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If you’ve noticed dark spots on your legs, which may resemble small black dots, you may have strawberry legs. The term comes from the dotted or pitted appearance that resembles the skin and seeds of a strawberry.
The open comedones that cause the appearance of strawberry legs are hair follicles or enlarged pores that contain a trapped mixture of oil, bacteria, and dead skin. When the follicle or pore is exposed to air after shaving, it may darken.
Here’s what strawberry legs look like, what may cause it, and how to treat it.
While “strawberry legs” refers to a singular appearance, it’s actually an umbrella term.
There are several different conditions that can cause the distinct appearance of strawberry legs to occur, some of which may overlap with each other.
Shaving — particularly shaving improperly with old, dull razors or without shaving cream — can sometimes cause strawberry legs.
Razor burn can lead to strawberry legs, and it may also cause folliculitis to develop. Shaving can also result in ingrown hairs. In some individuals, these ingrown hairs may be what’s causing the appearance of strawberry legs. This occurs most often in those with thick body hair.
In some cases, the skin around the follicle may darken in response to the irritation from shaving, which then increases the dark appearance.
The skin on your legs contains thousands of pores, and like all other pores, they can become clogged with bacteria, dead skin, and debris.
These clogged pores — called open comedones — can turn dark after being exposed to the air. This takes place because the oil and debris inside the pores darkens once it dries, much like the tiny blackheads that appear on your face.
If you have larger pores on your legs due to genetics or thick body hair, they may be easy to spot.
Folliculitis occurs when the hair follicle becomes inflamed, and sometimes infected. This condition can be the result of shaving, waxing, or other hair removal methods that leave the hair follicle open and at increased risk of exposure. But it can also occur if you’ve been exposed to bacteria, yeast, or fungus.
Using a hot tub with pH and chemicals that haven’t been regulated properly can also lead to folliculitis.
Folliculitis typically starts as small red bumps or blisters, which may later develop into scabs that don’t heal easily.
Sometimes, folliculitis can be related to ingrown hairs that are struggling to break through the skin. This can also lead to the darkened skin appearance associated with strawberry legs.
Keratosis pilaris appears on the skin of the thighs and upper arms and is a benign and common condition. At a glance, the small bumps associated with keratosis pilaris might look like tiny pimples, goosebumps, or “chicken skin,” and they’re rough and hard to the touch.
The bumps caused by keratosis pilaris are actually tiny accumulations of the protein keratin and dead epithelial (skin) cells. They can be itchy and dry but can be treated with moisturizers.
Keratosis pilaris tends to be seasonal, appearing more frequently during the dry winter months than during the summer.
If you swim often during summertime, though, you might experience keratosis pilaris during those months, too. Swimming pool chemicals tend to dry the skin. This could also be the case if you live in a climate with low humidity.
Overly dry skin
Dry skin can cause or exacerbate the symptoms of strawberry legs, as well as other conditions that resemble strawberry legs.
If your skin is exceptionally dry, you’re more likely to develop irritation when you shave. This could leave you vulnerable to developing razor burn, folliculitis, and the signature “strawberry legs” appearance.
Dryness also tends to encourage the darkening of pores in your skin. It also makes keratosis pilaris, folliculitis, open comedones, and razor burn more obvious to the naked eye.
While strawberry legs can resemble several different conditions, its tell-tale signs usually include:
- a dotted or pitted appearance on the skin of your legs
- the darkening of open pores on the legs
- the appearance of brown or black dots on the legs after shaving
If you’re experiencing itching, scabbing, irritation, or inflammation, you may actually have an underlying condition that resembles strawberry legs. See your doctor to rule out infection and to choose the proper course of treatment for your skin.
Depending on the cause and severity, strawberry legs may be treated either at home or by a trained professional.
Home treatments for strawberry legs include:
Shaving properly and carefully with a moisturizing shave lotion or cream
Avoid using a dull razor on dry or simply wet skin. Skipping shaving cream may also be causing your symptoms, so be sure to carefully moisturize the area before it comes in contact with a razor.
Using an epilator
An epilator is a hand-held electrical tool that grasps and removes hair by the root. While using an epilator might be uncomfortable or even painful (like waxing), anecdotal evidence suggests that this form of hair removal can prevent strawberry legs from occurring.
An epilator is also not as irritating to the skin as waxing. Buy one now.
Moisturizing your skin thoroughly and daily
Replacing lost moisture will improve the appearance of your skin and should serve to alleviate or prevent the symptoms of strawberry legs.
Exfoliating your skin on a regular basis
Gently removing dead skin cells from the surface of your legs should help reduce strawberry legs, as well as help to prevent ingrown hairs. Removing dead skin on your legs will give new hair a chance to break through the skin’s surface more easily.
Using an over-the-counter (OTC) product containing salicylic acid or glycolic acid
These treatments should also help reduce any acne conditions that may be causing or worsening your symptoms.
If home remedies aren’t effective, strawberry legs may also be treated by a trained professional in a clinical setting. Possible treatments include permanent hair removal through:
- Electrolysis. This treatment consists of using low levels of electricity to pinpoint irritated (or otherwise problematic) hair follicles. Electrolysis prevents ingrown hairs from recurring.
- Laser therapy. Although it requires multiple treatments to achieve permanent removal of hair, laser therapy is targeted and precise. Even better, it’s able to treat more than one follicle at a time. The laser therapy process, which occurs between three to seven times, won’t damage your skin.
If your doctor determines that you’re dealing with folliculitis, they may recommend prescription therapies to treat the infected hair follicles. These could include oral antibiotics and antibiotic creams or gels. For folliculitis, your antibiotic treatment will most likely be topical unless the infection continues to recur.
If a fungal infection (like yeast) is at the root of your folliculitis, you’ll be prescribed antifungal shampoo, cream, or an oral antifungal treatment. You may also be treated with oral or topical anti-inflammatory medication.
For some people, strawberry legs are easily managed. Prevention measures and home remedies can go a long way, so it’s possible to successfully eliminate strawberry legs on your own.
However, for those with thicker body hair, darker skin pigmentation, and additional hair follicle challenges, strawberry legs might recur more often and be harder to treat. If this is the case for you, professional treatment options may be your most effective option for long-term symptom relief.