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Shaving 101 – How To Get Rid Of Razor Burn?

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OK, you got some razor burn.  Here’s how to treat razor burn and some advice on how to avoid razor burn in the future.

What Is Razor Burn?  What Does Razor Burn Look Like?

Razor burn is a temporary skin irritation caused by shaving (or perhaps more accurately, over-shaving.  More on that in a moment).  The most common “symptoms” of razor burn are red, chafed skin (resembling a slight rash) with a burning or stinging feeling on the skin’s surface.

Razor Burn Vs. Razor Bumps

Razor burn is often confused with razor bumps but they are really two different things (though you could have them both at the same time).  Razor bumps are essentially ingrown hairs.  The main symptom differentiators include bumps or swelling, tenderness and itchiness (vs. razor burn’s rash-like appearance with burning or stinging).

Razor bumps require different treatments than razor burn.  See this article for a lot more information: 6 Ways To Treat Razor Bumps After You Already Have Them.

What Causes Razor Burn?

Razor burn is usually caused by some form of over-shaving.  That could be defined as shaving too aggressively given the conditions of the shave environment.  Here are some common ones:

Not Enough Preparation

Preparation is sometimes overlooked in shaving and can be a cause of razor burn. The skin in area to be shaved is properly cleaned and hydrated, and the stubble softened. A “body bar” or deodorant soap will strip away too much of the natural skin oils needed for lubrication.

Inadequate Lather Or Lubrication

A lather that is too thin or with too much air inside is another cause of razor burn (particularly if you’re using a product from a pressurized can): tiny pockets of air can dry the skin.

Too Many Blades

The blade itself can be a cause of irritation. Remember, if you’re shaving with a cartridge with, say, four blades you are essentially shaving the same spot four times.  More blades does not necessarily make a better shave.

Dull Blade (Or Cartridge)

Trying to squeeze one more day out of a blade or cartridge is a sure way to get razor burn.

Blade(s) Shaving At Too Steep Of An Angle

The angle the blade is set to in a cartridge razor can definitely have an effect on razor burn. One particular four-blade cartridge razor made a few years ago was notorious for causing razor burn because the blades were set at too steep of an angle for many people. So…try using a different cartridge system. Or avoid the “razor blade wars” altogether by going old school with a single single or double edge safety razor. You will have to maintain the blade angle yourself instead of having the pivot and cartridge do it for you (though there are exceptions to that!) and if you “ride the guard” you could set the angle too steeply but the learning curve is not difficult. 

Not Understanding The Direction Stubble Grows In

Even if you have properly prepared the face and have a good razor, you need to understand how your stubble grows. If you lightly run your fingers across the stubble from different directions you will notice some directions feel rougher and some directions feel smoother. The smoothest direction is the “grain” of the stubble. The direction may change in different areas, too.  Shaving across or against the grain with “long” (multi-day) stubble will create problems like razor burn.

Repeating Shave Strokes

Shaving the same exact spot over and over (without lubrication after the first stroke) is an open invitation to razor burn.

Skin Reaction From Shaving Product (Gel, Cream, Soap, Foam)

Razor burn might not be caused by the razor at all but some ingredient in your shaving “software” (gel, cream, foam, etc.) reacting with your skin.

Extended Use Of An Electric Shaver

If you’re shaving with an electric razor for an extended session the razor’s motor will tend to heat up, which can in-turn lead to razor burn.

Low Long Does Razor Burn Last?

Untreated, razor burn can usually persist for several days (even a week or so, depending on severity).  But there are a number of ways to treat razor burn that can significantly lessen the severity and persistence.  Nothing will fix it instantly but you can keep the visual signs to a minimum.  Here are some common (and a couple not-so-common) razor burn treatments:

How To Get Rid Of Razor Burn?

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1. Leave It Alone

By avoid shaving or touching the area it gives the area time to heal and can reduce the risk of further irritation (or infection).

2. Cold Pack

A cool, wet compress on the affected area can help to reduce itching and inflammation.

A cold compress can be as simple as a clean washcloth wrapped around a few ice cubes or even run under a stream of cold water. (wring off the excess water).  Apply to the skin for up to 20 minutes. Repeat as often as needed.

3. Astringents (Except Alcohol!)

Astringents help reduce the inflammation and redness associated with razor burn.  Some examples include apple cider vinegar, brewed/steeped black tea (chilled), or tea tree oil (a few drops mixed with water).

