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Skin solutions – Addressing chafing and razor burn

Last Modified: May 16, 2023

Family Medicine


This post was written by Amy Burns-Lewis, medical aesthetician, PPG – Dermatology.

When the temperatures go above 70 degrees, we all start showing a bit more skin, opting for shorts, skirts and dresses to stay cool. Not to mention the arrival of bathing suit season! While more time outside can be a welcome change, it can also lead to a couple of common skin setbacks. In this post will look at chafing and razor burn, and what we can do to avoid these uncomfortable and unsightly conditions and treat them once they occur.

A source of friction

Chafing is a result of your skin rubbing up against other areas of skin or clothing. It can occur anywhere on the body, but normally appears in areas where you perspire more, such as the underarms, thighs and groin.

The most common scenarios in which we experience chafing are:

  • People who exercise excessively, particularly running and biking. The movements with these activities cause friction against your clothes paired with increased perspiration.    
  • Certain clothing can also increase the chance of chafing. Fabrics such as polyester, thicker cotton, poorly fitting clothes and wet clothing can all cause friction against the body.
  • Shoes that are not the correct size can cause chafing and blisters, making it hard to walk.
  • People who are overweight have more skin folds, which are areas prone to chafing.
  • Diapers, sanitary products and incontinence briefs can also contribute to chafing, because of the wet, dirty and moist environment and rubbing of the skin. Babies in particular are prone to diaper dermatitis for this reason.
  • Hot and humid weather can cause excess sweating and rashes on certain areas of the body.

How to prevent chafing

The good news is, you can take measures to prevent or minimize chafing. Taking into consideration your activity and the weather, try to:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • Use flexible bandages to help heal affected areas.
  • Wear moisture-wicking socks.
  • Stay away from anything that contains talc or harsh antiperspirants, which are very drying.
  • Avoid clothing that doesn’t breathe, such as polyester, which can cause the skin to become very moist from sweating. Opt for apparel made of 100% cotton, which soaks up much of the sweat and moisture that causes irritation.
  • Apply products that contain aloe vera, shea butter and petroleum jelly to keep the skin moisturized and prevent excess friction.
  • Practice good hygiene. Keep areas clean and dry to minimize the chance of irritation and chafing of the skin.

The downside of shaving

Razor burn is a skin irritation that develops after shaving. It can occur on any part of the body, but the most common areas are the face and pubic area.

The causes of razor burn include:

  • shaving on dry skin
  • shaving too quickly
  • using a dull blade
  • shaving against the direction of hair growth

People who are more susceptible to razor burn include individuals with sensitive skin, acne-prone skin and anyone who shaves very frequently (more than twice a day).

Razor burn is different than razor bumps (also called pseudofolliculitsis barbae), which is caused by ingrown hair. This occurs when the hair curls back into the skin while it grows back. Razor bumps are most common in African American males. Razor burn causes the skin to be red, irritated and can look like a rash, while razor bumps look like small pimples.

Razor burn can develop because of the interaction between the blade and outer layer of your skin (epidermis). The skin becomes irritated and tiny cracks form in the top layers. When this happens, your skin can lose water and become inflamed when the blade moves over it.

Razor burn looks like an irritated red patch or a red streaky rash on the skin. The symptoms can be pain or discomfort, burning or stinging sensation, itchiness, and tenderness and/or swelling.

Razor burn relief

There are many ways to treat razor burn and you may choose several, depending on the severity of the condition. They include:

  • A cool washcloth to the affected area
  • A gentle moisturizer with no fragrance
  • Aloe vera gel, which moisturizes and soothes skin while healing at the same time
  • OTC hydrocortisone ointment
  • apple cider vinegar
  • witch hazel or tea tree oil mixed with water to reduce the inflammation in the affected area
  • Natural oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil and olive oil to moisturize and help the skin heal

If the above remedies do not resolve the affected areas in a few days, contact your healthcare provider.

Beat the burn

To avoid the uncomfortable and unsightly effects of razor burn, try to:

  • Shave in the direction of hair growth.
  • Use light short strokes and avoid shaving over one area multiple times.
  • Clean your blade often, making sure you rinse the blade every few strokes while in the shower.
  • Use a gentle, fragrance-free shaving foam or gel product.
  • Store your razor blade in a dry place (to prevent the spread of bacteria).
  • Replace your blade regularly, every 6-8 uses.
  • Keep your skin moisturized with a light cream or gel to help soothe the skin.
  • Avoid wearing very tight clothing.

Razor burn can last from a few hours to a few days. Do not shave the area that is affected until it clears up. Implementing the tips above and having the awareness of the causes of razor burn can significantly reduce the chance of experiencing this irritating condition.

Be kind to your skin so you can be proud to show it off this season!


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