Why Do I Get Razor Burn

Do you suffer from rashes, bumps, and painful spots every time you shave? You’re not alone! Razor  burn is a very common occurrence in those that shave, and you may have been wondering why it happens to you so often. Razor burn often occurs due to factors such as using a blunt razor, or dry shaving causing irritation and rashes. There are many  ways this can be managed and If you are interested in finding out more about razor burn, continue reading on.

What is razor burn?

Razor burn can really be described in two ways. The first is the typical red angry-looking rash and inflammation seen soon after shaving which is a sign of skin irritation. It occurs in areas that are typically commonly shaved such as the face after shaving facial hair, bikini line, and genital area. Razor burn commonly also presents as razor bumps.1 This condition is known as pseudofolliculitis barbae. This is a condition where itchy painful bumps occur soon after shaving along your hair follicles. This condition is much more common in those that have curlier hair e.g. Afro-Carribean hair textures. At their  worst, these bumps can become infected leading to bumps that are also pus-filled. 

Causes of razor burn

There are many causes of razor burn which include:2, 3

  • Shaving with a blunt razor 
  • Shaving with little lubrication 
  • Shaving against the direction of hair growth 
  • Dry skin 
  • Sensitive skin
  • Curly hair 

Razor bumps, in particular, are related to how your hair grows which is why it occurs more commonly in those with curly and coarse hair. Typically, when you have straight hair your hair grows straight out of your hair follicle. This is not always the case with the curlier hair textures as the hair is more likely to curl back into the skin. This causes razor bumps in two ways. Either you have hair that initially grows straight out of the hair follicle but begins to curl towards the skin, eventually penetrating the skin.1 Or, the hair never leaves the hair follicle, growing underneath the skin. Both these mechanisms make your body trigger an inflammatory response due to the ingrown hair leading to the itchy potentially painful bump. This is because your body automatically assumes it is under attack which makes your immune system spring into action. This is worse when shaving because shaving makes the tips of the hair sharper. Making it a lot easier for hair to penetrate the skin causing ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs are very susceptible to infection and in the event that they do, this can cause the condition to worsen leading to razor bumps that are more painful and pus-filled.4 Pus does not necessarily indicate infection though and may just be a result of local inflammation.

What does razor burn look like?

Razor burn varies in its appearance depending on the severity. At its most, mild razor burn can look like a red rash that is spread in the same pattern as your hair follicles. When someone has razor bumps they typically look like red raised spots that are often itchy. They can often crack and bleed when shaving following previous episodes and while they can appear in any area that grows hair, they more often appear under the jaw around the neckline.1 In darker-skinned  individuals razor bumps are more likely to appear darker than their normal skin tone due to hyperpigmentation. Those with darker skin are also more prone to keloid scarring and hyperpigmentation, so even after an episode of razor bumps ends it is more likely that scarring will follow. When ingrown hairs become infected, they can look similar to razor bumps however, they often have a more white appearance which is due to the pus formed from the infection.4

How to prevent razor burn?

Methods of preventing razor burn include:5, 6

  • Growing out facial hair 
  • Avoiding a close shave, it has been recommended that shaving to a hair length of 1mm 
  • Using electrical clippers rather than razors especially razors with multiple blades 
  • Using shaving cream when shaving 
  • Avoiding pulling on the skin when shaving 
  • Shaving in the direction of hair growth 
  • If you using  a razor, make sure it does not have a dull blade  which is often the case in disposable razors 
  • Having a pre  and post- shave routine 
  • Hair removal cream is also an option which rarely causes razor bumps 

Treatment of razor burn

The most obvious treatment of razor burn is to stop shaving. Razor burns  can typically go away after a couple of days, however in the case of razor bumps it can take weeks before the condition goes away. Aloe Vera gel can also be used to soothe inflammation on the face and get rid of razor burns. Ingrown hairs can be removed using a sterile needle by a medical professional. Exfoliating has often been used as a treatment method for razor bumps. Exfoliation refers to methods of removing dead skin cells which can treat razor bumps and prevent the formation of new bumps. There are two main methods of exfoliating: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliation involves using methods to manually remove dead skin cells such as using exfoliating gloves whereas chemical exfoliants break down dead skin cells making them easier to wipe away.1 Typically chemical exfoliation is recommended for razor bumps with glycolic acid often used in razor bumps. Steroid creams alongside antibiotic treatment can also be used to reduce inflammation and treat any underlying infections. Further treatment with retinoid creams, and benzoyl peroxide also remain an option.5

How long does a razor burn last?

Razor burn can last anywhere from a couple of days in the milder cases to months in those who develop numerous razor bumps which have been worsened by infection. The effect of subsequent scarring can also lengthen this. Furthermore continued shaving even when the razor burn is present can lead to a cycle of worsening razor burn/bumps which also makes the condition last longer.1

When to seek medical attention

You should seek medical attention if your razor bumps show signs of infection such as worsening redness and pus as you may benefit from antibiotic treatment. If you experience hyperpigmentation or scarring, medical attention should also be sought out. Generally, if you believe the razor burn is having a very negative effect on your life you should seek a consultation with your GP to discuss management options.


Razor burn is a very common occurrence in those who shave or have curly hair due to a combination of suboptimal shaving practices and an increased propensity for their hair to penetrate the skin, triggering inflammation. It can be a particularly difficult and painful condition to have, however, it is an entirely manageable condition and if you do have concerns there are many options available for you to get treatment.


  1. Ogunbiyi A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. 2019;12:241-7.
  2. DERMNET. Pseudofolliculitis barbae 2022 [Available from: https://dermnetnz.org/topics/pseudofolliculitis-barbae.
  3. Sukakul T, Bunyaratavej S, Chaweekulrat P, Trakanwittayarak S, Varothai S. Facial hair shaving behavior and skin problems of shaved areas of males. The Journal of dermatology. 2021;48(9):1409-13.
  4. Dermnet. folliculitis barbae 2022 [Available from: https://dermnetnz.org/topics/folliculitis-barbae.
  5. Association AAoD. 6 RAZOR BUMP PREVENTION TIPS FROM DERMATOLOGISTS. 2022.  [Available from: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/hair/razor-bump-prevention]
  6. Dermatologist BAo. Pseudofolliculitis 2021 [Available from: https://www.bad.org.uk/pils/pseudofolliculitis/.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Jeandy Mibanzo-Ilamu

Master of Research Biology of Cancer - MRes University of Liverpool

Jeandy is a final year medical student which has allowed him to acquire strong clinical knowledge and familiarity with general health and wellbeing.His master's degree focused on the Biology of Cancer, a keen area of interest and allowed him to develop a lot of the skills he uses in writing his articles.

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