SOOTHE THE BURN

How to Soothe (and Prevent) Razor Burn When You Shave

Experts say the irritation, bumps, and redness are all avoidable.
Woman sitting on the floor with leg out in bedroom
Getty Images

With the coldest season of the year approaching, and many of us spending much more time at home than we did pre-COVID, it's possible that you might be, let's just say, shaving less often. And while we're all for keeping it natural, this can actually present a double-edged sword whenever you do decide to pick that razor back up: Skin that's become more sensitive to a blade and consequentially, a bit more prone to razor burn.

Though it's not necessarily a burn in the literal sense of the word, razor burn is really just an umbrella term for any type of irritation that ensues after using a razor, whether it's actual cuts and scrapes or little hive-like bumps.

"This [term] can encompass redness, irritation, bumps, skin scrapes, or folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles)," explains Jennifer MacGregor, a board-certified in New York City. Basically, she says, it describes any rash, irritation, or even infection that occurs after shaving."

It's not the same thing as an ingrown hair, though those pesky bumps are also often a byproduct of shaving improperly. Ultimately though, "Razor burn is due to friction of the razor against the skin," explains board-certified dermatologist Charlotte Birnbaum in New York City. (This happens when the hair follicles, which may already be bumpy or dry, become nicked by the passage of a razor blade.) Though specific symptoms vary, the most classic type of razor burn is red, irritated skin that itches and — you guessed it — burns.

To help make it a smoother experience — pun intended — we tapped into the know-how of three skin experts. Below, you'll find dermatologists' top tips for soothing the sting of razor burn, as well as how to prevent it in the first place.

Reexamine your shaving technique

First things first: prevention. The good news is that there are plenty of dermatologist-backed tips to incorporate into your shaving routine that can help prevent razor burn from developing.

Some important things not to do: shaving on dry skin, using a dull razor, or shaving against the grain. Instead, apply a shaving gel or cream onto wet skin (or, if you're out, a moisturizing body wash) and use a clean, sharp blade to shave in gentle strokes that follow the direction of hair growth.

Advertisement

Additionally, you should try to rinse your blade after each swipe and replace your razor head regularly. "I recommend switching out razor blades when they start to become dull," Birnbaum says. This can happen around seven to 10 uses, depending on how much area of skin you are shaving. If you have sensitive skin or are generally more prone to razor burn, switch them out even more frequently.

Apply a skin barrier-repairing moisturizer

Immediately after toweling off, applying a hefty amount of body lotion or cream onto the area that you just shaved can also help prevent and soothe razor burn. Board-certified New York City-based dermatologist Heidi Waldorf recommends using an unscented moisturizer that contains humectant, occlusive, and emollient ingredients. In non-dermatologist speak, that means using a moisturizer that will absorb into the skin, rather than just sit right on top (such as body oil or an oil-based moisturizer).

Humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid "are used in moisturizers to attract and bind water from the deeper layers of skin and the environment," Birnbaum explains. While occlusive ingredients (such as squalene and ceramides) help prevent water loss on the skin barrier, and emollient ingredients (such as cocoa butter) work to help fill in the gaps between skin cells.

Basically, "moisturizers help maintain our skin barrier through different mechanisms," Birnbaum says, which is why "an ideal moisturizer includes a combination of these ingredients." A couple of dermatologist-favorite moisturizers that are formulated with this humectant, occlusive, and emollient trifecta include Eau Thermale Avène Trixera Nutrition Nutri-fluid Balm, CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, Eucerin Advanced Repair Cream, and Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair.

Use these skin-soothing ingredients

Two over-the-counter, skin-soothing topical ingredients that dermatologists recommend most for razor burn are aloe vera and colloidal oatmeal. The former, though more often touted for its after-sun skin-care benefits, can also help soothe the sting of a razor. "Aloe vera can calm the inflammation associated with razor burn and improve redness and irritation," Birnbaum explains.

For serious cases of either type of burn, try aloe in 100 percent, cold-pressed gel form. Another option is to seek it out in body lotions such as in Mario Badescu's Aloe Lotion, Avalon Organics' Aloe Unscented Hand and Body Lotion, or Vaseline's Aloe Soothe Body Lotion.

Advertisement

"Colloidal oatmeal is anti-inflammatory and soothing," Waldorf says, which is why it's also often found in products labeled for eczema. Even if you don't have eczema, using a moisturizer formulated with colloidal oatmeal can help calm the redness and irritation associated with razor burn. Look for the ingredient in body moisturizers such as La Roche-Posay Lipikar Soothing Relief Cream, Aveeno Eczema Therapy Moisturizing Cream, and The Honest Company's Eczema Soothing Therapy Balm.

Try hydrocortisone

"Over-the-counter, 1 percent hydrocortisone cream cuts down the inflammation [associated with razor burn] and can even reduce its developing if you apply it immediately after shaving," Waldorf says. Doing so is a prudent preventative measure if you have sensitive or dry skin, are extra prone to razor burn, or you feel as though you've simply shaved with too rough a hand.

You should be able to find hydrocortisone cream at your local pharmacy or drugstore — it's often marketed as an anti-itch cream. Try Aveeno 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream, Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream, or any drugstore-made brand (CVS, Walgreens, and many other stores sell their own versions).

Keep your skin cool

This applies before, during, and after shaving. Contrary to popular belief, warming up your skin (such as soaking in a hot bath) pre-shave actually doesn't do you any good. "Long, hot showers actually swell the follicle and make it harder to get a close shave without irritating the skin," MacGregor explains. This is why many shaving creams are formulated with cooling ingredients such as the aforementioned aloe.

After shaving, if you feel your skin starting to become irritated, another soothing option is the old-fashioned cold compress (or a cool, wet washcloth). Simply run any of these cooling options along the areas of irritation to help instantly tame inflammation.

Exfoliate in-between haves

Back to the bumpy follicles. One of the best ways to keep them at bay, and thus ensure that your next shave is smooth sailing, is by exfoliating.

"Between shaves, exfoliate regularly with a glycolic or salicylic wash that is gentle and moisturizing," MacGregor recommends. Some of our favorites include CeraVe's SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin, Neutrogena's Body Clear Body Wash, and Pixi's Glycolic Body Wash.

All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.


More expert skin-care advice:


Now check out 100 years of sun care:

Follow Allure on Instagram and Twitter, or subscribe to our newsletter for daily beauty stories delivered right to your inbox.