Most of us view shaving as a necessary evil -- a painstaking ritual that, unfortunately, isn’t always pain-free. Done incorrectly, shaving can cause a variety of uncomfortable issues, such as razor burn, dry skin and nicks and cuts. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve consulted with skin and shaving experts and compiled a step-by-step guide to get your best shave ever. New York dermatologist Michele Green, M.D.; “Lady Barber” Kathleen Giordano, a licensed barber (who shaves men!) at Persons of Interest, a modern men’s barbershop in Brooklyn, New York; and aesthetician Shizuka Bernstein of Shizuka New York Day Spa bring you their tips on how to get a smooth shave each and every time you reach for your razor.
1. Sharpen Up
Before you start shaving, it is important to equip yourself with the proper razor. But, ladies, you don’t need to shell out the big bucks for an expensive “women’s razor.” Even though women pay more for the same hygienic items as men (thanks, “pink tax”), men’s razors are every bit as good, says dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. With so many different kinds of razors on the market, it can be hard to figure out which one to buy. Should you go electric? What about replaceable blades with moisture strips? Or maybe going with disposables would be best. Who knows? Dr. Green recommends razors with five blades, such as Schick Hydro 5 (or Schick Hydro Silk Disposable Razors, if you’re absolutely adamant about having a women’s razor).
2. Tend to Ingrown Hairs
Ugh. Ingrown hairs. Those small, red bumps that are painful, itchy or filled with pus (gross!) can be gnarly and are a real task to tend to. What causes them? “Coarse or curly hair is more likely to curl under and grow in the wrong direction,” says dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. But hair follicles can also become clogged with your skin’s natural oil, or dead skin cells can block the hair from growing in the proper direction, she says. So what’s the best way to get rid of them safely? “Apply a warm compress and use a sterile needle or tweezers to get them out,” says Dr. Green, adding that it’s helpful to apply benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to the affected area a few times a day. If the ingrown hair gets infected, be sure to see a dermatologist right away.
3. Don’t Forget the Gel
Before taking a blade to your skin, make sure you have shaving gel on hand for a smoother glide. Aesthetician Shizuka Bernstein says shaving gel is preferable to shaving cream because it’s less likely to clog your pores. Look for shaving gels with chamomile (it’s a natural anti-inflammatory), aloe (it’ll help soothe and heal your skin) and glycerin (it draws water into your skin to help keep it moisturized), says dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. One gentle formula she recommends: Aveeno shaving gel.
4. Exfoliate, Exfoliate, Exfoliate
Exfoliating your skin has a number of benefits, including helping you get a smoother, closer shave. To get as close as you can to the follicle root and avoid those painful ingrown hairs, it’s best to ditch your dead skin first. To do that, apply a gentle exfoliating scrub to your legs, face or underarms (yes, even your bikini line, as long as it’s a gentle exfoliator and you are avoiding your delicate lady parts) and rinse thoroughly. When looking for an exfoliator, choose a formula with moisturizing ingredients like J.R. Watkins Sugar and Shea Body Scrub.
5. Shave With Warm Water
More than likely, you’re not going to want to shave with cold water for a number of reasons. (Who wants to take a cold shower?) But another reason to opt for warmer water is that it lifts leg hair, making it easier to shave, says licensed barber Kathleen Giordano. For best results, shave in a warm shower or bath or at the sink after a steamy shower has softened the skin. The steam and the water will also open your pores and help you avoid painful razor burn, which occurs when the hair follicle is pulled by the scraping action of the razor blade, says dermatologist Dr. Michele Green.
6. Start in the Right Direction
Before shaving, lather up thoroughly. For the ladies, that means covering your ankles and knees, the sides of the ankles and knees and behind the knees because these are very sensitive areas prone to nicks and cuts. Men, make sure you lather your sideburns, upper lip, chin, jawline and neck (or wherever else you’re planning to shave). Then begin shaving with the grain, not against it. “Hair generally grows in a downward pattern, so go with that pattern of growth, shaving from the knee down, not from the ankle up (or cheekbone to jawline, guys),” says licensed barber Kathleen Giordano. “Next, cross-grain the hair by moving the razor diagonally across the leg from the ankle up. If you feel stubble, add more product and go lightly against the grain to prevents nicks, burns and cuts.”
7. Clean the Blade Often
Tiny little hairs, shaving gel and, yes, even dead skin cells build up under your blade, dull your razor and even block it from shaving. After every few strokes, rinse the blades to keep them free of buildup. The more you rinse, the closer the shave, says licensed barber Kathleen Giordano. To keep blades clean after you shave, Giordano recommends dipping the blade in a small cup of alcohol or other antiseptic after every use and allowing it to air dry. Because they dull quickly, be sure to replace your blades every two to three uses to get the best shave.
8. Ease the Burn
Feeling the burn at the gym is to be expected. Feeling the burn after shaving is not. To ease the pain and discomfort of razor burn -- stinging red bumps that can look like a rash -- apply some over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream from your local drugstore and give it a few days to heal, says dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. For nicks and cuts, licensed barber Kathleen Giordano says styptic powder acts as an antiseptic and stops bleeding immediately. You can also purchase a styptic pencil for a more convenient application.
9. Moisturize ASAP
As anyone who’s shaved before can attest, shaving can easily dry out and irritate your skin. To keep your skin looking and feeling great, apply lotion to lock moisture into your skin immediately after shaving. All three of our skin care experts recommend using a moisturizer with aloe because it’s gentle and can start soothing irritations on contact. Licensed barber Kathleen Giordano also recommends coconut oil. It adds a lot of moisture, is all-natural and smells great too! If you’re applying lotion to your face, look for one that’s noncomedogenic (which means it won’t clog your more sensitive facial pores).
What Do YOU Think?
Who knew shaving was such an art (and a little bit of science)? How many of these tips did you already know? Have they helped you in the past? Do you have any other favorite shaving tips or rituals? Share your suggestions, tips and questions with us in the comments section below!
Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a journalist, essayist, senior copywriter and rabblerouser who lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work has been featured in Science of Us/New York magazine, The Week, DAME, US Weekly, CBS Watch!, Parents, Parenting, The New York Times and The New York Post.