What is razor burn?
Razor burn is a skin irritation you can develop after shaving. It can happen on any part of your body you shave. Razor burns can affect your face, neck, legs, armpits or pubic area. Dry shaving, shaving too quickly or shaving with a dull blade can all cause razor burn. The skin irritation usually shows up a few minutes after shaving, and it usually lasts from a few hours to a few days.
Razor burn is different than razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae). Pseudofolliculitis barbae is a condition that can occur due to ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs can occur after shaving when your hair curls into your skin as it grows back. Razor burn and razor bumps both cause red, irritated skin. But razor bumps look like small pimples. Razor burn looks like a blotchy skin rash.
Who does razor burn affect?
Razor burn can affect anyone who shaves unwanted hair off their body. The condition is slightly more common in people with acne. If you have sensitive skin, razor burn may affect you more frequently as well.
Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) are more common in Black people assigned male at birth (AMAB). As many as 83% of Black people AMAB may experience razor bumps.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes razor burn?
Razor burn occurs due to the interaction between your razor blade, your hair and your skin. Tiny cracks in your top layer of skin (epidermis), along with a loss of hydration and inflammation can occur when a blade moves across your skin. Other common causes of razor burn may include:
- Dry shaving, which means shaving without any water, soap or shaving cream or gel.
- Shaving too fast.
- Shaving with an old (dull) razor blade.
- Shaving against the direction of hair growth.
- Sensitive skin, or using products that irritate your skin.
What does razor burn look like?
Razor burn looks like a red, irritated patch of skin or a streaky red rash. Other symptoms of razor burn may include:
- Pain or discomfort.
- Burning or stinging sensation.
- Tenderness and swelling.
If you have small, pimple-like bumps, you may have razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae).
Diagnosis and Tests
How is razor burn diagnosed?
If you develop a red, blotchy skin rash after shaving, you can probably self-diagnose that you have razor burn. If the rash doesn’t go away on its own within a few days, call your healthcare provider. They can help diagnose and treat your condition.
Management and Treatment
How can I treat razor burn?
There are many razor burn treatment options. You may find razor burn relief by putting a cool washcloth or moisturizer on the affected area. This will help soothe and heal your skin.
To get rid of razor burn fast, aloe vera gel may work. You may have used aloe vera to treat a sunburn, but it can also help get rid of razor burn in an hour or less. Aloe vera moisturizes and soothes your skin while healing it at the same time.
Home remedies such as apple cider vinegar, witch hazel extract or tea tree oil mixed with water can help stop inflammation from razor burn. You can also try an oatmeal bath or put on an over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream.
If your skin is dry and irritated, apply an emollient such as an aftershave or a moisturizing lotion. Avoid products that contain fragrances, alcohol or other irritants. Natural oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil and olive oil can also help moisturize your skin. Avoid shaving the area of razor burn to help it heal.
If OTC or home remedies don’t clear up the condition within a few days, call your healthcare provider. You may have developed a condition that requires further treatment, such as an antibiotic.
How can I prevent razor burn?
To avoid razor burn, make sure your skin is moist and soft before shaving. You may want to shave immediately after showering when your skin is clear of dead skin cells and excess oil that can clog up your razor blade. Also, use a lubricant such as soap, shaving cream or shaving gel to create a barrier between your skin and the razor blade. This will also help the blade glide over your skin easier. Other tips to prevent razor burn include:
- Shave in the direction of your hair growth: Shaving in the opposite direction of hair growth can lead to inflammation.
- Use light, short strokes: Don’t shave too quickly, and avoid shaving over the same section more than once.
- Clean your razor blade often: After every few strokes, rinse your razor to get rid of the hair and soap that collects between the blades.
- Rinse your skin: Rinse with cold water after shaving, or apply a damp, washcloth to your skin.
- Moisturize your skin: After shaving, use a hydrating lotion or gel to help soothe and heal your skin’s barriers. Avoid products that contain fragrances or other skin irritants.
- Store your razor in a dry place: Clean and dry your razor, and then store it in a dry place to prevent bacteria growth.
- Replace your razor blade frequently: Razor blades should always be sharp and free of rust. Toss your razor blade after five to seven uses.
- Avoid tight clothing: After shaving, avoid wearing tight clothing or underwear. This will help prevent skin irritation.
If you’re very prone to razor burn, you may want to consider waxing instead. This may help prevent recurrent skin irritation.
Outlook / Prognosis
How long does razor burn last?
Razor burn is a very common condition that can last from a few hours to a few days. It usually clears up on its own without any treatment. For quicker healing, avoid shaving on the affected area until it clears up.
What complications can occur due to razor burn?
Razor burn is a very common condition that usually clears up on its own. Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) are another condition that can occur due to shaving. Ingrown hairs can cause a condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae, which is a type of folliculitis. Folliculitis occurs when a hair follicle becomes infected or inflamed.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae is common in people with curly hair and Black people assigned male at birth. The condition usually occurs in your beard and neck areas. After you shave your beard or neck hairs, they become sharp like spears. These tiny little spears can turn back and penetrate your skin. This can irritate your skin, and pimple-like bumps can form. You can treat pseudofolliculitis barbae with the same methods you would for a razor burn. But severe cases may require medical care from your healthcare provider.
How can I tell the difference between razor burn and herpes?
Razor burn causes a blotchy red skin rash. Ingrown hairs may cause small, red razor bumps. Razor burn and razor bumps can affect your vaginal area, but they’ll typically clear up on their own within a few days.
Herpes simplex viruses cause bumps that look more like fluid-filled sores or blisters near your penis or vagina. They develop in clusters. You may have additional symptoms such as fever and headache. Herpes bumps may go away on their own too, but they usually come back.
If you’re not sure if you have harmless razor bumps or a more serious condition such as herpes, be sure to see your healthcare provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Razor burn is a common condition that can occur after shaving unwanted hair anywhere on your body. While it can cause an irritating skin rash, it should clear up on its own within a few days. If the condition doesn’t go away with home treatment or it looks infected, see your healthcare provider. They can help diagnose the condition and suggest appropriate treatment.
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