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Razor burn and ingrown hairs are uncomfortable and unsightly, but thankfully, also avoidable. According to Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York, these types of skin irritations are often the culprit of improper shaving techniques. She says razor burn and ingrown hairs are caused by shaving too close, shaving with a dull razor and not prepping skin beforehand. Skipping exfoliation, shaving cream and lotion can also lead to skin abrasions. King says amending how you shave your skin – whether it be your face, legs or bikini line – can prevent rashes and bumps from forming and ensure that skin is left silky smooth every time.
Overall, King says there is no hygienic or medical reason that you need to remove body of facial hair. She says that it’s beneficial to skip shaving if you have pseudofolliculitis barbae, a condition where ingrown hairs cause inflammation and scarring. King notes that if you have active infections such as warts or herpes, “shaving can spread the infection so it's best to forgo shaving until the infection has resolved.” However, if you choose to shave, consider these expert tips from dermatologists. Here’s everything you need to know about razor burn and ingrown hairs plus how to avoid them. Dermatologists also offer expert shaving tips and advice about buying the best razor for your needs.
What is razor burn?
Razor burn is a skin irritation that usually appears after shaving. It causes red bumps or rashes in areas that were shaved, and generally lasts for a few days while skin is healing. King says razor burn is often caused by not using shaving cream or gel, products with emollients like shaving cream or gel. Emollients, an ingredient in moisturizer that keeps skin soft, smooth and hydrated, which King says is important because when you shave, you are not just getting rid of hair – you are also stripping away the outermost layers of skin. Using products containing emollients while shaving protects and moisturizes skin, thus decreasing the chance of skin becoming irritated or inflamed.
How do you get rid of razor burn?
According to Robert Finney, MD, a dermatologist in New York, one of the best treatments for razor burn is no treatment. He says if you stop shaving, the irritation will get better. However, if you want to shave, Finney says to stretch out the interval between shaves.
If you have razor burn, King says you should allow skin to heal by avoiding additional irritation – do not exfoliate or shave again until the razor burn has resolved itself. Apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to the affected area, which can help soothe shaving irritation. King also recommends using an emollient such as Aquaphor Healing Ointment or Vanicream Moisturizing Ointment if you have razor burn.
How to prevent razor burn
Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says using shaving cream or gel is especially crucial for preventing razor burn. Shaving cream and gel coat the hair and enhance the glide of the razor against skin, which helps minimize potential skin irritation. King and Zeichner both recommend Schaf Skin Care Shave Cream. King also suggests Eos Shea Butter Sensitive Skin Shave Cream, which contains shea butter to moisturize skin, and Zeichner says he likes Aveeno Shave Gel, which is made with colloidal oatmeal, forming a protective seal over skin to hydrate and soothe inflammation.
Your after shaving routine is also important to preventing razor burn, notably using a moisturizing product to help repair the skin. Zeichner recommends using Olay Regenerist Micro Sculpting Cream after shaving because it contains high levels of niacinamide or vitamin B3 that soothes and strengthens the skin barrier. As another option, Finney suggests using is Clinical Hydra-Cool Serum because it repairs the skin barrier after shaving, while also moisturizing. King warns against using aftershave, however, as products that contain alcohol can sting and burn skin and are overall not necessary to apply.
What are ingrown hairs and how to prevent them?
Ingrown hairs are bumps that contain trapped hair. They occur when cut hairs start to grow back down into the skin rather than growing out above the skin. King says ingrown hairs are typically found in areas that are shaved, and often look like skin-colored or red bumps – however, they can also appear as painful pus bumps.
King says the best solution to prevent ingrown hairs is to completely get rid of the hair through laser hair removal or electrolysis. However, not shaving too closely by using an electric razor can help. King also recommends exfoliating with a gentle scrub or a cleanser containing glycolic or other alpha-hydroxy acids, as doing so can reduce the layers of skin covering where the hair is growing. King recommends using products like Eucerin Roughness Relief, Cerave SA Body Lotion and AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion.
Overall, King urges those who suffer from ingrown hairs not to pick at them. She says 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. Finney says if ingrown hairs or razor burn becomes infected, it is painful or persists after you try to intervene at home, it’s time to see a dermatologist – prescription medications may be needed.
Expert shaving tips
- Before shaving, spend about ten minutes in warm water to soften the outer layer of skin. King says this makes it easier to remove hair and decreases the risk of razor burn. Zeichner also recommends 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 says it’s important to shave in the direction of hair growth. Use short light strokes – don't increase the pressure as you go. Zeichner suggests washing your razor every two to three strokes, too. Rinse skin with cool water after you shave and pat skin dry. Also, do not shave over the same area more than once.
