Razor burn and shaving rash, the unsightly and often painful skin irritation caused by shaving. It affects both men and women and often there appears to be no real cause for the burn, you were simply following your normal shave routine. But what if we told you that you can reduce or even eliminate razor burn by following a few simple steps? Continue reading and begin your journey to a life without razor burn.
What is Razor Burn?
A number of related issues are typically described as razor burn including skin irritation, ingrown hairs and razor bumps. Ingrown hairs can be caused by freshly shaven hairs curling back on themselves and burrowing under the skin where they continue to grow. Razor bumps are slightly smaller and comprise red bumps on the skin and are typically caused by slight reactions to shaving creams or oils. Razor burn and skin irritation is damage to the upper skin layers through repeated contact with razor blades during shaving.
Razor burn and its related conditions are not just confined to just men’s faces. Razor burn can occur on any part of the body that is shaved and often women can also experience razor burn on their legs and groins.
What Causes Razor Burn?
There are numerous causes of razor burn and its associated conditions. The most common is general skin irritation which occurs from repeated strokes of a razor over skin. With each stroke the skin is damaged very slightly but this is compounded by the number of strokes during each shave and also regular shaving from day to day. The quality of the razor plays an important part here as well, with dull or cheap mass produced razors just not up to the task. If you suffer regularly from razor burn you have to ask yourself, are companies like Dollar Shave Club worth it?
Ingrown hairs can also cause shaving related issues, this is when the freshly shaven hair burrows in under skin where it continues to grow casing irritation. Ingrown hairs are most common in people who have curly hair and they can be an issue as they sometimes become infected. Ingrown hairs can occur anywhere on the body.
Razor bumps are small red bumps on the skin that appear after shaving, they are most likely caused by irritation or a slight allergic reaction to the shaving cream used. They often disappear after few days but can be prevented by switching shaving cream.
Razor Burn For Women
A large portion of women will shave just as regularly, or more often, as men do yet there is a distinct lack of high quality traditional style razors promoted toward women. Rather the women’s razor blades available today are just pink coloured versions of cheap mass produced and low quality disposable cartridge razors.
Classic shaving tools like a double edged safety razor are just not that common amongst women but their use could help minimize razor burn and irritation. There is a small movement of women who use straight razors for shaving legs and other areas and there are some good quality razors available. The Dovo Shavette is a perfect straight razor for women as it small and maneuverable and it even comes in a range of colours to suit anybody.
How To Prevent Razor Burn
Razor burn can be prevented or minimised by following a few simple steps including:
- Using the correct lubricant
- Developing a good pre-shave routine
- Using a quality razor and shaving tools
- Using the correct shaving technique
- Post-shave care
As we’ve previously discussed an alkaline solution will help liquids get past the cuticle layer of the hair allowing a great volume of liquid to be absorbed and result in hair that is easier to shave. The following list of ingredients are those that are typically found in shaving creams and gels.
- Water / Aqua – We all know what this is
- Acids including Stearic or Myristic – These are commonly added to act as lubricants, they are both saturated fatty acids and help to thicken soaps
- Potassium or Sodium Hydroxide – Alkali compounds that help to break past the cuticle barrier and also aid with saponification
- Glycols – acts as a solvent and lubricant
- Fragrance – Essential oils or perfumes
- Plant Oils – can include coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, olive oil etc. They are added to help moisturize and soften the skin.
- Parabens – Generally used as preservatives, common in products that use natural ingredients to prevent them from spoiling
The two key ingredients in shaving foams or gels are therefore water and either potassium or sodium hydroxide. When choosing a lubricant for your shave be sure to check these ingredients are in the list and remember the earlier they are in the list the higher there percentage in the final product.
The correct pre-shave routine lays the foundations for a razor burn free shave. It is an essential step but one that is often overlooked. How many time have you just whipped out a razor and some cream and begun to shave without giving much more thought? Follow the technique below to minimise the chance of razor burn occurring.
Hydration is the key to a good shave as hydrated hairs are much easier to shave than dry ones. The portion of hair that protrudes from your skin is called the hair shaft and comprises three layers: the cortex and medulla in the centre and the outer layer which is called the cuticle. The cuticle is a hard water resistant protective layer which has evolved to offer a line of defense for hair. Moderately hot water will damage the cuticle layer and hair with a damaged cuticle layer will absorb liquids quicker. Also when an alkali solution such as soap is applied to the hair it can cause the cuticle layer to swell allowing additional water to be absorbed into the inner hair layers.
