Does Shaving Cause Acne? Here Are The Surprising Results

Last Updated: October 5, 2018 | This Article May Contain Affiliate Links

Does this sound familiar?

You splash a bit of warm water to ‘open’ your pores, then apply a ‘sensitive’ skin shave cream that is apparently ‘non-comedogenic’ (doesn’t clog pores) and begin making the passes with the grain with your trusty cartridge razor?

Yeah?

News flash:

You aren’t alone.

In fact millions of men around the world rely on this same process…

But here’s the kicker:

A day or two after they follow this EXACT process, they quickly find razor bumps starting to appear on their neck, and an uptick of acne is discovered on their cheeks.

Get this guys:

There are A LOT of things wrong with the above process.

And if you are wondering why the hell your acne seems to be getting worse with each shave, then you will want to pay close attention.

Below you will learn the essential steps you MUST be doing to achieve the perfect AND comfortable shave.

Now, I’ll be honest…

…this isn’t going to completely get rid of acne.

It would be completely foolish to state this.

The reason being, is that acne has SO MUCH more to do than just simply your morning shave.

But what I can promise is this:

Your shave will no longer be the problem when it comes to an uptick in acne production.

So, let’s break down your morning shave and steps you can use in order to drastically reduce the occurrence of acne.

Let’s get started, shall we?

dead skin cells on face

Your Face Is A Wasteland Of Dead Cells

So, to understand why shaving may cause acne, we first need to take a look at your face (no, please don’t send me selfies).

If you remember your 8th grade science class, you might recall that your skin is the largest organ on your body (please refrain from dick jokes).

This living organ is CONSTANTLY turning over new skin on a daily basis.

In fact, it’s estimated that your skin will regenerate itself every 27 days (source).

That’s crazy!!

Think about it, the skin on your cheeks won’t be there in a month’s time.

So why should you care about this?

Well, when you are grappling with acne on a regular basis, skin care means everything.

Seriously.

Ok, let’s step back for a minute.

When you shave…what are you doing?

Scraping a cold hard piece of steel across your face, right?

…and when you use a cartridge razor, how many pieces of steel are there now?

5, 6, 7…yes, there is a 7 blade cartridge razor

Needless to say, there are a lot of blades scraping the surface of your skin…

…and you probably don’t clear all the whiskers in only one pass!

Anyhow, back to your skin:

So, as your skin regenerates, there is naturally going to be a lot of old and dead skin cells constantly sitting on the surface.

While we would like to think that these skin cells will just simply drop off…they won’t.

In fact just the opposite happens:

When you drag your razor blade across your skin, these old dead skin particles may make their way back into your pores and mix with bacteria!

When dead skin cells and bacteria meet, bad things happen:

Clogged pores.

Acne.

It’s a mess!

So, let’s run back to our opening scenario.

Remember I was mentioning splashing warm water on your face before shaving…

…yeah, that’s not gonna cut it.

Even just a quick shower isn’t going to suffice as well.

Especially if you have severe acne!

Instead, you need to do this:

Cleanse.

Every. Single. Time.

Seriously, if you aren’t cleansing twice daily, you need to.

Cleansing doesn’t dry out your skin (well a cheap one maybe will do that).

Instead, cleansing should compliment your skin and have key ingredients to help to rehydrate and moisturize it.

But most importantly, cleansing will help to gently detach those loose skin particles from your skin, making for a much better surface for the razor blade to work with.

Lastly, when it comes to proper order, we would recommend the following prep before shaving:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Shower
  3. Shave

A quick note on exfoliation:

While we can’t stress enough the effectiveness of using a facial cleanser for men before you shave, it’s worth noting that you should also exfoliate a few times a week.

Exfoliators come in two varieties (physical and chemical), we like to recommend chemical based exfoliators.

Why?

They do a much more effective job at clearing out your pores and removing dead skin cells in a non-abrasive manner.

If you aren’t sure on the different types of chemical exfoliators, check out our in-depth guide comparing AHA vs. BHA (hint: BHA is what you would want if you have naturally oily skin).

shave cream for acne

Still Using The Same Brand Of Shave Cream That You Learned To Shave With?

