When it comes to managing and preventing acne, one stumbling block for many is the process of shaving facial hair, which—if not done correctly—can make the condition worse. But don't worry! Below you'll find dermatologist insights and recommendations on shaving to prevent breakouts, those pesky ingrown hairs, and skin irritation.
What is the difference between Razor Bumps and Acne?
It’s easy to mistake razor bumps for acne. Both acne and razor bumps look like angry red pimples that can be sensitive to the touch. Both can appear on the shaved areas: cheeks, jawline, and under the chin. That said, looking more closely, one can notice that acne and razor bumps are different.
Acne starts when pores become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. People with acne will usually have pimples on the whole face, including areas that are never shaved. People with acne will also have a few different kinds of lesions in parallel: blackheads, whiteheads, papules, and pustules—in more severe acne cases, deeper cysts and scars.
Razor bumps appear when the skin around the hair follicles is irritated and gets red and swollen. In contrast to acne that can develop all over the face, razor bumps will appear only on areas you shave. Razor bumps will usually look all the same - small red bumps without the blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, cysts, and scars typical to acne.
How to get rid of razor bumps?
Change your razor blade frequently.
Old razor blades accumulate bacteria that can find their way into the skin and cause irritation and inflammation. For optimal shaving, replace your razor blade every ten shaves.
Use the right shaving cream.
Look for shaving cream - not gel or foam shaving products which are a common cause of razor bumps. Foam and gel shaving products can irritate the skin. This is especially common in people with eczema, people with acne, or acne-prone skin. If you have razor bumps, look for shaving creams specially formulated for acne-prone or sensitive skin.
Before shaving - wash your face with warm water.
Always wash your face or shower with warm water before you shave—this will help you get a closer shave and reduce razor bumps.
Avoid bar soaps
Do not use bar soap on your face. Bar soaps are formulated to wash your body and are too drying and irritating for your face.
Do not shave against the grain.
Shaving against the grain pull on the hair will increase the risk of ingrown hair and razor bumps.
Using anti-acne treatment can help with razor bumps.
Proper cleaning of the face with an anti-acne cleanser with salicylic acid can cause a mid-exfoliation of the upper layer of the skin, remove dead skin scull, and reduce acne and razor bumps. The same is true for salicylic acid anti-acne treatment creams.
Use the right post-shaving moisturizer.
The best moisturizers for acne and razor bumps are moisturizers containing niacinamide (topical vitamin B3). This great ingredient protects the natural skin barrier and can decrease the risk of skin infection and inflammation. The optional concentration of niacinamide will be 2%-4%. However, a higher percentage of niacinamide in a cream or serum can be too irritating.
More blades are not always better.
Six and five-blade cartridges collect germs between the blades and usually shave worse and cause more razor bumps than single or three-blade cartridges with larger spaces between them.
Your razor needs to be clean.
Rinse your razor with lots of water. The debris and gunk that collects between the blades can cause more skin infections and razor bumps. Thus - always rinse your razor after shaving. Three-blade cartridges will usually be easier to clean than five-blade cartridges.
Do not use Pre-Shave Oil or post-shave oil on your face.
These oils can clog your skin pores and cause more acne and razor bumps.
Treat your acne.
An acne-free face is more comfortable to shave.
After shaving - wash your face with cold water.
Washing your face with hot water after shaving will increase iteration and redness. Using cold or lukewarm water will close your pores and keep them cleaner.
Does shaving cause acne?
Shaving the wrong way and with the wrong tools can cause or worsen acne breakouts and cause irritation—especially for acne-prone and sensitive skin. In fact, in many cases, "pimples" on the jawline and neck are often confused with "folliculitis." Folliculitis is caused by inflammation around the hair follicle—often infection by Staph Aureus.
So whether you're dealing with shaving-induced folliculitis OR just trying to figure out how to get a smooth shave on your acne-prone skin without making things worse, you'll want to follow the shaving tips below:
Is it OK to shave if you have acne?
