Razor shaving comes with a package deal: razor bumps and ingrown hairs. Men get bumps and ingrown hairs on their face and neck, says esthetician Jeannie Bush, the American Electrology Association's Council on Education director. But "it seems that anywhere women shave, they are prone to razor bumps and ingrown hairs," she says. "One opinion is that using a multiple blade razor makes this worse by nicking the skin and causing "micro scars," making it hard for the next hairs to come through," Bush notes. Other causes of bumps and ingrown hairs have been attributed to single-blade shaving and disposable razors use, she says, making it difficult for consumers to get consistent information.
Wash. Use a hypoallergenic cleanser that's not too harsh. "The skin must always be clean," Bush cautions. "Micro cuts from shaving could introduce germs into the lower layers of the skin."
Exfoliate. Bush explains that a layer of dead cells on your skin may prevent new hair from growing back through the follicle shaft. She advises using a washcloth as a form of mechanical exfoliation when washing your face or body (the Mayo Clinic advises exfoliating twice daily, once right before you shave). Make sure to use a new, clean cloth every time you exfoliate, Bush adds.
Make sure that your razor is new and sharp. "This prevents drag on the skin, thereby reducing nicks and cuts and micro-scars," Bush says. Use your own razor, not someone else's. "Each person's skin flora is unique and safe for them, but transferring to another person is not safe," Bush explains.
Lubricate. Apply a mild, non-irritating emollient to the skin. Bush and skincare expert, Paula Begoun, author of "The Original Beauty Bible" and numerous books about cosmetics and skincare, recommend using hair conditioner. Mentholated shaving creams can be drying, Bush cautions. Moreover, women may not appreciate the "manly" scent.
Shave. The Mayo Clinic advises shaving in the direction of hair growth to avoid razor bumps and ingrown hairs; Paula Begoun, on the other hand, points out that to get the closest shave, you should shave against the direction of the hair. Whichever technique you choose, Bush states that you should not apply excessive pressure to the razor. Remember to rinse your razor frequently while shaving.
Calm and soothe. Apply a gentle lotion, Bush advises. Some consumer products contain stabilized aspirin (such as Tend Skin and Paula's Choice Skin Relief Treatment) which purportedly helps prevent bumps and ingrown hairs when applied to just-shaved skin. "Some of my clients feel this has helped, others say no," Bush reports. If you use these products, check the label to make sure you're not allergic to any of the ingredients.
Razor rash is one thing, but infected bumps and ingrown hairs–those that resemble tiny acne pustules–are more problematic. Apply nonprescription antibacterial creams or ointments to the bumps. Bush points out that it's considered acceptable for women to shave their underarms, legs and bikini lines; however, "It is embarrassing to admit to shaving our faces, breasts, and stomachs–yet there are more of us that have unwanted hair in these areas than not." If you're a woman who suffers from hirsutism, don't be afraid to talk to your doctor about your problem.
Exfoliate only before shaving, never right after, Begoun advises, as this can irritate your skin. Also, don't apply products that contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs); these acids are chemical exfoliants. See your doctor if you experience consistent folliculitis. Don't try to remove hair while your skin is still infected. Exfoliation is important to reduce ingrown hairs, Bush says; however, in her experience, "Men in particular do not exfoliate as suggested."