By now, you know how to shave the right away. And it happens... in theory. You're in the shower, bath, or posted up by your sink, and you use shaving cream, a sharp razor, and tons of hydrating products after for smooth, soft skin. Reality, though, paints a different story — and it's one filled with the inevitability of razor burn, that uncomfortable red rash that can crop up all-too-easily after shaving (even more so when you skip the shaving cream). But even if you've accepted that post-shave irritation is in the cards, you can still learn how to treat razor burn and prevent the annoying reaction before it ever occurs.
What Exactly Is Razor Burn?
"Razor burn is itchy or burning redness or irritation from shaving," explains Laura Schubert, CEO and co-founder of the body-care and grooming brand Fur. Similar to uncomfortable ingrown hairs, the irritation can pop up if you don't properly tend to your skin as you shave it.
That said, razor burn and ingrowns can occur simultaneously, as well: "Irritated skin from a razor burn can definitely lead to more ingrown hairs," says Schubert. "Both ingrown hairs and razor burn will appear as red bumps; however, razor burn bumps tend to be smaller in size and often appear in clusters, similar to a rash, whereas an ingrown bump is usually larger, often with a white head, and sometimes with a hair below the surface or sticking out of it."
How Do You Know If You Have Razor Burn — & What Causes It?
There are four warning signs for razor burn, according to Schubert. "If you experience redness, irritation, itchiness or burning, it is probably razor burn," she explains.
Wondering how you got here? Your razor probably played a role. "Razors with a lot of blades can cause razor burn, because they’re designed using a combination of dull and sharp blades," adds Karen Young, founder of the shaving brand OUI The People. "Dull blades force you to push harder on your skin to get a close shave, and dragging a number of them across your skin removes layers and can result in razor burn."
Moreover, you can keep an eye on your razor's sharpness sans microscope. "A good rule of thumb is that every six to eight times you shave, replace the razor," notes Schubert, who says sharpness depends on how often you shave. "If you shave infrequently, make sure you keep your razor out of the shower when not in use, to avoid possibly rusting out the blades and needing to replace them sooner."
In other words, it's time to invest in a high-quality razor if you find yourself running into burns over and over. "I haven't had razor burn in over five years since switching to our safety razor, and that's the root of the cause, so if there's one investment you can make to save your skin from razor burn, it would be a safety razor. There’s a reason our grandparents didn’t complain about razor burn," explains Young. "It wasn’t until the invention of disposable plastic razors that this really became a problem."
How you shave matters, too — because as it turns out, physically removing hair from your body with a sharp object can freak your skin out. "When you shave, you should always use a shave cream — putting a razor against your skin with no buffer is going to cause irritation," notes Schubert, who recommends avoiding creams with added fragrance and alcohols and opting instead for vitamin E or aloe. "The direction of shaving definitely matters. While there are plenty of areas that you can shave against the grain, like legs and armpits, ultimately your pubic skin is much thinner and more delicate, so it’s best to shave in the same direction as your hair naturally grows."
How Long Does Razor Burn Last?
Good news: Razor burn should only last "a few days," says Schubert. "If you are experiencing razor burn, please do not shave the area again before it has healed." However, it's not unheard of to experience chronic irritation when shaving — certain regions are notorious for it, after all — and just because it might seem like a minor skin problem doesn't mean you can't ask your doctor or derm for help, advice, or professional products. "If a rash lasts longer than [a few days], seek medical attention," she adds.
How Do You Treat Razor Burn?
"If you get razor burn, remember you’ve removed too many layers of the skin, so think about it like soothing an actual burn," notes Young. She recommends aloe vera for "dry and itchy" razor burn and witch hazel for inflammation. Hydration is always a good idea, too. "The next best tip is to make sure your skin is really moisturized; dry skin is a hotbed for irritation," she adds.
How Do You Prevent Razor Burn?
As your grandparents always said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Rather than wait for razor burn to pop up, opt for products that take irritation out of the equation, like skin-smoothing chemical or physical exfoliators that whisk away pollutants. Schubert breaks down how this works with Fur's Silk Scrub: "It’s our dual-action exfoliator that contains jojoba beads to physically buff away dead skin and debris, while its fruit enzymes and lactic acid (a gentle AHA) burrow deep into your pores to clear out any excess sebum. That way, when you shave your razor isn’t pushing this debris and dead skin further into your pores, which causes ingrowns and bumps."
Splurging on a long-lasting, higher-quality razor might be just the ticket, too. "Using a razor with fewer blades, like a safety razor, can help. The fewer the blades the better, especially if you have sensitive skin," says Young. "Our razor removes hair right at the skin’s surface for a super smooth, close, irritation-free shave. I also designed our razor with a weighted handle and a special non-aggressive angle, so you don’t have to apply pressure to get a close shave. The razor does all the work for you."
Tempting, right? Below, The Zoe Report's recommendations for a close, burn-free shave.
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