Have you ever noticed clusters of small dark spots on your legs after shaving? You’re not alone. It’s a common symptom of some skin conditions that are collectively given an unusual name: Strawberry legs.
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The way it looks may annoy or embarrass you, but strawberry legs are just clogged pores that you can easily treat — and prevent.
“These dark spots look like seeds on the pitted surface of strawberries,” says dermatologist Matthew Janik, MD. “The good news is, they’re harmless. You can usually get rid of strawberry legs by following a few simple steps at home.”
Strawberry legs — also known as strawberry skin legs — occur when your hair follicles or pores are clogged with dirt, dead skin, bacteria or oil. The spots usually don’t itch or cause pain.
The lighter your skin, the more visible strawberry legs are. You’ll typically see:
Most people develop strawberry legs after shaving or waxing, which exposes clogged pores. But strawberry legs may also be due to an underlying skin condition or infection. If you have any pain, swelling or itching, talk to your healthcare provider to rule out other conditions.
Dr. Janik explains five common reasons why you may develop strawberry legs:
Using an old, dull razor or shaving without shaving cream can harm your skin, causing razor burn or strawberry legs. It can also result in ingrown hairs, which can appear as strawberry legs.
Folliculitis is a common skin infection often caused by an infected or inflamed (swollen) hair follicle. It can occur due to shaving, waxing or excess sweating, especially in hot and humid conditions.
Many people develop folliculitis after sitting in a hot tub or working out. You may mistake the tiny red bumps for acne, but they often cause itching or irritation.
Pores are the tiny holes on your skin that release oil and sweat, helping cool your body. Sometimes, they can become clogged by bacteria, dead skin, oil or dirt. And if you’re an adolescent going through puberty, you usually produce more oil than other people.
Removing the hair on your legs by shaving or waxing exposes that oil to the air. “The oil combines with oxygen (oxidizes) and turns darker than usual, giving you small black dots all over your legs,” explains Dr. Janik. “That leads to the strawberry legs effect.”
Dry skin alone isn’t really the culprit. But you’re more likely to irritate the skin on your legs when you shave dry skin and, therefore, raise your risk for developing the hallmark spots of strawberry legs. And when you have dry legs, conditions such as strawberry legs are more visible.
Technically, keratosis pilaris is a different condition from strawberry legs, but it can cause a similar-looking collection of red dots on your legs. Keratosis pilaris appears as a cluster of small, rough bumps on your skin that look like goosebumps. It’s a common skin condition that occurs when dead skin cells and a protein called keratin clog your hair follicles.
Some people compare these bumps to tiny pimples or chicken skin. They’re rough to the touch. Keratosis pilaris bumps can come in many colors, from the same color as your skin to brighter colors such as purple and red.
In most cases, strawberry legs treatment involves tweaking your self-care routine at home. If symptoms persist or worsen, your healthcare provider can offer treatment options to help you get relief.
Dr. Janik offers five ways to get rid of strawberry legs:
Use a cream that keeps your skin warm and moist, and shave in the direction of hair growth. This method helps prevent razor bumps and burns that lead to strawberry legs. Shave gently with short, light strokes. It’s also best to shave during or after a shower, when your legs are clean of excess oil and dead skin that could clog your razor.
“Rinse your blade as you shave lightly. Make sure to change the blade or throw away disposable razors after about six shaves to avoid irritation,” advises Dr. Janik. “And store your razor in a cool, dry area so bacteria can’t grow on it. Don’t leave it in the shower.”
Everyone likes the feel of smooth, soft skin, which helps keep strawberry legs at bay. Exfoliating removes dead skin and makes it easier for new hairs to grow. It also makes it more difficult for pores or follicles to clog.
Exfoliate your legs using a clean washcloth or loofah, then moisturize to keep your skin hydrated. Moisturizing can also improve how strawberry legs look and help prevent another outbreak. But avoid products that contain fragrances or dyes.
“Consider using a dry brush, body scrub or glove that loosens oil and dirt from your pores and softens skin as it works,” says Dr. Janik. “Use gentle motions and a mild product that won’t irritate the skin and make things worse.”
An epilator is an electrical personal care device that removes hair at the root. It’s like waxing but causes less injury to your skin. It also doesn’t have a risk of causing folliculitis like waxing or shaving.
Be aware, though, that an epilator acts like a set of powerful tweezers, so expect some discomfort or a twinge of pain. You only use it once every two to three weeks, which may make it more bearable as an alternative hair removal technique.
If shaving or waxing isn’t working or you’re simply fed up with the constant upkeep, permanent hair removal is a safe and effective option.
Dr. Janik shares two common methods:
“The most effective way to avoid strawberry legs is to treat the problem at its source,” says Dr. Janik. “Electrolysis and laser hair removal are especially good options for people with thick, coarse or curly hair.”
But laser hair removal and electrolysis can be costly. And these “permanent” options aren’t always permanent. Some hair can grow back, requiring repeat sessions. Your healthcare provider or a dermatologist can help you figure out the best solution for you.
In some cases, dermatologists may recommend chemical exfoliants or medication to remove dead skin cells. These therapies can help treat or prevent strawberry legs without the irritation that scrubbing can cause. They dissolve the skin cells and are washed away with water.
You may use skin care products or over-the-counter or prescription medications that include:
“Products containing these ingredients may make your skin more sensitive to the sun,” warns Dr. Janik. “Be sure to use sunscreen if you are going outside. You don’t want to burn or cause more damage to your skin.”
In some cases, strawberry legs may be due to an underlying skin condition. Your healthcare provider can offer treatment options, including antibiotics or corticosteroids, for bacterial or fungal infections.
In most cases, you can manage strawberry legs with at-home remedies such as regular exfoliation and moisturizing. Talk to your dermatologist if you suspect another condition or infection is causing symptoms.
“Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have concerns,” says Dr. Janik. “Strawberry legs can easily be treated and prevented. With some care and attention to your legs, those dark spots will go away.”