This scenario is likely all-too-familiar to most of us: You shave your legs so that they can be smooth to the touch, and like some kind of terrible plot twist, the result is razor bumps and irritation instead. (We can hear the collective cries.) Why does this happen to us? New York City–based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, explains that razor bumps are an inflammatory reaction to the hair shaft re-entering the skin, such as an ingrown hair and/or folliculitis, which is inflammation of the hair follicle.
Engelman shares that people with curly and thick hair are more predisposed to razor bumps—or pseudofolliculitis barbae, as it’s referred to in the medical world. Engelman says that one definitive method for treating PFB is laser hair removal. While a great solution, it may not always be financially feasible. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions to make shaving less of a drag and get rid of razor bumps.
Ahead, see 12 tips from dermatologists and estheticians for smooth-shaven legs.
Exfoliate Before Shaving
“Exfoliating your legs prior to razor use will remove the dead skin cells, allowing easier gliding and better hair removal, which will also dramatically decrease razor bumps and ingrown hairs,” says Marnie Nussbaum, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. Kiehl's Soy Milk and Honey Body Polish ($30) works to gently moisturize the skin while it cleanses, shedding dead skin cells without stripping the skin of its natural oils.
Use Pre-Shave Oil
Oils add a layer of protection against the razor and can ease the shaving process. As DeoDoc expert Gunvor Ekman-Ordeberg, MD, explains, oils help to soften the skin, thus making hair removal much easier.
Moisturize Immediately After You Shower
“Never, ever skip moisturizing the skin after a shave,” urges Nussbaum. She adds that it’s essential to moisturize immediately out of the shower to lock in the moisture and reduce inflammation from shaving. She recommends Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil ($13) or Aveeno Eczema Therapy ($16) to intensely hydrate and calm the skin.
Apply Toner After Shaving
“Toners can alleviate redness and irritation as well as provide hydration,” explains Engelman. They also clean up any post-shave cream residue, helping ensure ingrown hairs don't form. Look for formulas with ingredients that have anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, like aloe, witch hazel, allantoin, or willow bark.
Repair the Look of Irritated Skin with a Soothing Serum
To remedy razor bumps, apply a product that will moisturize the skin. Engelman suggests Elizabeth Arden SuperStart Skin Renewal Booster ($70), which “contains sea fennel and flaxseed extracts to help reinforce the integrity of the skin’s moisture barrier while the probiotic complex helps optimize the skin’s microflora to help strengthen defense against possible infections."
Smooth Skin with This Drugstore Lotion
Samantha Wright, director of services and client experience at Dangene: The Institute of Skinovation, recommends applying Amlactin Moisturizing Body Lotion ($13) to help reduce bumps and repair skin. Not only does it smooth skin, but also the product works to exfoliate with a blend of alpha hydroxy acids. The best part: It’s $13.
Avoid Dry Shaving at All Costs
“Dry shaving is one of the worst things for the skin, as it will cause the blade to tug and pull the skin with it. A shaving cream or gel allows for the razor to evenly glide across the skin without irritation or causing nicks and cuts,” explains Nussbaum. “It also helps hydrate and protect the skin.”
Her suggestion: EOS Shave Cream ($5), which, she explains, is “packed with aloe, green tea, grape seed extract, and shea butter. It’s best to shave with warm water as opposed to hot water as the hotter temperatures will be more likely to strip the skin of its oils and dehydrate.”
Shave in the Direction Your Hair Grows
If you have sensitive skin, try shaving in the direction of your hair. “Many women shave against the direction of hair growth; however, the blunt end of the hair can subsequently grow inward as opposed to up and out of the epidermis,” Nussbaum explains.
Change Out Your Disposable Razors Often
“Another big mistake is not switching disposable razors often enough,” shares Nussbaum. How often should you change it? “More than a week with the same blade will cause irritation as the blade dulls and begins to tug on the skin causing razor bumps, scrapes, and irritation,” she explains. Old blades also tend to harbor bacteria, which can cause infection and inflammation.
One easy way to remember when it's time to change your blade: "If you feel a tug on your skin, it’s time to toss it,” says Nussbaum.
Take Your Time Shaving
“Women tend to rush shaving rather than using smooth, even strokes,” shares Nussbaum. “They also tend to apply too much pressure, which creates an uneven surface for the blade, causing razor bumps and irritation, especially when using multi-bladed razors. This exponentially increases ingrown hairs and irritation.”
If your skin still gets irritated, smooth on a product like The Cool Fix by Shaveworks ($12), which helps alleviate skin woes like razor burn and bumps.
Use Fragrance- and Formaldehyde-Free Products
Carl Thornfeldt, MD, shares that the fragrance or preservatives in the pre-shave or post-shave cleansers or lotions commonly cause contact dermatitis in women. He suggests trying fragrance-free and formaldehyde-free products. Billie's Shave Cream ($8) is formulated with no synthetic fragrances or parabens.
Be Sure to Treat Any Ingrown Hairs Properly
“The primary cause of ingrown hair is hair being trapped beneath the skin’s surface,” explains Bliss SoHo lead esthetician Nandi Wagner. The best remedy, according to Wagner, is exfoliation: “Exfoliation rids the skin of dry and dead skin cells and allows the hair to break through the surface.” Wagner suggests Bliss Ingrown Hair Eliminating Peeling Pads ($22), which she describes as "phenomenal at keeping ingrown hair at bay, as they contain salicylic and glycolic acid to exfoliate, and green tea extract and oat extract to soothe and calm the skin. Use no less than 24 hours post-hair removal to prevent irritation."