What are Razor Bumps?
Sometimes when shaving, the hair is cut off where it exits your face causing it to curl and grow back under the skin. These ingrown hairs then turn into irritating red bumps and shaving bumps are born.
Razor bumps go by a variety of names (pseudofollicultis barbae, ingrown hairs, shaving bumps, and “oh my God my face is going to itch and burn off”) but regardless of what you call it, the symptoms are the same. Shaving bumps are a cluster of small, irritating, bumps that appear along the skin after shaving. Most of the time, the bumps are red, especially after a fresh shave, but may fade over time and take on the appearance of small pimples. Either way, they’re incredibly unattractive and annoying.
And if you think that they’re “not a big deal” or “just part of shaving with sensitive skin”, wipe those thoughts away because over the course of time they can actually turn into scar tissue. Yeah, that’s right; your “not a big deal” razor burn can turn into a permanent fixture on your face.
What causes Shaving Bumps and Who Gets Them?
So what causes them? Obviously razor bumps are caused by shaving but it goes much further than just being an issue with your blade or shaving style. The simple explanation is that razor bumps are essentially ingrown hairs that have wiggled their way back under the skin and are being attacked by your body’s auto immune system. Since your body sees them as a threat or foreign object, an auto immune response is issued, resulting in a red bump. The red bump is an inflammatory reaction.
Your next question is probably, “who’s most risk for razor bumps?” The simple answer is everyone. The American Academy of Dermatology recently conducted a poll and discovered that a shocking 78% of men experienced some form of skin irritation which razor bumps being the most common. However, African Americans are much more likely to get razor bumps than Caucasian males. The study suggested that 20% of Caucasians experienced razor bumps whereas a shocking 60-80% of African American males suffered from razor bumps. African American males experience ingrown hairs more than others because of the natural curliness of their beards. Because of the natural curl, it is much easier for the hair to find its way back under the skin; especially when shaving. African American men who are prone to razor bumps should also take care since their skin is more susceptible to keloid scarring meaning that untreated bumps can scar much more quickly than their white counterparts.
People with sensitive skin and those that have had ingrown hairs before are most at risk. If you are prone to dry, sensitive skin then you’re more likely to develop razor bumps because the skin is thinner and more receptive to irritation. Unfortunately, if you’ve had ingrown hairs once, you’re at risk for getting them again. That’s because the hair has been “trained” to grow inwards. Since razor bumps are essentially glorified ingrown hairs, your chances of getting them after you’ve had them before are high.
The Two Types of Razor Bumps
Did you know that there are actually two different types of razor bumps? If you didn’t, we’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news. While both benefit from the same preventions and treatments (we’ll discuss these later), the different types are worth knowing.
Extrafollicular- Extrafollicular razor bumps are hairs that have turned around and grown inwards without ever exiting the skin. While some people recommend exfoliating AFTER the razor bumps have occurred in order to treat the problem, we don’t recommend doing so. Loofahs and scrubs can irritate the skin further so just treat them with lotions/remedies and move on. You should however exfoliate BEFORE shaving.
Transfollicular- Transfollicular razor bumps are hairs that have exited the skin but turned around and gone back into it. Typically, you’ll see a bit of the whisker exposed. We recommend getting a pair of tweezers and teasing the hair, NOT plucking, in order to coax it out. Keep in mind that if you do pull the hair out, you’ll end up with deeper ingrown hairs so be careful.
How to Prevent Ingrown Hairs
Like any good skin regimen, treatment starts at prevention. While it probably sounds pretty obvious, the best way to prevent razor burn starts with preventing it from happening in the first place. And unfortunately for guys with sensitive skin, that’s easier said than done.
However, there are a number of ways of preventing razor bumps from happening:
Wash your face- Okay, we’re starting off once again with something that seems so logical but it’s worth mentioning. If you’re one of those guys who does a quick shave in the morning before work without cleaning your face first because “hey I took a shower last night and I’m still clean” you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Your pillows and blankets are breeding grounds for bacteria, dead skin cells, and sweat; all of which makes its way onto your face. When you shave you expose your skin to these irritants, which causes razor bumps. So make sure you wash your face thoroughly before shaving.
Never dry shave- We get it; sometimes you only have a few minutes to spare for your shaving routine and it can be tempting to dry shave to save time but don’t. Set your alarm earlier and take the time to lather your face up before shaving; even if you’re doing just a quick “once over” for work. If you absolutely don’t have the time to devote to wet shaving, take an electric trimmer to the area and make ONE pass. Don’t fall for the wet or dry shave gimmicks that a lot of 6 bladed razors try to sell; they’ll still cause razor burn.
Soften your hairs- It’s no secret that soft hairs are easier to cut; that’s why your barber uses hot towels on your face. Ideally, you’ll want to take a hot shower first to open your pores and soften the hairs before shaving. We also recommend having a hot towel on hand to apply to your face periodically after in order to keep the whiskers soft and supple. If this isn’t something you can fit into your routine, at least wash your face with really hot water before putting a blade to it. We promise your skin will thank you.
