Let’s face it - your skin is your largest organ. A living, breathing, vital entity. It covers your entire body after all. So, shouldn’t you do everything possible to protect and nourish it?
Especially your face - perhaps the most visible patch of skin you own (and your scalp if you sport the bald look).
If you’re like me, you’ve suffered from an itching, burning, bloody, irritated, red face after shaving. Or, you’ve discovered unsightly raised skin in these areas.
How attractive is that?
More importantly, the condition can have long-lasting effects, especially if it gets infected.
Welcome to the world of razor burns and bumps.
Have no fear - solutions are here!
Together we will discover how to identify the difference between the two conditions, and what to do to avoid and treat them.
Going forward you will be equipped with a new dopkit of tools and techniques. You will be ready to head-off these unseemly, unsightly, uncomfortable ailments.
Get ready to deal!
First, let’s clear the air before we clear the skin.
You might think razor burn and razor bumps are the same, but they really aren’t.
Razor burn a.k.a. razor rash is most commonly just that: a rash over the face and neck.
There are many causes of razor burn, including these shaving mistakes:
- Against or Across the grain (the direction your hair grows) pulls the hair and causes instant irritation.
- Dry shaving without any kind of lather, not even cheap soap.
- Repeated strokes on the same patch of skin after the lather has been scraped away.
- Cold water lets you feel every scrape, pull and tug. Ouch!
- Pressing aggressively on your oh-so-sensitive skin.
- Speeding through the shave and not paying attention to skin damage.
- Dull blades way past their “change by” or “sharpen-by” date can cause nasty problems.
- Stacked blades in the cartridge may actually peel off a layer of skin.
- Dirty, clogged and rusty blades are breeding grounds for bacteria and lead to accidents.
You can always opt out of shaving altogether, grow out your beard and retreat to your man cave. But, is that really an option? Probably not.
All it takes are a few steps to avoid or deal with razor burn:
Figure out which direction your hair grows in and shave with the grain. Two of the easiest ways to do this are:
- Gently stroke your face with your fingers. If the movement is smooth, that means you are going with the grain. If your hair spikes up, you are going against the grain.
- Run a cotton ball or swab up and down your face. You’ll know you’re going against the grain when the cotton gets stuck on your hair.
Do this wherever facial hair grows as the direction might change in different areas.
Prepare to Shave
- Soften your beard with a hot compress and a pre-shave ointment.
- Always use a high-quality shaving cream, soap or gel. Pay close attention to the effect the lather has on your skin, and change it if needed.
- Once the lather is gone, it’s gone. Apply more as needed until you have the shave you want.
- Sure, you can get the job done with cold water, but you will feel every scrape along the way. And suffer the consequences. Use plenty of hot water to prepare your beard and to refresh the blade between strokes.
- Shave in a humid environment, perhaps in the shower or at the sink immediately after showering and prepping your stubble.
- Wash excess lather off with cold water to cool your skin and to close your pores. Apply an after shave balm or moisturizer immediately after. Finish up with some sunblock for extra protection.
- Shave with the grain (the direction your hair grows in) and apply light pressure. Baby your skin for a baby soft finish.
- Take proper time for your grooming routine. Rushing through a shave can lead not only to a rash, but also to nasty cuts (which will only make you later). Slow, even, strokes are the way to go.
- Would you peel an apple with a butter knife? Probably not. Then why would you try to shave with one? Change or sharpen blades often and avoid the nastiness.
- Test out as many as you can until you find the one for you. Personally, I shave with a quadruple stacked disposable blade and have had great results. But, this system isn’t for everyone. There are many types of razors out there, including electric razors.
- Clean the blade often under hot water while shaving and dry it completely when done.
- Don’t leave the blade in your steamy shower or on the bathroom counter where mold loves to grow and moisture can creep in. Be sure to wipe it with alcohol before storing it in a clean, dry place. Your skin will thank you.
Infolliculitis barbae (say what?), more commonly known as razor bump, mostly affects men with curly or kinky hair. So, it should come as no surprise that (according to some studies) more than 50% of Afro descendant men are prone to the condition.
Razor bumps are basically ingrown hairs which form when curly hair pushes back into the skin to regrow after being cut. Kind of like a corkscrew or springing effect.
It can be painful and unsightly - especially if the bumps fill up with pus, similar to acne. But, don’t worry. You can take charge and get it all under control.
In addition to following the tips in the Razor Burn section above, you need to take extra steps to fight back against those pesky bumps:
To prevent bumps from forming to begin with, apply razor bump cream or liquid (test first on a small area and watch for any reaction).
Exfoliate at least twice a week to unblock your pores, remove dead skin and allow the hair to come to the surface. Use a loofah and exfoliating scrub for the best results.
Safety, Single or Double Edge razors have been shown to be most effective for gents who are prone to bumping. Get to know them well and decide which works best for you.
After shaving, apply witch hazel to your face and neck. Keep it in the refrigerator and apply with a cotton ball, or better yet, put it in a spray bottle and spritz your face. It will cool your skin and close the pores, and liven you up.
If you have a breakout of bumps, don’t shave until they are completely healed. You don’t want to risk an infection do you?
Consider using a brush to apply your shaving lather. The choices of hair on the brush include badger, horse and synthetic. Each one has a different stiffness and effectiveness.
Brushes distribute the lather evenly, builds it into your beard while exfoliating and lifting your facial hair. This allows you to get a closer shave, and decrease the chances of irritation.
A brush is also a key part of a wet shaving kit. Something you might want to consider switching to if commercial creams and disposable razor cartridges are giving you trouble.
If you get confused, consult a barber or shaving expert for advice.
Yes, it can be a bit of an upfront investment, but the long-term benefits will be worth it.
There are many solutions to cooling your burning and bumping skin. Some are chemical based (or enhanced) and others are purely natural. Here are a few options:
- (de)Compress: Applying a cold compress or bag of ice (or even a bag of frozen veggies) to the inflamed area will have an immediate calming effect, and reduce the irritation.
- Coconut Oil is actually my go-to solution for different skin problems. It contains delicious anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties which work extremely well. Slather a layer of expeller-pressed coconut oil on your itchy, dry and bumpy skin for immediate relief.
- Aloe Vera has long been used to soothe skin irritation. Ideally, you can get a branch of aloe, cut it open and apply the cool gel directly to your skin (it is sticky and goopy). If that’s not possible, look for packaged aloe or a product where aloe is one of the main ingredients. Be sure to read all of the ingredients and avoid anything with alcohol or other drying / irritating properties.
- Aspirin doesn’t only alleviate headaches and regulate blood pressure, its anti-inflammatory properties can also help with swollen and painful skin. Either crush an aspirin tablet, or get a powdered aspirin and make a paste with a bit of water. Apply directly to the irritated area. Wash it off with cold water after the paste has set for a while.
- Oatmeal is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Mix up a batch of oatmeal with a bit of honey and plain Greek yogurt for a soothing skin balm.
- Honey is one of the most ancient antiseptic, antiviral and anti-inflammatory substances known to man. So, sticking a dot of honey on your bumps can only have a beneficial effect.
- Baking soda is great for baking and getting smells out of your fridge. It is also a great antiseptic. Make a paste of baking soda and water, then blot it on with a cotton ball. Let dry and rinse thoroughly.
There you have it, a few basics to get you on the road to recovery.
While you can follow these steps to heal and prevent razor burn and bumps, it is always a good idea to test them out on a small area of skin first. And consult a dermatologist, especially if the condition persists.
Happy shaving - and happy healing!