Razor bumps are ingrown hairs that develop after shaving or using other hair removal techniques. The medical term for razor bumps is pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB). Various treatment can relieve them, from avoiding shaving to taking prescription medications.
Ingrown hairs develop when hair starts to grow back into the skin, rather than up and out. After shaving, waxing, or plucking, the hair may curl and turn inward. As the new skin cells grow over the hair, it becomes trapped and causes a bump to form.
Razor bumps can develop anywhere a person shaves or removes hair, including the face, head, legs, armpits, and pubic area.
Ways of treating razor bumps include taking preventive measures before, during, and after shaving, avoiding shaving or trying a new hair removal method, and applying topical salicylic acid, retinoids, or antibiotics.
In this article, learn about how to treat razor bumps and how to prevent them from forming.
Nothing can make razor bumps go away instantly, but various strategies can help remove or manage them. We discuss these strategies in the sections below.
The only sure way to prevent razor bumps is to stop shaving, although this is not always practical.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), new razor bumps may continue to appear for a while after stopping shaving, as new hairs emerge. However, the bumps should disappear after around 3 months.
Use salicylic acid
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that unclogs pores, sloughs off dead skin cells, and treats inflammation, allowing razor bumps to heal.
Salicylic acid can also help treat acne, according to the AAD, so it may be a good option for individuals with both acne and razor bumps.
Various products contain salicylic acid, such as:
Try glycolic acid
Like salicylic acid, glycolic acid helps the skin peel by removing old cells from the surface of the skin. Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid.
It speeds up the skin’s natural sloughing process, which is why a glycolic acid product can help remove razor bumps and give the skin a smoother appearance.
A glycolic acid chemical peel may help manage razor bumps.
Use scrubs with caution
Sometimes, a mechanical, or physical, scrub can remove dead skin cells that plug the pores and keep hairs trapped inside. These types of skin care scrub may contain sugar, salt, ground fruit pits, or tiny beads.
Scrubs may remove debris and free ingrown hairs by physically sloughing off dead skin cells.
However, some scrubs may irritate sensitive skin. They may not be suitable for use when a person’s skin has become inflamed or irritated.
Gently brush the skin
A soft brush can help remove dead skin cells and debris that clog the pores, and guide hairs out of the pores to stop them becoming trapped.
Brushing can also help train the hair to grow in a single direction, making ingrown hairs less likely.
A person may use a skin care brush, a soft bristle face brush, or a soft toothbrush.
Use a warm washcloth
Applying a warm, wet washcloth to the skin can help soften the skin and draw the ingrown hair out, especially when a person combines it with another option, such as brushing.
Other options include steaming the area in a hot shower or sauna.
Consider medical treatment
A doctor or pharmacist may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) creams, serums, and cleansers containing steroids or antibiotics to reduce inflammation and manage infection. A mild retinoid can also help prevent razor bumps and acne.
If OTC methods do not help, a doctor may prescribe medication. This could be a stronger retinoid, such as:
- tretinoin (Retin-A)
- adapalene (Differin)
- tazarotene (Tazorac)
Retinoids may take several weeks to have a noticeable effect.
Try another hair removal technique
Shaving is the hair removal method most likely to lead to razor bumps, so one option is to try a different technique.
Hair removal creams, or depilatories, dissolve the hair and reduce the risk of razor bumps. However, they contain chemicals that can irritate the skin. A person should not use these products if their skin is already red, inflamed, or sensitive.
Laser hair removal is a longer-term option, but it can be expensive. A person will need several treatment sessions with a dermatologist, but the hair tends to grow back finer and lighter than before.
On dark skin, razor bumps can lead to both hyperpigmented and skin-colored papules.
The images below show how razor bumps can affect different skin tones and types.
Taking steps before shaving may help reduce the risk of razor bumps:
- Cleanse the skin with a noncomedogenic product or one that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid. These can help clear pores and remove excess skin cells from the surface. Noncomedogenic products do not tend to clog pores.
- Shave only when the skin is very wet, either during or immediately after a shower. Alternatively, place a warm, wet towel on the area for 5 minutes before shaving.
