One of the problems that many men have when shaving is razor burn – particularly on their neck. However, finding out what is causing the razor burn can be difficult, especially given that many things are at play while you are shaving including prep, products, and post-shave.
The focus of today’s guide is to touch on the key areas of your shave routine and what is the cause of your razor burn.
What is Razor Burn?
Razor burn is a mild irritation that develops on the surface of your skin. Razor burn can be caused by many factors including poor technique, dull blades, and bacteria. Skin irritation typically shows up minutes to hours after you are finished shaving.
14 Tips on How to Prevent Razor Burn
1. A Softer, More Pliable Beard is Easier to Shave
When shaving, it is important that you take a shower, apply a damp, warm towel to your beard, or splash hot water on your face several times prior to shaving. This step helps to soften your beard to make it more pliable and easier for the razor blade to work. Additionally, this step also helps to fortify your skin and make it more pliable and less likely to irritate when shaving.
2. Exfoliate or Wash Your Face
If possible, exfoliate your face prior to shaving. This is helpful in removing dead skin cells and clearing your skin of surface bacteria. Additionally, this step will increase the pliability of the facial hair.
Should you shave daily, then exfoliating daily is not recommended as it will dry out your skin. In this instance, you should use a gentle face cleanser.
Related: Best Face Wash for Men
3. Shaving with the Grain
As evident in the picture above, your beard can grow in many different directions.
In order to reduce irritation and your chance of razor burn, map the grain of your beard. When shaving, you want to pass the razor in the same direction that your beard grows in. So, if the hair follicle on your neck grows upwards, then shave upwards. Here is a diagram that you can print out and mark as a reference.
4. Your Shave Cream Should be Slick and Well-Cushioned
Shaving cream comes in many different forms including soap, cream, gel, and latherless. Regardless of its form, a good shave cream should still be both slick and provide a cushion for the blade. These two properties are key in allowing for the razor blade to glide easier and ultimately reduce irritation.
Related: Best Shaving Cream
5. Are You Sure the Razor Burn Simply isn’t an Allergic Reaction?
While many shave creams may contain natural and organic ingredients, this doesn’t mean that they are safer to use – a common misconception. For example, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) recently published an article stating that little research has been conducted on the popular essential oil, tea tree oil, and that “some people may develop contact dermatitis” (source).
The takeaway: do a patch test prior to using the new shaving cream to ensure it’s not the cause of irritation.
6. Pre-Shave Creams can be Helpful
A pre-shave cream adds an additional layer of lubrication between both the shaving cream and your skin. Some men may find this to be helpful when added to their shaving routine as it may significantly reduce irritation. If uncertain where to look, consider this pre-shave cream that we reviewed.
Related: What is Pre-Shave Oil
7. Are You Applying too Much Pressure?
When shaving, whether with a safety razor or cartridge razor, it is important that you aren’t applying too much pressure. A razor blade should glide, not rub when each pass is made. A good way to visually check this is by looking at how much indentation the razor blade is leaving on your skin:
This is too much pressure – it should look closer to this:
So make sure you do short, overlapping light strokes with every pass of the razor blade.
8. Pull Your Skin Taut
You may have noticed that some men like to pull their skin while shaving – as demonstrated below:
This simple technique helps to flatten out skin, especially for older men, and makes it easier to work with the razor blade while also getting consistent results. You can use this technique with all razor systems.
9. Razor Blades Should be Swapped Regularly
Razor blades shouldn’t be used for prolonged periods of time. They may dull, rust, or begin to collect bacteria – all of which may lead to irritation or razor burn. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer on how often a blade should be changed as your shave habits and the frequency of shaving are unique to you. However, here are some loose guidelines as a point of reference:
- Safety Razor Blades – approximately 5 shaves
- Cartridge Razor Blades – approximately 12 shaves
- Disposable Razor Blades – approximately 7 shaves
For cartridge and disposable razors, look at the lubricating strip as a visual cue. If there is little to no color or slight peeling (seen below), then the blade is likely towards the end of its useful life:
Related: How to Dispose of Razor Blades
10. What Shaving Tools are You Using (And Why it Matters)?
As you are keenly aware, there are many different razor systems out there available at your disposal. While each is unique in its own way, one of the major differences between the common systems is the number of blades on the razor head. While additional blades may help to distribute pressure, it also increases the number of times the blades are touching your skin.
