Shaving is a quick way to remove unwanted hair. It’s also notorious for causing irritated, inflamed skin. This after-effect is known as razor burn — a cluster of irritated, red bumps and ingrown hairs that closely resemble acne.
Hair grows through tunnel-shaped structures located in the outer layer of our skin called hair follicles. When hair grows back after a shave, it is possible to grow sideways and into your skin rather than through the epidermis.
Another possibility is that the hair will grow out of the follicle but continue growing deeper into your skin. This can happen anywhere you shave, from your arms to your legs.
What Is Razor Burn?
Although similar to each other, razor burn is a type of skin irritation caused by shaving, while razor bumps result from ingrown hairs.
Razor burn can affect any part of the body, including your face, pubic region, legs, and underarms. Some of the most common signs of razor burn include:
- Tiny, red bumps
- Burning sensation
While razor burn is often uncomfortable, it usually resolves itself with time. However, with a bit of practice and the right products, there are several steps you can take to help soothe your skin and prevent razor burn from happening again.
Tip #1: Exfoliate Your Skin
First things first – add exfoliation to your shaving routine, especially before you shave. It is essential that you exfoliate your skin before shaving and not after. Exfoliating after a shave could lead to potential skin damage since it is already in a vulnerable state.
Our hair follicles become clogged with excess sebum, dead skin cells, and dirt. Exfoliation can loosen the grime in your hair follicles, making shaving easier to manage, and minimizing the chances of having to shave over the same area twice. This can help reduce the risk of ingrown hair and razor burn.
Mechanical vs. Chemical Exfoliation
There are two methods for exfoliation: mechanical (physical) and chemical.
Mechanical or physical exfoliation is when you use tools to buff away dead skin cells and remove build-up from the surface of your skin. Some of the most commonly used tools with mechanical exfoliation include brushes with bristles, sponges, and gloves.
You’ve probably used mechanical exfoliation products if you’ve used cleansers or other skin care products that contain microbeads.
Chemical exfoliation is when you use acids or enzymes to dissolve the dead skin cells and build-up that lives on your skin. The acids that these solutions most typically contain are either alpha hydroxy acid (AHAs), a natural derivative like glycolic acid, or beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), which is synthetically derived like salicylic acid. The solutions that contain enzymes rather than acids function similarly but at a slower pace.
Tip #2: Understanding Your Skin Type
When choosing between chemical and mechanical exfoliation, you must consider your skin type.
Your skin type describes the characteristics. It is mainly determined by genetics, although lifestyle habits, environmental factors, and your health can influence it. Your skin type is also based on several elements that include skin sensitivity, water content, and oil production.
There are six primary skin types: normal, acne-prone, sensitive, dry, oily, and combination.
Normal skin is balanced, meaning that it will not feel dry or oily. It typically has a smooth texture with small and barely visible pores. This skin type is not prone to irritation, breakouts, or tightness.
If you have normal skin with minimal blemishes, you have the freedom to explore both chemical and mechanical exfoliants to see which offer the best results for your skin.
Acne-prone skin is more prone to breakouts. If you have acne-prone skin, a harsh mechanical exfoliator may be too rough and might spread bacteria from broken acne pustules. Instead, opt for a chemical exfoliator made with BHA and limit your exfoliation routine to no more than once a week.
Sensitive skin is more vulnerable to external irritants, meaning that your skin reacts poorly to certain ingredients and substances. Your skin will also likely appear red and feel itchy as if it is burning.
For sensitive skin, avoid harsh skin care products like mechanical exfoliants. Instead, use a chemical exfoliant that contains natural enzymes or lactic acid to gently exfoliate the skin without causing irritation.
Dry skin is often dehydrating and has trouble absorbing moisture. This skin type is more prone to itchiness and irritation.
You will need an exfoliator that removes dead skin cells while also replenishing natural moisture in the skin. Choose a product containing both AHA and BHA to help soothe and exfoliate.
Oily skin is easy to identify because it gives you a consistently shiny or greasy appearance. It is caused by overactive sebaceous glands that produce an excess of sebum, particularly on the forehead, nose, and chin, making the skin prone to blemishes, breakouts, and enlarged pores.
Generally, oily skin has a higher tolerance for exfoliation, allowing you to exfoliate about three to five times a week. Look for an exfoliator that contains AHA or BHA, and make sure to use an oil-free moisturizer to avoid drying out your skin.
Combination skin has features that usually accompany both dry and oily skin. This commonly means that your T-Zone is excessively oily while all remaining areas of your face are overall dry.
Opt for an exfoliator that combines mechanical and chemical exfoliation if you have combination skin.
Keep in mind that even if you choose the right exfoliator for your skin type, you will still need to take caution and not overdo it. Exfoliating too often or applying too much pressure with mechanical exfoliators may cause irritation and swelling.
As a result, irritated skin can lead to flakes and redness or more frequent breakouts. To help reduce these risks, always use a moisturizer after you exfoliate.
Tip #3: Choose Your Tools Wisely
After exfoliation, your skin should be ready and prepared for the next step: shaving. Our next tip is to choose the tools you will use very carefully.
When it comes to selecting a razor, the most important thing is that the razor blade is new and not dull. An old razor blade will force you to shave over the same area twice or more to remove the hair. This will increase the chances of developing razor burn, cuts, irritation, and infection.
We recommend using a sharp razor with three to six blades instead of a single-blade razor for a closer shave with fewer strokes. While choosing a razor is entirely up to preference, there are certain effects of different types of razors to consider.
Manual razors are known to provide you with a closer and cleaner shave. This type of razor is also known for increasing the chances of developing ingrown hairs. Meanwhile, electric razors do not provide you with a sharp, clean shave but are considered safer for your skin because of how they push the hair upward before clipping it.