- Use a moisturizing shaving cream or gel and leave for 1–2 minutes before shaving.
- Ensure the shaving cream is wet when you shave, or else rinse the skin and apply more liberally.
- Avoid skin care products that contain irritating ingredients, which could make inflammation worse.
Here are some tips for avoiding razor bumps while shaving:
- Avoid a close shave. Instead, leave the hair 0.5–3 millimeters long.
- Use a single-blade razor or an electric razor with a variable setting to allow for a longer cut.
- Shave slowly, following the direction of hair growth.
- Avoid pulling the skin tight while shaving.
- Avoid repeating strokes in one area or holding the razor too close to the skin.
It is also important to take care of the skin after shaving:
- Rinse off all traces of shaving cream with warm water to reduce the risk of irritation.
- Place a cool compress on the skin for 5 minutes.
- Apply an aftershave formulated for preventing razor bumps.
- Clean and dry the razor and store it in a dry place.
- Change the blade on a single-use razor every 5–7 shaves.
If none of these measures help or if symptoms are severe, a person should contact a doctor.
Razor bumps can develop when a person removes hair from the face, armpits, or around the pubic area.
Shaving cuts the hair, leaving a sharp, pointed end. The hair can reenter the skin by curling back round and penetrating the skin’s surface or by retracting under the skin.
Hair that reenters a follicle can trigger an immune reaction, leading to inflammation.
Razor bumps most commonly occur in people with naturally curly, spiral, or tightly coiled hair.
After shaving — especially if it is close — the sharp tips of curved hair can pierce and grow back into the skin, leading to inflammation.
Statistics suggest that men of African descent are more susceptible to razor bumps than other groups, with 45–85% of people affected. This skin issue is also common among Hispanic people.
In addition, razor bumps commonly affect the groin area of females from all populations.
Activities that increase the risk include:
- shaving close to the skin
- shaving under the jawline or on the face and neck
- plucking hair in the armpits, in the pubic area, or on the legs
Individual factors can also make razor bumps more likely, such as having:
- skin folds or scar tissue in areas where people remove hair, as they enable hair of any type to reenter the skin
- tightly curling hair
- hair that grows in different directions
- coarse hair
- a specific genetic feature involving keratin in the hair follicle
A doctor can diagnose razor bumps by looking at a person’s skin and asking about symptoms.
They may carry out a test called dermoscopy to see the hairs under the skin. This can help rule out other possible causes of lesions, such as acne and tinea barbae.
Razor bumps are different from razor burn.
Razor burn is a type of skin irritation due to the friction of the razor. It tends to cause areas of redness and irritation immediately after shaving.
Razor burn can develop if:
- a person does not properly lubricate their skin before shaving
- they use a dull razor
- their skin is sensitive to friction
Razor bumps, on the other hand, develop when hairs grow back into the skin. They can appear several days after hair removal.
Razor bumps are known as PFB.
They can lead to:
- acne-like eruptions on the skin
- skin papules that may be red or the same color as a person’s skin
- itching and tenderness
- in some cases, bleeding when shaving
Sometimes, an infection can develop, which health experts call folliculitis barbae.
Other complications that can arise include:
- changes in skin color following inflammation
- scarring, including keloid scarring
Symptoms may be more severe in people with eczema or dermatitis.
Below, we answer some questions people often ask about razor bumps.
How to get rid of razor bumps fast?
The most effective way to get rid of razor bumps is to stop shaving. The bumps will not disappear at once, but as the hair grows, new bumps will stop forming.
A doctor may also recommend a cortisone cream to reduce inflammation.
How to get rid of razor bumps in a private area?
A person can use similar techniques to those for razor bumps on the face.
Here, learn more about razor bumps in the pubic area.
How long do razor bumps take to go away?
As long as a person continues to shave, razor bumps will likely persist.
If they stop shaving, new bumps may continue to appear for a while, but they should resolve completely after around 3 months.
Razor bumps generally do not cause serious health problems. However, their appearance can be bothersome and can affect a person’s confidence.
If home remedies do not work, it is advisable to seek guidance from a healthcare professional, such as a dermatologist, to discuss other options. These include a prescription skin cream and laser hair removal.