep the skin hydrated. This again reduces the risk of irritation.

Razor Bumps Treatments

Although razor bumps can be uncomfortable and cause cosmetic concerns, the good news is they’re treatable. If after taking the above preventative steps you still get them, here’s how to get rid of razor bumps:

  • Stop Shaving: if you have painful, swollen or pus filled bumps then stop shaving until they go down.
  • Extractions: for large bumps where you see a trapped hair, you can gently remove it with a clean pair of tweezers. However avoid squeezing, cutting or traumatising the area as this can lead to infection, hyperpigmentation or even scarring.
  • Salicylic Acid: this is often found in acne treatments and helps exfoliate the skin. Use a salicylic acid cleanser or toner on a regular basis as this helps to free trapped hairs and clear dead skin cells.
  • Retinoids: over the counter retinol and prescription retinoids like Tretinoin increase cell turnover and exfoliate the skin. Over time this can help prevent and get rid of razor bumps. Retinoids can also treat any scarring or hyperpigmentation associated with them.
  • Corticosteroid Cream: for severe inflammation, a mild corticosteroid cream can be a useful razor bumps treatment . This is a prescription only treatment and you will need to see a doctor to access it.
  • Witch Hazel: This natural astringent can calm the skin and reduce inflammation. Use it after shaving for best results.
  • Aloe Vera: Known for its soothing properties, aloe vera can provide immediate relief from irritation. Use it as an ointment or moisturiser straight after shaving.

Alternatives to Shaving

If razor bumps are persistent, you might want to consider other forms of hair removal. Here are several alternatives that can help you avoid and stop razor bumps:

  • Electric Razors: these are designed to prevent the blade from getting too close to the skin. This reduces the chance of hair curling back into the skin and stop razor bumps.
  • Hair Removal Creams (Depilatories): these are chemicals that break down hair which you can then easily wipe away. However, some people might find these creams irritating, so always do a patch test.
  • Waxing: this removes hair from the root so that it grows back slower and with a softer tip. This reduces ingrown hairs.
  • Laser Hair Removal: this is a more permanent solution. Laser treatments target the hair’s pigment to destroy the hair follicle over time. Laser requires multiple sessions and can be costly but results are long-lasting.
  • Electrolysis: this is where an electric current is used to destroy the hair root. It’s suitable for smaller areas and all skin types. However, like laser, electrolysis also needs multiple sessions.
  • Tweezing or Plucking: whilst more time-consuming and suited for small areas, plucking removes hair from the root. Use clean, sharp tweezers and pluck in the direction of hair growth.
  • Threading: this involves a cotton thread which is used to pull out hair from the roots. It is primarily used for eyebrows but can be used on other facial hair.
  • Trimming: simply trimming the hair can be an effective way to reduce length and hence stop razor bumps.
  • Epilators: these electronic devices grasp multiple hairs simultaneously and pull them out. It’s similar to waxing in its results.

No matter which method you choose, it’s essential to follow any post-treatment care instructions. Keep the area clean and moisturised to minimise irritation and potential complications.

When to Seek Medical Advice

You should see a doctor if you are regularly getting razor bumps and they are causing severe discomfort or are getting infected. Another reason to seek medical help is if the bumps are leaving behind scars or hyperpigmentation. They can offer prescription solutions like Tretinoin. They may also recommend laser hair removal as a more long-term solution to get rid of razor bumps.

Whilst the quest for smooth, bump-free skin might seem never-ending, understanding the causes of razor bumps is the first step to treatment. There are a number of preventive measures that can significantly reduce your risks. There are also a number of treatments that can help get rid of razor bumps. Remember that with all skincare, patience and perseverance are key. What works for one person may not work for another. Give your skin time to respond before writing off something. Ultimately, if you’re struggling and not responding to treatment please remember that there are medical options and alternatives to shaving which may also help.

We believe that skincare is always personal. Our virtual clinic offers prescription-strength treatments like Tretinoin for  acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. Book a virtual consultation with one of our doctors today and take your first step towards great skin.


Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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