The best shaving cream for sensitive skin

Man shaving with MDacne Soothing Shave Cream

As if acne weren’t frustrating enough, throw hair removal into the mix, and things get even more challenging. For people with sensitive and acne-prone skin, using the right shaving technique, razor (click here to find the right razor for you!), and products is crucial to achieving a smooth, bump-free shave—and your choice of shaving cream is an important part of the clear-skin equation.

On the other hand, shaving with the wrong cream (including gels, foams, and shave oils) can lead to razor bumps, razor burn, ingrown hairs, and a worsening of the acne condition. Thankfully, we have guidelines for shaving creams that prevent razor burn and irritation while also supporting your ongoing acne treatment.

What is the best shaving cream for my skin type?

Man holidng shaving razor to face

Like most skincare products, the shaving cream you choose should be—in part—based on your skin type and sensitivities. There are three predominant “skin types” (1. Normal, 2. Oily, and 3. Dry) with 2 subcategories (1. Sensitive skin, and 2. Acne-prone skin). If you don’t know your skin type, you can click here for a quick test. Then, you can choose a great shaving cream for your skin type accordingly.

  1. Sensitive Skin: The most important thing for people with sensitive skin is to avoid astringents of any kind (commonly used in shave creams and gels) as they can seriously irritate the skin. An astringent is a chemical that shrinks or constricts bodily tissues include ingredients like rubbing alcohol and more seemingly innocuous ingredients like witch hazel, peppermint, menthol, vinegar, and even cold water! If you have sensitive skin, watch out for these on ingredient labels and make sure you always use warm water.

  2. Dry Skin: For people with dry skin, the goal is to look for certain ingredients that can be helpful rather than specific ones to avoid. The most important ingredients for people with dry skin will help hydrate the skin and enable the razor blade to clade over the skin without causing nicks or cuts, which dry skin is more sensitive to. For instance, Glycerin is an ingredient found in some shaving products that are super helpful for people with dry skin. If you’ve got dry skin, make sure your shaving medium includes glycerin.

  3. Normal - Oily Skin: People with normal or oily (but not acne-prone) skin are the lucky ones who can be a bit more “liberal” with their choice of shaving cream. Since they can better tolerate products that contain astringents and other products that would irritate sensitive and dry skin, they can choose whatever medium they prefer to use and feels best on their skin.

  4. Acne-Prone Skin: Those of us who fall into any of the categories above and have acne-prone skin need to be extra careful when choosing a shaving cream. It might seem intuitive to reach for more “natural” ingredients for these people, which can become a big problem for acne sufferers. This is particularly true of essential oils (ex. Sandalwood, eucalyptus, lavender) commonly included in natural shaving products as they can clog the pores, causing more breakouts with razor bumps “on the side.” Although certain oils like jojoba and almond oil are generally non-irritating, it’s best to stick to products labeled oil-free for people with acne-prone skin. Read on for more info!

Should you use shaving cream, foam, gel, or hand soap?

Man shaving with MDacne Soothing Shave Cream

Walking down the shaving section of the drugstore or searching online, you’ll see a wide variety of shaving mediums—adding even more complications to the process of choosing the right one for your sensitive skin. Let’s learn a bit more about these so you can make a more informed decision.

1. Old-School Hard Shaving Soap: Hard soap is one of the oldest shaving mediums still used by some today. These soaps contain more moisturizing ingredients than a regular hand or bath soap and produce a rich and dense lather for shaving. While shaving soaps are very affordable, the convenience factor is much lower than the others. They tend to be more difficult and time-consuming to use (requiring one of those antique-looking brushes to apply) than any other shaving creams available today.

Fun Fact: De Vergulde Hand from the Netherlands has been making shave soap for over 460 years while Colgate and Palmolive both started out selling soap sold for shaving, and Williams “Mug Soap” has been on the market for 176 years.

2. Foaming Shave Creams: Foaming shave creams generally come in a tube and can be applied with a shaving brush (for a more rich lather) or the hands. Unlike most hard soaps, these creams contain Glycerin (that key ingredient for dry skin).

3. Non-Foaming, Lathering Shave Creams: Non-foaming shave creams are different from other creams in that they produce a lather when mixed with soap as opposed to foam. This is because they typically use less foam-inducing detergents, making them a better choice for sensitive skin.

4. Canned Shaving Foam: Introduced in 1949, these aerosol-based products use compressed gas (ex. Isobutane) to create a form right out of the can without the need to use a brush.

5. Canned Shaving Gel: The difference between canned shaving gels as their foam predecessor is that they dispense a “semi-solid micro-emulsion” and require mixing water to turn into a foam.

Shaving Creams Vs. Shaving Foams & Gels:

Our vote is for shaving creams instead of the (somewhat more convenient) foams and gels as acne experts. The biggest advantage of shaving creams is that you need to massage your skin to get the lather. While this may seem more time consuming (an extra couple of seconds…), this massaging process makes the skin and hair softer and easier to shave, allowing for better exfoliation and cleansing of the pores while reducing chances of irritation.

