What’s the point of shaving if you’re left with irritating red bumps all over your otherwise smooth, hairless skin? It’s frustrating, we know. Good news is, it’s preventable.
Let’s start off with what razor burn and razor bumps are. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not one in the same. However, they are both caused by improper shaving and most common among people with sensitive skin.
Razor Bumps Are Essentially Ingrown Hairs
Razor burn is a temporary skin irritation caused by regular shaving and typically looks like a mild, red rash. Razor bumps - also known as pseudofolliculitis barbae - are a little more intense. When hair is cut off where it exits the skin, it can curl back and start growing inwards. These are known as ingrown hairs. They cause irritation to the hair follicle, which swells into a small red lump that looks a bit like a pimple - thus the “bumps” in razor bumps.
How To Prevent Razor Burn and Razor Bumps
The solution to your skin irritations is twofold and very simple. It’s all about how you prep your skin for shaving and how you shave. Let’s dive in.
A four-step home remedy to prep your skin for burn-free shaving
Dry shaving is one of the factors behind burn and bumps. But the best, most luxurious shave takes more than just slapping on any old shaving cream. Here are four simple steps for prepping your skin for a smooth shave.
Step one: Start with clean, exfoliated skin. Exfoliating helps lift hair off of your skin so your razor catches them all, preventing ingrown hairs. To exfoliate, use a washcloth if your skin is extra sensitive and a hydrating scrub (one of our favorites is this one from SW Basics) if it's extra dry.
Can we nerd out a little? We shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour. Gross, we know. That uppermost "dead layer" is called the stratum corneum and it's one reason ingrowns are so pesky. If we don't help them along by exfoliating, those dead skin cells can trap hair underneath the uppermost layer, the epidermis. At worst they can get infected, at best they can cause razor burn. Get rid of them.
Step two: Use a clean, sharp razor. How often you have to change your razor blade depends on how thick your hair is. But no matter what, you don't want to use a dull blade to shave. It's like "razor burn, party of 1," immediately. Make sure your razor is sharp and clean (rinse it with hot water before and after use) to help prevent razor burn.
Step three: Soften your hair with water first. A warm shower helps soften hair, making it easier to remove. Plan your shave for the end of your shower or bath and you'll decrease your chances of feeling the burn.
- Step four: Use a shaving oil. We're not just saying this because we're clearly partial to shaving oils and creams. Using just water or even soap and water can cause the razor to drag on your hairs and skin. Shaving oil lubricates your skin and blade and softens your hair, creating a smoother surface for your blade to glide over. It protects your skin and leaves it super moisturized.
How to shave to prevent razor burn and razor bumps
Choose a single-blade razor. We've all succumbed to the “more blades, the better” hype in our pursuit of smoother skin. We’ll let you in on a secret. Razors with multiple blades lift the hair with the first and cut with the second, while the rest of the blades rake over our skin and cut the hair below skin level. While this may immediately feel like a smooth shave, the end result is razor burn and ingrown hairs. On the flip side, when clean and sharp, a single or double blade razor will create a clean cut. No more burn.
Press lightly. We've been conditioned to press the razor into our skin to get the closest shave. Don't. Pressure contributes to the irritation we experience after shaving. Once you feel as though the razor is tugging at your hairs, rather than cutting them quickly and sharply, it's time to change the blade. Everyone's hair is different (fine, coarse, thick), so this will vary for each individual.
Shave with the grain. You've probably been told to shave against the grain your entire shaving life. It seems intuitive to get your closest shave but it can cause irritation and can lead to razor burn. If you’re especially prone to either, make an effort to shave with the grain. While you're at it, don't go over any area more than twice (especially your bikini line). Unless you’re talking about ice cream or popsicles on a hot summer day, more is not always better.
- Avoid tight underwear right after shaving, especially if prone to ingrown hairs. Skin is its healthiest when it's allowed to breathe. The elastic in tight underwear presses into the skin, trapping hair as it begins to grow back and giving way to bothersome ingrown hairs. Try wearing loose boy shorts or soft 100% cotton underwear.
That’s it! Pretty simple, right? If you’re more of a visual person, peep the short how-to video below. Give it a try and let us know if it helped in the comments below.