Razor bumps, as everyone knows, suck. After carefully shaving to better show off your smooth, clean face to the world, an ugly red bump—or worse, a whole bunch of them—springs up and ruins everything. But what are these unwanted intruders on your skin? What do they want? And how can you make them leave? In this guide, we’ll be looking at how to prevent razor bumps, and if it’s already too late for that, how you can get them to go away.
Why Razor Bumps Happen
We sought advice from Dr. Anthony Rossi, dermatologist and assistant professor at Cornell’s Weill Medical College, to find out just what’s happening when these annoying bumps rear their reddened heads. The bump, it turns out, is merely the site of the problem itself: An ingrown hair.
Essentially, what happens is this: When a hair grows out of your skin, it can sometimes curl back on itself and start digging its way back into the skin (hence the term, ingrown hair). Alternatively, dead skin can clog up a hair follicle, so instead of sprouting from the skin, the hair grows sideways under it. Either way, this irritates the skin and causes it to raise up in those familiar red bumps (sometimes, you may be able to see the hair that’s causing all the trouble, but not always).
It doesn’t just happen on your face and neck, either—razor bumps can occur anywhere that you shave, including on the legs, armpits and groin. So if you’re someone who likes the smooth look, be sure to check out our manscape tips on avoiding both bumps and the dreaded post-manscape prickle.
The good news here is that there’s usually nothing inherently dangerous about razor bumps, and they should resolve themselves on their own within a few days. If you see one spot repeatedly getting affected, however, it’s worth paying some attention to it before it gets infected.
How to Prevent Razor Bumps
They say prevention is better than cure, and it’s certainly true in this case. One of the most simple ways to drastically cut down the number of ingrown hairs you’re getting is to always make sure to shave with the grain—that is, to shave in the direction that your hair is growing (as a general, more simplified rule, you want to shave with downward strokes on your face and upward strokes on your neck).
When you shave against the grain, the hair is trimmed so short—and left with such a pointed tip—that it’s far easier for it to get embedded in the skin rather than growing outwards. Shaving in the right direction leaves hairs flush with the skin, and less likely to start tunneling in.
As for those hairs caused by clogged skin follicles, they’re easy to prevent too. A good exfoliating prep scrub, applied before shaving, will get rid of the gunk that’s blocking those hairs, allowing them to grow free without interference.
How to Get Rid of Razor Bumps
Like we said, the best tip for how to get rid of shaving bumps is to prevent them from happening in the first place. But if it’s too late for that, there are a couple things you can do. If you can actually see the hair responsible for the bump, it’s possible to guide it out of the skin with a pair of tweezers, thus removing the source of the problem, but there are two major caveats here: Firstly, always be sure to sterilize the tweezers in boiling water for 15 minutes first—otherwise you run the risk of introducing more bacteria to the hair follicle and increasing the risk of further infection. Secondly, the trick here is to guide the hair out from under the skin—not to pluck it out of the follicle entirely. Doing the latter will cause the next hair to have to grow out from under the skin again, putting you right back where you started.
If you’re seeing the razor bump but not the hair, you can try rubbing in some aloe vera lotion, which will help reduce the inflammation, making it appear less red and angry. If they’re especially itchy, you can apply a cold compress for a little relief. Most importantly, if you want the razor bump (or bumps) to go away more quickly, don’t keep shaving over that same area, as this will further irritate them and cause them to stick around for longer. And that’s something nobody wants.