- King says you should shave with a new, sharp, clean blade frequently.
Preparing skin before you shave, moisturize and exfoliate are important – but so is using a high-quality razor. King recommends looking for a razor that has multiple blades and a pivoting head that will adjust to your body's curves. She also suggests 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 when buying a razor. Here are the best razors for men and women, according to dermatologists.
Best women’s razors
King recommends this razor due to the water-activated ribbon of moisture around the blade that helps protect skin cuts and irritation. The razor has an ergonomic metal handle with an anti-slip grip for control. Its rounded head also pivots, allowing you to shave hard-to-reach areas. The razor features five blades, promoting a smoother shave on women’s legs and bikini line.
Billie Razor’s blades are nickel-free, so they’re safe for those who are allergic to metal. It has an ergonomic handle that comes in four colors – DreamPop, Coral, Cool Blue, and Blush – and its blades are encased in a charcoal shave soap, moisturizing skin as you shave. The razor comes with a holder that sticks to shower walls and connects to the magnet in the razor’s handle, making storage easy and clean. The Billie Razor Starter Kit includes a razor, a magic handle and two blades.
This razor has a weighted handle and rubber grip making for an easy hold while shaving. It’s head is flexible, allowing it to move with the curves of your body, and it has a hydrating strip to moisturize skin. The Flamingo Razor has custom-cut Gothic Arch shaped blades made from stainless steel, which promise a close, smooth shave. The razor’s handle comes in four colors: Taro & Rose Gold, Desert Rose & Silver, Mint & Gold, and Pomelo & Silver.
Oui the People The Single Razor (pre-order, ships in 8-10 weeks)
This razor was made specifically to help users avoid ingrown hairs and razor burn. It has a single-blade that cuts hair at skin-level, decreasing the chance of hair getting trapped below the skin's surface as it regrows. Single-blade razors like this one are often referred to as safety razors because they have a bar that keeps the blade away from the skin, yet offers a close shave. This razor is weighted to add pressure, since you shouldn't press into skin like you would while using a plastic razor. The Single Razor comes in Rose Gold and Matte Gold.
The head of this razor is surrounded by a block of moisturizing soap that contains aloe and vitamin E — gentle ingredients that won’t irritate sensitive skin. The soap eliminates the need for shaving cream or body wash — simply wet skin and begin shaving. The razor has four blades that sit on top of a pivoting head, allowing it to glide along skin even in bony areas like knees and ankles. The razor’s handle has a soft rubber grip, and it comes in three colors: Green, Purple and Pink.
Best men’s razors
Zeichner recommends the Gillette ProGlide Shield for men. It contains spring-mounted blades and the razor’s handle is made with FlexBall technology, both of which help the razor contour to the neck and face — giving you the closest and safest shave possible. Zeichner says this razor also has special lubricating strips on either side of the blades to keep the skin barrier in good condition during and after shaving.
Finney recommends this electric razor, which he says has “greatly helped reduce razor bumps” on his neck. The razor can be used on the face, neck and body, making it versatile and convenient. Each time you fully charge this device, it gives you up to 60 minutes of cordless shaving. It comes with four stubble combs for the face that ensure even cutting at different hair lengths, and a click-on skin guard for sensitive areas. The trimmer and shaver also comes with a face blade, a body blade, a body hair comb, a power adapter and a protection cap.
The Winston Razor has a weighted ergonomic handle that gives you greater control while you shave. The handle has a rubberized grip that’s comfortable to hold, too. Its head features five sharp, durable blades set on a flex hinge and surrounded by a lubricating strip. Blades include a built-in precision trimmer that work well for shaving sideburns and hard-to-reach places like under the nose. Harry’s does not recommend using its blades for head shaving.
Moisturize your skin as you shave with these coconut oil-infused razor blades.It has a flip back trimmer that gets to hard-to-reach areas and ensures precise, clean lines as you shave around your eyebrows, for example. The razors feature five blades with skin guards and seven hydrating gel pools that hydrate skin, too. The handles come in five colors: Black, Green, Yellow, Grey Wood and Blue Camo.
The three-blade head on this razor is designed to last for up to 15 shaves. Blades are made from sharp steel, making them highly durable. The razor’s head is surrounded by a lubrication strip and a skin guard that helps prevent skin from becoming red or irritated while you’re shaving. The handle is weighted and features a rubber grip for ultimate control, too.