The Cutting Edge: Preventing Razor Bumps

man with shaving cream
Changing some of your shaving habits can help prevent razor bumps. See more men's health pictures.

Everyone loves a smooth, close shave—whether on a man's face or a woman's legs or under arms.

However, a close shave is the biggest cause of unsightly and painful razor bumps that can also lead to scarring.


Where Do Razor Bumps Come From?

Closely shaven hair has a sharp edge that can penetrate the skin, resulting in inflammation and swelling. This reaction—a normal bodily defense mechanism—is similar to the kind of reaction that occurs when you get a splinter in your finger.

Although razor bumps can affect everyone, people with curly hair, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, are most affected. That's because curly hair tends to curl back into the skin once its been shaved.

In fact, razor bumps are a big problem. They affect 60 percent of African Americans and Hispanics and 20 percent of Caucasians. And, not surprisingly, they're a bigger problem for men than women because many men shave daily.

In the past, the only solution for razor bumps was simply to decrease the number of times a person shaved—an unacceptable option, as you can imagine, for many people!

More recently, people have begun using cortisone and moisturizers and topical antibiotics to eliminate their razor bumps.

Fortunately, however, there are exciting new treatments on the horizon. While doing my residency in dermatology at the Henry Ford Medical Center in Detroit, Mich., a patient reported that the alpha-hydroxy cream he used to treat his dry skin had virtually eliminated his long-standing problem with razor bumps. See the next to learn more.


New Treatments for Razor Bumps

I conducted a formal clinical trial in the mid-1990s using an 8 percent glycolic acid lotion on 30 volunteers twice daily over an eight-week period. At the end of the study, all of the volunteers experienced a 60 percent reduction in razor bumps.

Armed with this exciting new discovery, I added alpha lipoic acid, a powerful natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, to the glycolic acid lotion to see if I could get even better results. Alpha lipoic acid is the most potent antioxidant out there for turning off inflammation. It's 400 times stronger than its potent cousins, vitamins C and E!


In a second clinical trial, I instructed a group of 30 volunteers to apply the lipoic acid/alpha-hydroxy mixture twice a day over eight weeks. That group experienced an overall 80 percent reduction in razor bumps, and the results were apparent sooner than were those in the first clinical trial.

Today, I treat my patients suffering from razor burns with a mixture of the two. Glycolic acid is available in most pharmacies. Using that alone will help most people achieve the same results borne out in the first study. The lotion that I used in the trials is available under the brandname Aqua Glycolic Hand and Body Lotion. It's an excellent product and one of the oldest products of its kind on the market.

So, if you suffer with painful and unsightly razor bumps, apply the glycolic lotion immediately after shaving and again in the evening (you may experience some stinging, but that should stop within a minute or two. If a rash develops, see your dermatologist).

For more on shaving consider the tips on the next page supplied by The Art of Shaving, a New York City store that specializes in shaving products.


Shaving Tips for Men and Women

  • Always shave after or during a hot shower, to soften the hair, open the pores and cleanse the skin.
  • Use a pre-shave oil (you can pick this up at health food stores). These silicon oils help soften the beard, cut down on friction and protect the skin against razor burns.
  • Use a glycerin-based shaving cream or shaving soap that lathers with water. Avoid foams, gels or products that contain numbing agents such as benzocaine or menthol, which tend to close pores and stiffen the beard.
  • Try a Badger shaving brush to help generate a rich lather while it softens and lifts the beard.
  • Use a blade with a firm handle such as the Gillette Sensor or Gillette Mach
  • Always shave with the grain. To do to otherwise can cause ingrown hair and razor burn. For a closer shave, re-lather and shave lightly across or against the grain.
  • Glide the razor gently over your face. Avoid applying pressure, which can cause skin irritation.
  • In case of a nick or cut, apply a moist alum block on the area to stop the bleeding. You can also use the alum block as an antiseptic after-shave.
  • Rinse with cold water.
  • Use a nourishing alcohol-free after-shave to restore moisture and soothe the skin.
  • Always hang your shaving brush with the bristles facing downward so that it drains completely and cuts down on bacterial growth that can exacerbate razor bumps. This will also help maintain the shape of the brush.