What exactly are razor bumps?
A good, clean shave leaves your skin feeling so smooth and soft at first — but then come the red bumps. Razor bumps are more than just an annoyance; in some cases, they can cause permanent damage if they’re not treated.
Other names for razor bumps include:
- pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB)
- pseudofolliculitis pubis (specifically when the bumps occur in the pubic area)
- barber’s itch
- folliculitis barbae traumatica
Symptoms of razor bumps
While the primary symptom is raised, red bumps, others may include:
- darkening of the skin
- small papules (solid, rounded bumps)
- pustules (pus-filled, blister-like lesions)
Razor bumps can occur anywhere that’s been shaved. Waxing, plucking, and removal by chemical depilatory may cause the condition in some cases, too. They’re most likely to occur in the following areas:
Causes and risk factors
The bumps occur when curly hairs get stuck inside the hair follicles, according to Dr. Cynthia Abbott, a medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatologist with Dermatology Affiliates in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Instead of growing straight out of the follicle, hairs meet resistance from dead skin at more steeply angled pore openings and the hair curls back around inside the pore,” she says. “This causes inflamed, painful, red bumps.”
While anyone who removes hair can develop razor bumps, they’re most likely to affect African-American males. In fact, between 45 and 85 percent of African-American males experience PFB. Hispanic men and people with curly hair are also more likely to develop razor bumps.
Christopher Byrne, a certified physician assistant with Advanced Dermatology PC in New York, says if you have recurring bumps, it’s important to see a dermatologist. They’re often confused with tinea barbae. Tinea barbae and PFB can both cause an itchy beard, for example.
“Tinea barbae is a fungal infection of hair-bearing areas and can look very similar to PFB on visual examination,” he says. “Tinea barbae requires different medication for treatment in the form of oral and topical antifungal medications.”
PFB can usually be diagnosed with a physical examination. In some cases, skin cultures may be taken to identify if bacteria are causing the bumps. Another separate but related condition, sycosis barbae, is a type of deep folliculitis caused by a bacterial infection. It may appear first as small pustules on the upper lip.
Home remedies for razor bumps
While prevention is the best method to address razor bumps, the following natural remedies may help soothe affected areas:
Aloe vera has an antibacterial, soothing, moisturizing, and anti-inflammatory effect. It helps to quickly stop itchiness, inflammation, and redness caused by the razor bumps.
Remove the aloe gel from inside the plant leaves and apply it to the affected areas. Let it dry and leave it on for at least 30 minutes. Repeat a few times a day. Learn other amazing uses for aloe vera.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. It opens up the pores, loosens the ingrown hair, and soothes the redness and inflammation of the razor bumps.
Mix 10–15 drops of tea tree oil into a bowl of warm water. Soak a washcloth in the bowl and apply the cloth over the affected area for 30 minutes. Repeat a few times a day, as needed.
Gently exfoliate the affected area to clear away dead skin cells that may be clogging up the pores. You can use a mild store-bought exfoliator or you can mix sugar and olive oil together to form a do-it-yourself paste.
Rub the exfoliator or paste over the affected area in a circular motion for five minutes. Rinse off with warm water.
Irritated red bumps can be treated with a combination of:
- prescription antibacterial lotions
- warm compresses with green tea bags
- spot treatment with over-the-counter steroid creams
Sterile incision and extraction of the hair is sometimes necessary.
“No hair follicle growth means no chance of an ingrown hair,” Byrne says. However, that may not always be practical in terms of the areas that need to be treated and cost. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of a laser hair removal session is $306, but how many sessions a person needs will vary.
How to prevent razor bumps
The good news is that there are things you can do to stop the bumps from occurring in many cases. Prevention techniques include the following:
- Avoid shaving too closely.
- Shave in the direction of hair growth rather than “against the grain.”
- Use a non-irritating shaving cream.
- Use an electric razor.
- Avoid pulling skin while shaving.
- Reduce the frequency of shaving.
- Replace your razor frequently.
- Exfoliate with retinoids, glycolic or salicylic acids, or benzoyl peroxides to help clear the follicle opening.
If treated early, most serious complications from razor bumps can be avoided. In some cases, however, if the bumps aren’t treated, there’s a risk of scarring. This can include keloid scarring, which consists of hard, raised bumps. In rare cases, abscesses may form, and you may need surgical intervention.
PFB is a chronic condition that can be physically uncomfortable. However, in most cases, it can be treated and prevented with simple adjustments in your hair removal process. If you find that you’re unable to resolve razor bumps on your own, seek professional treatment as soon as possible to prevent complications that could result in permanent scarring.