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What is Razor Burn?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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Razor burn is a temporary skin irritation caused by shaving. Different people get razor burn for different reasons, but most of the time, it has to do with shaving too closely, too forcefully, or with a dull razor. It is usually identifiable by the itchy red bumps it leaves behind, and in most cases, only lasts for a few days. Simple lotions and creams are often the best treatment, but sufferers should keep an eye on their symptoms in case ingrown hairs start forming — these are very uncomfortable, and can lead to more serious infection.

Main Symptoms

Most razor burns first appear as slight red rashes. Small red bumps are also common, usually right around the hair follicle. These are often itchy, inflamed, and unsightly. Razor burn is most common on the throat, the underarms, and the bikini line — areas where the skin is often already somewhat sensitive — but it is possible anywhere.

Why It Happens

There are several main causes for razor burn, but skin sensitivity is often the most to blame. When a razor is pulled too fast or pushed too hard against skin that is not used to such force, the burn’s signature redness often appears. The main idea in shaving is to clip hair follicles as close to their source as possible; there is a certain skill involved in removing just the hair and not the top layer of skin, however.

Pushing too hard can cause the razor to grab skin cells as well as hair. This does not usually cause bleeding, but will frequently lead to irritation. People most at risk are those who are new to shaving, those who are shaving a new area for the first time, and those who are working with a dull razor. The sharper the equipment, the less resistance is required.

Lubrication and Temperature

Proper lubrication is also an important part of preventing razor burn. Shaving usually works best when the area is coated either with soap or with a specially-formulated gel or lotion. These products moisten the skin and soften the hair while also serving as something of a protective barrier between the skin and the razor. Many people also begin by washing the area to be shaved in warm water. Skin that is either unwashed or splashed with cold water tends to constrict, which makes it more sensitive to irritation; warmer temperatures, on the other hand, can promote relaxation, which leads to plasticity and reduced resistance.

Care and Healing

Once razor burn has appeared, most medical professionals recommend leaving it alone and shielding the affected skin from outside irritations whenever possible. Gentle lotions and topical creams can also be used to calm the itch and pain. It is usually a good idea to avoid shaving around the rash until it has completely disappeared in order to prevent further inflammation.

Things to Watch For

Rashes that last for more than a few days, that seem to get worse, or that result in large, pimple-sized bumps filled with pus should be treated by a medical professional. These may be signs of ingrown hairs or infection, which may require medication like antibiotics to remedy. Early treatment can also prevent long-term scarring.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon978240 — On Nov 16, 2014

I have razor burn right beneath my waist. What can I do? Please help.

By giddion — On Feb 25, 2013

I could not find any way to avoid bikini line razor burn while using a disposable razor. No matter how careful I was, it always happened. I even made sure to shave in the direction of the hair growth!

So, I decided to try using an electric razor. It had a guard on it to prevent nicking and cutting, and I had heard that it would keep me from giving myself razor burn, too.

I've been using the electric razor on my bikini line for three years now, and I haven't had razor burn that whole time. I would recommend it to anyone who has issues with bumps after shaving in this area.

By kylee07drg — On Feb 24, 2013

@Fiorite – Aloe vera gel provides the most razor burn relief for me. I always have some in my cabinet in case I get sunburned, and I discovered a few years ago that it is also great for treating razor burn.

I tend to get painful red bumps on my underarms after shaving. These bumps stick around, so I hit them over and over again with the razor, because I shave every other day.

The only thing that prevents them from forming and relieves them when they do is cooling aloe vera gel. It is like putting something gooey and refrigerated right onto the bumps.

I use aloe vera gel at night instead of applying deodorant, and this cuts down even more on irritation. By morning, my underarms are ready to accept the deodorant without any burning or pain.

By Kristee — On Feb 23, 2013

I used to get razor burn on my legs a lot. Then I realized that I needed to be changing out my disposable razor more often.

I set a two week limit on using each razor. They are fairly cheap, so this didn't set me back much. I have been able to completely avoid razor burn this way.

By healthy4life — On Feb 23, 2013

@anon278578 – Don't use alcohol on ingrown hairs. You should be using an aftershave that contains either salicylic or glycolic acid, because it will remove the dead skin cells and open up your pores.

Also, you can fish out one end of the ingrown hair with either a needle or sharp tweezers. You will most likely have to puncture the skin for this, so make sure the instrument you use is clean. Don't pluck the hair, but do pull one end out, and then put witch hazel on the spot to relieve the redness.

By anon309073 — On Dec 14, 2012

I use a clean razor, shaving cream and only moderately hot water to shave. When the water is too hot while I am shaving, it seems to make the razor burn worse. Then when I get out of the shower I use this spray product called Razor Burn Freedom. Since I have had this product, razor burn is a distant memory!

By anon278578 — On Jul 08, 2012

I'm scared. I have four little bumps like acne. I stupidly shaved over one and now it's scabbing yellow and pus came out. I put rubbing alcohol on it to clean it but my hairs are growing back and I can't get them out. Any suggestions?

By Fiorite — On Jul 03, 2010

@ Glasshouse- If you do get razor burn and you cannot stop shaving, i.e. for work, function, etc., you can use a few different home remedies.

A couple of drops of tea tree oil applied to wet hands and then rubbed on the face will help to minimize razor burn and bumps. If you do this right after shaving, but before moisturizing, you should see a noticeable difference.

Aloe vera will alleviate the pain and itching associated with razor burn. A couple of aspirins crushed with a few drops of water will do the same. Simply make a paste and dab on the affected area.

If you feel like the area is infected, a burdock root compress will work too. Boil an ounce of burdock root in a couple of cups of water. Soak some gauze in the burdock tea, and press to the affected area for about 10 minutes. This will help disinfect and heal. It will also help to draw out any ingrown hairs. Be careful though, burdock tea will stain white clothes.

By Glasshouse — On Jul 03, 2010

I usually begin my shave with a little lotion on my face, followed by a hot towel warmed in the microwave. I let this sit on my face for a few minutes to soften the hairs. When I am done with the towel, I put it in the freezer or fridge until later.

When I apply the shaving cream, I use a badger hair brush in a swirling motion to help lift the hairs. I shave gently with a sharp blade following the grain. Post shave, I wrap my face in the cooled towel, then moisturize.

If I do get a few ingrown hairs or razor burn, I grow a beard for a week or two. This will give my skin time to heal before I take a blade to it again.

It is a process that takes a little of my time, and I am constantly walking back and forth between the kitchen and the bathroom. It does beat having an irritating rash though, and I got used to the routine quick.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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