Does shaving cause acne?

End razor burns to regain the delight of a fresh clean shave

Shaving off a hard week’s stubble is one of the moments that a man truly looks and feels clean. Running a hand over smooth, newly-shaved skin is a feeling that you never get tired of.

But sometimes, the pleasant, post-shave feeling doesn’t last long as razor burn pops up – red, itchy rashes as a result of irritation from shaving. However, you might not give it much thought and splash some cooling aftershave on. But, the next day, angry red bumps start appearing, marring your perfect skin. Puzzled, you might wonder to yourself, does shaving cause acne?

The answer is both yes and no. The red bumps can either be acne or razor bumps. However, the cause of these skin conditions are different and the first step to ridding those red bumps is to know exactly what they are. Here’s how to tell them apart.

Razor bumps vs Acne

It’s easy to mistake razor bumps for acne, but there are two things that differentiate razor bumps from acne.

First, inspect the color of the head. Acne is usually white or filled with yellowish pus. For razor bumps, the appearance differs depending on how the hair is trapped under the skin.

In extrafollicular penetration, hair gets cut at an angle, causing the tips to curl back and re-enter nearby skin. If the suspected pimple has hair poking out the surface, it’s probably this type of razor bumps.

The second kind is interfollicular penetration, commonly known as ingrown hair, where the hair is cut too deep in the follicle. Unable to grow out of the built up sebum, it grows to the side, piercing the follicle and causing inflammation. Diagnosing interfollicular penetration is harder as it’s less obvious without the appearance of hair and its similarity to acne.

Shows how the appearance razor bumps (extrafollicular penetration) and ingrown hair (transfollicular penetration) are influenced by the way they were formed (Image from: wiseshe.com)

Second, razor bumps cluster in areas where you shave, but acne can pop up anywhere on your face. Do you get ‘acne’ near the jawline after shaving off your stubble? That’s likely to be razor bumps instead.

It might be best to wait for a few days after the initial outbreak to determine its cause. Acne is fundamentally a skin condition set off by clogged pores as an effect of hygiene, diet, and hormonal issues that take time to resolve. If the red bumps disappear a few days after shaving, it’s definitely razor bumps or Pseudofolliculitis barbae (P. barbae).

How to prevent razor bumps?

With the certainty of having razor bumps, the next step is figuring out how to prevent them from recurring.

Growing out your beard or shaving less frequently is the easiest, but that isn’t an assurance against another episode upon your next shave. Furthermore, that would be impractical if your job requires you to sport a more clean-shaven look, such as food or health services.

The most practical razor bump prevention advice that works? Improving your shaving regimen.

Chances are higher of developing razor bumps if one, you have genetically thick, curly hair, two, dry shave, and three, use multi-blade cartridge razors.

By making changes to the way you shave and how you prep your skin, you’ll get a smooth, clean-shaven look once again without those pesky bumps:

Washing your face with warm water, not only cleans your beard and skin, but the hair also soaks up moisture, making it softer and easier to cut. Dry hair exacerbates the problem as it is harder to cut so repeated passes over an area is necessary. Taking a shower prior to shaving works best, but if you’re pressed for time, a warm damp towel placed over your face for a few minutes will do.

Use a shaving solution

Shaving solutions like shaving creams and shaving gels ensure a gentle and clean shave by acting as a barrier between the blade and the skin.

Choosing between the two depends on your preference, but sensitive, acne-prone skin will benefit more from the extra hydration of shaving gels. Shaving gels can also save you time because unlike shaving creams, they can be applied immediately without lathering up.

Just remember to generously apply and lightly massage the shaving solution in small circles up the jawline and neck where razor bumps usually appear.

Use a sharp single-blade razor

The fewer passes your razor makes over an area, the less chances there are for the tugging of the hair and irritation of the skin. That’s why using a sharp blade is preferable over multi-bladed cartridges. Those ubiquitous 3-blade razors tugs on hair more than a single sharp blade. The multi-blades also tend to cut too deeply into the hair follicle and lead to more ingrown hair.

