Summer is officially here, which means so are Aperol spritzes and cute summer dresses. But for many people, the much-anticipated warmer weather brings with it the dreaded notion of the ‘summer body’.
Arbitrary beauty standards have evolved throughout history. Take modern body positivity, for example, and self-love movements encouraging us to embrace our bodies. But it seems that social media is yet to catch up. As the sunny months roll in, viral body care trends such as underarm lightening and anti-cellulite devices continue to remind us that young women are under pressure to attain slim stomachs, smooth thighs and many other perceived ideas of the ‘perfect’ form.
What are ‘strawberry legs’?
Advice on how to minimise body hair or hide hip dips is all over TikTok. Lately, TikTokers are obsessed with what they’re calling ‘strawberry legs’ — particularly how to get rid. “‘Strawberry legs’ refers to the appearance of small, hyperpigmented red or dark spots on the legs, which are usually centred around hair follicles,” explains Dr Penelope Pratsou, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. These follicles resemble the tiny seeds on the surface of a strawberry, hence the name ‘strawberry legs’.
You might’ve already heard the term thanks to a viral 2019 tweet about the appearance of the tiny hair follicles on Beyoncé’s legs. Women of colour are more likely to experience prominent ‘strawberry legs’ due to the presence of melanin, the substance in our bodies which produces pigment in hair, eyes and skin. While entirely normal and natural, Dr Pratsou says there are a number of possible causes of this strawberry-like appearance.
The most common is keratosis pilaris (also referred to as ‘chicken skin’), which is rough or bumpy skin texture caused by keratin clogging up hair follicles. Studies show that this may be genetic. Another cause is folliculitis, where “hair follicles can become inflamed or infected after removing body hair through shaving, waxing or other means,” explains Dr Pratsou. For most people though, ‘strawberry legs’ are simply visible hair follicles. They may be more obvious to the naked eye if your hairs are prominent (thick or dark, for example) or if you frequently shave. Shaving rash or razor burn is also sometimes referred to as ‘strawberry legs’.
The emotional burden of achieving a specific look is one thing. When it comes to treating ‘strawberry legs’, people are at risk of harming their skin to a worrying extent.
Google Trends shows that search for ‘strawberry legs’ (specifically how to minimise the appearance) has skyrocketed in the UK this June, while on TikTok the #strawberrylegs hashtag has 144.9 million views and counting. Videos titled “This is what cured my strawberry legs” and “Girl tips I wish I knew sooner: how to get rid of strawberry legs” draw in thousands of likes and comments from women who feel insecure about their limbs. Is there really any need to treat this or is it just another sinister trend under the guise of body care?
Research suggests that 87% of women compare their bodies to images they see on social media, with 50% comparing their bodies unfavourably as a result. Women have always felt the pressure to look a certain way, says Dr Pratsou, but she adds that this current trend means a lot more of us are having our attention drawn to something we may not have been aware of (or certainly something that we have never viewed as a problem or condition to treat).
Courtesy of airbrushing and filters, psychologists report that social media makes perfection seem more natural and attainable than it actually is. This no doubt fuels insecurity and ramps up the societal pressure on women to attain said perfection. Women of colour are likely to face even larger consequences of negative body image. But the emotional burden of achieving a specific look is one thing. When it comes to treating ‘strawberry legs’, people are at risk of harming their skin to a worrying extent.
Is treatment for ‘strawberry legs’ safe?
It’s under the pressure of these questionable online beauty standards that women are likely (and often unknowingly) influenced to try potentially harmful recipes and methods, which are promoted as fixes. Hundreds of ‘strawberry legs’ online tutorials advertise poreless legs through various harsh means. They include over-exfoliation using physical scrubs and gimmicky tools, and enlisting the help of high-strength acids like glycolic, lactic and salicylic acid.
Dr Ana Mansouri, aesthetic doctor and skin expert, explains that acids (referred to as chemical exfoliators) and mechanical exfoliators (such as physical scrubs and tools) can ravage the skin barrier when used incorrectly. In one viral video, a TikToker can be seen enlisting a hair removal stone or crystal eraser to remove leg hair and minimise the appearance of hair follicles. Although tools such as these have a number of good reviews, it’s easy to go overboard. Constantly exfoliating the same area of skin can potentially take too much off, resulting in severe irritation.
Anna Tran purchased a mechanical exfoliating tool after seeing a viral TikTok ad. “I’ve always had ‘strawberry legs’ but I didn’t pay much attention to it as I just thought it was the normal spots you have on your legs,” she tells R29. “But then I downloaded TikTok and I would see these ads all the time on my feed. I guess I became more conscious of mine.”
Anna gave in and followed the link. “I bought one as it was so cheap. I guess that should have been a red flag in itself.” Anna tried the exfoliating tool on one section on the side of her leg. She immediately knew something wasn’t right. “My skin there was irritated and really ashy afterwards,” she said. “It removed a little bit of hair, yes, but when it grew back I had ingrown hairs, which I’d never experienced before on my legs. It caused that area to have really prominent spots.”
