What Will Cause Razor Bumps & Burns?

At some point or another, you’ve likely experienced it: razor burn & razor bumps. Irritation, redness, bumps, itchiness, or burning can creep up and leave you miserable. In fact, razor burn & bumps are often the most cited reason shavers embrace classic wet shaving, as it can remedy some of the most common causes of these ailments.

So, let’s look at this annoying phenomenon and what we can do about it!

What is razor burn or bumps?

Razor burn & bumps often come together but they are actually two distinct things.

Razor burn is a red rash that develops after a shave, usually with itchiness or burning. When the blade moves across your skin, tiny cracks can develop in your epidermis (top layer of skin). Along with those tiny cuts/nicks, shaving can result in loss of hydration and inflammation all of which produce a red, itchy, sore patch of skin.

Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) is an infection that develops in the hair shaft that causes a red or skin-colored raised bump. It often has the appearance of acne. When you shave, the hair can become sharp. Sometimes (especially with curly-haired individuals), these tiny spears can turn back and penetrate the skin. This causes the hair follicle to become infected and inflamed.

What causes razor burn or bumps?

Some of the most common causes of razor bumps or burns can be solved by slowing down and taking a little extra care in your routine.

  • Dull blade – A dull blade is less effective at mowing down your hair. As a result, shavers tend to use too much pressure and shave over the same place multiple times leading to irritation.
  • Dirty blade – Unsuspecting shavers might find that their razor is harboring gunk, bacteria, and nasties that can invade your skin when the blade creates microscopic cuts.   
  • Poorly moisturized skin –  Dry skin is prone to irritation and infection as it cracks and gets inflamed. Shaving is apt to strip moisture from the skin, so it is vital to be proactive in replacing that moisture. 
  • Too much pressure – Adding additional pressure to the razor is a poor idea that can quickly lead to irritation. If you are switching from a cartridge to a DE razor or if you have a dull blade, you are likely to put too much pressure on the blade. A light touch is best.
  • Too many blades – Believe it or not, more is not always better. A multiple-bladed, cartridge razor is likely to cause irritation as it drags multiple blades across the same area of skin. The placement of the blades is also problematic as it can lead to the build-up of gunk in the small space between the blades. 
  • Sensitive skin – Sometimes, one’s skin is just more predisposed to skin issues than others. And some areas of skin are more sensitive than others as well.

How can I treat razor burn or bumps?

If you find yourself with a case of razor burn or bumps, there are few things you can do to relieve the discomfort. Most of the time it will resolve itself over time, but if you find you have a persistent irritation that doesn’t go away or worsens, you might need to consult a health care provider. 

To find relief:

  • Apply a cool towel or compress for razor burn
  • Use a warm compress for razor bumps (to encourage the hair to break through the skin)
  • Moisture with aloe, witch hazel, or another soothing balm
  • If possible, avoid shaving the area for a few days

How can I prevent razor burn or bumps?

Looking at the causes of razor burn can also provide the steps in preventing future occurrences. 

  • Prep your razor: use a clean, sharp blade. Make sure that you are changing your blades frequently. Check that your razor is clean and not harboring excess gunk.  Ensure that your razor dries between uses as well. This prevents bacterial growth.
  • Prep your face: Clean your skin before the shave. Taking the extra step of exfoliating can also help to remove dead skin cells and reduce the chances of infection/irritation. Whip up a moisturizing, protective, lubricating lather. Never shave dry skin – that way lies madness. If you have particularly sensitive skin, try a pre-shave oil and focus on moisturizing your skin.
  • Perfect your technique: Remember to avoid excess pressure. Let the weight of the razor do the work. It is also wise to shave in the direction of hair growth. Shaving against and across the grain can lead to these types of irritation. 

The methods and techniques of a classic wet shaving (including a single, sharp blade, heavily moisturizing/lubricating shaving soaps & creams, and hydrating aftershaves) lend themselves to combating the misery of razor burn and bumps. What are your best practices for preventing razor burn? How do you combat razor bumps? Let us know in the comments below.

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