If you already have acne, it is totally possible to shave acne-prone skin without causing or worsening existing breakouts. However, shaving must be done with caution, care, and the right tools. Otherwise, it can cause irritation, spread bacteria, and worsen the acne condition.
For some people, when done the right way, shaving (or what's called "dermaplaning" in skincare) can actually help prevent future acne breakouts by sloughing up dead skin cells that can otherwise build up and clog pores.
How to shave to avoid acne, folliculitis, and razor bumps:
The way you shave and use the right shaving products and tools make a big difference. Check out these tips;
Start with a warm shower.
Heat and humidity will soften your beard and make your shave smoother and less irritating. If you can, plan to shave after washing your face with warm water. Even better, take a hot shower first, as the steam will help prep the skin. Pro tip: do not run your face under excessively hot water, as this can irritate the skin. When it's time to cleanse your skin, turn the dial so the temperature is warm but not hot, or wait to wash your face in the sink.
Cleanse your skin
Use a facial cleanser with medicated anti-acne ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Preferably customized to your skin type, acne severity, and sensitivities (click here to take our quick quiz and find the right cleanser for your skin).
Invest in a high-quality razor blade.
Shaving with a high-quality razor will pay dividends in the long wrong. Not only will they provide a better, closer shave, but they also tend to last longer than cheaper options. Using a standard, multi-blade razor or single-blade razor (aka "safety razor" — those vintage-looking metal tools) is preferable to electric shavers. Electric razors tend to crush the beard's hairs and may penetrate and wound the skin. Instead, use a multi-blade razor like this one that has blades spaced closely together. The closer the blades, the less opportunity for skin to get caught between the blades.
Here are some brands we love!
Best razors to prevent acne:
And for women:
Use a sharp, clean razor blade
Ensure you are shaving with a fresh razor blade that isn't dull, rusted, or full of bacteria. Now that's setting the hygiene bar pretty low...if you really want to prevent breakouts and irritation, you should really be using a fresh blade at every shave and keep fresh lades in a clean, dry environment. Also, make sure that your blade's good and sharp. A dull blade is more likely to nick pimples. So if you feel tugging or discomfort, consider swapping your blade out for a new one.
Look for creamy, moisturizing shaving cream.
Standard shaving creams found on your drugstore self are frequently comedogenic (clog pores), contain alcohols, and be extra drying...this is a recipe for disaster for acne-prone skin as it can cause an increase in the production of sebum and, ultimately, pimples. Higher-quality shaving creams can also be a bit pricier but trust us; this small investment upfront is totally worth it if you want clear, acne-free, and ingrown-free skin. Here are a couple of non-comedogenic options we like!
Best shaving creams for acne-prone skin:
*Note: pre-shave oils seem appealing and can work great for some folks. However, they're not the best idea for acne-prone skin as they can clog the pores and lead to breakouts.
Allow your shaving cream to set on your skin.
Leave your shaving cream on your face for a minute or so (preferably 3-4 minutes!) before beginning to shave. While waiting, you can brush your teeth, do your hair....or check Instagram.
Always shave with the grain rather than against it.
Shave in one direction: from top to bottom with the grain (i.e., hair growth direction). Shaving in two directions goes against the beard's grain and can cause the hairs' tips to penetrate and wound the skin and grow back underneath the skin's surface (i.e., difficult to treat ingrown hairs!)
Do not rush your shaving - take the time to be careful and precise.
Consider the process of shaving a morning (or evening) ritual in self-care. And if that doesn't resonate with you, just trust us when we say that going slowly and treating your skin gently will help prevent those breakouts, ingrown hairs, and irritation we all want to avoid.
Use less of your aftershave or scented aftershave creams (or ditch them altogether!)
Aftershave balms and lotions can actually be irritating for acne-prone skin. Use these infrequently (if ever) and stick to moisturizer.
