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Why You Are Getting Razor Burn and How to Prevent It

Updated on May 5, 2020

Razor Burn Is a Different Condition than Razor Bumps

These two terms are often intertwined, which can cause confusion, especially among novice shavers. While both have the potential to make your facial and neck skin significantly uncomfortable, they feel and appear different and have differing causes.

Razor bumps is the common term for pseudofolliculitis barbae. The condition is aptly named, because its appearance is similar to acne, and it does not manifest until a few days after you shave. It is caused by hair follicles growing into the skin after being cut instead of growing straight out.

Razor burn also looks and feels a lot like it sounds. As opposed to acne-like bumps, a common case of this condition is characterized by a general redness in appearance, resembling a low-grade burn. The skin tends to feel raw and tender, and it can be accompanied by an itchy feeling. The common response of scratching from the sufferer can further irritate the burn. A more severe case of razor burn can include chafing of the skin. Unlike razor bumps, this condition can manifest almost immediately and most commonly within a few hours after shaving.

So what are the causes of razor burn, and how can you prevent it?

Applying your shaving cream with a brush not only feels good, it can also serve as a measure against irritations such as razor burn.
Applying your shaving cream with a brush not only feels good, it can also serve as a measure against irritations such as razor burn. | Source

You Are Running the Blade Over Unlathered Skin

One of the most common causes of razor burn stems from impatience or from poor time budgeting. Shaving is about gradual beard reduction, usually accomplished within two or three lathers and passes. People who shave before work in the morning and do not leave themselves enough time to do it correctly may end up attempting to accomplish their shave in one pass.

Most often, the razor will not take off all the hairs in one stroke. An impatient but common response to this is to stroke the blade over the same area in an attempt to cut those resilient hairs. Shaving cream is applied for a purpose – a big part of which is to provide a protective layer between the skin and the blade. Unlathered skin is unprotected skin. Shaving over bare skin is abrasive and has a high probability of irritating it. Be patient and leave yourself enough time to not rush your shave. Stroke the blade once over the lather, then wet your face and neck again and reapply the lather for the next pass.

Used correctly, you can avoid shaving over unlathered skin with the safety razor on the left. Such is not the case with the multiblade cartridge razor on the right.
Used correctly, you can avoid shaving over unlathered skin with the safety razor on the left. Such is not the case with the multiblade cartridge razor on the right. | Source

You Are Using a Multiblade Cartridge Razor

Many products have been successfully marketed as time-savers. The advent of the multiblade cartridge razor is a prime example. The first multiblade cartridge razor consisted of two blades, and in subsequent years and decades it gradually moved to five. What the first blade did not get on the stroke, the others supposedly would.

It is important, however, to realize what is happening when you shave with one of these modern tools. To reference the previous section, raking the blade over unlathered skin leaves it without a protective layer from abrasion. With a stroke, as the blade cuts the hair, it is also sweeping away the lather with it. Therefore, it is only the first blade that is gliding over the later. If you have a double blade, the second one will be stroked over unlathered skin. The problem can be compounded when your cartridge razor has three, four, or five blades.

You Are Not Adequately Prepping Your Skin and Hair

Another way that people cut corners when shaving in order to save time is to reduce their skin preparation time. Keeping the face wet and damp accomplishes two critical tasks that are needed to get a pleasant shave.

When you shave, the blade does not only cut hair, it also removes a thin layer of dead skin cells. Thorough, adequate hydration of the skin makes it less susceptible to abrasion and easier for the dead skin to come off without too much pulling. It also washes away some of those cells, so fewer of them will have to be removed by the blade. Application of the shaving cream using a shaving brush also does an effective job of exfoliating the skin.

The skin is not the only component that needs to be paid proper attention. Your hair will also be considerably easier for the blade to cut if it is also adequately hydrated. Androgenic hair is strong material, which is why blades eventually dull even when the hair is properly hydrated; shaving takes a toll on the sharpness of the metal. Hard, dry hair will be more resistant to shear and will thus cause more pulling.

You should not just wet your face and neck and immediately apply the cream and go to work. Your skin and hair should be wet for at least three minutes before you begin to run the blade over them. That is why it can be convenient to shave right after you finish showering. If this is not possible, or if you prefer to do it separately, be sure to apply hot water several times over a period of minutes. A good approach is to wash the face and neck with soap first, and do not dry it afterward. Then begin to make the lather from a traditional shaving cream with a shaving brush, then reapply the water a few more times during and after the lather-making process.

Using a moisturizer such as a balm on your skin after shaving also reduces your risk of subsequent razor burn.
Using a moisturizer such as a balm on your skin after shaving also reduces your risk of subsequent razor burn. | Source

You Are Using an Electric Razor

Most electric razors do not work effectively when your skin is wet. So when you use an electric razor, you are normally dry shaving. Like blades, electric shavers also remove dead skin cells from the epidermis. As mentioned above, this process is much easier on the epidermis when it is hydrated. The shear caused by pulling dead skin away from a dry layer can cause irritation.

Many electric razors also work by the lifting and cutting technique of removing hair, since the blade does not directly touch the skin. The pulling of hair can cause general, acute irritation associated with razor burn. In addition, it can also result in the hair going below the line of the epidermis. This can result in ingrown hairs, which is the cause of razor bumps.

Use Quality Tools, Be Patient, Be Comfortable

There are a few key points to remember. Use a single-blade razor. This way, you can avoid running blades over unlathered skin. If the idea of using a straight razor is not to your liking, there are many outstanding safety razors on the market along with a variety of blades. Make sure the blade is sharp, so the hairs are cut without being pulled. Leave yourself enough time, and do not rush your shave.

Moisturizing your skin with a balm afterward will provide another layer of protection against irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin.


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