It’s a fact that most men don’t put too much thought into their shaving routine: most consider it a painstaking task that usually involves a quick, basic shave until the stubble is gone. Unfortunately, this simple routine leads to the unpleasant aftereffects of razor bumps, razor burn, and those small red “shave pimples”. As you look in the mirror, you may wonder: is this acne or razor bumps? Exactly what is the difference between razor bumps and burn? And how do I keep them from coming back?

Read on and learn how to avoid and finally break this uncomfortable and unsightly cycle!

Razor Bumps

They look and feel like acne, yet that’s where the similarity ends. The medical term for those inflamed bumps is pseudo folliculitis barbae (PFB), and the terms razor bumps, shaving bumps, and ingrown hairs are used interchangeably by dermatologists. Shaving cuts the hair at an angle, leaving a sharp, pointed end that can curl back into and penetrate the skin’s surface, causing the hair to reenter the follicle. Hairs that reenter follicles can trigger an immune reaction, resulting in inflammation. Severe cases of PFB can lead to tenderness, bleeding when shaving, abscesses, scarring (keloid scarring) and even puss-filled bumps. Of all the races, men of African American descent usually experience PFB by approximately 60%, and PFB on darker skin tones may lead to hyperpigmentation and or skin-colored papules.

Symptoms of razor bumps may be more severe with those who have:

  • Eczema or dermatitis
  • Naturally curly, spiral, or tightly coiled hair
  • Naturally genetic or occurring skin folds

Razor Burn and Pimples

That itchy, burning irritation and redness occurs immediately after shaving due to friction from the razor and by repeatedly shaving over a single area. Small red bumps or “razor pimples” tend to occur with this redness and irritation. The easiest solution is to avoid shaving over a single area of skin multiple times and to stop shaving for at least 3-4 days after your last shave.

How to Treat PFB, Burn, and Pimples

Dermatologists, barbers, and skincare experts recommend to start by using a single blade razor instead of a multiblade razor. Despite the hi-tech visuals and ads, a multiblade razor tends to tug and cut below the skin, and the layered blades usually trap hairs, shave cream, and dead skin cells, leading to a dull, dirty blade. A single blade cuts the hair at skin level, thus minimizing and avoiding the painful tugging and irritation. For those with easily irritated skin or who tend to react to shave creams and gels, switching to an electric razor is a convenient, efficient, and less painful alternative.


So now that you know these differences, how do you get the best shave to avoid the added pain and irritation? The first and most crucial step is to add a few extra minutes to your routine and avoid rushing. Then always follow these best practices:

  • Shave on clean, wet skin, preferably after a shower. If not shaving after a shower, prep skin with a clean, warm washcloth for 10 minutes
  • Apply shave creams or gels with a shave brush instead of fingers to work in the product, loosen hairs, and promote micro circulation
  • Use a clean, new blade and store in a dry place
  • Shave in slow motions, in the direction of hair growth and not against the grain
  • Splash cold water on the face afterwards to calm down any redness
  • Use an alcohol-free aftershave immediately, followed by an appropriate face moisturizer for skin type

Also consider to:

  • Allow time for the skin to heal by growing out the hair and ceasing shaving
  • Avoid using scrubs with irregular shaped granules and switch to salicylic acid (SA) or glycolic acid (GA) toners, which decongest skin minus the additional friction
  • Treat yourself to a professional shave, which includes using a hot towel, a face massage, and can last from 12-25 minutes

Individuals with reoccurring PFB may consider using an OTC topical treatment or a mild retinoid. Advanced cases of PFB can benefit by using medical grade steroids such as Retin A, Differin, or Tazorac. For extreme cases of razor burn, a doctor may prescribe a cortisone cream to decrease inflammation.

For those who prefer a more natural or holistic approach, try the following:

  • Pure aloe vera gel to calm razor burn
  • Frankincense oil – the king of essential oils (EOs) acts as an antiseptic that soothes and recovers skin, reduces scarring, and promotes cell turnover, leading to an increase of collagen production. Other beneficial EOs include lavender, tea tree, and rose hip oil
  • Witch hazel, colloidal oatmeal, or a homemade aftershave consisting of one-part apple cider vinegar and one-part distilled water

By making these slight but significant changes to your routine, shaving can transform from an inconvenient and bothersome task to a relaxing, spa-like moment of self-care, reflection, and relaxation.