You’re running late for work. Toothbrush in the mouth, you reach for a rusty old razor and start whacking off those wiry whiskers. By the time you get to work, your face is bloody, red, and breaking out in hives.
Don’t panic, because you’re not alone. According to a 2011 study by the International Journal of Dermatology, over 30 percent of guys claim to have razor burn after shaving consistently. Although it’s common, there are a few secrets to getting that perfect, smooth shave no matter what skin type you have.
No, you’re not 14 and no, this is not your first time at the sink, but sometimes it’s good to revisit the fundamentals. Most guys know the basic mechanics of how to shave: always wet the face, use shaving cream or oil (depending on the type of blade you use), and always shave in the direction that the hair grows.
But there’s more to the story than that. While it’s true that skin irritation after shaving can be caused by any number of things, more often than not, the cause of the irritation is the friction of the blade pressing against the skin. Taking a second look at how you shave is worth your time.
First, not all facial hair is the same. Some guys have thick hair, some have coarse hair, some have curly hair, some have thin hair, and on and on. You need to use the correct razor to fit your skin and hair type.
Some guys may be able to use those blue dollar razors in the local drug store, but if you’re the guy stuck with hypersensitive skin, forget it. You need something heavy duty. The best beard and nose trimmer will cost you, but after one shave you’ll see you get what you pay for.
Second, the whole “shave in the direction the hair grows” adage is not necessarily always true. Guys with particularly coarse or curly hair will find that always shaving in the direction of hair growth doesn’t always work.
The reason is that each hair follicle has a mind of its own, with no true direction in the way it grows. Inadvertently, guys have to push down really hard with the razor to get a clean cut, and that pushing down of the razor causes the burn.
It’s okay to start the stroke in the direction that most of the hair is growing, but you will also need to take the razor from another angle to get those stubborn curled hair follicles.
In fact, you may need to go at it from all four different angles – up, down, and side-to-side – to get the closest shave. Remember that if you shave properly, you should never have to push down hard to whack off those stubborn whiskers.
Hot and cold is like the sugar and spice in the world of shaving. We think of whiskers as being steel wires stabbing and cutting at every turn, but in reality, it’s just hair.
Hair fiber is composed of a protein called keratin. Believe it or not, these protein fibers carry a strong static charge, which gives them a magnetic type of behavior. It’s this microscopic magnetic quality that holds a strand of hair together. You can use this fun fact to your advantage.
Heat helps to reduce that electrostatic charge in the hair follicle. That’s why it’s so important to turn up the heat prior to shaving. Hot water literally has a physical reaction with your whiskers, making them more tender and easy to shave.
A lot of guys simply do not turn up the heat! Applying hot water to the face prior to shaving also opens the pores on the face, which helps prevent clogged pores and ingrown hairs. Taking a hot shower right before a shave is a great way to ensure those whiskers are buttered up and ready to be trimmed.
Make no mistake, applying cold water afterward is equally as important. When cold water is applied to the skin, it quickly closes the pores to reduce heat loss.
You want those pores to close immediately after shaving to prevent clogging from dirt or other irritants you might encounter. If you’re particularly sensitive, anything from a co-worker’s perfume to a pollen-packed breeze could trigger a reaction if those pores are wide open.
Treat the Skin
A lot of guys only focus on the whiskers themselves, but ultimately the skin is the issue; after all, it’s the skin that gets the rash, not the whiskers! There are a few products designed specifically for guys with sensitive skin that you should use religiously.
Shaving an area with dry, cracked skin full of bumps and pimples is a good way to start a blood drive. You should always maintain good skin hygiene to keep it strong and ready for that brutal razor.
A good moisturizer is perhaps the best place to start. Invest in a good facial moisturizer for super sensitive skin to keep the skin moisturized and smooth. Remember a smooth face equals a smooth shave.
Prior to shaving, always use an exfoliator. An exfoliator removes any extra layers of dead skin on the face. You need to make sure the razor has direct contact with the skin and whiskers to get a clean cut, and the only way to ensure that is by using an exfoliator to get rid of all the layers of dead skin cells that the naked eye cannot see. Exfoliating will also remove any bumps or blemishes on the skin making it more difficult to knick yourself.
A gentle face wash should be used at least twice every day. Cleaning those pores prevents building up of pimples or bumps in the skin. Regular washing will also soften the hair fibers in your whiskers, so at the sink, you won’t have to get a hacksaw to do the job.
Razor burn is never fun, but with these time-honored tips, you should be ready for the challenge. Go back to basics and look at your technique, always use hot and cold water when shaving, and don’t be afraid to treat the skin. Keep in mind that shaving is not a science – it’s art, and practice makes perfect. Try experimenting with different razors and techniques until something works. Once more unto the breach!
Alex Moore (author’s bio):
Alex Moore is a grooming and men’s lifestyle writer. Over the years, Alex has had a chance to lend his pen to various online publications, including ShavingMachine. Alex is also interested in technology and interior decoration.