What is razor burn? It's microscopic skin damage, says Dr. Jeff Benabio, a San Diego dermatologist. "Razor burns are tears to the skin done by the blade from improper shaving, or dry irritated skin that becomes even more irritated after shaving." Dull blades are the most common culprit. Razor heads that are past their prime pull on the skin rather than cutting it, leaving tiny tears in the skin that create inflamed, painful bumps.
Razor burn is most likely to happen when you're rushing to get ready and you're more prone to skip steps. Even if you're just touching up a small patch of skin, be sure to moisturize, use a fresh blade, and shave in the appropriate direction. Here are ways to prevent razor burn.
Take a few days off
Giving it two or three days after experiencing the rashlike symptoms ensures that you won't irritate the skin further. "It can be a vicious cycle," Dr. Benabio says. "Take a couple days off to give your skin an opportunity to heal."
Moisturize in the shower
"Be sure that the products you're using in the shower to wash are moisturizing. That's the easiest thing," Dr. Benabio says. Use body washes and creams that add moisture to your skin rather than products that leave you feeling dry.
Leave on products
Dr. Benabio suggests using Vaseline to protect razor-burned skin and prevent further chaffing. In extreme cases, you may need a medication, like hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation. Although you may be drawn to cooling products like aloe vera, avoid gel-based treatments: They will only further dry out and irritate your skin.
Use a fresh razor
Change your blade often. "Five to seven shaves are enough to dull that blade to where it's no longer cutting the hair, but it's pulling the hair. You can actually feel it drag across your skin," Dr. Benabio says. "That causes a lot of damage to the skin, microscopically, and a lot of irritation afterwards."
Use shaving cream
"There's a big difference between just using your shampoo or soap and shaving cream that's designed to soften the hair and protect the skin," Dr. Benabio says. That means stop doing double duty with your conditioner and pick up a product designed specifically for shaving. We all like taking shortcuts, but it shouldn't come at the expense of your skin. Shaving cream is designed to make the hair easier to cut and provides the protection your skin needs to prevent razor burn.
Shave the best for last
Dr. Benabio suggests waiting until the end of your shower or bath to start the hair-removal process. This gives your body time to warm up, and your skin and hair will be softer and easier to shave, minimizing your chances of razor burn.
Know what you're dealing with
There's a difference between razor burn and razor bumps. Razor bumps are actually ingrown hairs and rarely happen on the leg—you're much more likely to notice razor bumps in areas where the hair is thicker, like the bikini line and underarm. "Ingrown hairs are not quite the same thing that you would describe as razor burn, but they certainly can cause a lot of inflammation and irritation," Dr. Benabio says.
Be mindful of the area you're shaving
Legs are the one area where it's safe to go against the direction of hair growth for the closest shave possible. To avoid razor burn and ingrown hairs in the pubic and underarm areas, take extra care to moisturize, exfoliate, and shave very carefully. "Be sure that you're shaving in the direction of the hairs so that you're not trapping hairs underneath the skin. When you shave too closely, you end up with razor bumps," Dr. Benabio says. "So take extra time in those areas where you're kind of going around corners and where the hair is a bit thicker."
Dr. Benabio is a San Fransisco-based dermatologist and the Dove Men+Care Expert. For more skin tips, follow him on Twitter @Dermdoc