You know by now that exfoliation is key to maintaining youthful, radiant skin on your face and body, but did you also know it’s a crucial step to preventing shaving irritation?
Before you shave, you need to exfoliate to remove the dead skin cells to give you a clean surface to shave. Certified holistic health coach Heather Vargas recommends a mix of sugar with jojoba or almond oil as a great exfoliation product. Bonus: this scrub can be used to exfoliate the underarm area before shaving to reduce bumps and irritation there as well.
Or, dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman explains that a simply gently rubbing the area with a warm washcloth may do the trick.
Soak in Warm Water
You want to shave at the end of your shower so that your skin has time to soak up the steam from the shower. Or, if you shaving outside of the shower or bath, try first covering the area to be shaved with warm washcloths, Dr. Jaliman recommends. She explains, “Warm water opens the pores around the hair follicles so they are more easily released when shaving.”
Now you’ll need a clean, sharp razor. Shaving with a dull blade is an invitation for irritation and bumps to come party on your skin. To ensure your razor is sharp, you could go for a disposable razor and ditch it after one or two shaves. You could also consider trying a man’s razor, which we personally find to work best (love the Gillette Mach3 Turbo—yeah it’s not normal looking for a woman, necessarily, but we find it stays sharp for a lot longer than women’s razors and gives a nice close shave!).
Soothing, Protective Shave Gel
Apply a shave gel to the area. Dr. Jaliman recommends Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel with natural colloidal oatmeal, particularly for shavers with sensitive skin prone to ingrown hairs. Dr. Jaliman explains that the product’s oatmeal formula “really seems to help the inflammation patients experience during shaving.” She explains, “Colloidal oatmeal has been used for centuries to sooth irritated, dry skin, rashes and even poison ivy. It has the ability to bind water to the skin and act as a barrier to outside elements. Also, the protein components in colloidal oatmeal can offer long-lasting moisture protection.” Apply a generous amount of shave gel to the skin before taking out your razor.
Or, Vargas likes using coconut oil as an alternative to store bought shave gel. She recommends applying a thin layer of coconut oil to the skin immediately before shaving for a moisturizing, protective layer. Note, though, that some people find that coconut oil may aggravate acne for people with acne-prone skin—so if that describes you, perhaps avoid the oil.
Shave in the Direction of Hair Growth
With your protective shave gel or coconut oil on your skin, and a fresh, sharp razor, Dr. Jaliman recommends that you shave moving slowly and stroking the blade in the direction of your hair growth (so if your hair grows downwards, start at the top and shave downwards). Note that if your hair is longer than about a quarter of an inch, you’ll want to first trim it down before shaving.
Though the hair down there is coarser, you may be tempted to press harder against the skin with the razor, but don’t. This will just cause more trouble and pulling on the sensitive area and may even lead to cuts and infection. Be careful and go slowly. It’s a task that can test your patience, but one you want to make sure you do right.
After You Shave: Prevent Red Bumps & Irritation
What you do after you shave also plays a big part in determining if you’ll experience irritation and red bumps.
After you’ve shaved, dry the area completely. Do not rub too hard with the towel as this can lead to rough, dry skin or irritation.
Once dry, to help prevent irritation, you can try applying baby powder, tea tree oil or coconut oil. Or, if you’re looking for solutions specifically designed to help prevent and combat red bumps, you can try physician Dr. Darria Gillespie’s recommendations: Tendskin or MiN New York Solution 2. Or, licensed esthetician Daniela Ferri loves FerroRosa FrictionFixTM. She recommends applying the powder to the shaved area each morning before getting dressed, before working out or before sitting for long periods that could put extra pressure on the delicate skin. This will reduce inflammation and irritation while absorbing moisture and oil, and preventing friction and pressure.
The Right Undies
Pressure and friction are common causes of irritation, which can prevent hair from growing back properly, and can lead to red bumps and ingrown hairs. One important way to minimize friction and irritation down there is by wearing the right underwear to protect your skin. “Prevention comes in the form of properly cushioning the skin,” Ferri explains. “This means—hate to be the barer of bad news, ladies—no thong when wearing denim, tweed, twill or any other type of textured material. It also means no lace and no mesh underwear. Ever.”
So save those perfect little lacy pair of underwear for when they won’t be on for long (wink wink) and just go with more basic, protective pairs for day-to-day wear. Ferri recommends smooth, non-textured cotton underwear that will cover the entire area to prevent rubbing against your clothes: “Many of my clients have enjoyed a great deal of relief from their ingrown problems just by changing completely to boy cut or boy short 100 percent cotton underwear.”
Note that if you’re currently dealing with a bout of irritation and ingrown hairs from your last shave, it’s best to wait until it clears to shave again. Shaving over an already inflamed area could lead to a serious skin infection and scarring. If your skin is warm to the touch and painful beyond what is normal for you, book an appointment with your doctor to as it could be the sign of a skin infection.
Keep it Up
We’re humans so once we achieve optimal results, we tend to slack off. When it comes to keeping the skin smooth and bump free in the bikini zone, you need to maintain your routine of exfoliating and treating the area with your choice of product. Try out a few of our expert recommendations and then settle on works best for you, just be sure to maintain the routine and you’ll be in tiptop shape come beach season—sarong free.