Irritation and bumps after shaving (razor bumps or shaving bumps) are common in all people who shave. It is a very common problem after puberty and for people who start shaving for the first time. Here are some strategies you can try before seeing a medical provider or that you can use in conjunction with most treatment plans to make your treatments work even better.
Know the causes of razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis):
- Misdirected hair: Hair grows out of tubes in the skin called follicles. When you have an extra close shave, the tip of the hair retracts back into the skin and then may curve into the edges of the follicle. The body treats misdirected hairs just as it would a splinter or any other foreign body by producing inflammation (tenderness, red, pus, and swelling). If this continues for long enough, your skin will create dark spots in place of the inflammation.
- Infected hair: If your skin is not cleansed before you shave, or if you use a contaminated razor, then bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens can get into the hair follicles leading to small infections. Infections of the hair follicles will look the same as inflammation caused by misdirected hairs (tenderness, red, pus, and swelling). Eventually, this can lead to dark spots and scarring.
- The skin should always be cleansed prior to any shaving to limit the risk of infections. Typical cleansers include an oil-free cleanser, a benzoyl peroxide wash, or a gentle wash containing glycolic acid.
- Shave using short strokes in the direction of hair growth without stretching the skin.
- If you can tolerate some stubble, ideally an electric razor or clippers set to 1 mm (#1 guard or 1/8”) should be used.
- If you prefer a manual razor and struggle with shaving bumps, single blade razors are preferred over multi-blade razors. Be patient as it does take longer to shave with a single blade razor than with multiblade razors. You should also replace your blade after every 5-7 shaves to keep the blade as sharp and bacteria-free as possible.
Detailed step-by-step method:
Step 1: Wet your hair in the shower with warm water to soften it. Make sure the hair is in contact with water for at least 2 minutes.
Step 2: Cleanse with a gentle cleanser such as Vanicream cleansing bar (https://www.vanicream.com/product/vanicream-cleansing-bar), CeraVe, Cetaphil, or Dove. If you are getting lots of infections, CLn BodyWash (https://www.clnwash.com/products/bodywash) is gentle and extra good at clearing the skin of bacteria and fungi that might cause infections.
Step 3: Use a soft-bristled toothbrush in a circular motion in the affected area to dislodge any hair tips that might try to pierce the skin. Alternatives to a soft toothbrush include a Clarisonic brush (https://us.currentbody.com/products/clarisonic-mia-smart) or a Buf-Puf (https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/p/d/cbgblw761190/).
Step 4: Use an adjustable electric razor to cut the hairs close to the skin surface (but not razor close). Some good razors for this purpose are: Andis Liners (https://andis.com/shop/detail/04780/T-Outliner-T-Blade-Trimmer), the Panosonic Beard, Hair & Body Groomer (https://shop.panasonic.com/products/beard-hair-body-groomer-39-length-settings), or the Panasonic Shaver and Epilator (https://shop.panasonic.com/products/shaver-and-epilator-with-5-attachments).
Step 5: If you need an extra close shave, you can additionally glide a close shaver across the area. Favorite close shavers for the beard area is the Wahl 5 Star Cordless Shaver (https://www.wahlpro.com/shop/5-star-cordcordless-shavershaper-red-08061-100) and the Bevel electric shaver (https://getbevel.com/products/electric-shaver).
Alternatively, if you prefer using a razor, make sure you are using a shaving cream, gel, or foam and let it sit on the skin for 2-3 minutes (see suggestions on creams, gels, and foams below). Then use a single-blade razor to shave in the direction of hair growth. The Wilkinson Sword Double Edge Razor (https://www.schick.com/products/wilkinson-sword-double-edge-razor), OneBlade Core Razor (https://www.onebladeshave.com/products/oneblade-core), or Bevel Premium Safety Razor (https://getbevel.com/products/safety-razor) are good choices for the beard area. The Rose Gold Sensitive Skin Razor by Oui the People is a good razor for the legs and underwear area (www.ouithepeople.com/products/rose-gold-safety-razor). Another good option is the Kitsch Perfect Glide Safety Razor (www.mykitsch.com/products/perfect-glide-safety-razor).
