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No matter how many years you've been shaving, razor bumps can happen to the best of us. To get to the bottom of why the bumps form and how to get rid of them sooner rather than later, we spoke with Sai Demirovic, esthetician and co-founder of GLO Spa NY, Lily Talakoub, a dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center, and New York-based dermatologist Elyse Love, M.D.
Why do razor bumps happen?
"The term 'razor bump' is used to describe two conditions," explains Love. "One is skin irritation that can occur with shaving, particularly when shaving with dull razors and/or without shaving cream. This skin irritation causes a rough and irritated feel to the skin. Razor bumps can also describe ingrown hairs that may or may not be visible. Ingrown hairs occur when hair grows into the skin and causes inflammation. This results in red or skin-colored bumps surrounding a hair follicle."
According to Talakoub, razor bumps occur more often in parts of the body that fold, such as the underarms, because of the skin-on-skin contact and the increased moisture that happens in that area. Demirovic adds that most of us get razor bumps where hair grows the thickest, like the face, neck, bikini area, and underarms because thick hairs cause more irritation and oil production than finer hair. This can lead to inflammation and possibly even infection.
Demirovic also says hair texture plays a role, and bumps happen more frequently with those who have naturally coarse hair and darker skin tones. "Hair that naturally grows into a curl has a larger risk of getting trapped into the skin than a straight hair can," she says. These bumps can last up to two weeks, which can make it a never-ending battle when you shave frequently.
How do you get rid of razor bumps?
"Anti-inflammatory ingredients are helpful. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone may be good enough, but if it's persistent despite a few days of treatment, it's best to see a dermatologist for a prescription product," says Love. "Topical cortisone use should be limited in this area, so it's best to take the time to prevent skin irritation by using sharp blades and shaving cream routinely. For ingrown hairs, alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids can be helpful for prevention."
Love recommends Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's Alpha Beta Exfoliating Body Treatment Peel, Nécessaire's Body Exfoliator, and eos Shea Better Shave Cream, "which contains moisturizing and anti-inflammatory shea butter and shea oil to support the skin during shaving." Demirovic likes using iS Clinical Active Serum or the PFB Vanish Razor Bump Stopper Roll On Shaving Gel, which she says has lactic, salicylic, and glycolic acids to exfoliate the skin above the trapped hair and kill bacteria trapped in the follicle. She then reaches for aloe vera to soothe the area and calm the lingering inflammation.
How can you prevent razor bumps?
When's the last time you changed your razor blade? If you can't remember, it's been too long. Other than using a sharp and clean razor, there are a few other tricks to make sure you get a close shave without any irritation. Talakoub says to shave with—not against—the grain and to shave in a steamy shower to soften the hairs. You'll also want to avoid leaving your razor in the shower as the dampness can cause it to gather bacteria and mold. Instead, stash it in your medicine cabinet or toothbrush holder.
As for products, Demirovic suggests mixing vitamin E oil with Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion to nourish the skin and recommends something like Fur Oil for your bikini area. Talakoub also likes Tend Skin Lotion for reducing ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
If all of the above fails, you may want to look into laser hair removal. "It kills the hair all the way down to its root," says Demirovic. "Essentially, if there isn't hair growing, there isn't anything in the way to cause an ingrown hair. Laser can also help reduce the hyperpigmentation and scarring caused by ingrowns."
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