Look:

I get it.

You go to the grocery store on the weekends and throw the same canned gel shave cream into the cart without thinking twice.

Sure the gel ‘looks’ cool, and is geared for men with sensitive skin…

But, I have a little secret for you:

…ready for this?

There are likely better ones out there for your acne-prone skin.

I know, I know…we are creatures of habit.

We all do it!

I fall into this trap way more than I would care to admit – so I definitely don’t want to sound too preachy on this!

But seriously, next time you are on Amazon or another fine retailer like Huckberry, check out their men’s grooming section.

You will be blown away by all the options that exist out there for shave cream.

…to say the least it can be a bit daunting at first.

But if you take a few minutes to look around, you will find brands that have been in existence since the 1800s and are STILL incredibly highly rated (I’m talking 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 8,000 reviews…)

Oh, if you are wondering what the mystery shave cream I am talking about, its Taylor of Old Bond Street.

Seriously, this stuff is good.

Like, crazy good.

In fact, it won our prestigious award of best shaving cream (when compared to 12 different brands).

And the kicker:

It’s cheap.

Well not as cheap as your gel canister, but the number of shaves you get out of this tub is pretty darn good (some men stated they got 6 month’s worth of use out of a single tub).

You are probably thinking to yourself…

…a shave cream is a shave cream…right?!

Like, who the hell can be that excited about a shave cream?

Well, here’s why:

If you want a rich and thick lather that not only perfectly insulates your skin which will trap the heat to the surface but also has a rich lubrication, then most any quality shave creams will have this property.

Seriously, those two factors – lather thickness for insulation and lubrication are everything when it comes to shave cream.

These properties work together to get your skin that perfect level of suppleness.

Therefore, making it way easier for the blade to glide along the surface and get a clean cut on your beard.

So, if your asking yourself what this has to do with acne and shaving, well guys, everything:

Here’s how:

When you use a better shaving cream, not only does it make the shave exponentially more comfortable, but it also makes for fewer passes with the razor blade.

Fewer passes on the blade will ensure that any skin particles you may have taken off while shaving are less likely to get trapped into your pores.

Less loose skin particles floating around means less clogging issues…

…and of course, less clogging issues means less acne.

So, as you can see it all starts to really come together.

Shave Brush Is Optional…But Advised By The Experts

Seriously, if you ever want to go to a really weird world of wet shaving, just check out some online forums or subreddits.

While we have nothing but respect for our fellow wet shaving enthusiasts and budding barbers, they like to take it a little too far (much love guys).

But one thing that they can all agree on is the utility of the shave brush.

Now shave brushes are probably something that 99% of the men reading this DON’T have on hand right now…

…and why should they?

Men haven’t formally used a shave brush since WWII era.

While they are an extra step in the grooming routine, shave brushes are more akin to being a novelty than anything else (especially when your Grandma gives you one with a random soap on a rope as a gift).

First of all, I’m sorry grandma…

Second of all, shave brushes are key at providing a very gentle pre exfoliation (along with a few other benefits we will make mention in just a second).

Typically created from badger hairs (sorry to all the badgers fans reading out there), the tips of the fibers will help to knock loose particles that are either stuck to your whiskers or around the area where the skin meets the hair follicle.

Think of shave brushes almost like a super-soft toothbrush for your face.

While the exfoliation from a shave brush is mild at best, it’s still going to be better than just applying shave cream with your hands.

Nevertheless, it’s a great method to employ when you are taking off a day from exfoliating or perhaps skipped out on a cleanse before shaving (we are not encouraging men to skip on their daily cleanse).

Now as far as those other shave brush benefits (<- we go in deep detail in this linked article), they will help your shave comfort in a couple of ways.

First:

Shave brushes can generate thicker and richer lathers than your hands. So, expect to get better insulation and a thicker cream (with visible peaks) every time.

Secondly, a shave brush will help a beard that is at medium or thick stubble to stand upright (as opposed to being matted down when shaving cream is applied with your hands).

