If you favour the clean look over facial hair, then shaving is probably the lengthiest part of your getting-ready routine. For something that takes so much effort to then ruin your look with splodgy red marks all over your money-maker seems as unfair as life can get.
Don’t panic, ditch the trimmer and go full-on Hagrid though. You can prevent ingrown hairs when shaving and the razor burn that goes with it – you just need to make a few adjustments in the way you prepare your skin, shave it and then look after it leading into your day.
What Are Ingrown Hairs?
You can get ingrown hairs anywhere on your body where hair sprouts from your skin, but especially those areas that you also shave regularly. An ingrown hair is caused by a hair follicle growing into the skin instead of up and out. It happens most often when you shave, which can irritate the skin.
“Ingrown hairs can occur by shaving against the direction the hair grows,” says Dr Aamer Khan, co-founder of the Harley Street Skin Clinic and author of Turn Back Time, “and with people prone to acne by the abnormal activity of the sebaceous glands associated with hair follicles.”
When shaving, the blade will slice the follicle at an uneven angle, leaving it with a sharper edge so that it can easily poke through your skin and grow back inwards, the irritation underneath your skin causing a red bump.
People with darker skin tones are also usually more prone to these ingrown hairs as their skin is thicker and the hair coarse and curly so it’s more inclined to curl back inwards anyway. Men with curly hair are 50 times more likely than those with straight hair to suffer from ingrown hairs.
Note that those little red bumps on your face (or elsewhere) could also be simple razor burn.
“Razor burn refers more generally to shaving irritation,” notes Dr. Kristina Vanoosthuyze, head of scientific comms at shaving brand Gillette, “describing the typical symptoms that can be felt after a bad shave from the skin feeling hot, itchy, burning or stinging to the skin looking red or having little nicks.
“Men usually suffer from razor burn when they aren’t using effective lubrication, such as a shaving foam or gel, or after using a blunt or poor quality blade.”
Ingrown Hair Treatment & Removal
If you stop shaving over the irritated skin, then the ingrown hair will often go away in a couple of weeks on its own. An over-the-counter steroid cream like hydrocortisone will reduce inflammation in the meantime, reducing the redness.
An overnight healing ointment or lotion, like Aquaphor, can also help to soothe the skin but make sure it’s non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog up your pores. If the bump isn’t fading you may have to see a healthcare professional to undergo alternative treatment or removal.
“One option is level light therapy which will reduce inflammation and bacteria, however sometimes antibiotics may be required and the manual extraction of hairs,” says Khan. “Laser hair removal may be helpful but prevention is always better than the cure, so regular exfoliating and shaving in the direction of the hair growth is advised. In extreme cases, growing a beard may be the only option.”
How To Prevent Ingrown Hairs
Try An Electric Shaver
If you’re required to be clean-shaven every day but want to give your skin a day off then wet shave one day, before using the electric shaver the next. An electric shaver will have a foil cover over the blades that keeps them from cutting close enough to irritate the skin, shielding you from nicks and in turn, helping to prevent ingrown hairs by slicing the hair off away from skin level.
Shave After You Shower
The electric shaver might help you prevent ingrown hairs but its less effective against five o’clock shadow. If you truly want that close shave you’re going to have to go wet – just make sure you do it properly. First things first, have a shower before you shave. “The hot water and steam can make your beard hair softer,” says Vanoosthuyze.
It will also help you apply less pressure on the razor handle when shaving which will cut down on irritation.
Wash Your Face
You’re probably used to saving your daily face wash till the end of your bathroom routine, but when it comes to preventing ingrown hairs it pays to start with a scrub.
“Washing your face with a gentle cleanser will not only soften the beard hairs and make them easier to cut,” says Vanoosthuyze, “but the rubbing action of your hand can also help release trapped or ingrown hairs.”
Use A Foam Or Gel
Just like a soldier never goes into battle without his armour, you need to give your skin a barrier to help protect yourself against that barrage of blades.
“Apply plenty of shave foam or gel,” says Vanoosthuyze. “This provides a protective layer and improves razor glide for a smoother, more comfortable shave.”
Ingrown hairs are particularly common around the neck area where the hair lies flat making it difficult for the blade to slice off the follicle cleanly. Consider a shaving cream whipped up into a lather on your face with a badger-hair brush for this conundrum, the circular motion helping to lift these hairs, before you slice them off.
Replace Your Blades
“Always use a sharp blade and replace it at the first signs of discomfort,” says Vanoosthuyze. “As blades get old and dull, they can start tugging at the hairs and increase the risk of irritation.”
As a general yardstick change yours every five to seven shaves.
Take It Down To One or Two Blades
Some argue that the race for more blades in recent years has caused increased irritation for those with sensitive skin. The reasoning is that once the follicle has been cut with the first blade, the latter blades are simply tugging at what is left of the follicle.
If you do have sensitive skin or recurring issues with razor bumps then consider a razor with only two or three blades. An old-school safety razor which will have just the single blade is also a good alternative, although they require some practice to start with and can nick your skin more easily.
If you’re worried about not getting a close enough shave, then simply use the two-blade razor around the neck where a sharp shave is less obvious and razor bumps are more prevalent.
Shave With The Growth
Shaving against the growth of your facial hair is the oldest mistake in the wet shaving book. Shaving against the grain will provide a closer shave as the blade tugs the hair out before slicing it off, but this uneven angle in the opposite direction will lead to ingrown hairs in those who are prone.
If you are getting razor bumps, grow your facial hair for a few days and assess the growth of your facial hair. The hair on the face tends to grow downwards while the hair on the neck can sometimes grow upwards. You might find that you’ve been shaving against the grain of your facial hair all along.
Blast With Cold Water After
After that hot shower has softened the hair and opened your pores, you’re going to want to shut them back down again. Blasting your face with cold water will close the pores up, preventing all the dirt and dead skin cells kicked up form your shave getting back into them and wreaking spotty havoc.
Moisturise, Moisturise, Moisturise
While a wet shave can help clear your skin of dead skin cells, there’s also a certain trauma that comes with dragging five super sharp blades across the gentle skin on your face.
Now dry and irritated, it needs some instant TLC in the form of a moisturiser or after-shave balm, which will also prevent the cells from overcompensating for the dryness by boosting sebum, which can result in all manner of rubbish getting stuck in your pores, and cause spots.
Some aftershave products will contain alcohol for its anti-bacterial properties, but the alcohol can irritate your skin and make the swelling around ingrown hairs worse. Instead, look for ingredients like tea-tree or aloe vera which contain similar anti-bacterial properties while also being anti-inflammatory.