Summer is upon us, and pandemic-related restrictions are starting to lift, so it’s just about time to pull out the shorts, skirts, and bathing suits, and for the guys to shed their quarantine beards.
For a lot of us who neglected shaving throughout the cold months spent inside, this means we’ll be pulling out the razor for the first time in months.
Shaving can be a pain, both metaphorically and literally. Not only is it time consuming, but there are a number of problems that can occur in the process, especially if you have sensitive skin that’s extra prone to irritation and inflammation.
- Ingrown Hairs - Ingrown hairs happen when hair starts to regrow, but is blocked at the follicle, causing it to curl over under the skin. They’re typically the result of too close a shave, or too much dead skin blocking the hair follicle.
- Folliculitis - As a result of ingrown hairs you may experience folliculitis. Often referred to as razor bumps, folliculitis occurs when hair follicles become infected and inflamed, leaving itchy, painful red bumps or sores. It can be a result of ingrown hairs, or simply just the friction that occurs while shaving.
- Razor burn - While often mistaken for one another, razor bumps and razor burn aren’t the same. Bumps are the result of ingrown hairs, but razor burn is the product of shaving itself. Improper shaving tools and techniques cause friction and irritation resulting in rashes, redness, and itchiness.
It’s hard to avoid these issues when taking a sharp blade to your face, underarms, or legs, and it’s even harder to treat some of them, but with these helpful tips, you can get a close shave with as little nicks, burns, and irritation as possible.
Shave less often
A lot of the time, with sensitive skin, less is more. Shaving every 2-3 days will minimize irritation. You may have a bit of stubble in between shaves, but when the choice comes down to stubble or irritated red bumps, dealing with a little hair is a lot less painful.
Soak in Warm Water Before Shaving
You should never shave on dry skin. Give your hair follicles time to soften and let your pores open up by soaking the area you’ll be shaving in warm water beforehand. Save shaving for the end of your shower so there’s plenty of time to soften your hair, giving you a cleaner, smoother shave. If you don’t have time for a bath or shower pre-shave, press a warm, wet towel to the area for at least three minutes.
Dead skin can block hair from coming through the follicle which leads to painful ingrown hairs. Using a non-abrasive, exfoliating scrub before shaving will minimize built up dead skin so the path is more clear when hair starts to regrow.
What are the best and worst ingredients in exfoliating scrubs?
Shave with lukewarm water
Sometimes a scalding hot shower is what you need after a long day, but if water is too hot, it can strip the skin of natural moisture leaving it dry, irritated, and more prone to inflammation and ingrowns. So try to save the hot lava water for days where you won’t be shaving.
Read more shower tips for sensitive skin.
Use a sharp razor
A sharp blade will provide an even, smooth shave, but over time each blade can rust and corrode, making the razor uneven and dull. Instead of acting like a sharp knife cutting through your hair, it will function more like a serrated knife. Ouch! You won’t get as close of a shave, and you can only imagine what that’ll do for your skin. Use your razor blades or disposable razors 4-5 times before replacing them to ensure you are getting the cleanest shave possible.
Oil vs Cream for Shaving
Yes, using bar soap to lather up before a shave will get the job done, but using a moisturizing shaving cream or gel will help the razor glide over your skin much easier, and will also provide the benefits of moisturizing emollient ingredients.
Some suggest if your skin is very sensitive, to use an oil like coconut oil or even olive oil as opposed to a cream for an extra slick surface for your razor to slide over gently.
Regardless of which you choose, just remember: don’t shave without some type of smooth cream or oil. This will increase friction which is the enemy when shaving.
If you’re really in a pinch and have no shaving cream or oil on hand, reach for your bottle of conditioner to give the same smooth pathway for your razor.
Let your razor do the work! Don’t apply too much pressure, and instead use light, gentle strokes. If you’ve properly exfoliated and loosened up your hair follicle, and are using a sharp blade and shaving cream, your razor should easily glide over your skin. Tug too hard, and you’ll increase the risk of razor bumps and rashes.
Try to only go over each area of skin once. If you miss a spot, wait a little while for the skin to recover (waiting until the next day is ideal), and then go back over the patch. Even if there is some left over hair, trust me, nobody’s going to take a magnifying glass to your skin, so don’t stress it. Just try to do what’s best for your skin.
Shave with the grain
Yes, it’s harder to get a close shave when shaving with the grain (in the direction of your hair growth), but you should only shave against the grain for stubborn patches where it’s difficult to get a clean shave. Shaving against the grain tugs at your skin, causes hairs to twist up, and drastically increases the chances of nicks, ingrown hairs, and irritation. If you’re using a sharp blade and the rest of these tips, going with the grain can be just as effective and much more gentle.
Rinse blade each time
After each stroke, rinse your razor blade so that it doesn’t get clogged up and make shaving more patchy and difficult.
Take your time
We all have days when we’re in a hurry, so we run the razor over our skin at lighting speed, but doing so increases the risk of accidentally cutting yourself, or applying too much friction. If you’re in a rush and only have time for a five minute shower, save shaving for when you have more time to go slow and steady.
Rinse with cold water
Once your legs, face, or underarms are smooth as can be, hit them with a blast of cold water to help tighten the skin which will help prevent ingrown hairs.
Build back up that crucial hydration immediately after shaving with an alcohol and fragrance free moisturizer. This will not only replenish moisture, but will also help calm the skin that may be raw after shaving. Make sure to stick to alcohol and fragrance free options, as those ingredients will do more damage to your skin by further depleting moisture and causing irritation.
Store razor in cool dry place
Leaving your razor in the warm damp environment in your shower will cause the blades to get rusty and dull quicker. On top of that, if it isn’t properly cleaned, the buildup of dead skin, soap, and shaving cream can lead to bacteria growth which is an infection waiting to happen.
Once you finish shaving, thoroughly clean your razor blade, and store it in a dry cabinet to increase its lifespan for as long as possible.
What to do if something goes wrong
Even with these tips, sometimes irritation is inevitable. If razor burn or ingrown hairs do occur use a soothing, oatmeal soap to help calm inflammation and keep the area clean so that nothing gets infected, apply warm water and pressure using a washcloth to soften the hair to encourage growth through the follicle rather than under, and apply an anti-inflammatory treatment like emu oil. Whatever you do, don't try to squeeze, pop, or extract any type of ingrown or bump. That’ll increase risk of infection and could cause scarring.
Whether or not you choose to shave is up to you. If you want to let your hair grow free, go for it, there will definitely be less irritation as a result. But if you do prefer the look and feel of smooth skin, keep these tips in mind next time you pull out your razor.