Do you ever notice small, dark spots on your legs after you shave? Turns out they're actually clogged pores, not unlike a blackhead. Sometimes mistaken as dirt, these dark dots resemble the seeds on the skin of strawberries (hence the informal term "strawberry legs") and are more noticeable on some skin types than others.
'“Strawberry legs' describes the appearance of dark spots in the skin occurring in a pattern that corresponds to hair follicles or pores," says Blair Murphy-Rose, MD. Causes vary but include when shaven hairs are darker (and therefore, more visible) than skin color, enlarged hair follicles, clogged pores, and keratosis pilaris, she adds.
Meet the Expert
- Blair Murphy-Rose MD, FAAD is a board-certified New York City dermatologist. She is also a clinical assistant professor at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
- Ali Tobia is a licensed esthetician in New York City with over 20 years of professional experience. She is a leading expert at Just Ageless body sculpting and beauty lab.
When referring to these dark spots, Murphy-Rose compares to a blackhead on the face or body. "Enlarged pores can become clogged with buildup (keratin debris, oil, and bacteria) that oxidizes and darkens when exposed to air. Dermatologists call blackheads ‘open comedones’ because they are open and exposed to the air, causing the black dot we see." But luckily you can help to prevent them from forming by changing the way you shave (among other things). We tapped Murphy-Rose and Ali Tobia to find out how.
Below, we've rounded up all the tips that truly help to prevent and treat "strawberry legs." Keep reading to learn more.
Preventing strawberry legs actually starts a day or two before you shave. To help with the exfoliation process, vigorously brush legs with a soft dry brush in circular motions prior to your bath or shower. Then, soak skin in warm water for five to 10 minutes before you shave—this helps to draw out impurities and loosen dead skin cells trapped inside the pores.
Don't forget to exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate. Regular exfoliation helps keep these dark pores at bay as do proper shaving methods, shaving tools, and a good skincare regimen. It's recommended that you exfoliate your legs on a regular basis with a glove or body scrub that polishes away dead skin cells.
"Exfoliation can be very effective in preventing 'strawberry legs' because it helps to soften the skin and loosen up the dirt and oil that’s already in your pores, which obviously helps to prevent that dirt and oil from getting trapped in your pores when you shave," says Tobia.
"If you are using a scrub to exfoliate, make sure to use a mild product, and use a gentle motion when you do the actual scrubbing," advises Tobia. "Sometimes we think that scrubbing harder cleans better, but the truth is that all it adds is irritation to the top layer of skin," she explains.
Exfoliation can also include chemical varieties, which just so happen to be Murphy-Rose's preferred prevention and treatment method since "speeding up the shedding of dead skin cells with regular exfoliation will make someone less prone to clogged pores." Her favorite products contain AHAs and salicylic acid, "a beta-hydroxy acid that exfoliates dead skin cells to make it harder for pores to clog. Unlike many other hydroxy acids, salicylic acid travels down into follicles to keep skin exfoliated and clean deep inside the pores," she says.
"Salicylic acid can be found in at-home chemical peels, body washes, lotions, and saturated pads. Most acid-containing body washes (Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash, $8) and lotions (Cerave SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin, $15) can be used one to two times daily," instructs Murphy-Rose. "Saturated pads should be used three times a week and then gradually increased to daily use if not causing irritation or noticeable skin peeling/flaking." Since salicylic acid is not recommended for pregnant women, she suggests products containing lactic acid or glycolic acid as an alternative. Tobia highly recommends Environ’s Body Essentia Derma-Lac Lotion, which has "lactic acid in the formulation to exfoliate your skin without abrasives."
Following exfoliation, you should always moisturize, emphasizes Murphy-Rose. "Keeping your skin well-hydrated will help dead skin cells to shed off naturally and appropriately," she explains. For those with dry skin, she recommends using products with rich moisturizers like shea butter and ceramides. She tells us, "Many swear by Gold Bond Rough & Bumpy Skin ($9), which is great for dry skin and gentle enough to be used—and should be used—twice a day). Glytone’s Kp Kit ($68) includes an AHA body wash and lotion. You can also try chemical peels at your board-certified dermatologist’s office.”
Shaving With a Quality Razor
Since the appearance of dark pores might be because of your shaving technique, make sure you are properly shaving your legs and investing in quality products. "A cheap, low-quality razor usually dulls much more quickly, gets nicks on the edge of the blade, and is often not as sharp to begin with," says Tobia. "What all of that means is that you’re more likely to repeat the same razor strokes multiple times, which inflames your skin and makes the clogged pores more visible due to surrounding redness."
Use a razor that provides a closer shave without forcing the hair to snap back and cause ingrown hairs. We recommend Billie Razor Starter Kit ($9) or Oui the People Rose Gold Safety Razor ($75). And don't forget: Even before you shave, soak in warm (not hot) water to soften the hair on your legs and open up pores. Hot water is very drying, so be sure not to crank the dial on your shower too high. This has "many of the same preventative benefits as exfoliation, but obviously with the mildest ingredient: water," says Tobia.