Step 6: Apply a non-comedogenic moisturizing cream. CeraVe Cream and CeraVe Lotion (https://www.cerave.com/skincare/moisturizers/moisturizing-cream) are excellent, allergy-free choices and dermatology favorites as they replenish natural skin oils. Other good choices for men include Sebamed Men’s After Shave Balm (https://www.sebamedusa.com/mens-after-shave-balm) and Nivea Sensitive Post Shave Balm (https://www.niveausa.com/products/sensitive-post-shave-balm-721408130620079.html). Good choices for women include Tend Skin Solution post shaving and waxing lotion (https://tendskin.com/products/tend-skin-solution-for-use-post-shaving-and-waxing), KP Touch Exfoliating Lotion (https://www.mytouchskincare.com/products/kp-exfoliating-lotion), or CeraVe SA Cream For Rough and Bumpy Skin (https://www.cerave.com/skincare/moisturizers/sa-cream-for-rough-and-bumpy-skin).
Step 7: Avoid friction in the sensitive areas. Men should consider wearing collar extenders whenever wearing neckties. If you are trying to prevent bumps in the underwear area or legs, consider wearing loose-fitting breathable clothes with 100% cotton, rayon, or bamboo fibers. Wearing Women’s briefs or boy shorts can also be helpful.
Step 8: Apply a night-time treatment to thin the epidermis and reduce the risk of hair trapping. Differin Gel (https://differin.com/shop/differin-gel) and The Ordinary Azeleic Acid Suspension 10% (https://theordinary.com/en-us/azelaic-acid-suspension-10-exfoliator-100407.html) are good low allergy options for sensitive skin. Other good options include Tend Skin Brightoner Serum (https://tendskin.com/products/brightoner-serum), Anthony’s Ingrown Hair Treatment (https://anthony.com/products/ingrown-hair-treatment), Roll-on PFB Vanish + Chromabright Skin Lightener & Bump Fighter (https://www.pfbvanish.com/shop2.aspx?sguid=#pfb2-2), and Bliss That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Acid Pads (https://www.blissworld.com/collections/skin-and-body-best-sellers/products/thats-incredi-peel-glycolic-acid-pads).
Step 9: Change your razor after every 5-7 shaves. This will keep your blades sharp and infection free. Dull blades will pull on hair causing hair retraction and subsequent misdirected hairs that will make shaving bumps. Dirty blades will seed bacteria and fungus into your skin leading to pus bumps. Some of the sharpest razor blades are Feather Razor Blades (https://www.feather.co.jp/en/g_Products/general01.html).
Step 10: Be patient. It may take 1-2 months before you notice improvement. However, if you are not improving after 2 months, you should consult a dermatologist to add prescription medications to your regimen, prevent permanent scarring, and confirm that there are no other underlying causes for the shaving bumps.
Favorite Shaving Creams, Gels, Soaps and Foams:
- Shave Creams: good for dry or extra sensitive skin and typically have added soothing ingredients
- Vanicream Shave Cream for Sensitive Skin (extra low allergy)
- Kiehl’s Ultimate Brushles Shave Cream (cooling)
- Eos Shea Better Sensitive Shave Cream (good for extra sensitive areas)
- Jack Black Supreme Cream Triple Cushion Shave Lather (extra hydrating and avoids synthetic fragrances)
- The Art of Shaving Unscented Shaving Cream (thick and extra hydrating)
- Shave Gels: good for allowing your razor to glide and less likely to contain alcohol (which can sting on sensitive areas like the face and underwear area)
- Edge Advanced Gel Ultra Sensitive (extra low allergy)
- Elemis Ice-Cool Foaming Shave Gel (cooling)
- Gillette Satin Care Shave Gel (hydrating)
- TendSkin Air Shave Gel (good for delicate areas)
- Shaving Soaps: Easily spread and lather which makes them good for the body, but may not give enough glide for the face and underwear areas
- Dr. Bronner’s Shaving Soap, Unscented (some fragrance oils, otherwise very low allergy)
- Shaving Foams: Stick well to the skin making them good for shaving in the shower, but may not provide enough glide for the face or sensitive areas
- Gillette Series Shaving Foam, Sensitive Skin (cooling and moisturizing)
- American Crew Protective Shave Foam (thicker for better glide)
These shaving tips are based on the successful 9-step program created by the late Charles Crutchfield III MD. He was a highly respected expert, educator, and roll-model in dermatology and one of the first medical professionals to tailor skin treatments for people of color. All of us would benefit by reading about this great medical leader (https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/06/23/charles-crutchfield-remembered-for-his-pioneering-work-community-outreach).