Single bladed razors are your friend- Regardless of what the four and five bladed razor companies tell you, you only need one sharp blade for a great shave. Safety razors and straight razors are godsends not only for precision trims, but for shaving in general. Less blades means less places for bacteria, dirt, and hairs to hang out in which is obviously a good thing.
Shave with the grain- If you’ve got sensitive skin and are prone to shaving irritation, you should always shave with the grain. Not only does it reduce ingrown hairs and razor burn, but it also reduces nicks. Shaving against the grain has a tendency to “tug” at hairs, which is incredibly irritating for your skin and cause razor bumps.
Exfoliate- Exfoliation and loofahs aren’t just for your girlfriend! Scrubs and loofahs not only remove dead skin cells and dirt from your face, but they also coax the hairs into standing up. Not only does this help prevent ingrown hairs and razor burn, but it also gives you a much more even shave. Plus, it feels really good and your skin will be baby soft after!
Rinse your blade after each pass- Yes, it’s time consuming to rinse your razor after every stroke but it’s worth it. Creams, gels, soaps, and hairs have a tendency to sit on top of the blade after you make a pass. Not only does this get in the way of a clean, smooth shave by preventing your razor from getting as close to your skin as it should, but it can also cause razor bumps.
Sanitize your blades- Before shaving you should clean your razor blades with rubbing alcohol or some kind of sanitizer. Bacteria left on blades can further irritate shaving bumps so don’t take the chance!
Use a cold washcloth after your shave- After your shave, you should press a cold, wet washcloth to your face to close the pores and soothe your skin. Closed pores are less likely to pull in bacteria that cause razor bumps. If you’re short on time, wash your face with cold water and pat dry.
Use creams and tonics- Shaving dehydrates your skin regardless of how moisturizing your shave gel claims to be. Restore moisture to your skin, and prevent irritation, by using an aftershave cream or tonic.
How to Treat Razor Bumps
Razor bumps are nothing short of a pain in the ass and left untreated, can leave you miserable for hours given the constant itch and burn. Luckily, there are some at home remedies you can try as well as over the counter products that help.
Jojoba- Jojoba is most famous for its hydrating properties and people with dry skin swear by it. Because your skin is dry and irritated after shaving, jojoba can restore lost moisture and provide relief from shaving bumps. Jojoba also keeps the bumps from developing “heads” after they dry and prevents them from scabbing over.
Witch hazel- Witch hazel is similar to hydrocortisone in that it helps relief itchiness, soothe soreness, and reduce skin irritation. It is also known for its natural antiseptic properties which is a must when it comes to combating razor bumps and keeping more bacteria from finding its way into your pores.
Tea tree oil- Tea tree oil is another natural antibacterial agent, which will help clear up any bacteria floating around on the skin preventing further breakouts. It will also soothe the area since tea tree oil has natural cooling properties like aloe vera. However, you should make sure you dilute the oil with water since it’s very potent.
Aloe vera- Aloe vera isn’t just for sunburns; it’s also good for treating all sorts of skin issues. Because the plant has natural cooling properties, you’ll find nearly instant relief by rubbing it on your razor bumps.
Hot compress- While this probably sounds counterintuitive at first glance hear us out. The heat from the compress will open your pores, allowing the trapped hairs to escape. Soak a cotton washcloth in hot water and press it to your face, resoaking as needed to maintain heat.
Hydrocortisone cream- Hydrocortisone cream is designed to soothe itchy bumps so this is a no brainer when it comes to finding relief from ingrown hairs. Plus it’s stronger than witch hazel so if you’re looking for near instant relief, this is one of your best bets.
White tea- Chances are you’ve probably heard of using warm tea bags to soothe bee stings, but did you know it can also help alleviate the discomfort associated with razor bumps? That’s because the tannic acid in tea reduces inflammation.
EZ Blade Aftershave Tonic- Our aftershave tonic is a miracle worker when it comes to all forms of skin irritation; especially razor bumps. That’s because we designed it with you in mind. The tonic has tea tree oil, jojoba, and witch hazel, which as you read above are great for soothing shaving bumps. And because there’s no harsh chemicals or overpowering fragrances, you don’t have to worry about irritating your face further when you use it. Pick the tonic if you’re a guy that prefers a lighter form of relief.
EZ Blade Aftershave Lotion- Our lotion is infused with sunflower oil, vitamin E oil and more to soothe your skin while restoring lost moisture. Sunflower oil is well regarded by Native Americans for its healing properties. That’s because it can instantly soothe irritation, reduce the appearance of nicks, and provides your skin with much needed hydration. Vitamin E oil is also praised around the world for its healing and moisturizing properties. Vitamin E oil can also visibly reduce the appearance of scars and imperfections, which is great for combating razor bumps. Pick the lotion if you’re a guy that prefers a heavier form of relief.