Moisturizing Shaving Cream
While gel and cream may be standard when it comes to shaving products, Tobia opts for something "a little bit unusual." She tells us, "I just use hair conditioner on my legs before shaving, which provides a clean, smooth shave, with much less irritation because it softens the hair before shaving it and provides a thin layer of lubricant to the surface of the skin."
But regardless of what product you use to prep your legs before shaving, "Make sure to not get water on your legs while you’re shaving because that will rinse off whichever product before it can protect your skin from the razor," says Tobia. "I switch my showerhead off and just let the bathtub faucet run to rinse my blade, but if that’s not an option for you, just make sure that you’re out of the direct path of the shower."
Shaving With the Grain
While most of us were taught to shave against the grain (i.e., the opposite direction in which hair grows), apparently we were doing it all wrong. To avoid strawberry legs, it's advised to gently shave in the direction of hair growth. Avoid passing over the same area too many times, which will irritate the skin. Also, be careful not to stretch your skin tight while shaving. When done, Tobia adds, "Pat your legs dry—rubbing can irritate your skin—and apply a moisturizer or oil. This is a good idea whether you just shaved or not, but one bit of advice: If you’re using an oil, try to avoid coconut oil, which actually does have some comedogenic properties."
Next, apply a fragrance-free cream, moisturizer, or lotion made for aftershave to reduce redness. Some people prefer using a post-shave oil, too. If the problem persists, you may want to try switching to a different hair removal method—like waxing—or even laser hair removal (more on that below).
TCA Multi-Acid Body Peel
If you're looking for an all-over brighter and more even skin tone, body peels might be your best bet. According to Tobia, "TCA multi-acid body peel contains a combination of salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, phytic acid, and TCA (trichloroacetic acid) that is powerful against clogged pores of the body."
"Apply a thin coat of product with a fan brush (or a cotton pad if you don’t have the brush) to clean dry skin. This peel does not need to be rinsed off," she says. "You will likely see smoother and brighter skin within one to two weeks of your first treatment and with continued weekly use the results will keep getting better as the appearance of pores continues to noticeably fade."
Waxing is one of the most common and effective hair removal techniques. It's also a viable solution for nipping "strawberry legs" in the bud. "Waxing removes the hair by the root so the hair follicle is completely removed, whereas shaving just cuts the hair right at the edge of the skin’s surface. [It] also removes the dead top layer of dry skin along with the hair, which provides an exfoliation at the same time," says Tobia. "Over time, waxed hairs grow back softer and thinner, which can help you spread out the time between hair removal and minimize the strawberry legs effect," she adds.
"It may be tempting to try a DIY waxing kit, but for this particular scenario, you’re much better off going to a professional," advises Tobia. "It’s a big project for a DIY amateur, and if you’re prone to irritation already, you may exacerbate that if you wax yourself improperly."
Laser Hair Removal
Like waxing, laser hair removal aims to get rid of hair more completely than just at the skin's surface, says Murphy-Rose. "Removing the hairs to begin with is an excellent way to prevent and treat the problem at its root (no pun intended)," she says. Sugaring, thermolysis, and depilatory creams also do this; however, the latter "is not always well-tolerated and may cause skin irritation so I do not generally recommend," says Murphy-Rose.
Tobia is also a proponent of laser hair removal, especially since "if you have thick, coarse, curly hair (particularly dark hair), there’s a good chance that any kind of hair removal, including waxing, can lead to ingrown hairs and strawberry legs," she comments. "If that’s you, laser hair removal is a great alternative. While it does take a while to see lasting results (usually around eight months, going once a month), it is so effective at not only removing your hair but also thinning the hair that grows back that it can drastically reduce irritation."
"You can also soothe your legs with a really simple DIY mask treatment," says Tobia. Here's here favorite one to DIY at home:
- ½ cup of chickpea flour
- ½ cup of full-fat yogurt (organic if possible)
- 2 tbsp of honey (organic if possible)
- Freshly squeezed juice of ½ lemon
- Water (add 1 tbsp at a time until the mixture forms a thick paste)
- Spread the finished mask paste on your legs to coat your entire legs, and give yourself a gentle leg massage while applying (this is just because it feels great anyway). I apply this over my bathtub to avoid any sort of mess in the house.
- Let the mask remain on your legs for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse with warm water and a soft washcloth.
"Chickpea flour is a great exfoliating agent while the yogurt contains lactic acid to help dissolve dead skin cells. The honey provides an antibacterial and antimicrobial element, and the lemon has natural astringent properties, and it decreases oil on your skin and is an antifungal agent," explains Tobia.
You may have already heard of facial icing, but what about body icing? Many don't realize that "using a frozen roller or another frozen object on your skin to soothe inflammation is a great way to treat redness and irritation on your body, too," says Tobia. She recommends Nicole Caroline’s Facial Ice Spheres ($30) "because you can freeze whatever formulation you want to create based on the condition you’re trying to treat."
For strawberry legs, she suggests "a mixture of water with pure aloe vera and a few drops of tea tree oil frozen in the sphere, which you then massage onto your legs after you shave or wax. This helps to soothe and hydrate your skin and keeps your pores clear as the cooling effect helps to close your pores."