This means that the razor can get a cut on the base of the follicle with very little effort (also will make for less passes).

Your Razor Blade May Be Causing An Uptick In Acne

Ok, I’ll cut right too it (no pun intended):

Razor blades are expensive.

All too often men will make a cartridge head last way longer than it should.

I get it:

It feels like you have to sell your kidney to get an 8 pack of razors.

But here’s the truth though:

If you are getting nasty acne or razor bumps after you are done shaving, certainly using an expired razor blade isn’t going to help.

As we stressed before, you are dragging metal on your face.

Now, when you use a dull blade to do the cutting, not only does this do a poor job in physically removing hairs, but a dull will only make matters worse.

So, if you find that you don’t have the budget to afford a new cartridge razor regularly, that’s ok.

Here are three more affordable options out there to choose from.

1. Subscription Model

Here are a few of the more popular subscription shave services that offer their wares for a low monthly fee:

Dollar Shave Club

You might have seen the viral video a few years back from Dollar Shave Club, if you haven’t you can check it out here.

These guys basically started the whole shave subscription box model.

They offer pretty affordable plans (their cheapest starting at 1 buck a month + $2 S&H), that will get you a new razor every month.

If you can splurge a few extra dollars you can also get a shave butter as well.

You can get further details about them by checking out their website here.

Harry’s

Very similar in nature to Dollar Shave Club, with Harry’s you can set up a recurring subscription service and get new blades sent to your home on a regular basis.

However, unlike Dollar Shave Club which uses Dorco razor blades, Harry’s constructs all of the blades themselves.

If there is any reason why you should care it’s this, German’s are known for their incredible precision and blade construction.

You can learn more about Harry’s by checking out their website.

Gillette On Demand

If you aren’t ready to part with your favorite cartridge razor by trying one of the other subscription services offered above, then you will be happy to learn that Gillette has thrown their hat into the subscription service ring with their new On Demand service.

Offering three options:

  • Sensor disposable razors
  • Mach 3 refills
  • Fusion ProShield refills

You can get whatever cartridge head will work with your existing system.

Not only is this a much more affordable option for men who live in inflated cost of living areas like NYC, but you also don’t have to think about getting razors regularly at the grocery store.

Learn more about Gillette On Demand.

Schick Hydro

Just like Gillette, Schick also offers a few of their more popular razor refills as a subscription service.

Schick offers subscription plans for the following shave systems:

  • Schick Hydro 5
  • Schick Hydro 3
  • Schick Hydro Connect

While many men are likely already familiar with the Hydro 5 and 3, the Schick Hydro Connect is a completely other animal.

This system actually will fit your Gillette Fusion or Mach 3 handle – talk about brash competition!

Oh, and did we mention, their plans are incredibly affordable as well?

Learn more about Schick Hydro Plans here.

safety razor for acne

2. Safety Razor

One shave system that has grown in popularity over the recent years is the classic safety razor.

What was once a standard issue for GIs in WWI, the safety razor seen a resurgence as of late, here’s why:

For men who suffer from acne, razor bumps, or razor burn LOVE safety razors.

Get this:

When using a safety razor blade, only one piece of metal will touch your skin on a single pass as opposed to the multiple blades you would experience with a cartridge head.

Therefore, you have TOTAL control on this.

But there’s a nasty catch:

Safety razors require time and technique.

Unlike a cartridge razor that has the blades preset to the optimal cutting angle, safety razors require you to dial in the exact cutting angle.

While this may sound a bit daunting at first, after about a week or two of practice you will have it down to a science…

…just expect to get nicked a few times in the process.

But here’s where it gets enticing:

Safety razor blades ARE CHEAP.

Seriously, like pennies on the dollar cheap.

This means you can change out your blade every few shaves and not break the bank.

It’s this shave control + low cost of ownership is why so many men with acne are taking notice.

Because you don’t have to think twice about swapping out the blade and can get a clean cut on your face without dragging old or dead skin particles all over.

