For some, the very idea of a shave produces unpleasant thoughts of burning red shaving rashes, razor bumps, and ingrown hairs. This ought not be so - a shave should be free from harshness. It should above all else be a pleasant experience. To tackle razor bumps, we invite you to reconsider your routine - how much time and thoroughness do you allocate to your ritual shave? Once considered, there are a number of tactical manoeuvres that can be performed in the pursuit of a better, bump-less shave.
What are razor bumps and burns, and why do we get them?
Know thy enemy. An ingrown hair is a hair that grows back into the skin, and because of this awkwardness, the surrounding skin becomes inflamed. Generally speaking, in the absence of the proper preventative steps, any areas that you shave are prone to ingrown hairs and razor bumps. Ingrown hairs occur when the hair is cut poorly and it grows back on an angle, failing to penetrate the outer layer of skin. Similarly, the hair may penetrate the outer layer skin, but curl back and dig into adjacent skin. Those with curly hair types are unfortunately more prone to ingrowns by their very nature, whose hair has the natural tendency to curl back into the skin as it grows.
Razor burn, on the other hand, is not equivalent to razor bumps, although both may occur in the same instance. Razor burn is a tender rash often caused by a shave which has aggravated the outer layer of skin, leaving an ensuing burning sensation.
How to avoid razor bumps and burns when shaving
The best approach will forever be prevention over treatment. This is principally a good rule to live by.
Firstly, what do you shave with? Our first step in solving these woes is to recommend a double-edge 'safety' razor, standing in contrast to disposable multi-blade cartridge razors. We like the Merkur 34C particularly, our most popular safety razor. The double-edge has persisted since its genesis for good reason, and despite falling out of fashion, it has made a comeback.
First, ensuring the razor blade is sharp means that the hair will be cleanly cut, ensuring that it doesn't grow awkwardly back into the skin and cause irritation. When you can feel that the razor is no longer adequately sharp, it probably isn't, and is best disposed of carefully. And opposed to the irritating tugging-and-cutting action of a cartridge razor, a double-edge engages in no such violence due to its single-bladed nature. It is this pulling action of the cartridge razor - hysteresis - that extends the hair beyond its natural state, causing it to curl when it grows back. In contrast, the single bladed nature of the safety razor relies on a sedate cutting action, and when paired with the right blade to suit the nature of your hair and skin, shaving becomes a comfortable, and rather gratifying process. For most individuals, simply swapping to a safety razor is an ample shift in preventing razor bumps and nasty ingrown hairs.
It also holds true to take your time shaving, and proceed with your first pass in the natural direction of hair growth with the grain, especially if you’re prone to ingrown hairs. This is because when shaving across or against the grain, whilst providing a closer shave, there is the risk of curling hairs back into the skin.
The best products to help clear up razor burns and bumps fast
If you are content with your weapon of choice, or perhaps want extra irritation insurance, a simple hot shower or a steamy hot towel pressed against the face for a few moments softens the hair and the skin underneath, as the porous hair absorbs water and swells, making for an easier cut. A good combo to follow this process is a gentle scrub with an exfoliant, which lifts the hairs whilst sloughing away dead skin. Pay particular scrubbing attention to the neck too, an area particularly prone to razor bumps and shaving rash due to the delicate nature of the skin.
Furthermore, sometimes the problem exists within the contents of the routine itself: is your choice of shaving lubricant providing you with an adequate barrier of protection? It is always more effective to shave wet as opposed to dry without a buffer, for you'd want your razor to glide as opposed to drag and pull - thus causing razor burn. Citrus and menthol-based creams and soaps are challenging for those with sensitive skin, but their invigorating and cooling sensation is unrivalled, acting away at the hair follicles. Santa Maria Novella's Shaving Cream is hard to beat, rich with tingly eucalyptus, menthol and moisturising coconut oil. On the other hand, oil-rich formulations are especially moisturising and provide an excellent buffer. The lanolin-rich nature of Mitchell's Wool Fat Soap makes for a slick, soothing, and hydrating experience. An extra layer of insurance comes in the form of a pre-shave oil or cream, preparing the skin by coating the hairs, adding an additional layer which aids the razor to glide over the face. The thick viscosity of Taylor of Old Bond Street's Sandalwood Pre-Shave provides an effective cushion effect, that can be massaged into the hair and skin in preparation for further lather on top.
Shaving in all of its variant forms is a 'hot' process, and the skin urges for a cooling post-shave. Ingredients with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties such as tea tree oil and/or witch hazel soothes redness and repairs the skin, and is effective for razor rashes and burns. Low concentrations of beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), such as salicylic acid, may also be present as it penetrates below the skin, clearing the hair follicles and preventing any clogging.
And if ingrown hair and razor bump treatment is nevertheless more imminently required, topical 'spot treatment' products with a concentrated combination of acids as their active ingredient work at and unearth ingrown hairs and eradicate those itchy clear white bumps after shaving, which occur due to the inflammation of the hair follicle. Consider Tend Skin's Ingrown Hair Solution. The careful and considerate application of spot treatments are recommended for the removal of ingrown hairs and razor bumps, standing diametrically opposed to tweezing or physically exfoliating the skin, as these processes can be quite painful and run the risk of scarring. Furthermore, depilatory hair removal creams and cortisone treatments are also not recommended as the first course of action for treating razor bumps and ingrowns, as these solutions are often uncomfortable and present possible unwanted side effects.