Don't Fear the Razor: Putting a Stop to Shaving Irritation

Shaving irritation is a very common malady, partially because there are so many causes for it. To name just a few:

  • Blade’s too sharp
  • Blade’s too dull
  • Too many passes/strokes
  • Too much pressure
  • Shaving too quickly
  • Lack of moisture
  • Shaving with cold water

Like I said, the list is long, and it could be even longer if we were to consider men with unique circumstances, like curly beards. And of course we all know what it looks and feels like: unsightly ingrown hairs, redness and the don’t-touch-my-face-right-now burning sensation.

Yet there is a solution. (There’s always a solution, right?) Below I’ve listed a few tried-and-true ways to avoid shaving irritation.

1. Start off clean.
One of the first steps to guarantee a close, comfortable and irritation-free shave is to make sure your face is clean. A quick rinse of the face with a face wash and/or exfoliator not only removes dirt and oils, but also aids in softening the beard. This allows for the razor blade to perform at its optimum level, and it frees your skin of extra dirt and oils that could wreak havoc on your open pores.

2. Keep it wet.
I always let my clients know there is absolutely nothing wrong with over-prepping their beards. So lather, re-lather, then lather again if you have to. Simply put, the wetter and softer you can get your beard, the less effort it will be to take it off. And who wouldn’t mind a bit more cushion between the face and the blade? The end result is fewer strokes, which means the blade is on your face for less time. If you want it a bit closer, then re-lather and shave again!

The best way to maximize moisture is to immediately apply the shaving cream after you’ve rinsed off your face wash. This way the cream can trap the moisture already on the skin and infuse more in the process.

3. Know your face.
For many men, shaving against the grain leads to skin sensitivity (i.e., razor burn) and, even worse, ingrown hairs. If you’re one of those men, knowing the direction(s) in which your hair grows can save you from days of frustration -- not to mention feeling like you can’t leave the house. Once you determine where you have multidirectional growth patterns, you can prep them more heavily. Also consider leaving this area for last, so you can really concentrate on the best direction to shave in order to minimize irritation.

4. Heal and moisturize.
A splash of cold water will bring your skin back in balance by closing the pores. Then, grab your favorite aftershave balm -- one that’s designed to heal and also moisturize the skin. Don’t minimize the importance of this step. Healing is key; your skin will be going through this process again very soon!

How to Avoid Razor Bumps

If you ask 10 different people how to avoid razor bumps, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. And you know what? All 10 solutions may be effective -- for them -- but not for you! So how do we get a more consistent solution to what seems to be an everyday challenge for most men? We start before the shave.

That’s right. Long before you even pick up the razor, there are three basic points that must be understood:

1. How your beard grows (the angles)

2. What direction your beard grows in

3. How to control your beard growth in order to prevent ingrown hairs

No. 1: Understand how your beard grows.
The way your beard grows can determine where, how often and even how long a razor bump (otherwise known as an ingrown hair) will stay on your face.

Check out the above illustrations. Most men who suffer from ingrown hairs have curly or wavy beards that grow at angles very low to the skin (0 to 45 degrees). Why does that matter? Because these beard types have the tendency to curl into the skin instead of straight out of the follicle.

This valuable piece of information should help you to understand why it’s important to shave with the grain of the beard -- not against it -- and also why it’s important not to shave your beard too close to the skin. Let’s continue.

No. 2: Learn what direction your beard grows in.
The best way to know what direction is “with” or “against” the grain is to study your own beard’s growth pattern. Allow your beard to grow for three to five days so you can take note of what directions the hairs grow in. Once this is understood, make a mental note or, even better, draw an illustration of the directions on paper as a reference guide.

Armed with this knowledge, you can now reduce the frequency in which each hair is shaved against the grain. The less the beard is shaved against the grain and the more the beard is prepped for shaving, the better the face will look and feel.

No. 3: Control your beard.
African-American men who are susceptible to getting razor bumps should avoid shaving against the grain at all times. Shaving against the grain cuts the hairs so close that they fall below the skin line. And, as you can see from those illustrations, once your hairs fall below that line, they’re going to have a difficult time growing out of the skin.

So if you want to get a close shave and significantly reduce the possibility of razor bumps, keep your beard hair slightly above the skin line. And again, the most effective way to achieve this on a consistent basis is to shave with the grain. The only possible drawback to this method is an earlier 5 o’clock shadow. In my opinion, however, a shadow without razor bumps means a man with better-looking skin and greater confidence!

So there you have it. Three principles that will change the way you approach shaving, and, in the process, change the way you feel about yourself. And that, my friend, is priceless. Happy shaving!

