How to Avoid Ingrown Hairs and Razor Burn, According to a Dermatologist

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By no means should you feel obligated to shave your body hair. It would be totally understandable if the inevitable razor burn, ingrown hairs, and shaving nicks weren’t worth it to you to have hair-free skin. Or if, at the end of the day, you simply prefer your body hair as it naturally is. But if a pain-free close shave is what you’re after, we want to help you get the best results out of your shaving experience—and it all starts with the prep.

Dry shavers, you might want to rethink your ways. According to Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, dry shaving causes micro-cuts in the skin, as well as folliculitis, ingrowns, irritation, and dryness. As tempting as it might be to quickly touch up a few spots sans water, shaving cream, and lotion, proper skincare both before and after you shave is crucial for maintaining healthy skin. "If you don't use a good product with emollients and occlusives to protect and moisturize the skin, you can end up with abrasions and irritation — this is razor burn," adds Dr. Hadley King.

Keep reading for five best tips to getting the best shave.

Meet the Expert

Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of NYC-based Entière Dermatology.


Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Soften the Hair With a Steamy Shower

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Taking a warm, steamy shower feels nice, but it also does wonders for softening your body hair and skin, which is necessary for a pain-free shave. "Prior to shaving, spend about ten minutes in warm water to help soften the outer layer of skin, making it easier to remove hair and decreasing the risk of razor burn," Hadley says. Levin suggests at the very least, wetting the hair in the area with warm water for a few minutes in order to reduce irritation and minimize the micro-cuts caused by shaving.

Exfoliate Before Shaving

If you’re wondering if you should exfoliate before or after shaving, the answer is before. After softening your hair and skin in the shower, the next step in your hair removal process should be to properly exfoliate the area. Dead skin cells can clog your hair follicles and trap your hair under the skin, which results in ingrowns. Removing dead skin first through a process of exfoliation will not only ensure the hair follicle is in the best condition for hair removal but will also help allow for normal growth post-shave.

So what should you use to exfoliate before shaving? Pass on the harsh scrubs this time. Since shaving can cause micro-cuts in the skin, physical exfoliators are much too abrasive to use in conjunction with shaving. Instead, opt for a gentler chemical exfoliator. Ingredients like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) work to exfoliate the skin by encouraging cellular turnover. BHAs are especially great because they’re lipid-loving acids, which means they love oil. Levin recommends Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash ($10), which contains the BHA salicylic acid.

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Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash $10
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Use the Right Shaving Cream

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Once you’ve opened your pores from the steamy shower and followed with a gentle exfoliation, Levin suggests applying shaving cream on the skin and allowing it to sit for a minute or two to further soften the hair before shaving. The combination of soft skin and hair will decrease friction between your skin and the razor and as a result, decrease irritation. It’s important to note that shaving cream is the way to go, so don’t settle for an average bar of soap because it won’t work quite the same way. Soaps are surfactants designed to remove dirt and debris but lack the nourishing, skin-softening properties of shaving cream.

Only Shave With a Sharp Blade

No need to grab the most expensive razor. Levin says as long as the blade is sharp, a disposable razor will work just as well. If your razor is dull, you’ll need more passes, and more passes mean a greater chance of irritation, razor burn, or ingrown hairs. A frequent tugging of the hair or shaving nicks are good indicators that it’s time to replace your blades.

The amount of uses you can get out of your razor before you need to toss it depends on how often you shave and how you store it after use. According to Levin, leaving your shaving razor in a wet, humid shower will quicken the dulling process, cause the blades to rust, and allow for bacteria to accumulate.

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To get the most out of your razor, thoroughly rinse out the blades after shaving, then store in a dry place.

More Shaving Tips

 King suggests waiting until the end of your shower or bath to shave, as the warmth from the water and steam helps to soften your skin and hair. When it comes to shaving technique, King says: "Shave in the direction of the hair growth. Use short light strokes. Don't increase the pressure as you go. Rinse with cool water and pat dry."

Finally, King recommends adding exfoliation into your routine, not just before you shave. "Regular exfoliation helps to prevent ingrown hairs," she says.

Finish With Moisturizer

So close to the end, but you’re not finished yet. Don’t ruin a nice, close shave by failing to follow up with a repairing moisturizer. When you shave, the film that protects the skin’s surface (the upper layer of the skin called the stratum corneum) may get disrupted, which can cause dryness, burning, redness, and irritation. That’s why Levin says it’s crucial to moisturize with a proper cream lotion, like CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($14), afterward.

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