If you never used a safety razor before, check out our guide where we round up the best safety razors (hint: the Merkur 23C or Edwin Jagger DE89LBl will work perfectly for you).

3. Beard Trimmer

Seriously, this is great if you suffer acne.

While you should still be cleansing and exfoliating regularly, if you don’t actually shave your face, then you never have to worry about a razor blade dragging bacteria around on the surface of your skin.

If your job allows it, we would always recommend for men to simply go with a beard trimmer set to the lowest possible setting.

This way only the plastic guards touch your skin and will leave your skin feeling less irritated afterwards.

Beard trimmers of today are nothing like yester-year.

One of our favorites, the Philips Norelco 7300, can cut all the way down to .5mm.

Oh and did we mention there is a vacuum built into the handle to suck up the clippings – this means less time to clean up for you, and less nagging from the wife about the mess you left around the sink!

A Brief 1 Minute Coverage On Shave Technique To Prevent Razor Bumps

Buying the best razor blades won’t mean a darn thing if you aren’t shaving correctly.

This holds especially true when it comes to razor bumps on your neck.

When shaving, it’s incredibly important to remember that you must ALWAYS SHAVE WITH THE GRAIN.

Let me phrase that a bit differently so there is NO confusion…

If you don’t want acne after you shave, DO NOT shave against the grain.

Here’s why:

Especially when using a cartridge razor, they employ what’s called the ‘lift-and-cut’ technique.

Basically, it works like this:

The blades on the head work in tandem to lift the hair up and then cut it.

When you go against the grain with a cartridge razor, it cuts the hair too low.

Not only does this create a deeper crevice for gunk to build up in and clog the pore, but it also will wreak havoc when your hair starts to regrow.

Here’s why:

Unfortunately, our hair doesn’t always grow perfectly outwards, instead it often will curve or spiral when it grows.

When the tip of the hair is below the surface of your skin, it can begin to grow right back into your skin, causing very painful razor bumps.

Seriously, you want to avoid these at all costs.

Just follow these rules:

When using a cartridge razor, never go against the grain.

Ever.

Try to only make one pass if possible.

To help prevent accidental against or across the grain shaving, just simply take a minute to look at how your beard grows.

For most men the cheeks are downwards and the neck will work towards your adams apple…but don’t take this as advice for you.

Every man’s beard grows differently, so look at your own beard and make a decision.

Lastly A Non-Comedogenic Moisturizer To Finish The Process

Shaving causes a lot of stress to your skin.

Given that it’s a living organ, its naturally going to try and compensate and produce more oils once you are done shaving.

Therefore, you will want to work in a face cream or aftershave balm into the post-shave process.

Now many men with acne often ignore this advice, here’s why:

Face creams and aftershave balms are loaded with rich oils and moisturizing agents.

They often think that loading their face up with oils once they are done shave would be a bad idea.

…and they would be right.

But, here’s the truth:

Oils like mineral oil (i.e. baby oil) are comedogenic.

This means that they will clog your pores and increase the occurrence of blackheads and acne.

However, if you get a quality face cream, these are instead loaded up with non-comedogenic oils (i.e. they are designed NOT to clog your pores).

This is key.

Especially for men who deal with acne regularly.

While you are likely still a bit apprehensive, we would invite you to check out some of the best face creams listed here and give it a shot.

We think you will be shocked by the results…

…in a good way!

Acne & Shaving Wrap Up

If there were any key takeaways from this quick read, it should be this:

Acne after shaving is a very real problem that many men deal with regularly.

However, much of it can be prevented so long as you employ some of the key tactics that we outlined in this guide.

Seriously, if you adopt the perfect regimen we went over, within a few short weeks you should see tangible results…

…and not just in the reduction of acne…

…but overall, a much more comfortable shave that will leave you feeling much better when you start your day.

Shawn Burns | @toolsofmen

Hi, I'm Shawn! A beard and shave enthusiast! I am an aspiring writer that wants to give guys great tips on how to pick up better grooming habits! From beard oil to using a double edge safety razor (yes I do get rid of my beard every now and again), I wanted to create this site where readers can get great information about men's grooming.

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