When selecting your shaving gel, natural and water-based is best. We recommend MadeMan’s The Resetter. Our 2-in-1 facial cleanser and shaving gel is designed to facilitate a smooth shave and deep but gentle cleansing.
The Resetter is water-based and uses all-natural ingredients, making it safe for all skin types.
The natural ingredients in The Resetter include glycerin-infused coconut oil, quillaja soap bark extract, and sunflower seed oil. These elements work together to eliminate impurities from your pores and help get rid of any pre-existing razor burn or ingrown hairs.
Tip #4: Home Remedies
While there are many fold remedies on how to get rid of razor burn, only a few studies have been done on herbal remedies for burns in general. Here are a few natural remedies that may help you find relief from razor burn.
Aloe vera is known for its soothing and healing properties. To help soothe razor burn, apply a thin layer of aloe vera gel onto the affected area.
While coconut oil is commonly used in cooking, it is also great for your skin. Studies show that coconut oil can be a safe and effective way to help reduce razor burns. Simply apply a thin layer of organic coconut oil to the swollen area.
Tea Tree Oil
Research shows that tea tree oil can be used as a natural remedy to help soothe burns. However, tea tree oil shouldn’t be applied without a carrier oil. You can mix one to three drops of tea tree oil with one teaspoon of coconut oil or sweet almond oil.
Just make sure to do a patch test first to see how your skin responds.
Colloidal Oatmeal Bath
Studies show that oats contain phenols, which help soothe, cleanse, and moisturize the skin.
Colloidal oatmeal is made by grinding oats into a fine powder. You can then soak the burn area in this powder mixed with water for ten to 15 minutes.
Tip #5: Apply Moisturizer
Following the shave, it is essential to apply a hydrating moisturizer after rinsing all hair and shaving gel from your skin. This is especially crucial if you previously exfoliated, as well.
Exfoliating and shaving can contribute to dryness or irritation. For this reason, it is always important to help soothe your skin and provide it with additional moisture.
We suggest MadeMan’s The Refresher. The Refresher is an all-in-one moisturizer with anti-foaming additives derived from silica which helps smooth out your skin, retain moisture, and provide you with a hydrated appearance.
Similar to The Resetter, The Refresher contains several beneficial all-natural ingredients that include chicory root, vitamin C, and castor seed oil. In addition to restoring the skin’s natural moisture balance, protecting your skin from the sun and blue light, and increasing collagen production, our moisturizer helps combat puffiness, redness, dark spots, and gives your skin a youthful appearance.
The Re(Set) Collection is designed and formulated with simplicity in mind. With just two steps, under two minutes a day, taking care of your skin has never been easier.
Tip #6: Water Matters
In addition to razors and shaving gel, water is another essential factor to help reduce razor burn.
The temperature of the water used when shaving can make all the difference in your shave. Before shaving, you should use warm water to make the hairs stand up and allow your pores to open. However, cold water may be a better option if you have sensitive skin.
In fact, many people report that cold water helps reduce skin irritation and razor burns.
The simplest way to accomplish this is to shower as you shave. However, you can also try to wet a washcloth or towel with warm water and rest it over your skin. Let the cloth sit for at least two to three minutes, allowing your skin to absorb the water and hair stands to soften.
If you prefer to use a shaving gel, let it soak. Though not necessary, this can help improve your shave by minimizing the chances of growing back into the skin rather than out of it. After a few minutes have passed, you can begin to shave.
Tip #7: Shave With the Grain
During the actual shaving process, there are several minor adjustments that you can make to significantly improve how you shave and how your skin responds to the process.
To avoid razor bumps, we recommend always shaving with the grain, which is the direction your hair naturally grows.
Many people prefer to shave in the opposite direction because it provides them with a cleaner and closer cut. However, shaving with the grain minimizes the chances of ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
So how do you shave with the grain?
- Step 1: Start with a new razor
- Step 2: Find your grain (whichever your stubble feels prickliest, that’s against the grain — go the opposite direction of that)
- Step 3: Prep your face before you start shaving
- Step 4: Use aftershave
Tip #8: Don’t Stretch the Skin
Do not stretch your skin back as you shave. Allowing your skin to sit naturally as you shave will prevent the tips of the remaining strands of your hair from shrinking back into your skin and developing into ingrown hairs.
Tip #9: Rinse and Repeat
Be sure to rinse loose hair off your razor between every stroke. A razor clogged with hairs will make the blade less efficient and more likely to cause razor bumps, especially if you already have sensitive skin.
For extra precaution, we suggest rinsing out your razor after every stroke.
Tip #10: Store Your Razor Properly
When you are finished shaving, take some time to consider where you are storing the razor. Razors should not be left in humid environments as this can cause rust to develop or bacteria to live and grow.
Rust will prevent the razor from performing as intended, causing you to shave repeatedly and more likely cut yourself in the process. Bacteria may lead to an infection and increase the chances of irritation and razor burn.
Keep your razor in a dry space or stored away in a dry cupboard. Refrain from keeping it in the shower. If you shave every day, replace your razor every one to two weeks. If you shave twice a week, replace your razor every four to six weeks.
With proper care, most cases of razor burn will usually clear up within a few days. Be sure to stop shaving for a few days to allow the skin to heal. Leave the skin alone if you start to notice the onset of a razor burn. Give the swollen area time to heal to reduce the risk of further swelling, irritation, and infection.
If you notice signs of severe swelling, even after you’ve taken the proper steps of precaution, contact your healthcare provider.
Oily skin: an overview | PubMed