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Mondays are already difficult just by being Mondays, so the last thing you want to have is a bad shave day and get a nasty razor burn.
Clean and close shaves are meant to make you look suave and irresistibly well kempt. Trouble is it doesn’t always work out so well.
Sometimes you may come out looking like an extra from the latest season of Walking Dead.
Today, we’re going to learn some very useful tips that any man can follow. I’m going to show you how to prevent razor burn. If you happen to get one, I’ll also share with you a few simple ways to treat it.
Unfortunately, I know about razor burns. I learnt it the hard way when I was a teenager, shaving without shaving cream.
You might find it hard to believe that I even managed to get one a few weeks ago from a visit to a new barber. I only wanted to have a nice, smooth beard shaping session and instead, I got a razor burn for the first time after more than 10 years of shaving by myself.
All I’m saying is that razor burn can literally happen to anyone, either you’re new to wet shaving or you’re as heavily experienced as a barber.
Legions of men get these nasty burns that pop up and ruin your look entirely. Not only are they tough to look at, but they also itch enough to make you swear off shaving permanently.
Razor burns are weird, horribly painful, itchy, but very common.
I did the research and the experimentation on all the science out there on these annoying after shave skin rashes and here’s what I found.
What is a razor burn, again?
Razor burns are basically just skin rashes. Depending on your type of skin and the way you shave, the burns could range between mild and extreme.
Mild razor burns are somewhat visible if someone is up-close, and they tend to itch every now and then.
With mild burns you might also get a few razor bumps which might turn into ingrown hair around the neck area. This is something that happens often to men with curly facial hair.
African American men and men with curly beards are most likely to have more serious ingrown hairs and razor burns. This happens mostly because the shape and texture of the hair follicles together with the random direction of hair growth, makes them more likely to be shaved the wrong way.
Razor burns can get pretty bad and can actually have some serious effects on your facial skin if you get them regularly and shave often.
So, razor burns are far from pretty and perhaps the most annoying thing you have to deal with after you shave.
But what causes them and how can you prevent razor burn?
What causes razor burn
As we said before, razors burns are skin rashes that occur after shaving.
This means they are lot limited to your face and can actually start to develop anywhere you’ve run a razor blade over recently, including underarms, legs and chest.
Hair gets cut the wrong way and starts to irritate your skin by growing against it or inside it. That causes the skin to redden and start to itch. That’s a razor burn in a nutshell.
1. Skin prone to irritation
Razor burns can cause stinging, bumps or just plain redness depending on your skin type.
About half of all men on the planet (my personal estimation) have sensitive skin and that means most men are actually pretty susceptible to this issue.
2. Shaving technique
But it’s not just about your skin. Your style of shaving and the stuff you use to scrape off the hair could be at fault too.
The style of shaving may vary, from your technique to the wet shaving set up you had during a shaving session.
The way you hold the razor and make the strokes on your face can be one of the reasons why you might get a razor burn in the first place.
For this reason, they occur more often to men that have no prior or limited experience shaving with a razor.
Besides the wet shaving experience, it’s also how familiar a man is with a particular razor. Even if you’re an experienced wet shaver, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you shave equally safe with all razors.
One example is a transition from a cartridge to a safety razor. Safety razors are more aggressive and if you don’t know how to properly hold them, there’s a high risk of nicks and cuts.
And this brings us to the next reason that might cause you a razor burn.
3. Condition and type of razor
If it wasn’t obvious from the name, “razor” burn happens because of razors.
If you shave at the wrong angle to the grain of your hair or your razor blade is not as sharp as it probably should be, you put yourself at risk.
Blunt razors and haphazard shaving technique means your hair gets caught up and knotted in all the wrong ways.
A big mistake that many men make, is overusing the same razor again and again.
Overused razors aren’t as sharp as in the beginning. Instead of slicing the facial hair without too much effort, they scrape your skin and that increases the risk of skin irritation.
So, if your razor burns are fairly recent, you can blame the sort of razor you’ve been using. But if this has been an issue you’ve dealt with your entire adult life, you may need to take better care of your skin, your pre-shaving preparation -perhaps combined with a good pre shave oil, and improve your technique.
Besides the condition of the razor, another reason for getting a razor burn is the type or razor you’re using.
Cartridge razors with a lot of blades might not be as good as the advertisements might lead you to think.
More blades doesn’t necessarily mean a better and/or closer shave.
