Tips for Better Shaving

Craig Kraffert, MD

Razor bumps, ingrown hairs and shaving irritation are common skin care concerns. Razor bumps and ingrown hairs on bearded skin are called PFB (pseudofolliculitis barbae). In most cases, these shaving concerns can be minimized by a combination of proper shaving practices, appropriate shaving equipment and select topical treatments.

Under ideal shaving circumstances, hairs are cut flush at the surface of the skin with minimal friction and irritation of surrounding skin. Ingrown hairs can be painful and create unsightly red or darkened bumps that, in severe cases, may scar. Shaving habits that contribute to razor bumps and ingrown hairs may also result in irritated skin.

Four Key Points to Minimize Shaving Issues

Shave at the end of the shower or after the hair has been wet at least five minutes. Hair that is wet through cuts like butter. Hair that is not completely wet, however, may seem as strong as reinforced concrete. Cutting through tough hair may cause hairs to be pulled up from their follicles as they are being cut. These hairs then retract below the flush surface of skin where they are at risk for curving back into the skin as they continue growing. The forces required to cut drier hair may also create more skin friction and resultant irritation.

Shave with downward strokes. (Go with the grain.) Shaving in the same direction that the hair lies (typically down) will result in less pull on the hairs and less tendency to cut them too short. Hairs cut too short are at risk of curling into the skin while growing, causing razor bumps and ingrown hairs. Shaving with the grain will also lessen irritation.

Minimize repeat shaving strokes. It is best to shave with just enough overlap to avoid skipped areas.

Shave with the skin in a neutral, relaxed position. This is the best way to shave hair close, but not too close. Sometimes the skin must be stretched very slightly to allow the razor to pass smoothly without nicking. Excessive tightening of the skin when shaving, however, may result in hairs being shaved below the resting surface of the skin. This occurs because as the skin is stretched tight, the hairs actually protrude out a bit farther than when the skin is relaxed. Again, shaving over stretched skin may cut the hairs below the flush surface of resting skin, increasing the risk of ingrown hairs and risk of skin irritation.

Specialized Shaving Products

In addition to these helpful strategies, many people find it beneficial to use certain shaving devices and products. The products and devices tend to be specialized for those with tendencies toward ingrown hairs or those with a tendency toward razor bumps and PFB.

To help prevent ingrown hairs and shaving irritation, reusable shaving handles serviced with disposable blade cartridges provide smooth shaves with less chance of irritation and ingrown hairs than disposable or electric razors. Blade cartridges should be changed frequently as indicated by the blade color sensors or any noticeable increase in irritation.

Shaving gels help minimize friction associated with shaving and reduce the likelihood of ingrown hairs and irritation. Tend Skin is an over the counter product that can be applied daily after shaving. It is effective at fighting ingrown hairs and helps calm shaving-associated redness.

Because of their very curly hair, a large majority of PFB sufferers and sufferers of shaving problems tend to be African American. Some African American men have opted to wear a beard rather than be subject to the pain and embarrassment that may accompany severe PFB. Prevention of PFB may require special shaving equipment that cuts hair slightly longer than typical razors. The Bump Fighter® Shaving System, for example, is designed specifically for PFB prevention. Tend Skin is also helpful for many PFB suffers.

For most people, over the counter products and proper shaving habits provide sufficient control of shaving related concerns. Retin A (tretinoin) or Differin (adapalene) may be prescribed in some cases and, similar to Tend Skin, work by helping exfoliate skin both on the surface and around the follicles. This results in less chance of the hairs getting caught in the skin and growing inward.

Shaving related concerns usually respond well to a combination of proper shaving technique, equipment and products. For treatment-resistant shaving issues, dermatology consultation may be helpful.