For the first decade or so that I shaved, I absolutely hated it. It was tedious, expensive, and, most of all, painful! I was plagued with razor burn after every shave, made even worse in winter by the harsh Canadian winds. It wasn’t until I picked up a safety razor that I realized shaving didn’t have to suck and that it could actually be quite enjoyable. Since then, I’ve been able to identify the causes of razor burn that haunted me in my youth and eliminate them entirely! In this article, I’ll share those causes and how you can prevent razor burn when you shave.
Change Your Razor Blade
The number one cause of shaving irritation is your razor. Whether your blade is too sharp, dull, or plentiful, there’s a good chance your razor is doing the most damage. Every time a razor glides across your skin, it removes a tiny bit of it. A little exfoliation can be a good thing, but accessive abrasion from a blade can cause a ton of discomfort. The greatest culprit of this is conventional multiple-blade razors.
If you’re currently using one, give a single-blade razor a try. Modern marketing has convinced us we need a million blades with a vibrating handle, but with a little practice, a single blade is a much better tool. A good, sharp blade will remove stubble easily without causing excessive irritation. You can make multiple passes with the razor to achieve a closer cut, and your face will be spared the misery of dragging three or four blades across it multiple times.
If you’ve switched to a single blade but are still struggling, it’s likely time to try something sharper or change your blade a little more often. The milder blades we recommend starting with are gentle on the skin but can tug at coarser hair creating an unpleasant feeling similar to razor burn. I would switch out your blade for a brand new one if it's been a while, and if that doesn’t ‘cut it’, try a sharper brand. Merkur,Kai, and Feather are some of the sharpest razors out there, and folks with coarse beards or tougher skin often find them much more pleasant to shave with.
Alternatively, your blade may be too sharp! My beard is coarse, but Feather is far too aggressive for my skin. Every time I use one, I nick myself and get a ton of razor burn. I’ve found milder brands like Kent of Inglewood,Shark, and Astra much more forgiving.
Stop Shaving Against the Grain
It turns out you might just be expecting too much! Razor commercials have taught us for decades that our shave should be smooth as glass, and while it’s a very satisfying feeling, it can also be a deeply uncomfortable one. Shaving against the grain cuts the hair super close, but it can tear up the skin, leading to red blotchiness shortly after the shave. Even if it doesn’t give you razor burn, it can cut the hairs too close and trap them under the skin. As they try to grow, they get curled up under the skin, and you end up with dozens of ingrown hairs a day or two after the shave. Not fun!
Instead of shaving against the grain for my second pass, I shave ‘along’ or perpendicular to the grain. This gives you a closer cut but is far less hard on you than shaving against the grain. Some folks even make two passes with the grain for a less close but far more comfortable shave. Experiment, and find what works for you! While you’re at it, try to lighten up your pressure too. Conventional cartridge razors train you to jam the razor into your skin; single-blade razors require almost no force to do an excellent job, and pushing too much is another factor that can contribute to razor burn.
Sometimes you do everything right, and it just isn’t enough. Even when I use the perfect blade and immaculate technique, I often get a little razor burn. Such is the curse of having coarse whiskers and skin about as tough as wet tissue paper. If you’re like me, these next three steps are here to help you get a close AND comfortable shave.
Use Pre-shave Oil or Gel
Preshave is a miracle product. Whether you prefer the water-based gel or traditional oil, preshave gives your skin an extra layer of protection from the blade to greatly reduce irritation. They also help the razor glide more smoothly and soften your stubble, making it much easier to cut without tugging. I use preshave before each pass with the razor and always lather up with my shaving cream or soap overtop.
Use a Shaving Brush
Speaking of which, I can’t tell you how much using a shaving brush improved my shave! Firstly, they lather traditional shaving creams and soaps, which are much better for your skin than canned foam. They also scrub your skin and hair, making the hair softer and significantly reducing drag while standing it up in the lather, making it less likely to become ingrown.
I love my silvertip badger hair brush as it scrubs beautifully but is quite gentle on my skin. I wouldn't suggest horse or boar if you’re looking to avoid irritation, but synthetic is an excellent budget option if you want something simple to start with!
Use Aftershave Balm
If you've followed every bit of advice and STILL irritation persists, the best cure-all is aftershave balm. No matter how well you do it, shaving is traumatic to the skin, and aftershave balm is like a warm hug that comes to help out. It contains medicinal ingredients that help kickstart the healing process, all while soothing irritation and protecting the skin from the elements while it heals. I use aftershave balm at all times of year, but especially after rough shaves and during the winter.
I hope this has helped you drastically improve your shave! While you may need to follow all of these steps, I suggest trying them one at a time so you can identify the root issue and build the perfect routine that works for you!