Witch Hazel is a common astringent but care must be taken to use a low-or-no-alcohol version (look for a Witch Hazel toner such as Thayer’s or Dickenson’s).  High concentrations of alcohol will tend to dry out the skin (more than it already is from the razor burn).

All these products can be applied directly to the face or added to a cold compress.

4. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera gel, taken from the aloe vera plant, is often used for burns, cuts, and scrapes. In addition, some research indicates that certain enzymes in the aloe vera plant reduce inflammation when applied to the skin.

You can squeeze the gel directly from the plant onto the affected area, or use a commercially available aloe vera product for sensitive or damaged skin.

5. Oils

Several natural oils can be used to soften and hydrate the skin, which can reduce the sensations of itching, tenderness, and burning.  Some of the most popular oils include: avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and sweet almond oil.

6. Baking Soda

Baking soda can be used to treat razor burn: mix one tablespoon of baking soda with one cup of water and apply to the skin using a cotton pad. Once the mixture dries, rinse it off. Repeat up to twice a day.

7. Over-The-Counter Balms and Lotions

Aftershave lotions (for both men and women) can provide relief, while baby products such as diaper rash creams or baby oil are gentle and soothing for razor burn.

Products containing 1% hydrocortisone can reduce swelling and redness. Salicylic acid, a product typically used to treat acne, may also be beneficial for those with razor burn.

8. Aspirin

Aspirin applied topically to skin can calm the painful sensation that comes with razor burn.  Make a paste from crushed-up aspirin by adding a bit of water or Witch Hazel.  Apply to the area, wait 10 minutes, then rinse off.

9. Oatmeal

A colloidal oatmeal bath can be especially helpful for razor burn on the pubic area or legs.  According to some research it possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may explain its effectiveness as a remedy for razor burn.

Adding colloidal oatmeal, or an oatmeal-based bath product, to a tub of lukewarm water may provide some symptom relief.

How To Prevent Razor Burn?

lather

Once you’ve experienced a bad case of razor burn the natural reaction is “how do I avoid getting razor burn again?”  Here are some good strategies:

  • Prepare the area to be shaved with lots of warm water and a cleanser that is specifically made for the face (even if you’re not shaving the face).  Doctors say this process can take up to three minutes (but often takes less for most people).
  • Use a shave lubrication product from a squeeze tube or, better yet, a lathering cream or soap applied with a shaving brush.
  • If you’re using a multi-blade cartridge use as few blades as necessary to get the job done.
  • Shave efficiently, avoiding repeat strokes.
  • Change the blade/cartridge when the shave starts to degrade.
  • If you’re using a razor without a pivoting head, be mindful of the angle of the blade edge against the skin.
  • First shave in the same direction as the grain. If you want to get a closer shave re-lather and shave across the grain (90 degrees away). Shaving against the grain is a common cause of razor burn.
  • If you’re using an electric razor try to shave before the razor’s motor heats up too much.  Using a “wet/dry” electric razor with shaving cream can really help here.

Conclusion

Razor burn can be painful and unsightly but can be managed and even avoided with the right products and techniques.

What products and strategies do you use to address razor burn?  Leave a comment below so all may benefit!

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Author

Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

4 thoughts on “Shaving 101 – How To Get Rid Of Razor Burn?”

  1. Triple antibiotic ointment helps with both cuts and taking away the redness from razor burn, in a soothing fashion.

    Try it.

  2. Brian Fiori (AKA The Dean)

    I used to get some razor burn (and a lot of razor bumps) years ago. It got so bad I grew a full beard for 20+ years. I no longer have that issue, thankfully. I found using good products (including a pre shave oil) and shaving technique really helped for me.

    I think the tips in this article are generally very good. You have to find what works for YOU, and this article gives several methods and options and doesn’t simply focus on one “this is what YOU need to do” method.

    I will point out one product I use religiously that contains Oatmeal: Aveeno face moisturizer. I use it after shaving as a combo aftershave balm and face moisturizer.

  3. Just sharing as someone who works in the medical field , razor burn is an inflammation of the hair follicles or folliculitis. OTC steroid cream will calm the inflammatory response. This is a short term solution not for prolonged use. I personally have had great success with this.

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