Shaving directions illustration

Ingredients to avoid in shaving cream

In recent years, we’ve become more aware of certain ingredients that can be over-drying and irritating (as well as generally harmful to our health) in both haircare (shampoos) as well as skincare. The most important ingredients to avoid in shaving products specifically are;

  1. Parabens: Used as preservatives in many products. Many brands have stopped using parabens altogether, but it’s always important to check the ingredients label!

  2. SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate): SLS has been getting a pretty bad rap recently. While it can be beneficial (or at least innocuous) ingredients in certain products, it’s best to avoid SLS in shaving products as it turns to strip away the natural oils on the skin.

In addition to these chemicals, there are also certain “natural ingredients” that people with acne-prone skin should avoid:

  1. Essential Oils: Commonly used essential oils sandalwood, eucalyptus, lavender can clog pores and ultimately cause both breakouts and shaving bumps. (*Shaving creams with jojoba oil and almond oil are generally non-comedogenic)

  2. Certain Astringents: Additives like menthol and witch hazel are intended to tone the skin but can be irritating for sensitive skin or lead to allergic reactions.

  3. Fragrance: When choosing a shaving cream, look for products that are lightly scented or fragrance-free (unscented).

Ingredients to look out for in your shaving cream

The best shaving creams for acne-prone and sensitive skin, here are some of the best ingredients to look out for;

  • Glycerin: Glycerin (typically derived from vegetable oil) is an all-around awesome ingredient for shaving as it serves as a humectant, which locks in water and hydrates the skin while also serving as a barrier between the blade and the skin, allowing it to glide gently.

  • Natural moisturizers: Other natural moisturizers like allantoin, aloe vera, and vitamin-e can be a great addition to Glycerin in shaving products. For instance, Allantoin also has an added keratolytic effect, increasing the skin's water content and promoting wound healing. Allantoin is commonly used to decrease irritation and itching in people with atopic eczema and is one of the main ingredients in a few anti-scar products.

What is the best shaving cream for acne-prone skin?

Man applying MDacne Soothing Shave Cream to hand

While choosing the right shaving cream might seem like a fairly complicated endeavor, for people with acne-prone skin, there are essentially a few key features to keep in mind: 1. It should help keep your razor from scratching or scraping off your skin (i.e., good “razor glide) 2. It should contain hydrating and moisturizing ingredients, and 3 3. It should not contain known irritating ingredients.

Therefore, our recommendation for acne-prone skin is to use a non-foaming, oil-free shaving cream that includes glycerin as one of the main ingredients. While this recommendation is a rather simple equation, we found few options on the market that fulfilled all of these requirements. That’s why we created the MDacne Soothing Shave Cream specifically designed for sensitive skin that’s prone to acne and/or irritation. We think it’s the best option out there, but you can try it and see yourself! (bonus: It’s TSA & travel-friendly)

Should you use aftershave?

The products you apply to your skin after shaving are equally important to what you use during shaving. For people with sensitive and/or acne-prone skin, traditional aftershaves are a “no-no” as they typically contain astringents (like alcohol) that over-dry the skin and cause irritation.

A better choice to calm and hydrate the skin post-shave would be to apply a lightweight oil-free moisturizer and/or an oil-free sunscreen to moisturize and protect your freshly exfoliated skin without clogging pores.

Additional tips for irritation-free shaving:

Man cleaning razor blade in sink faucet

Tip 1: Prepare your skin: Use a gentle face wash or facial scrub to help soften facial hair before you shave. You also should hydrate skin with warm water (for ~ three minutes before shaving) to further soften the hair and make it easier to get a clean, close shave.

Tip 2: Use the right shaving cream: Use a nondrying, oil-free, and dermatologist-tested shaving cream (rather than foam or gel) that will help defend your skin against nicks and cuts as well as shaving bumps, ingrown hairs, and breakouts.

Tip 3: Use a good razor. A good, high-quality razor: preferably a multi-blade razor that has blades spaced closer together (such as the Gillette Mach 3)—helps reduce pressure on each blade for a close, comfortable shave without the stubble or bumps. Our advice? Skip the safety razor and electric shavers.

Tip 3: Check your blades: Dull blades can lead to nicks and irritation. Change your razor blade when you experience tugging or discomfort. Many razors contain an “indicator strip” that will fade to white, indicating when it’s time to swap out with a fresh blade.

Tip 4: Work on your shaving technique: Shave with light, gentle strokes. Your razor should do the work for you, so you don’t need to apply much pressure. Start shaving with the grain (in the direction of hair growth). Then if necessary, go against the grain for an even closer shave.

Tip 5: Save sensitive areas for last: Shaving your upper lip and around your mouth (more sensitive areas) at the end of your shave will give the shave gel more time to soak in, further softening your facial hair and making it easier to get a smooth shave. For tricky places such as the area under the nose, a single blade can be handy.

Tip 6: Rinse your blade frequently: Rinsing the blade often throughout your shave prevents buildup on the blade edges and cartridge and results in better glide and more comfort. Some razors are more vulnerable to clogging (Gillette’s Fusion clogs faster than the Mach 3, for example).

Tip 7: Protect your face and neck: After shaving, rinse skin with cool water and pat it dry. Use a hydrating oil-free moisturizer and/or oil-free sunscreen to soothe and moisturize, and protect your skin.

To find the right acne treatments for your unique skin, take the free skin assessment by clicking here.

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