Have you noticed red dots scattered across your arms and legs? If you do, you most likely have strawberry skin. The condition, although harmless, affects rather a lot of us – the search terms ‘strawberry skin’ and ‘strawberry legs’ have 243.6 million and 3.7 billion views on TikTok respectively. We ask our team of skincare experts how we can go about treating and preventing it.
What Is Strawberry Skin?
‘Strawberry skin isn’t a medical term but rather a colloquial term that is commonly used to describe the coloured spots on your skin that look like strawberry seeds,’ says Dr Sebastian Bejma, advanced aesthetic doctor and MD of Dr Bejma Medical Clinic. ‘These typically appear on the legs, usually where hair follicles or pores have become clogged. It often causes more of an issue for people during the summer months during which time they are not wearing clothes to cover their legs.’
‘The “strawberry” spots happen when your hair follicles or pores get clogged,’ adds Dr Victoria Manning, co-founder of Skin Bureaux. ‘Dirt, dead skin, oil, and bacteria can all clog pores. People with any skin colour can get these clogged pores, but the lighter your skin, the darker they appear. The oil oxidises and turns darker – hence the seed like appearance. 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.’
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What Are The Causes?
‘Strawberry skin can develop when hair follicles are damaged by shaving, as shaving opens the hair follicles and exposes them to impurities. These clogged pores also tend to product more oil, which can become darkened when exposed to air turning it into a blackhead,’ says Dr Sophie Shotter. ‘It can also be caused by folliculitis and keratosis polaris.’
‘It’s often after shaving that people notice it,’ explains Dr Bejma. ‘This can be because using old or dull razors or no shaving cream may cause it. In some cases this is because shaving causes ingrown hairs which causes this dotted appearance, especially for people with thicker hair.’
‘Pores are the tiny holes on your skin that release oil and sweat, helping cool your body,’ says Dr Manning. ‘Sometimes, they can become clogged by bacteria, dead skin, oil or dirt.’
‘Our skin contains millions of pores which allow the skin to breathe and also contain a hair follicle as well as sebaceous glands which produce sebum,’ adds Dr Bejma. ‘When the oil inside is exposed to air it can look black, creating dark dots.’
‘Dry skin has the tendency to become irritated and, therefore, can raise your risk for developing the condition,’ says Dr Manning.
Dr Bejma also indicates that folliculitis can be a cause of strawberry skin, as it results in darkened spots. ‘This common skin condition happens when hair follicles become inflamed or infected,’ he says. ‘It’s often caused by shaving or waxing, and sometimes from when ingrown hairs can’t break through the skin. Sometimes it can even be caused from using a hot tub where the chemicals haven’t been properly regulated. It typically results in small red bumps which are itchy and sore, and also the dark dots associated with strawberry skin.’
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Another condition with links to strawberry skin is keratosis pilaris, says Dr Bejma: ‘This is a skin condition that causes dry skin and small bumps, usually on the arms, thighs or bottom. The bumps are usually rough to the touch and are caused by a buildup of keratin and dead skin.’
‘Technically, KP is a different condition from strawberry skin, but it can cause a similar-looking collection of red dots on your upper arms and thighs,’ adds Dr Manning. ‘Keratosis pilaris appears as 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. It is common in the younger age group.’
Tip For Preventing Strawberry Skin
‘The good news is that the conditions that cause strawberry skin usually aren’t serious,’ say Dr Manning. ‘Sometimes, strawberry skin will get better on its own, with no treatment. And many times, strawberry skin will clear up with home treatments.’
Our experts outline some things you can try:
Use A New, Sharp Razor & Shaving Cream
‘Use a cream that keeps your skin warm and moist, and shave in the direction of hair growth,’ advises Dr Manning. ‘This method helps prevent razor bumps and burns that lead to strawberry legs.’
Exfoliate & Moisturise Regularly
‘It’s important you moisturise daily, both before and after shaving, to keep skin hydrated,’ says Dr Shotter. ‘You can also use exfoliators like AHAs or BHAs to decrease the dead skin cells on the surface.’
‘Exfoliating removes dead skin and makes it easier for new hairs to grow,’ adds Dr Manning. ‘It also makes it more difficult for pores or follicles to clog. You can also add in a retinol for improved skin turnover. Exfoliate your legs, then moisturise to keep your skin hydrated.’
You can also use a dry brush, body scrub or glove to help loosen oil and dirt from your pores. ‘Gentle exfoliation with a scrub or cleaning brush can be an effective way of removing the build up of excess dead skin cells that can cause uneven skin,’ says Dr Bejma. ‘However, I would advise exercising caution when using these as when used too often or too firmly scrubs and physical exfoliants can risk compromising the delicate skin barrier and causing sensitivity and other skin problems.’
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Waxing & Laser Hair Removal
‘Consider waxing or laser hair removal as other hair removal methods, as these can cause less irritation of the follicles,’ says Dr Shotter. ‘Laser hair removal especially would be a good treatment to consider as it will help to minimise the risk of strawberry skin recurring.’
‘Laser is a more permanent hair removal and is a safe and effective option and uses a laser to remove hair,’ adds Dr Manning. ‘Most people need three to six sessions to get their desired result.’
Use An Epilator
Not a fan of the above? You can also try an epilator, says Dr Manning: ‘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.’
‘You can try topical treatments for chemical exfoliation of dead skin cells,’ says Dr Bejma. ‘When applied topically, vitamin A (otherwise known as retinoids) in skincare can help to increase collagen production. They also have anti-inflammatory properties which can help to reduce swelling, and address clogged pores. While retinoids are available over the counter, stronger formulations will require a prescription.’
Dr Manning also recommends a few over-the-counter or prescription medications. ‘Some medications to try include:
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA)
- Beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid)
- Glycolic acid
- For KP add in urea to help smooth the skin
‘Remember though that these products will make your skin more sensitive to the sun so always apply an SPF over 30,’ she adds.
Featured image: Esra Korkmaz, Pexels