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Prevention of Razor Burn

Updated on April 7, 2015
If you use a straight razor, proper maintenance of your blade with a strop can help guard against razor burn.
If you use a straight razor, proper maintenance of your blade with a strop can help guard against razor burn. | Source

Razor Burn

It has been ten minutes since your shave. Your face and neck have dried, you have gotten dressed, and perhaps brushed your teeth. It is not too noticeable at first, just a warm feeling around the newly shaven skin. Several minutes later, however, it starts to feel akin to a sunburn, complete with itching. And with the scratching, the burning sensation becomes worse.

Later, at work, you've headed out the door to lunch. The warm weather has caused your skin to break out in a thin film of sweat...and the salty water has brought that burning sensation that may have subsided earlier back with a vengeance.

Anyone who shaves has experienced this feeling at one time or another. Barring a unique skin disorder, this misery you feel, razor burn, is almost always very preventable. In routines, there can be a tendency to relax proper technique, or rather, get sloppy. Or, what could be the case in others who experience razor burn frequently, is that they are unaware of a flaw in their procedure. They are doing something they were taught, but what they were taught was wrong. It helps to have a checklist of some of the most common causes of razor burn, and what can be done to prevent this annoying, miserable, albeit temporary condition.

Inadequate Skin Preparation

For whatever reason, you want to get your shave over with. You don't want to take any more time than necessary. Maybe you woke up a little late, maybe your patience for this is just in a little shorter supply today. Maybe you just don't enjoy shaving. So, you get the razor and the cream out of the drawer, you quickly wet your face - because you know you're supposed to - then put on the cream and take the razor to your face.

Wetting your face just before putting the cream on is not enough to ward off skin irritation. Your face needs to be thoroughly washed, then thoroughly rinsed. The washing partially exfoliates the skin, as well as hydrates it. Your skin needs to be kept wet for a minimum of three minutes. This serves two purposes:

  • It takes at least this long for the extra hydration of the skin to take place.
  • This time is also needed for the water to soften the hair, making it easier for the blade to cut, so any pulling of the hair by the blade is eliminated.

If you have poor preparation, even if the rest of your shave is flawless, you are very likely to encounter razor burn. This is perhaps the most common cause of this annoyance.

Your Blade is Not Sharp Enough

This problem relates very closely to inadequate preparation of the skin. As with all things relating to cutting, the rule applies that a sharp blade is far less dangerous, and far easier to use, than a dull blade. In cutting, a dull blade requires more force to use than a sharp blade. Thus, the chance of slipping is much greater due to overcompensation. Conversely, with a dull blade, the user will tend to apply greater pressure. In addition, a dull blade will also pull the hairs in its attempt to slice through them, since it is not sharp enough to cut the entire surface area by normal gliding.

When your face is lathered after being adequately prepared, if you feel the pain of pulling on the first stroke, or at any point during the shave, stop what you are doing and switch out the blade.

A traditional wet shaving kit.  A shaving brush is a very effective exfoliator to adequately prepared and hydrated skin.
A traditional wet shaving kit. A shaving brush is a very effective exfoliator to adequately prepared and hydrated skin. | Source

You Are Using an Electric Razor

Electric razors are marketed on their ability to save time and money. No face washing, no prep time, no shaving cream, and the blades do not have to be replaced as often. However, they are very likely to not only cause razor burn, but bumps as well. Their mechanism of cutting hair is "lift and cut", which will bring the hair below the skin line, where it can become ingrown. Secondly, the pull that is required to perform this action will provide instant irritation to the top layer of skin. More on the topic of traditional wet shaving with a straight or safety razor versus cartridge or electric shaving is covered in this article, and also in this one. The time you will save is not worth the rash and the bumps, and the comparatively poor quality shave you will get from an electric razor.

Do Not Shave Unlathered Skin

We all give in to this temptation from time to time. The ideal, realistic shave is about beard reduction, and not attempting to take it all off in one pass. Some days you may be pressed for time. You glide over an area on our second pass and find that there are still some hairs that remain. You really don't want to do a third pass, so you go over the now unlathered area again. You find this happens in about five of your glides, so you have now run your blade against unlathered skin five times, covering a good portion of your shaving area.

The shaving cream is what holds the water to the face by providing a thick, cohesive blanket. When it has been run through, there is not enough water on that area to adequately protect it from irritation from a blade. No matter how tempting it may be, if you wish to avoid razor burn, do not run your blade against unlathered skin. Do that extra pass, it will only take a couple more minutes.

Rinse and Dry Your Face Correctly When You Are Finished

This rule goes double for anyone with sensitive skin. Regardless if you have done everything correctly up until this point, shaving always makes the skin temporarily more sensitive and tender. For this reason, you do not want to expose it to unnecessary stress. Friction is a form of stress. Many shavers make the mistake of taking their towel and rubbing their face and neck dry.

When your shave is finished, before drying, rinse it with cool or cold water to help the pores to close. This will also provide a very soothing feeling to the skin. Then, use your towel to blot your face dry. Do not rub.

Use a Non-Alcohol Aftershave Balm

Alcohol is a drying agent. A lot of the more popular after shaves contain alcohol and fragrance. Certain fragrances can also irritate newly shaved skin. Many shavers, even traditional wet shavers, mistakenly advocate things such as Witch Hazel as an inexpensive, fragrance-free aftershave, touting its antiseptic properties. However, alcohol can also irritate the skin, especially if all of your pores have not yet closed from the cool rinse. Since the skin is more sensitive, it should not have a dehydrating agent like alcohol applied to it immediately after shaving. Instead, opt for non-alcoholic aftershaves such as Neutrogena or Proraso, Taylor of Old Bond Street, among others.


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    • Mike Welsh profile image

      Mike 2 years ago from Wales, United Kingdom

      Nice article full of very useful infomation. Thank you for sharing. Personally i think electric shavers are overpriced and over rated. The old traditional ways are the best