Shaving SOS: Your 5 Most Common Problems, Solved

For you, getting nicks, bumps and ingrown hairs from shaving is as much a regular fact of life as the sun rising in the morning and Lindsay Lohan getting arrested sometime after it sets. The good news is, your shaving problems aren’t necessarily caused by your skin, hair or genes. Instead, the culprits are often just poor tools and technique -- which are simple to remedy. Here are the five most common shaving problems, along with advice from skin and hair experts on how to make them disappear. Too bad Lindsay Lohan can’t work the same magic with her police record.

Problem No. 1: Razor Burn
These are the patches of red, irritated skin that appear within minutes of shaving. They’re extremely sensitive and really hurt when you’re working up a sweat. Eliminating razor burn is simple; you just need to soften the skin before taking razor to face. “You should always shave after you take a shower,” says Martial Vivot, owner of Salon Pour Hommes in New York City. “The steam softens the hair and makes it stand up and softens the skin.”

Problem No. 2: Nicks
Wouldn’t it be nice to throw out that styptic pencil forever? Gushers are actually easy to avoid. The keys: Use a sharp razor, glide the blade gently across the face without applying too much pressure, and take as few passes over the face as possible. “The more passes you take over a spot with the razor blade, the worse it is for your skin,” says Ben Davis, owner of the Gent’s Place barbershop and spa outside of Dallas. As for your razor cartridge, Davis advises replacing it weekly. “You can’t use a cartridge for more than a week, or else it’ll get too dull.”

Problem No. 3: Ingrown Hair
This is when hair grows inside the follicles and beneath the surface of the skin. Doctors call it pseudofolliculitis barbae, but you just call it a pain in the neck. Literally. Preventing ingrown hairs is a many-step process. The preshave shower  helps quite a bit, along with always shaving with the grain of the whiskers and not against it. Davis also suggests using a shave brush (preferably made from badger hair) to apply shaving cream: “It acts as a natural exfoliant, brushing away the outer layer of dead skin. And when you use circular motions, it helps push the hairs on the face out and creates a better lather for the shave cream.”

Problem No. 4: Barber’s Itch
These are the red bumps that look like a rash or even infected pimples. Sometimes they’re caused by ingrown hair, but often they’re from staph bacteria that enter the follicles or the skin through small cuts on the face. Davis recommends the following: 1) Rinse your razor thoroughly with hot water before you use it; 2) Apply a citrus-based preshave oil to your skin before the shave cream, to act as an antibacterial agent; 3) Use an aftershave lotion when you’re done “to seal the pores so nothing enters your bloodstream.”

Problem No. 5: Dry Skin
Simple solution: “When you’re done shaving, always use a moisturizer,” says Vivot, adding that you should reapply it at night. “You’ll find that it will make your shaving easier in the morning.”



Shaving: Secrets Dad Never Told You

Maybe you and Pa never had “the talk.” Or maybe you did, and still your face suffers from razor bumps and irritation. Here’s the shaving primer you never had.



It’s that subject you and your dad never mentioned. He felt too awkward to talk about it, and you -- fearful he’d go into graphic details on how it’s done properly and (ugh) tell the story of his first time -- didn’t even know how to bring it up. Yes, we’re talking about shaving.

As a result, you haven’t enjoyed the benefits of a baby-clean face since before your voice dropped an octave. And if you don’t have the sharpest shaving IQ, don’t worry: You’re not alone. Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist, says about 50 percent of her patients don’t shave properly. “It’s a time-consuming ritual, and the other problem is educating men about their skin,” she says. “The trend of men’s skin care is a new one.”

Your dad will agree with that last point, although you and he will probably never talk about it. Here are some pointers on how to shave the right way so you and the old man can talk about more comfortable subjects, like women.

Step 1: Shower first
Hot water opens the pores and softens the skin and hair. Ideally, you should also use an exfoliator, which will remove the dead outer layer of skin and keep the pores clean, recommends Kellett.

Step 2: Lather up
Use a thick, nondrying shave gel and apply it in a circular motion. “If you have one, use a badger-hair shaving brush, which helps lift the hairs, allowing the razor to cut them more cleanly and minimizing the stubborn few that escape the blade,” says Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, a dermatologist and skin care expert. 

Step 3: Use a sharp, multiblade razor
If you don’t have an effective, multiblade razor, you’re undermining all your other efforts. Rinse after every pass to remove hair and shave cream, and don’t press hard when shaving or you’ll be removing a layer of skin too. “Men don’t have to sacrifice their skin for a closer shave,” says Kellett. Just let the blade glide over your face and replace the cartridge after four or five uses.

Step 4: Shave in the direction the hair grows
Shave in the wrong direction and you’ll scrape away a layer of skin. And keep in mind: Hair doesn’t always point downward -- especially on the sideburns, chin and neck, notes Benabio. 

Step 5: Wash your face
Splash with cold water to close the pores. Pat dry.

Step 6: Moisturize
Lotion or aftershave will regenerate the skin. “A gel-based one is better for acne-prone skin,” advises Kellett.