Razor burn and ingrown hairs are uncomfortable and unsightly, but thankfully, avoidable. They’re often the result of improper shaving techniques, like shaving with a dull razor, shaving too close to your skin, shaving without shaving cream or gel or not prepping skin beforehand, according to Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. Prepping properly and amending how you shave – whether it be your face, legs or bikini line – can prevent rashes and bumps from forming and ensure your skin is left smooth every time, said King.
So if you suffer from razor burn or bumps, or want to avoid them in the future, consider these expert tips from dermatologists.
What is razor burn and how do you treat it?
Razor burn is a skin irritation that appears after shaving and causes red bumps or rashes in shaved areas. It generally lasts for a few days until the skin heals. (Note that razor burn is different from razor bumps, or ingrown hairs, which we cover below).
One of the best treatments for razor burn is actually no treatment, according to Dr. Robert Finney, a dermatologist in New York. If you stop shaving, the irritation will get better, said Finney. (There is generally no hygienic or medical reason to remove body or facial hair, according to King.) If you feel you need to shave, Finney said to stretch out the interval between shaves.
King agreed that you should avoid exfoliating or shaving until the razor burn heals. You can also apply an over-the-counter treatment to the affected area. King recommended hydrocortisone cream, a steroid that can help soothe irritation or use ointments or moisturizers with emollients, which are sealing agents that locks moisture in to help healing, such as Aquaphor Healing Ointment or Vanicream Moisturizing Ointment.
Cortisone 10 contains 1% hydrocortisone, a steroid that combats all itchiness from razor burn, to bug bites or poison ivy.
In addition to being a razor burn cure, this multi-use ointment is a Select favorite in our guides to the best face moisturizers for dry skin and best hand creams: It is fragrance-free and includes several occlusive ingredients, like mineral oil and glycerin, which provide the skin with a physical barrier to help prevent moisture loss, dermatologists previously told us.
This ointment can not only soothe razor burn, it can also calm chafing skin (like from running or biking) and treat atopic atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, ichthyosis and generally dry or cracked skin, according to the brand. Another Select favorite product, Vanicream’s facial moisturizer, made our list to the best face moisturizers for dry skin.
How to prevent razor burn
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, stressed the importance of using a shaving cream or gel when shaving. Shaving cream coats the hair and enhances the glide of the razor against skin, which helps minimize potential skin irritation, he said.
Not using shaving cream at all often causes razor burn, said King, as does using a shaving cream or gel that isn’t formulated with emollients. Emollients, an ingredient in moisturizers that keeps skin soft, are important when shaving because you are not just getting rid of hair but also stripping away the outermost layers of skin. Using products containing emollients protects and moisturizes skin, decreasing the chance of skin becoming irritated or inflamed.
King recommended this shaving cream and in-shower lotion from Eos, which is formulated with the emollients shea butter and shea oil. In our guide to the best shaving creams, Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology, noted that this Eos cream also contains oatmeal that can help soothe the skin and “[is] safe to use even in delicate areas.” The shave cream can either be rinsed off after shaving or left on like a lotion, according to the brand.
Zeichner recommended Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel, which is made with colloidal oatmeal, forming a protective seal over skin to hydrate and soothe inflammation. In our guide to the best shaving creams, Dr. William Huang, a board-certified dermatologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health told us he uses the gel on his sensitive skin because it’s formulated with a blend of hydrating and lubricating ingredients.
Both King and Zeichner both recommended this shave cream, which uses the emollient coconut oil to moisturize skin while shaving.
Your post-shave routine is also important to preventing razor burn: Use a moisturizing product to help repair the skin. However, King warned against using aftershave specifically, as it often contains alcohol, which can sting and burn skin.
Zeichner recommended using this option from Olay after shaving, because it contains high levels of niacinamide, a form of the vitamin B3 that’s a popular skincare ingredient for soothing and strengthening the skin barrier.
Finney suggested Clinical Hydra-Cool Serum because it repairs the skin barrier after shaving, while also moisturizing. It’s formulated with hyaluronic acid for moisturization, and a soothing menthol for cooling skin, according to the brand.
What are ingrown hairs and how do you prevent them?
While razor burn and ingrown hairs can occur in tandem after shaving, they’re two separate beasts. Ingrowns, or razor bumps, occur when cut hairs start to grow back down into the skin rather than growing out above the skin. King said ingrown hairs often look like skin-colored or red bumps—however, they can also emerge as painful, pus-filled bumps. And, they get worse the more you pick at them. In fact, King said the worst marks come from picking at ingrown hairs, not the ingrown hairs themselves.
Picking ingrown hairs also increases the risk of infection, scarring, discoloration and prolongs the healing process. If ingrown hairs or razor burn becomes infected, if it is painful or persists after you try to intervene at home, it’s time to see a dermatologist, said Finney, you may need prescription medication.
To prevent ingrowns, King recommended exfoliating with a gentle scrub or a cleanser containing glycolic or other alpha-hydroxy acids before shaving, as doing so can reduce the layers of skin covering where the hair is growing.
King likes this exfoliant that is “designed to be used on and between shaving days for gentle physical exfoliation with fine hydrated silica particles, in a base that hydrates and supports the skin barrier,” she said. She recommended pairing the smoothing exfoliant with daily use of the Venus Daily Smoothing Serum. The serum “also gently exfoliates with lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid that also has humectant properties, to reduce risk of ingrown hairs,” King said.
Though this exfoliant is designed for use on one’s face, King recommended using it as a shaving exfoliant for your body, too. “It contains a combination of glycolic acid and salicylic acid in a moisturizing and soothing base that includes aloe vera, sodium hyaluronate, glycerin, avocado oil, sunflower seed oil, allantoin and camellia seed oil,” she said.
This liquid exfoliant, another King recommendation, “contains glycolic acid, salicylic acid and gluconolactone to gently exfoliate, as well as ceramides to support the skin barrier and chamomile to soothe the skin,” she said. The glycolic and salicylic acids work together to kill dead cells and tighten pores, according to the brand.
This tonic “is a great choice for melanin-rich skin concerned about ingrown hairs and dark spots,” said King. It relies on lactic acid to gently exfoliate and hydrate and vitamin C to brighten, she said.
Expert shaving tips
- Before shaving, spend about 10 minutes in warm water to soften the outer layer of skin. This makes it easier to remove hair and decreases the risk of razor burn, said King. Zeichner also recommended shaving after you shower, if you have time.
- Before you shave, gently exfoliate with a warm, wet washcloth or a gentle moisturizing scrub like King’s pick: Dove Gentle Exfoliating Body Wash.
- King said it’s important to shave in the direction of hair growth. Use short light strokes – don't increase the pressure as you go. Zeichner suggested rinsing your razor every two to three strokes, too. Rinse your skin with cool water after you shave and pat skin dry. Also, try your best not to shave over the same area more than once.
- King said you should shave with a new, sharp, clean blade frequently.
Prepping your skin before you shave is important — but so is using a high quality razor. If you’re shaving your legs or bikini line, King recommended looking for a razor that has multiple blades and a pivoting head that will adjust to your body's curves. She also suggested purchasing a razor with soothing strips on the blade, which helps protect the skin while shaving. An ergonomic handle that fits your hand is also a great feature to look for.