If you suffer from ingrowns or redness from shaving, then you know the pain shaving can cause you. This article will go over the causes of ingrown hairs, red bumps, & irritation from shaving and how to stop it.
So, what causes these awful issues? Improper shaving! Shaving should cut your hairs cleanly, at the skin level, with no muss & no fuss. Shaving shouldn’t pull your hairs out, scrape away 6 layers of skin, or allow the hairs to grow sideways afterwards. And the #1 culprit is that 3/4 bladed cartridge razor you’re using. #2 is the canned shave goo. The stuff in tubes isn’t too much better either.
Before going forward, a quick note on red bumps & ingrown hair: red bumps and ingrown hairs are the same thing. It’s just that a red bump is the potential start of a full blown painful ingrown hair.
What’s Happening to Cause it?
A number of possible causes are irritating your skin and causing those ingrowns.
This illustration illustrates the issue in a rudimentary way, but requires some explaining. All the illustrated issues are really caused by using a multi bladed cartridge razor. The tugging & pulling, pressure, & cutting beneath the skin are caused by the use of a multi bladed razor.
Why? Because of the multiple blades and the way it’s designed & works. The tugging & pulling actually causes the hairs to be cut beneath the skin. And this is by design! A multi blade razor cuts closely by first pulling up the hairs, and then cutting them. That’s what the multiple blades are for. The first blade(s) are there to pull up the hair so that the final blade can cut it. The result: hair that has been pulled & tugged and is now cut below the skin level.
When hairs are cut beneath the skin, they may or may not grow straight up. This problem is exacerbated if you have curly hairs or basically any hair that doesn’t grow completely straight. What happens is that the hair will grow sideways and into your skin. This leads to infection and a lot of pain. Your skin then grows over the follicle in an effort to combat what it perceives as a foreign body.
Excess pressure is not necessarily caused by a cartridge razor, but it exacerbates the problem. The cartridge razor is so fool proof and so dull that it begs you to push it into your face to get a close shave. The result: you push the razor blades too far into your face and scrape away several layers of skin. This causes the irritation & redness associated with razor burn.
What to Do
The first thing you absolutely need to do if you’re using anything but a double edge razor, is to switch to a double edge razor. Why? Because it is currently the only razor (that’s not a straight razor) that is purpose built to give you a great shave using only one blade at a time.
But what about those cheap single bladed Bic cartridges? Unfortunately, the description gives away the reason those won’t work. They’re cheap! They are the cheapest form of cartridge razor. And that means they have cut tons of corners to get the price down.
So why are DE blades any different? The truth is that DE blade technology is so old and past any patents that it can be mass manufactured extremely inexpensively. The other reason is that nothing at all has changed about the way they are manufactured these days. So, you’re still getting the same great quality blades that you did 100 years ago. The final reason is lack of an up sell. DE blade makers make only one type of blade: a double edge. They aren’t making a 4 blade Mach 4 to try to up sell you to. So, they have zero incentive to produce a lower quality blade (unless they’re a lower quality factory, but there’s plenty of great DE blade factories still in existence).
Once you’ve upgraded your razor, you’ll also want to upgrade your lubricant (shave cream/soap), use a pre shave oil, and aftershave balm.
How Using a Brush & Soap Will Help
Using a brush & soap or cream will help with irritation & ingrown hairs because of the superior lubrication & protection (cushioning). The stuff you get out of a can is not even real soap (it’s chemical detergent), contains drying alcohol & aerosolizers (propellant), and doesn’t even do that great of a job. I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s barely better than shaving with just water. There’s a reason it’s relatively cheap stuff; it’s just not that great. It works, but it’s the lowest bidder (except shave soap is still actually cheaper per shave).
Real shaving soap is real soap. It’s designed to protect your face and offer superior razor glide. It is made with super foods like coconut oil. It has moisturizing glycerin. And it’s been protecting men’s faces for hundreds of years because it works.
The only downside is that you have to use a brush with it. It just won’t work as well (if at all) without a brush. But that’s a small price to pay for a superior shave. Besides, you should get many years of use out of that brush anyway, so the cost per shave is extremely tiny.
Better Prep = A Better Shave & Less Irritation
There are two parts to shaving prep. Soaking your beard and using a pre-shave oil/lotion. Soaking is absolutely essential and no great shave happens without it. And while men who never experience irritation, redness, or ingrown hairs may never need to use a pre shave; it can offer another step of improvement for those who do suffer from said ailments.
Soaking the beard can be as simple as taking a shower before you shave; washing your face before hand; or wrapping a wet towel around your face. They all do the same thing. Make your hairs soak up that water.
This is important because a swollen hair is much, much easier to cut. It’s like a balloon. If there’s not much air in it, it’s pretty sturdy. But if it is over-filled, it is much easier to pop.
A pre shave will help by adding a protective barrier between your face and the razor. It also helps lock in moisture. This protective barrier will help you not use a lot of pressure, helps the razor glide over your skin, and generally acts as a protective layer between your skin, the shave soap, & the razor.
A final note: pre shave oil is basically lotion without the water. So it’s more concentrated and powerful.
The Post Shave Routine
While this may be the least important step, you damn well should do it anyway. Plus, if you’re going to do everything else, you might as well take this additional step. Besides, your face will thank you even if the previous steps solve the problem.
This part of the process consists of two parts: using a toner (aftershave tonic) to tone, tighten, & sanitize; and using a balm to moisturize & soothe.
The reasons for using an aftershave tonic like WSP’s are obvious. Alcohol is an astringent, and you don’t want bacteria growing in your follicles. Emmolients such as witch hazel & allantoin will help soothe the skin and beat back the redness. And the alcohol serves a second purpose: to tighten up your pores so that the hairs won’t have room to grow sideways, and to keep dirt & gunk out.
Using an aftershave balm will help heal, moisturize, & soothe the skin. By now you’re probably wondering why I’m harping about moisture so much. It’s because we’re 70% water and our skin is no different. It needs moisture. And asking it to suck it up from underneath the skin is not the best way to replenish that water. So, just freaking use it already. It’s good for your face. And it’ll help stop the redness.
If you already wet shave and incorporate everything above, but you are still suffering from irritation, here are some other things to make sure you are or aren’t doing.
Use as little pressure as possible. A DE blade or straight razor is pretty dang sharp. It does not require any pressure to cut your hairs at skin level.
Use a lower angle. Using the lowest angle that still works is going to irritate your skin less. This is because the higher an angle, the more the razor can dig into your skin. Shaving with a blade will exfoliate your face no matter what, but you don’t need to take off more skin than you want.
Shave every day. Shaving requires more effort the longer your stubble gets, so make it easier to go easy on your face by keeping your stubble as short as possible in between shaves.
Try different blades. The blade you choose has a noticeable impact on your shave. So, try different blades and see if one works even better for you. And don’t be stingy, DE blade are cheaper than gas. You can afford to swap them out every day. So, recycle those suckers as soon as you notice a decline in performance.