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 dermatologist 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.
Murphy-Rose compares the dark spots 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." Luckily you can help to prevent them from forming.
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.
Below, we've rounded up all the tips that truly help prevent and treat strawberry legs. Keep reading to learn more.
Preventing strawberry legs 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 before your bath or shower. Then, soak skin in warm water for five to 10 minutes before you shave—this helps draw out impurities and loosen dead skin cells trapped inside the pores.
Don't forget to exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate. Regular exfoliation may help keep these dark pores at bay as do proper shaving methods, shaving tools, and a good skin care regimen. It's recommended that you exfoliate your legs regularly 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 helps to prevent that dirt and oil from getting trapped in your pores when you shave," says licensed esthetician 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."
Exfoliation can also include chemical varieties, which Murphy-Rose says helps by "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."
"Most acid-containing body washes (Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash, $9) and lotions (Cerave SA Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin, $12) can be used one to two times daily," instructs Murphy-Rose. If you're sensitive to salicylic acid, she suggests products containing lactic acid or glycolic acid as an alternative. Tobia highly recommends Environ’s Body Essentia Derma-Lac Lotion ($65), 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 ($61) 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.
Moisturizing Shaving Cream
While gel and cream may be standard when it comes to shaving products, Tobia tells us, "I 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."
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
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 has some comedogenic properties."
Next, apply a fragrance-free cream, moisturizer, or lotion made for aftershave to reduce redness.
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."
When it comes to waxing, call a professional. "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," Tobia says.
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."
"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.
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. Techniques like 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 adding that is effective "at not only removing your hair but also thinning the hair that grows back that it can drastically reduce irritation."
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."
Can you treat strawberry legs after you have them?
Prevention is key here, though applying a non-comedogenic moisturizing product (like a lotion or oil) will ensure the problem doesn't get worse.
Are there professional (i.e. medical-grade treatments)?
Electrolysis will pinpoint irritated hair follicles, and therefore, prevent the recurrence of ingrown hairs. Laser therapy can also help, though it will require several treatments.
What do I do if the problem seems to be getting worse?
Ingrown hairs or clogged pores should clear up on their own within a few days. If they don't, or if they start to scab or look worse, visit your dermatologist for a closer look.
Cleveland Clinic. Want a smooth, safe shave every time? try these tips. Updated December 24, 2020