Razor bumps are ingrown hairs that develop after shaving or using other hair removal techniques, such as waxing or plucking. The medical term for razor bumps is pseudofolliculitis barbae.
Ingrown hairs develop when hair starts to grow back into the skin, rather than up and out. After removing hair by 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 on any area of the body where a person shaves or removes hair, including the face, head, legs, underarms, and pubic area.
In this article, learn about how to treat razor bumps quickly and how to prevent them from forming in the future.
Razor bumps can range in size from small to large, and they can be red or have a white, pus-filled bump.
Although nothing can make them go away instantly, there are several strategies that can help remove them faster and allow the skin to heal. We discuss these strategies in the sections below.
1. Use salicylic acid
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that helps exfoliate, or peel, skin cells. It can penetrate oil glands in the skin to unclog pores as well as fight inflammation.
Salicylic acid works to alleviate razor bumps and slough off dead skin cells. This allows the ingrown hair to make its way out of the pore. It also reduces the appearance of the bump.
Various products contain salicylic acid, including cleansers, toners, and lotions. These products are available in drug stores and online.
2. 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.
Razor bumps develop when excess skin cells clog the pores and trap the hair inside. Glycolic acid can help get those cells out of the way and allow the hair to come to the surface.
Because it speeds up the skin's natural sloughing process, a glycolic acid product can help razor bumps clear up more quickly and give the skin a smoother appearance.
Products that contain glycolic acid are available to buy online.
If the ingrown hair is visible, it may be helpful to use sterile, pointed tweezers to pull it out.
Removing the trapped hair could get rid of the razor bump quickly. A person should sterilize the tweezers with alcohol and cleanse the skin and hands with soap and water before tweezing.
If the hair is not visible on the surface of the skin, using tweezers could make the problem worse. The tweezers could injure the skin, causing more irritation and infection.
A person should not attempt to pick or squeeze the bumps, as they could get worse or cause scarring.
4. 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 up fruit pits, or tiny beads.
Scrubs may remove debris and free ingrown hairs by physically sloughing off dead skin cells.
Some people may have a skin reaction to the rough texture of scrubs, especially those with sensitive or inflamed skin. If the skin is red, irritated, or sensitive, use scrubs with caution.
Skin scrubs are available in many drug stores and online.
5. Gently brush the skin
Another option for removing dead skin cells and debris clogging the pores is using a soft brush in the areas a person shaves. Some people use a skin care brush or a soft toothbrush.
A brush can help guide the hair out of the clogged pore so that it does not become trapped underneath.
Brushing the area each day may help remove current razor bumps and prevent new ones from forming.
People can buy special skin brushes in some drug stores and online.
6. 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 pairs this technique with one of the other treatments above.
Similarly, a person may wish to steam the area in a hot shower or sauna.
Razor bumps are not the same thing as razor burn.
Razor burn is a type of skin irritation that the friction of the razor causes. It tends to cause areas of redness and irritation immediately after shaving.
Razor burn can occur if a person does not properly lubricate their skin with shaving gel or cream before shaving. It may also occur if the person uses a dull razor or has skin that is sensitive to friction.
Razor bumps, on the other hand, can develop several days after hair removal, once the hair has had time to grow into the skin and create a blockage.
There are several things a person can do to help prevent razor bumps from forming.
If none of these measures help, however, a person may wish to see a doctor so they can evaluate the bumps.
Some prevention tips include:
Shave less often
If possible, a person should try to shave every other day, or even less frequently. This can minimize the risk of hairs being too short to grow out of the skin, thereby decreasing the risk of ingrown hairs.
Use an electric razor
Shaving close to the skin cuts the hair very short. This increases the chance that the hair will become ingrown as it starts to grow back.
A person can use an electric razor on a low setting to keep the hair slightly longer. This makes it less likely that it will turn back into the skin.
Consider a retinoid product
It takes several weeks for a retinoid product to reach its full results, so it is not a quick fix. However, it may help prevent razor bumps as well as acne.
Retinoids come in over-the-counter creams, serums, and cleansers. A person can also get stronger retinoids with a prescription. Prescription retinoids include tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac).
Before shaving or plucking, a person can lower their risk of razor bumps by getting the skin ready. The following steps may help:
- Cleanse the skin with a product that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid to help clear pores and remove excess skin cells from the surface.
- Shave only when the skin is very wet, either during or immediately after a shower. Or, place a warm, wet towel on the area for 5 minutes before shaving.
- Use a shaving cream or gel appropriate for the person's skin type. People who experience acne may wish to opt for a shaving gel that is safe for acne-prone skin. Those with dry skin should choose a product that contains moisturizer.
- Avoid skin care products that contain irritating ingredients, which could make inflammation worse.
- Use a fresh, sharp razor.
- Clean the razor with alcohol before and after each use to keep it free of bacteria.
Try another hair removal technique
Some people may wish to try hair removal creams, or depilatories, which dissolve the hair and reduce the risk of razor bumps.
However, hair removal creams contain chemicals that can irritate some people's skin. A person should not use these products if their skin is already red, inflamed, or sensitive.
Another option is laser hair removal. Dermatologists and other healthcare providers can perform this technique. The AAD state that laser hair removal requires multiple treatments to produce results, but the hair tends to grow back finer and lighter than before.
Razor bumps generally do not cause serious health problems but their appearance can be bothersome and can affect a person's confidence.
If home remedies do not work, consider seeing a doctor or dermatologist to discuss other options, such as a prescription skin cream or laser hair removal.