Have you experienced this? You shave your legs so that they can be smooth to the touch, and like some kind of terrible plot twist, the result is razor bumps and irritation instead. (We can hear the collective cries.) Why does this happen to us? New York City–based dermatologist Dendy Engelman explains that razor bumps are an inflammatory reaction to the hair shaft re-entering the skin, such as an ingrown hair and/or folliculitis, which is inflammation of the hair follicle.
Engelman shares that people with curly and thick hair are more predisposed to razor bumps—or pseudofolliculitis barbae, as it’s referred to in the medical world. Engelman said that one definitive method for treating PFB is laser hair removal. While a great solution, it may not always be financially feasible. Fortunately, Engelman says that there are a number of solutions to make shaving less of a drag. Keep scrolling to learn how to get rid of razor bumps, including drugstore remedies and tips like how often to change your razor.
Ahead, see 11 tips from dermatologists and estheticians for smooth-shaven legs.
EXFOLIATE YOUR LEGS BEFORE SHAVING
“Exfoliating your legs prior to razor use will remove the dead skin cells, allowing easier gliding and better hair removal which will also dramatically decrease razor bumps and ingrown hairs,” says Marnie Nussbaum, MD, New York City–based dermatologist. Her go-to product: Peter Thomas Roth Buffing Beads Body Wash [Note: product discontinued]. “It gently moisturizes and cleanses while shedding the dead skin cells,” she says.
USE PRE-SHAVE OIL
DeoDoc expert Dr. Gunvor Ekman-Ordeberg explains that oils help to soften the skin, thus making hair removal much easier. Oils also add a layer of protection against the razor.
MOISTURIZE IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU SHOWER
“Never, ever skip moisturizing the skin after a shave,” urges Nussbaum. She adds that it’s essential to moisturize immediately out of the shower to lock in the moisture and reduce inflammation from shaving. She recommends Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil ($13) or Aveeno Eczema Therapy ($11) to intensely hydrate and calm the skin.
APPLY TONER AFTER SHAVING
“Toners can alleviate redness and irritation as well as provide hydration,” explains Engelman. She recommends looking for formulas with ingredients that have anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, like aloe, Dickinson’s Witch Hazel, Allantoin, or willow bark.
REPAIR THE LOOK OF IRRITATED SKIN WITH A SKIN-RENEWING SERUM
To remedy razor bumps, Engelman suggests trying Elizabeth Arden SuperStart Skin Renewal Booster ($67), which “contains sea fennel and flaxseed extracts to help reinforce the integrity of the skin’s moisture barrier while the probiotic complex helps optimize the skin’s microflora to help strengthen defense against possible infections,” she explains.
SMOOTH SKIN WITH THIS DRUGSTORE LOTION
Samantha Wright, senior esthetician and managing director at Dangene: The Institute of Skinovation, recommends applying Amlactin Moisturizing Body Lotion to help reduce bumps and repair skin. The best part: It’s $14.
“Dry shaving is one of the worst things for the skin as it will cause the blade to tug and pull the skin with it. A shaving cream or gel allows for the razor to evenly glide across the skin without irritation or causing nicks and cuts,” explains Nussbaum. “It also helps hydrate and protect the skin.” Her suggestion: EOS Shave Cream, which, she explains, is “packed with aloe, green tea, grape seed extract and shea butter. It’s best to shave with warm water as opposed to hot water as the hotter temperatures will be more likely to strip the skin of its oils and dehydrate.”
SHAVE IN THE DIRECTION OF THE HAIR
If you have sensitive skin, try shaving in the direction of your hair. “Many women shave against the direction of hair growth; however, the blunt end of the hair can subsequently grow inward as opposed to up and out of the epidermis,” Nussbaum explains.
SWITCH YOUR DISPOSABLE RAZORS OFTEN
“Another big mistake is not switching disposable razors often enough,” shares Nussbaum. How often should you change it? “More than a week with the same blade will cause irritation as the blade dulls and begins to tug on the skin causing razor bumps, scrapes, and irritation,” she explains. “Old blades also tend to harbor bacteria. which can cause infection and inflammation. If you feel a tug on your skin, it’s time to toss it!”
TAKE YOUR TIME SHAVING
“Women tend to rush shaving rather than using smooth, even strokes,” shares Nussbaum. “They also tend to apply too much pressure, which creates an uneven surface for the blade, causing razor bumps and irritation, especially when using multi-bladed razors. This exponentially increases ingrown hairs and irritation.”
USE FRAGRANCE- AND FORMALDEHYDE-FREE PRODUCTS
Carl Thornfeldt, MD, shares that the fragrance or preservatives in the pre-shave or post-shave cleansers or lotions commonly cause contact dermatitis in women. He suggests trying fragrance-free and formaldehyde-free products.
ELIMINATE INGROWN HAIRS
“The primary cause of ingrown hair is hair being trapped beneath the skin’s surface,” explains Bliss SoHo lead esthetician Nandi Wagner. The best remedy, according to Wagner, is exfoliation: “Exfoliation rids the skin of dry and dead skin cells and allows the hair to break through the surface.” Wagner suggests Bliss Ingrown Hair Eliminating Peeling Pads because "phenomenal at keeping ingrown hair at bay, as they contain salicylic and glycolic acid to exfoliate, and green tea extract and oat extract to soothe and calm the skin.
Use no less than 24 hours post-hair removal to prevent irritation."