When a five blade cartridge razor starts gliding over you face, it’s only the first one or two blades that are actually cutting the beard. The rest of them, are removing a layer of your skin. In turn, this can lead to skin irritation in no time.
And speaking of your skin.
Depending on the sensitivity of your skin, you might experience razor burns more or less often.
No matter what type of skin you’ve got, usually, the neck area is more prone to irritation.
The skin there, isn’t as thick as on your cheeks and there are also a lot of arteries and veins right underneath. This is also where most skin irritation and razor burns occur.
4. Pre-shaving preparation
This is particularly important for guys that have sensitive skin.
If you shave with cold water without prior making your beard softer, there’s a high chance that you won’t enjoy your shaving. This might lead to a burn.
Cold water normally closes the skin pores and hardens the skin. Because of that, there’s a chance that the razor would not slide on your face and might cause irritation if not a burn.
5. After shave treatment
Even if you followed all the necessary steps for a comfortable shave, an after-shave is a must have for your post shaving routine.
After shave soothes the skin and reduces irritation. It also helps with the prevention of razor’s burns possible infection, and also, reducing post shaving beard itch.
If you have a skin that is prone to irritation, even after shaves might worsen the feeling of a razor burn. This is the case with after shaves that contain alcohol and it’s better to avoid such products.
How to prevent razor burn with the right preparation
There are a couple of things you can do to get prevent razor burns and get rid of them next time you shave.
There’s really no harm in trying out every single one of the steps below. But you can also pick out the ones you feel that will solve your particular problem and go with that.
Yes, you read that right – exfoliate.
It’s exactly what your girlfriend does, but it’s not just meant for women. Guys need to get rid of dirt and debris from skin pores too. By exfoliating the skin, the lather can reach deeper in your skin. This way, it will soften the facial hair and prepares you for a smoother shaving.
One of my personal favorites is the one from Thrive. It exfoliates and smells great. If you don’t have sensitive skin, give it a go.
2. Soften the beard
It’s no secret that if you want to get a great shave, you need to soften your beard.
This could mean a splash of warm water or maybe a shower before shaving, but you need to calm the hair strands down before you run a razor through it.
A soft beard means you won’t have to struggle too much while shaving and you’ll be left with no nicks or razor burns. Soft hair is sliced easily by a good, sharp blade that glides over a smooth and clean skin.
3. Use a soft hair shaving brush
The best shaving brush you can probably use is one with soft bristles like badger or synthetic hair.
Boar or horse bristle brushes have stiffer hair and it might irritate a sensitive skin while swirling the brush on the face.
By using a brush, the lather can reach deeper in your skin. This way, the beard becomes softer and the skin gets extra lubricity. This will allow you to get a close shave, preventing a razor burn to the minimum.
4. Prefer traditional shaving creams and soaps
Whipped shaving creams and traditional soaps lathered with a shaving brush is the best thing you can do for your skin.
Most of them, are skin friendly and don’t contain any harsh chemicals that may irritate your skin.
These kind of products offer great lubricity that helps the razor glide with comfort over your skin and don’t dry it up. They also soften the facial hair for an easy cut.
5. Get a better razor
Blunt razors are more likely to pull your hair in odd angles and give you a nasty razor burn in the process.
Do your research and find a great razor that you can stick to.
A great quality razor should make shaving a whole lot easier and also help you avoid razor burns or ingrown hairs.
I personally prefer safety razors for my sensitive skin and there’s a good reason why.
The blades of a safety razor are much sharper than any multi blade cartridge you can get.
This practically means that the facial hair is cut effortlessly at the right angle while you need to make less strokes on your skin.
The less moves you make with the razor, the less the chances of getting a razor burn or even skin irritation.
Leaving aside the shaving experience, safety razors will cost you less money per shave since the cost of the blades is super low.
Even though the cost of the actual razor might seem steep at first, in the long run you’ll save a lot of money. Compared to using popular multi blade razors they can actually last for many years to come.
If you can invest a bit more, you can consider the Seki Edge which is one of the few true stainless steel safety razors. You get it once and you literally keep it for life.
6. Shave with (not against) the grain
This is particularly important for every guy that wants to avoid razor burns.
Every man has a unique layout of beard hair and the hair doesn’t have the same direction across the entire surface of your face.
So, take the time to note down the pattern of your hair and set a routine of shaving with the grain rather than against it.
If you’re not an experienced wet shaver, shaving with the grain is your best bet to prevent razor burn and ingrown hair. When you shave against it, the razor has higher resistance while shaving since the hair grows on the opposite direction.
