Of all the hair removal methods at your disposal, shaving is the cheapest and easiest. Even if you're a devout waxer, you've probably reached for the razor in the shower for a last-minute defuzz.
But if you're not careful, shaving can irritate your skin, leading to what's known as razor burn—a red rash that can cause a burning sensation, itchiness, and sometimes even small red bumps.
What causes razor burn?
Anybody who shaves can experience razor burn, and it can appear on any part of the body where you shave, says dermatologist Rhonda Q. Klein, MD, partner and co-owner at Modern Dermatology PC in Connecticut. So that means it could pop up on your face, legs, underarms, or bikini area.
Razor burn is caused by dry shaving (more on that later), an aggressive shaving technique, or shaving with dull blades. "It can also occur when the hair follicle is open after shaving and an irritant enters, like salt water, chlorine, or sunscreen," Dr. Klein tells Health.
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How to prevent razor burn
As unpleasant as it is, razor burn is usually temporary and goes away on its own. However, you can prevent it from happening by following some expert-approved tips:
Never dry shave
We all have our own ways of doing things, but dry shaving isn't going to get the green light from any dermatologist. Always use soap or shave cream, says Dr. Klein. And if your skin is particularly sensitive or prone to razor burn or folliculitis (a common skin condition in which the hair follicles become inflamed), she recommends using CLn SportWash ($45, amazon.com) and lathering well before shaving. "This formula is antimicrobial, but not overly drying," she explains.
Plus, it might be best to give those waterless razors a swerve. "Even if they have some sort of ingredient that is released while shaving, you will usually get some discomfort after you have shaved," dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, who is in a private practice in Manhattan and has taught dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine for over 25 years, tells Health.
Always use a clean, fresh razor blade
Dull blades are often filled with bacteria and dead skin cells, Dr. Klein explains. "They also tug on the hair, which can cause more irritation and inflammation," she says.
It's simple—replace your razors often. And on that note, Dr. Jaliman recommends using a razor with multiple blades, as this reduces the number of times you'll have to pass the razor on your skin and reduces the chance of irritation.
Using a razor that's clogged with hair, soap, or shaving cream can also cause razor burn, so get into the habit of rinsing your razor frequently during a shaving session.
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Revisit your shaving technique
Before you shave, exfoliate your skin to remove dead skin cells. "This brings the hair completely out of the follicle," Dr. Jaliman explains. And shave while bathing to ensure your hair is well-hydrated before you get started. Dr. Jaliman also recommends shaving in the direction of hair growth (so down your legs, rather than up them), using light, short strokes.
Before you dry off, give the area you shaved a quick rinse with cold water. "This closes the pores before you introduce any irritants to them," says Dr. Klein.
Switch up your shaving routine
You might be in the habit of shaving every day, but maybe you don't need to. If razor burn is becoming a regular occurrence, it might help to shave every other day, or even just a few times per week.
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How to treat razor burn
The first option for treating razor burn is simply waiting for the rash to disappear and not shaving the affected area again until it heals. "Try to space out shaving and stick to gentle, non-comedogenic [aka, non-pore-clogging], fragrance-free moisturizers while your skin recovers," says Dr. Klein.
But if your rash is particularly irritating, or you just can't bear the regrowth and want to start shaving again ASAP, a few things might help to accelerate healing.
Soaking in an oatmeal bath is a good way to calm itch, says Dr. Klein. Add one cup of colloidal oatmeal (not the type you eat for breakfast) into a tub of running warm water, then relax for up to 20 minutes.
You can also add white vinegar to your bath water to soothe irritation. This has antimicrobial properties and can fend off folliculitis, Dr. Klein explains. She suggests adding one to two cups to your bath, soaking for 20 minutes, and then rinsing with cool water.
Products with anti-inflammatory ingredients may also help, says Dr. Jaliman. "Aloe vera is very soothing and may bring some relief," she explains. An older systematic review found evidence to support the potential of aloe vera for healing first- and second-degree burns. To treat razor burn, apply a thin layer of pure aloe vera gel, which is available in most pharmacies, onto the affected area.
Tea tree oil is another anti-inflammatory product commonly used as a natural remedy to heal minor wounds and soothe burns. However, it should never be used undiluted—mix it with a carrier oil like sweet almond oil or coconut oil, using one to three drops of tea tree oil per teaspoon of carrier oil. And even when it's diluted, tea tree oil can irritate some people's skin, so do a quick patch test first to check you're good to go.
Over-the-counter hydrocortisone can also help to reduce swelling and redness, Dr. Jaliman says. And if none of these OTC remedies help to relieve your razor burn symptoms, get it checked out by your doctor or dermatologist.
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