Additionally, if your razors are dull, it’s time to throw them away. Dull blades require you to press more on the skin and risk getting more nicks and causing irritation.

Go with the grain

While going against the grain results in a cleaner, smoother shave, it also increases the chance of ingrown hair. Remember to not pull your skin taut when shaving to prevent further irritation.

Exfoliate

Exfoliation helps to gently free the ingrown hair trapped by sebum and dead skin cells. However, it is best to wait a while if your face feels irritated after shaving before exfoliating. Patches of razor bumps are tender, inflamed skin that needs gentle exfoliation.

Pro-tip: Use chemical exfoliators containing Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) or Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA).

Physical exfoliators like scrubs have large, abrasive grains that’s too harsh for sensitive skin. You wouldn’t rub sandpaper on your face now, would you?

Be careful though, the rule of thumb for exfoliation is doing it no more than thrice a week otherwise you run the risk of over-exfoliated skin and lead to more skin conditions.

How to get rid of razor bumps fast?

When razor bumps crop up in the most inconvenient of times – like days before a job interview or a wedding- you can try these razor bump hacks that work seemingly overnight.

Hydrocortisone cream

Spot-treatments with 1% hydrocortisone creams bring down redness and inflammation, but new acne formation is possible

Witch Hazel

Most men swear by witch hazel as their go-to razor bump treatment for its potent anti-inflammatory properties that alleviate the swelling.

Baking soda paste

Baking soda paste for razor bumps is a home remedy that has yet to be backed by science, but all anecdotal evidence says it works. Mix water with baking soda to create a thick paste and apply on affected areas. The widely-held belief is that it cools down inflamed skin and relieves itching.

Why does shaving cause acne?

If you’ve waited a few days and the red bumps aren’t going anywhere, chances are it’s definitely acne. But why does shaving cause acne? Sitting on the edge of your razor are scraped off skin residues like dead skin cells and sebum where bacteria thrives. When a dirty razor nicks skin or existing pimples, an outbreak of bacterial acne might occur as the blade transfers the bacteria to other parts of your face that it touches.

How to prevent acne caused by shaving?

The steps in preventing razor bumps are also helpful in targeting acne caused by shaving. However, some extra care needs to be taken if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin.

Use a Non-comedogenic shaving solution

Non-comedogenic shaving solutions are amazing at protecting sensitive skin without clogging pores but check the label for denatured alcohol before buying. Products with denatured alcohol tend to overly dehydrate the skin, causing an overproduction of sebum and more acne outbreaks.

Clean your blades

Wiping razors clean with alcohol wipes will remove stubborn microscopic shaving residue like bacteria. If you find rusty blades while cleaning, dispose of the razor immediately.

Moisturise

Here’s a secret about aftershave: the cooling sensation it brings is thanks to the alcohol it contains, and as we said above, alcohol and sensitive, acne-prone skin are a terrible match. Popular alternatives like coconut oil and mineral oil are also a no-go. These are actually pore-clogging, heavy moisturizers that will conjure a smattering of pimples.

A light, non-comedogenic cleanser that relieves skin’s natural moisture balance after cleansing and toning like Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Face Cream is suitable for sensitive skin. The infusion of rosehip oil and glycerin locks in moisture while the tea tree oil fights against bacteria and reduces inflammation.

Use a retinoid

Retinoids are recommended for acne treatment because they primarily remove dead skin cells from pores, allowing other treatments and creams to penetrate deeper.

However, retinoids can thin out the skin. It exposes the skin to a greater risk of hyperpigmentation so only apply them at night and wear sunscreen when going out. Diluting retinoids to a strength that your skin can handle is a precaution that minimizes its side effects. Mix water to retinoid cream and conduct a patch test – if skin peeling and sensitivity occurs, add more water and do not apply on a daily basis.

Conclusion

The skin is a delicate environment that blatantly reveals how kindly – or unkindly – we have been treating it. Razor bumps are a reminder to be more gentle with our skin, even when shaving. By using the right techniques and products that nourish it, we minimise our risk of irritation and our freshly shaven skin will look its very best.

 


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