7. Light and short strokes
Be gentle. Short strokes and a light touch make it less likely you’ll pull your hair in an odd way.
This really depends on your razor, so be careful to pick one that you’re more comfortable with. You know you’ve found the perfect razor if it shaves without the need for you to press the blade against your skin.
With that being said, don’t apply any pressure on your face.
8. Don’t shave on unlathered face
Besides the pressure, you should make strokes on a lathered skin. And remember, no repetitive moves when the lather cream goes away.
When there’s no lather on your face anymore, it means that lubrication is gone and possibly, the skin got dry.
Try to make single passes on your lathered face and repeat passes only when you apply lather again.
9. Make sure the razor is sharp
Here’s a an experiment – grab a tomato and try to cut it with the back of a butter knife.
That’s right, you’ll make a mess and that’s exactly what you’ll do to the skin on your face if you don’t shave with a sharp blade – you’ll make a mess.
Get a sharp razor and keep replacing the blades as soon as you feel they’ve worn out.
10. Check that the razor is clean
This is kind of obvious, but I’ll say it anyway – keep your blade clean to avoid a lot of trouble.
Dirty blades will do more than just cause razor burns, they’ll cause infections.
The solution to this problem, -and not to other problems in life, is alcohol. Dip the blades in alcohol and get them disinfected before you let it anywhere near your face again.
Before you use them again, rinse the blades with water since alcohol may cause skin irritation to sensitive skin.
11. Rinse and moisturize after you’re done shaving
Cut your face skin some slack, it’s just had a close encounter with a cold, metal blade scraping at it for about half an hour.
Rinse your face with cold water, wash off all the excess hair and moisturize it gently to let your skin recover properly.
This is super refreshing and you need to get a great aloe vera-based cortisone cream or any mild after shave to cut down on razor burns and irritation.
Better yet, use a cream designed specifically for razor bumps if that’s the kind of problem you deal with a lot.
Speaking of which…
12. Use a razor bump cream
13. Dry your blades
Finally, if you’ve done all of the above, make sure your blades are dry after you are done using it.
Dry blades don’t rust (most of them don’t rust anyway) and cause infections, so that’s a simple way to care for your razor and avoid razor burns.
There’s a ton of products you could use to combat horrible looking and super itchy razor burns.
Your best bet is to start with getting yourself a great quality, premium safety razor. As already indicated, one of the razors that I use, is a Merkur 34C Heavy Duty which is a great investment.
Next comes the pre shave oil and a great option is the one by Seven Potions.
To complete your shaving kit and build lather, you can get a good synthetic brush or maybe invest in a good boar or badger hair brush. Two of my favorite ones that you could consider are the made in Italy Atto Primo with Boar Bristles or the great silvertip badger hair from Muhle. I own both and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Pick what fits your budget and suits your skin the best. As long you have the right tools, and the right technique, razor burns should be an issue you can avoid completely.
How to prevent razor burn step by step. A simple to follow routine
- Make sure that your face is clean. Use a mild face wash to clean your skin before anything else.
- Soften your facial hair and skin. A good idea is to take a shower before your shave or apply a warm towel that has been previously soaked in warm water. Leave the towel on your face for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Before lathering, consider using a pre-shave oil for a smoother shave.
- Use a shaving brush with soft bristles to build lather in a shaving bowl. Prefer a traditional shaving cream or soap. If you don’t know how to build lather, I highly recommend checking out my articles on building lather with shaving soap and shaving cream.
- Apply the lather on a wet face with gentle swirls and painting motions until you cover the area you plan to shave.
- Start shaving with gentle strokes with the grain and finish the first pass. As previously advised, don’t apply pressure on the razor and don’t shave on unlathered face.
- Once you finish the first pass, wash off your face and apply lather again. If you feel that the lather got dry in the meantime, pour a few drops of water in the shaving bowl and swirl until the rich lather gets the right moisture without being watery. Repeat as many times as you want but don’t make more than 3 passes in total. For most guys, even two passes are more than enough.
- Once you finish shaving, wash off the lather with cold water. Cold water closes the pores and minimizes the chances of getting skin irritation.
- Dry your face with a clean towel -not the same you used to soften your beard, and leave no water. This is very important for the next step.
- Apply an aftershave balm on a towel dried face. If there’s still water on your face, this will dilute the aftershave. Besides, it’s also going to make it more difficult to get absorbed by your skin.
If after this routine, you still get razor bumps, consider using the razor bump cream we discussed earlier.