Therefore, if you use a five-blade cartridge razor, it may be worth exploring a razor with lesser blades. Common alternatives include old cartridge systems with three blades or using a safety razor that only has a single blade.
11. Reduce the Number of Passes
Building off the previous section, when making multiple passes with a razor blade, you increase the exposure of your skin to the blade, which increases the chance of razor burn.
As an example, if you make three passes with a five-blade cartridge razor, that is 15 times a blade has touched your skin. Focus on trying to get a complete shave in one or two passes.
12. Aftershave Balms & Face Moisturizers are Better Than Alcohol Splashes
Aftershave comes in many different forms including balms, lotions, and splashes. Within each category, there are some that contain antiseptics such as alcohol. For relieving razor burn, consider a balm that moisturizes your skin and is alcohol-free. This will help to prevent dryness, a common cause of post-shave irritation. Should you not have an aftershave balm at your disposal, then a face moisturizer will suffice.
Related: What is Aftershave
An acceptable alternative to aftershave is witch hazel. Witch hazel is a natural astringent and toner – and it is also exceedingly more affordable. Witch hazel won’t sting on application, either.
13. Cold Water Provides Temporary Relief
For immediate relief, simply splashing cold water can help to alleviate pain by slightly numbing the surface of your skin. Naturally, this can only work for a few minutes at a time while the razor burn subsides. It is not a long term solution and only one that should be considered as a last resort.
14. Don’t Change Everything at Once
When trying to determine which part of your shaving routine is causing you discomfort, it’s important that you don’t change everything at once. Doing this will make it tougher to spot the problem while also potentially wasting money by buying new products.
Additionally, if the irritation is isolated to one area of your face such as the neck area, it may be a simple technique issue rather than shaving supplies – so take your time and reassess.
Over-the-Counter Razor Burn Products can Often be Skipped
Many over-the-counter products that are designed to treat razor burns are simply repackaged moisturizers or aftershave balms. Instead of paying extra for these products, you are better off simply using a moisturizer that you may already have on-hand.
Razor Burns aren’t Razor Bumps – That’s Different
Many men may use the term “razor burn” when they really mean “razor bumps.” These are two completely different problems and must be approached differently.
Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) are small red bumps that are caused by ingrown hairs. Razor bumps are prevalent in men with dry skin and that have curly facial hair. Razor bumps most commonly occur when the hair is cut too low or close to the surface of the skin.
An Alternative Approach
If you have exhausted all methods above and are still unable to get a comfortable shave without any irritation, then there are three alternatives to consider:
There are many devices available to men that can provide a close or clean-shaven look without causing razor burn. Particular stubble trimmers are often able to cut hair down to 0.2mm in total length. Of course, this does require additional investment and a device may not be optimal for all men.
Hair Removal Creams (Depilatory Creams)
Hair removal creams are designed to disintegrate the hair so it can be wiped away cleanly. Unfortunately, some of these creams may cause allergic reactions for certain men, so be sure to consult with your dermatologist and do a patch test prior to using.
Alter Your Shaving Routine
Perform a test to see if your razor burn is simply a result of over shaving. To do this, take a day or two off from shaving and see if irritation returns after your second consecutive shave. If your first shave was fine and the second one poor, then it is likely just dry skin. If this is the case, then make sure you moisturize after every shave going forward.
Wrapping it All Up
Whether you are experiencing mild to severe discomfort, always take your time when shaving – particularly with the neck area. While it may not be the most enjoyable experience at the moment, by methodically testing, you will find where the source of irritation is coming from.
Shawn Burns is the founder and senior editor of Tools of Men. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. Shawn’s expertise includes in-depth product reviews and how-to articles. Shawn was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise.