Women with pale skin and dark hair may be familiar with this scenario: you shave your legs in the shower and they look smooth and beautiful under your bathroom lights. You pat yourself on the back for an at-home hair removal job done well. Then, you step out into the cruel light of dawn and are halfway to work when you look down and see them: hundreds of dark hair follicles–that basically look like red or black dots–that even your five-blade razor couldn’t eliminate. What’s the deal with these?
“The black dots are actually the part of the hair shaft that remains behind in the follicle,” says Dr. David E. Bank, founder of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery. And, yes, women with lighter skin will have a greater color contrast to the darker hair.
There’s also another shaving phenomenon called “strawberry legs,” which refers to the pink-purple dots that show up on light-colored skin and seem to be even more obvious after shaving, says Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse at Rapaport Dermatology of Beverly Hills. “Sensitive skin can get irritated from any hair removal practice,” Shainhouse says. “The repetitive inflammation and enlargement and subsequent constriction of the surrounding tiny vessels in the peri-follicular skin can lead to chronic vessel dilatation and even scarring.”
To help prevent the development of these spots, Shainhouse recommends preventing and reducing inflammation by being gentle with your skin and hair follicles. “Exfoliate with an AHA-based lotion, then soak your legs in warm water for 5 minutes (think, warm, relaxing shower) before shaving in the direction of growth with a sharp, multi-blade razor and a moisturizing, soothing shaving cream,” she says. “Try not to re-shave the same patch of skin more than once. Moisturize after shaving with a soothing lotion. Try one with aloe, chamomile or rosehip oil. If you get pink, try hydrocortisone lotion as an ‘aftershave.'”
Both experts agree, though: because the base of the hair follicle is deep in the skin, the best preventative measure to take if you are prone to dark dots on your legs or underarms is to invest in a more permanent hair removal method.
“Even if you figure out how to get the closest shave, the blades can only smooth the surface of the skin,” Shainhouse says. “If you have dark hair and light skin, the base of the hair follicle and hair shaft can be visible through the skin and appear as permanent dark dots.”
Two options that work include waxing, which will pull the hairs right out of the follicle, Shainhouse says, and laser hair removal. “One good thing about having dark leg hair and super pale skin is that you are the perfect candidate for hair removal laser (HRL),” she says. “HRL targets pigment, so when used on pale skin, it penetrates down to the hair follicle beneath the skin and zaps it, eventually killing it and preventing re-growth. Expect to need at least 6-10 treatments to achieve about 70% permanent hair reduction. You may require touch-ups once in a while, if any new hairs pop up. This is expensive, but worthwhile in the long run, if you really hate seeing the black dots.”
For more beauty tips and news, check out what is dry brushing and does it really work? and the one thing you should never do when shaving your legs.
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