Hydrate your skin
After shaving, do not forget to hydrate your skin. A good moisturizer will leave skin soft and smooth and help maintain the skin's natural moisture barrier. In addition, you can use an oil-free moisturizer (preferably one with active acne ingredients) and/or a good oil-free face sunscreen to protect and hydrate your now freshly exfoliated skin.
We're biased, but these are our favorites.
10 FAQs about a=shaving and acne:
Q1. What is the difference between Razor Bumps and Acne?
A. Acne occurs when pores become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. On the other hand, razor bumps appear when the skin around hair follicles is irritated and becomes red and swollen. While acne can develop all over the face, razor bumps usually appear only on the shaved areas. Razor bumps look like small red bumps without the blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, cysts, and scars typical of acne.
Q2. How to get rid of razor bumps?
A. To get rid of razor bumps, you should change your razor blade frequently, use the right shaving cream, and wash your face with warm water before shaving. Avoid using bar soaps on your face, and do not shave against the grain. You can also use anti-acne treatment to help with razor bumps. Use the right post-shaving moisturizer, and avoid using pre-shave oil or post-shave oil on your face.
Q3. How to shave correctly?
A. To shave correctly, you should not shave against the grain. Instead, shave in the direction of hair growth to reduce the risk of ingrown hair and razor bumps. Using anti-acne treatment can also help with razor bumps. Rinse your razor with lots of water to clean it, and use the right post-shaving moisturizer. More blades are not always better, and your razor needs to be clean.
Q4. Does shaving cause acne?
A. Shaving the wrong way and with the wrong tools can cause or worsen acne breakouts and cause irritation, especially for acne-prone and sensitive skin. In many cases, "pimples" on the jawline and neck are often confused with "folliculitis," which is caused by inflammation around the hair follicle, often from infection by Staph Aureus.
Q5. Is it OK to shave if you have acne?
A. Yes, it is possible to shave acne-prone skin without causing or worsening existing breakouts. However, shaving must be done with caution, care, and the right tools. Shaving can actually help prevent future acne breakouts by sloughing up dead skin cells that can otherwise build up and clog pores.
Q6. How to shave to avoid acne, folliculitis, and razor bumps?
A. To shave to avoid acne, folliculitis, and razor bumps, you should start with a warm shower, use a facial cleanser with medicated anti-acne ingredients, invest in a high-quality razor blade, and use a sharp, clean razor blade. Look for creamy, moisturizing shaving cream and allow it to set on your skin. Always shave with the grain rather than against it, and do not rush your shaving. Use less of your aftershave or scented after-shave creams, and hydrate your skin after shaving with a good moisturizer.
Q7. What type of shaving cream should I use for acne-prone skin?
A. You should look for a creamy, moisturizing shaving cream that is non-comedogenic and does not contain alcohol. Standard shaving creams found on your drugstore self are frequently comedogenic, which means they can clog pores and cause an increase in the production of sebum, ultimately leading to pimples. Higher-quality shaving creams can be a bit pricier, but they are worth it if you want clear, acne-free, and ingrown-free skin.
Q8. How often should I replace my razor blade?
A. To ensure optimal shaving and prevent bacteria buildup, you should replace your razor blade every ten shaves. Using an old razor blade can accumulate bacteria that can find their way into the skin and cause inflammation and irritation.
Q9. What type of moisturizer should I use after shaving?
A. You should use a moisturizer that contains niacinamide, also known as topical vitamin B3. Niacinamide protects the natural skin barrier and decreases the risk of skin infection and inflammation. The optimal concentration of niacinamide in a cream or serum will be 2%-4%. However, a higher percent of niacinamide in a cream or serum can be too irritating.
Q10. Can pre-shave oil or post-shave oil cause acne or razor bumps?
A. Yes, pre-shave oil or post-shave oil can clog your skin pores and cause more acne and razor bumps. These oils should be avoided if you have acne-prone skin. Instead, look for non-comedogenic shaving creams and moisturizers.
Pseudofolliculitis Barbae and Related Disorders.” Dermatologic Clinics, vol. 6, no. 3, 1988, pp. 407–412.
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