Razor burn is a temporary skin irritation caused by shaving. Different people get razor burn for different reasons, but most of the time, it has to do with shaving too closely, too forcefully, or with a dull razor. It is usually identifiable by the itchy red bumps it leaves behind, and in most cases, only lasts for a few days. Simple lotions and creams are often the best treatment, but sufferers should keep an eye on their symptoms in case ingrown hairs start forming — these are very uncomfortable, and can lead to more serious infection.
Most razor burns first appear as slight red rashes. Small red bumps are also common, usually right around the hair follicle. These are often itchy, inflamed, and unsightly. Razor burn is most common on the throat, the underarms, and the bikini line — areas where the skin is often already somewhat sensitive — but it is possible anywhere.
Why It Happens
There are several main causes for razor burn, but skin sensitivity is often the most to blame. When a razor is pulled too fast or pushed too hard against skin that is not used to such force, the burn’s signature redness often appears. The main idea in shaving is to clip hair follicles as close to their source as possible; there is a certain skill involved in removing just the hair and not the top layer of skin, however.
Pushing too hard can cause the razor to grab skin cells as well as hair. This does not usually cause bleeding, but will frequently lead to irritation. People most at risk are those who are new to shaving, those who are shaving a new area for the first time, and those who are working with a dull razor. The sharper the equipment, the less resistance is required.
Lubrication and Temperature
Proper lubrication is also an important part of preventing razor burn. Shaving usually works best when the area is coated either with soap or with a specially-formulated gel or lotion. These products moisten the skin and soften the hair while also serving as something of a protective barrier between the skin and the razor. Many people also begin by washing the area to be shaved in warm water. Skin that is either unwashed or splashed with cold water tends to constrict, which makes it more sensitive to irritation; warmer temperatures, on the other hand, can promote relaxation, which leads to plasticity and reduced resistance.
Care and Healing
Once razor burn has appeared, most medical professionals recommend leaving it alone and shielding the affected skin from outside irritations whenever possible. Gentle lotions and topical creams can also be used to calm the itch and pain. It is usually a good idea to avoid shaving around the rash until it has completely disappeared in order to prevent further inflammation.
Things to Watch For
Rashes that last for more than a few days, that seem to get worse, or that result in large, pimple-sized bumps filled with pus should be treated by a medical professional. These may be signs of ingrown hairs or infection, which may require medication like antibiotics to remedy. Early treatment can also prevent long-term scarring.