But a good quality shaving foam or cream is useless if you don’t know how to apply it correctly. Do yourself a favour and purchase a shaving bowl and shaving brush. Shaving bowls can be any size or shape and you can pick them up fairly cheap. With a shaving brush you want to focus on natural hair and the best of these are badger hair. A good quality badger hair shaving brush can set you back but the cost is worth it. As with most things in life you pay for what you get and spending a little more upfront on a quality badger hair shaving brush is worth it. So once you have your shaving brush and shaving bowl what next? First start by working up a good lather, this is where the shaving bowl is important, a circular shaped bowl will allow you to use your shaving brush in a circular motion to mix up a good lather. Once you have a good fluffy lather begin to apply to the area you are about to shave. Use the shaving brush and apply the later in a circular motion. Your first two fingers should be located in the bristles and not the handle. This allows you better control of the bristles and can help prevent you getting soap in unwanted areas. The circular motion of the shaving brush also helps stimulate the hair follicles.
Once the lather has been applied use the tips of your fingers to work the lather further into the hair, again in a circular movement. Usually this step in the process takes about 2 minutes but it depends on the thickness and length of your hair, don’t be tempted to rush it.
With hot, but not unconformable water, wet a towel evenly and then wring it out. Then place the wet towel so that it covers the area you intend to shave. Again timing is important here and you want to let the towel rest there for as long as you can, three minutes or more. Remove the towel and use it to mop up any excess soap that remains. Don’t worry as you will be applying a second round of soap before you shave. The hot towel helps to soften and hydrate the hairs you are about to shave. You can easily imagine the difference between hairs that have undergone the above pre-shave treatment compared to hair that hasn’t. The untreated hair will be hard and a lot harder to shave.
Once you have completed the above steps re-apply the shaving soap in the same circular methods as to before. You are now ready to begin shaving but first make sure you have a god quality razor.
Classic shaving has seen a resurgence in recent years and for good reason, the quality of the razors and tools available far surpass those of disposable cartridge razors and help to reduce skin irritation and razor burn. Basically there are three types of razors available, mass produced disposable razors including Bic and Gillette Mach 3 etc. double edged safety razors and straight razors, sometimes referred to cut-throat razors. In our opinion if you want a quality shave with reduced changes of razor burn ditch the disposable razors and get yourself either a double edged safety razor or a straight razor.
The benefits of a double edged safety razor over a straight razor is that the blades are replaceable and you don’t need to worry about sharpening a straight razor or the other maintenance required. Out of the two a good quality straight razor by someone like Dovo or Thiers Issard will outperform any other razor. The Merkur Razor Company from Germany has been producing high quality and affordable safety razors for decades, their Merkur Classic has been around for almost a hundred years and has undergone little variation in design, a testimony to quality of shave it provides. The Merkur Classic would be our choice of double edged razor for anyone starting out with classic shaving techniques.
Other quality brands out there for double edged safety razors include Muhle and Edwin Jagger, both of which can be found online with several retailers. None of these double edged safety razors are expensive and it’s easy to get started with them.
Straight Razors need a larger outlay to begin with as you will need to purchase not only the razor but at the very least a strop. A straight razor needs regular maintenance before and after each use and will need to be sharpened every now and again.
Basically when it comes to disposable cartridge razor vs safety razor, the safety razor wins every time without doubt. If you do use disposable razors then make sure you use a fresh razor as often as you can. It is tempting to continue using a disposable razor for multiple shaves but every time you use it you increase your chances of getting razor burn. Similarly a double edged safety razor will need the blade replaced regularly, double edged razor blades are fairly cheap though and there is no real excuse for not changing a blade regularly.
If you take only one thing away from this article make sure it is this, shave with the grain. Shaving against the grain increases the chances of getting ingrown hairs and the angle at which the hair is cut makes it more susceptible to burrowing under the skin. If you find that your hair is not shaving as well when you go with the grain then trying changing blades or razors.
It’s not uncommon to apply too much pressure when shaving and repetitive strokes of the razor with too much pressure behind them will damage the skin causing shaver burn. Try shaving using light strokes instead, if you have a good quality razor with a fresh razor blade then you will only need light pressure to shave the hairs. If you have thick or coarse hair then rather than apply more pressure to the area try using and open comb safety razor. The open comb razor is designed so that your shaving soap is funneled into the groves on the razor pushing more lubricant toward the hairs you are shaving.
Post Shave Routine
Many people don’t have post shave routine and again this is an area that can potentially cause razor burn. The application of creams, aftershave and other ointments after shaving can cause slight allergic reactions as the products make their way into the deeper skin layers. Having shaved your skin follicles are more open than previously and allow the entry of anything you have placed on your skin post shave. To minimize the risk of this wash your face with cold water straight after shaving. This helps the hair follicles to close and prevent anything from entering them.
If you must apply something post shave then make sure it is hydrating such as Aloe Vera or coconut oil. If the razor burn is really bad then try an ice pack.