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.
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. The good news is, they’re harmless. You can usually get rid of strawberry legs by following a few simple steps at home.
What are strawberry legs?
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:
- Black or brown spots after shaving.
- Open pores that look darker than usual, like blackheads.
- Pitted or dotted skin on your legs.
What causes strawberry legs?
While “strawberry legs” refers to a singular appearance, it’s actually an umbrella term.
There are several different conditions that can cause the distinct appearance of strawberry legs, some of which may overlap with each other.
Shaving — particularly shaving improperly with old, dull razors or without shaving cream — can sometimes cause strawberry legs.
Razor burn can lead to strawberry legs and may cause folliculitis to develop. Shaving can also result in ingrown hairs.
In some individuals, these ingrown hairs may be what’s causing the appearance of strawberry legs. This occurs most often in those with thick body hair.
In some cases, the skin around the follicle may darken in response to the irritation from shaving, which then increases the dark appearance.
The skin on your legs contains thousands of pores, and like all other pores, they can become clogged with bacteria, dead skin, and debris.
These clogged pores are called open comedones. When the oil inside the clogged pores is exposed to air, it oxidizes and turns black.
If you have larger pores on your legs due to genetics or thick body hair, they may be easy to spot.
Folliculitis occurs when the hair follicle becomes inflamed, and sometimes infected.
This condition can be the result of shaving, waxing, or other hair removal methods that leave the hair follicle open and at increased risk of exposure.
But it can also occur if you’ve been exposed to:
Using a hot tub when the pH and chemicals haven’t been regulated properly can also lead to folliculitis.
Folliculitis typically starts as small red bumps or blisters, which may later develop into scabs that don’t heal easily.
Sometimes, folliculitis can be related to ingrown hairs that are struggling to break through the skin. This can also lead to the darkened skin appearance associated with strawberry legs.
Keratosis pilaris appears on the skin of the thighs and upper arms and is a benign and common condition.
At a glance, the small bumps associated with keratosis pilaris might look like tiny pimples, goosebumps, or “chicken skin,” and they’re rough and hard to the touch.
The bumps caused by keratosis pilaris are actually tiny accumulations of the protein keratin and dead epithelial (skin) cells. They can be itchy and dry but can be treated with moisturizers.
Keratosis pilaris tends to be seasonal, appearing more frequently during the dry winter months than during the summer.
If you swim often, though, you might experience keratosis pilaris. Swimming pool chemicals tend to dry the skin. This could also be the case if you live in a climate with low humidity.
Overly dry skin
Dry skin can cause or exacerbate the symptoms of strawberry legs, as well as other conditions that resemble strawberry legs.
However, dryness, in and of itself, does not cause pores to darken.
If your skin is exceptionally dry, you’re more likely to develop irritation when you shave. This could leave you vulnerable to developing razor burn, folliculitis, and the signature “strawberry legs” appearance.
Dryness also makes keratosis pilaris, folliculitis, open comedones, and razor burn more obvious to the naked eye.
How to get rid of strawberry legs
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:
1. Use a sharp, clean razor and moisturizing shaving cream
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.”
2. Exfoliate and moisturize regularly
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.”
3. Use an epilator
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.
4. Consider permanent hair removal (laser hair removal or electrolysis)
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:
- Electrolysis uses a low electrical current to remove hair. You may experience slight discomfort and need several sessions before you see a difference. This technique typically doesn’t have any side effects.
- Laser hair removal uses a laser to precisely remove hair. Most people need two to six sessions. You may also experience side effects, including burns, scars or changes in skin color where the laser removed hair.
“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.
5. Turn to medical therapies
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:
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA).
- Beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid).
- Glycolic acid.
Products containing these ingredients may make your skin more sensitive to the sun. 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.
Don’t worry, strawberry legs won’t last
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. Strawberry legs can easily be treated and prevented. With some care and attention to your legs, those dark spots will go away.
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