There's nothing worse than your legs itching like crazy after shaving. As it turns out, it's a pretty common problem to have. "Shaving causes the hair follicles to become irritated, and after shaving, the hair follicles continue to grow under the skin, thus causing irritation, itchiness, or painful red bumps," says dermatologist Dr. Annie Gonzalez. "Shaving incorrectly, folliculitis, or razor burn can also cause the skin to itch after shaving."
Whether it's from dry skin, irritating skin products, or a dull razor, it's nothing a little extra time spent on your skincare routine can't fix.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Annie Gonzalez is a board-certified dermatologist practicing at Miami's Riverchase Dermatology.
- Dr. Jordan C. Carqueville, MD, is the medical director at The Derm Institute of Chicago.
Below, dermatologist provide a handful of tips for beating the itch, post-shave.
Choose Products That Moisturize
"Usually itchy skin from shaving is due to chemical or mechanical irritation, and occurs most often in those with more prominent follicles," says Dr. Jordan C. Carqueville, MD, the medical director at The Derm Institute of Chicago. "Those with a little extra skin that surrounds the entry point of the follicle will see buildup around the follicle, not over it. Shaving can be very irritating to those little skin 'mountains.' "
Carqueville says that, because this post-shave itch often affects those with sensitive skin, it should be treated accordingly. A high alcohol content in shaving gel or cream or aftershave may dry skin out, causing it to itch or feel tight. Fragrances and other ingredients may be irritating or cause an allergic reaction, ranging from mild to severe.
Choose products containing little to no alcohol if you can. Instead, look for moisturizing and soothing ingredients like aloe vera, natural oils, vitamin E, and glycerin.
If fragrance tends to irritate your skin, opt for fragrance-free products or those with essential oils or natural fragrance. However, we can be allergic or sensitive to any ingredient, man-made or natural. And what causes a reaction for one person may not for another.
Instead of using aftershave to soothe and refresh post-shave, try using cool water (it's gentler). Finish your shower by switching to cold water or splash some on at the sink.
If you prefer an aftershave, choose one with ingredients that fight bacteria to help prevent pimples and ingrown hairs.
Rinse, But Don't Rub
Remaining shaving cream or gel might cause redness, dryness, and itchiness post-shave. Be sure to rinse your skin thoroughly, making sure all traces of product are gone. After coming out of the shower or bath, pat skin dry with a towel instead of rubbing, which can cause further irritation.
Avoid Drying Products
Deodorants and deodorant soaps are strong bacteria fighters, but they can really strip skin of natural oils and zap moisture. Moisturizing deodorant soaps with natural and essential oils help prevent odor without stripping your skin. Deodorants with cream bases tend to be gentler and provide some ingredients to hydrate and replenish over watery roll-on and spray deodorants, where alcohol is often the first ingredient.
Similarly, fragrant products can also cause irritation. "Use fragrance free products after shaving on the legs if your skin gets irritated from fragrance," advises Gonzalez. "You should also look for products that do not contain alcohol, as a high amount of alcohol in products may cause the skin to itch or feel dry. Also, always moisturize after shaving. If you do not moisturize after shaving, the skin will be dry, which often leads to itching."
Never Skip Post-Shave Products
Shaving exfoliates skin, and we really need to moisturize and protect it afterward. Dry skin often leads to itching. Using a couple drops of pre-shaving oil under shaving cream or gel not only provides moisture power, but helps create another barrier on the skin, allowing the razor to glide instead of tug. Finish off with a moisturizing aftershave lotion, oil, or balm.
Well-hydrated skin will not only feel smoother, it will look it, too. Without moisturizing, skin can become dry and flaky, again, leading to itchiness.
Even between shaving, moisturizing can soften your skin. In areas with thicker hair, like the underarms or bikini zone, hair is more coarse and can poke you until the next shave. A daily dose of lotion or oil might help soften hair a bit, making it less prickly. Or, when you're in the shower, you can also use a little bit of conditioner to soften the hair. Just make sure to rinse it off.
Opt for Warm (Not Hot) Water
Hot water might feel good in the bath or shower, but it depletes skin moisture. Use warm water instead. Hot tubs, tanning beds, or a lot of direct sunlight can also cause itch and irritation to freshly-shaved skin. The high chlorine content in pools and hot tubs, along with the high temperatures, are not skin friendly. "Hot water while showering and shaving can reduce the skin’s moisture content, leading to dryness and irritation," says Gonzalez. "Shower with lukewarm water instead. You should avoid hot tubs and swimming pools after shaving, as chlorine can cause itchy, red skin."
Tanning, either by bed or beach, can cause nasty burns not to mention dry, itchy, flaky skin.
Try a Chemical Exfoliant
Exfoliating can help reduce the itch, as long as you plan ahead.
"At bed time, use a lotion or pads that contain a mild acidic component — lactic or salicylic acid — so that in the morning, if you shave it won’t sting as bad," says Carqueville. The acids, she explains, will reduce buildup around the pore so that when you shave, the irritation will be minimized.
Wear Loose Clothing Post-Shave
"Do not wear tight-fitting clothes, as the friction of your shaven skin rubbing against clothes can irritate the skin," says Gonzalez.
As Gonzalez explains, hair provides some protection from chafing and rubbing. When it's gone, skin is more susceptible to chafing from clothes that rub against your skin. The friction created from hairless thighs rubbing together when wearing a skirt sans hose (especially when it's hot or humid) can also cause discomfort.
And be sure to take note of whether the problem is getting worse, which Carqueville says could be indicative of a deeper problem. "Watch out for pustules or painful red bumps, as that can be a sign of bacterial infection," she says.
Soothe Your Skin
Aloe vera gel not only soothes skin, but it helps remove any stinging. Using gel directly from an aloe plant is the best way to go. If not, make sure the store-bought gel you use actually contains aloe vera and not just green coloring. We're partial to Sun Bum's Cool Down Hydrating After Sun Gel, $10.
Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skincare products) is made up of up to 99.5% water.
Another soothing ingredient? Hydrocortisone. Hydrocortisone cream is easy to pick up at the drugstore (see this version by Walgreens, $5) and works for most people quickly. It's hydrating, but it also contains medication to help stop any itching ASAP.
Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid, a medicine that reduces inflammation. It's a common anti-inflammatory treatment for skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, and is available both over-the-counter and as a prescription.
If your legs or bikini zone are in desperate need of some moisture, opt for a nice soak in an oatmeal bath, which is sure to provide relief. There's a reason why babies with diaper rash and people with chicken pox soak in oatmeal baths. Don't let the fancy name confuse you: It's just ground up oatmeal. You can buy colloidal oatmeal at the store—like Aveeno's Soothing Bath Treatment, $9—or you can make it at home (as long as you follow a recipe).
Colloidal oatmeal is ground oatmeal, which is then placed in a liquid medium for better application.
What causes itchy skin, post-shave?
Myriad things cause itchy skin, from hot water to drying (i.e. non-moisturizing) products. It can also be the result of something more serious, like keratosis pilaris.
What's the easiest way to combat itchy skin after I shave?
The best way is to avoid products that are too drying, and to moisturize your skin with a fragrance-free oil or lotion post-shave.
Might itchy skin be indicative of a deeper problem?
Itchy skin could be the sign of a drying product, but it could also be a sign of keratosis pilaris, which occurs when the skin produces excess keratin that blocks hair follicles
Zukiewicz-Sobczak WA, Adamczuk P, Wróblewska P, et al. Allergy to selected cosmetic ingredients. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013;30(5):307-310. doi:10.5114/pdia.2013.38360