Harming the skin’s barrier by over-exfoliating can worsen dryness, dehydration and may even lead to rashes, reactions and, in severe cases, chemical burns.
The same goes for high-strength acids. Though many TikTokers recommend safe products, such as The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution and salicylic acid in low concentrations, the internet is awash with readily available acid skincare products in concentrations as high as 20 or 30%. In untrained hands, skin burns, scarring and pigmentation can occur. Dr Ana says that harming the skin’s barrier by over-exfoliating can worsen dryness, dehydration and may even lead to rashes, reactions and, in severe cases, chemical burns.
‘Strawberry legs’ tutorials show no sign of slowing down. But for all the viral videos, people are pushing back on the body policing, in particular women of colour, who may experience increased pigmentation due to the presence of melanin. “The female body is way too micromanaged, wtf is strawberry legs?” reads a viral tweet by Anjola Ojutalayo. “Sorry,” she continues, “and a lot of it comes down to seeing the body as ‘problematic’, something that constantly needs change or modification, it’s enough nowwwww.”
It wasn’t long before the replies came flooding in. “Lmaoooo anything to make Black women feel more insecure,” observed one. “I’ve always had ‘strawberry’ legs & have never and will never be bothered. So many of these things are normal for us.” On TikTok, Black women in particular are creating videos which reject the idea of ‘strawberry legs’. The aim is to embrace the legs they have as a result of the normal pigmentation in their skin.
“This almost looks like my leg if I was to shave it,” says TikToker @mayanextdoor4 in a viral video. “But can we normalise strawberry legs? I’m tired of seeing all these TikToks […] with smooth legs. No. This is what my legs look like, and if you don’t believe me, look,” she says, zooming in on her own legs. “Look. They’re strawberries!”
Yemisi Samuel knows very well the pressure to have smooth limbs. “In my culture as a Nigerian (Igbo), so much emphasis is placed on women and their skin,” she tells R29. “I have these small spots on my legs and I remember when I went back home and wore shorts, I would always get comments from older aunties. They seemed disgusted that I hadn’t used a cream or anything to sort it out.”
Yemisi says that when she arrived back in the UK, she became very insecure about her skin. “I went to see a skin specialist who told me this was such a common inquiry for her — and that it was completely normal.” Yemisi says that’s why she has loved seeing women of colour hitting back at this trend. “Why are we being made to feel insecure about something that occurs so normally for so many of us? Why do we have to worry about this?” she asks.
Women of colour, who may experience increased pigmentation due to the presence of melanin, are pushing back on the ‘strawberry legs’ trend.
Aesthetician and skin expert Alicia Lartey always tells her skin patients not to fret about their so-called ‘strawberry legs’. “It’s present in 80% of adolescents and 40% of adults,” she says. “I prefer to see it as a variation of skin rather than a condition.” Alicia discloses that she was bullied for having ‘strawberry legs’ as a child, and in adulthood. “I know what it feels like,” she says. “I myself have an extreme case of this on my arms and while I do exfoliate to help with the texture of my skin, I don’t overdo it. I always want to think about the health of my skin, and women’s bodies are so heavily micromanaged.”
Seeing body hair and pigmentation as a variation of skin is important. The word ‘cure’ is often used in online tutorials, implying that ‘strawberry legs’ are something to remedy. In reality, most of those pigmented follicles are entirely harmless. Those with keratosis pilaris (where keratin accumulates in the skin) may find it uncomfortable but if this is the case, there are treatments which can help.
Low-strength acids such as salicylic acid formulated into cleansers are beneficial, says Dr Ana. She also recommends a body lotion with a low concentration of lactic acid or glycolic acid to provide gentle chemical exfoliation on a regular basis. “Use gentle acids no more often than two or three times a week,” advises Dr Ana, “and do not mechanically exfoliate using scrubs of similar preparations as these are too harsh and will also worsen the skin barrier.”
In body lotions, look out for moisturising and hydrating ingredients including urea, hyaluronic acid, glycerin and ceramides to protect your skin. Occasionally, products containing mild retinoids can be used but they are best recommended by a qualified skin practitioner as they may not be easily tolerated by sensitive skin types.
The phrase ‘strawberry legs’ may seem ridiculous but the causes are so common. “Where this is a part of a person’s normal skin anatomy,” says Dr Pratsou, “it may be best ignored.” Likewise, Dr Ana encourages her patients not to dwell on their skin insecurities. She says there really is no positive outcome of so closely inspecting your skin texture and pores, especially when other people won’t be looking as closely as you.
Social media trends fuel the never-ending quest for unattainable flawlessness but when it comes to your body, what’s really important is that you’re healthy and feeling good in your own skin. Besides, the ‘perfect’ body doesn’t exist.
Refinery29’s selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?