I’m 26 years old, which means I’ve been shaving my legs for the better part of 14 years. Let’s say, conservatively, that I shave twice a week on average, and each time takes five minutes—that’s about 130 hours of my life that has been spent removing hair with a razor. One-hundred-and-thirty! That’s not even factoring in summer holidays, when hair-removal peaks at an all-time high. Despite this, as two subject-matter experts kindly pointed out to me this week, I’ve been doing it wrong all these years—and you probably are too.
For years I’ve inflicted, noticed, and promptly disregarded small red dots on my legs after shaving—it’s happened so frequently that I honestly stopped paying attention. My shins are also decorated with ribbons of shiny white scars. These hark back to a period of adolescent one-upmanship when my older sister began shaving her legs, so I decided to start too, all the while refusing invaluable insights from my mother about how to actually perform the task properly—and safely.
Now, more than a decade later, I’m really still none-the-wiser when it comes to shaving. I never did listen to my mom! Through years of trial and error, I more or less learned how to remove hair without cutting my legs open, but my life continues to be plagued with ingrowns, irritation, and those annoying red dots.
This week, after coming to the realization that summer (also the season of bare legs) would probably spill well into October, I finally decided to sit down with some experts and find out how, exactly, I (and you) should be shaving. Imperial Barber Products co-founder and master barber Pedro Zermeno; and New York–based dermatologist (and founder of DDF Skincare) Dr. Howard Sobel gave me the lowdown, and what they had to say totally blew my mind. Knowledge is power, folks, and now I want to share it with you.
Keep scrolling to find out how to shave your legs without hating your life.
1. Change your razor more frequently.
How often do you really swap razor blades? Be honest, because I’m in no position to judge. Personally, I’d say once a month. A quick poll in a group chat with my friends suggests they’re refreshing with about the same frequency.
According to Zermeno, this timeframe is a massive no-no: ”When shaving, you should change your blade twice a week,” he said, shocking me. “Dull blades contribute to irritation and redness.” Only by updating this regularly can you hope to keep the razor sharp enough for a clean shave, particularly when it’s used on leg hair, which is thicker than many other parts of the body.
He also pointed out that the quality of your blade is important. (I should probably stop using the free razors at the gym then?!) “There are many different types of blades that work well with different types of hair, but in my experience, Japanese blades are the absolute best,” he recommended.
However, if you’re more of a $5 Gillette razor type of girl, don’t stress; locally made blades are just fine, as long as you toss them out after a few uses. So go forth and stock up on fresh blades; your drugstore will welcome your credit card with open arms.
2. Shave with the direction of hair growth.
Another common mistake women make is to just shave against the direction the hair’s growing in the hope of getting a smoother finish. Big mistake, according to Zermeno. “You always want to shave with the grain first to cut down the hair as close as possible so you don't have to go over the same spot again and again,” he instructed, noting that hair grows in different directions across varying parts of the body.
Then follow up by shaving side to side and finally against the grain to ensure you get the closest and cleanest shave possible. Zermeno also suggests stretching the skin so “the hairs pop out,” allowing you to get a closer shave.
If you’re more sensitive to ingrowns and redness, Dr. Sobel suggests you only “shave with the direction the hair is growing.” This way you will avoid razor burn and are far less likely to agitate the follicles. You might be a little hairy, but at least you won’t have ingrowns.
3. Shave in a warm shower.
Yes, I’m guilty of hurriedly shaving my legs while perched on the side of the bathtub before dashing out the door. However, this type of behavior is not ideal, Zermeno warns. A proper shave requires warm water and is best done at the end of a hot shower: “Allowing the warm water to open up the skin pores will help eliminate any ingrown hairs,” he explained.
Dr. Sobel also agreed, saying that waiting until the end of a hot shower allows time for the hair to be softened before shaving. Also, both pros want you to use a gel or preshave oil because it acts as a barrier between the blade and skin, helping to prevent cuts and irritation.
4. Give your hair a break!
This is one area I seem to be ahead of the pack, however both experts warn that overshaving is quite common, and can lead to unpleasant side effects like razor burn. Zermeno recommends leaving at least one day of growth, however you should leave your hair alone for several days if you’re experiencing frequent redness. “You don’t want to shave the skin every day because you need stubble so that the blade can grab the hair. Overshaving an area can also cause irritation,” he said.
Of course, if all of this sounds like far too much effort, there’s always a final option: Leave your hair to its own devices and pray for colder weather’s arrival.
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