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Shaving Pimples: Causes and How to Prevent Them

Whether you are 17 or 37, men of all ages are susceptible to getting pimples after shaving.  This is commonly known as shaving acne.  

Pimples are a result of a clogged pore.  The pimple is a mixture of sebum oil and bacteria that has formed a white head.

Below, we will outline some of the primary reasons why shaving can cause pimples.  Additionally, we will share with you how to reduce this minor form of acne from happening again.

Shaving Acne and Razor Bumps

Shaving acne and razor bumps are two different ailments.  Here’s a summary of each:

Shaving Acne

Shaving acne appears similar to razor bumps but is fundamentally different.  Shaving acne is a minor bacterial infection.  The infection will occur in the skin pore after shaving.  Here are the common causes of shaving acne:

  • Razor Type:  Cartridge razors and disposable razors have a multi-blade head.  This head design causes more razor blades to be in contact with your skin with each pass.  Additionally, the increased number of razor blades cuts the hair lower.  Hair cut too low allows an infection to form in the pore.
  • Improper Skin Cleaning: Always wash or exfoliate the area prior to shaving.  This will remove both dead skin cells and bacteria from the surface.
  • Over Applying Pressure:  If you press too hard while shaving, it may irritate your skin and cut the hair too low.  Try to let the weight of the razor do the cutting for you.
  • Shaving Grain: The razor should always be passed with the grain, especially when using a cartridge razor.  Going across or against the grain may cause acne due to the hair being cut too low and becoming infected. Learn more about shaving grain here.
  • Allergic Reaction:  Some shaving products contain ingredients that may irritate your skin.  Consider trying a new product that relies on a different set of ingredients.  
  • Shaving Brush Stand:  If using a shaving brush, make sure that it is stored bristle side down on a stand.  This ensures that all moisture is removed from the brush knot, reducing both bacteria and mold from growing.
  • Shave Frequency: Shaving is a stressful event for your skin.  Frequent shaving may cause an overproduction of oil.  If possible, take a day or two off between shaves.
  • Dry Skin: Shaving and some shaving products will dry out your skin.  Dry skin may cause excess oil production.  Use an aftershave balm or face lotion after you shave to moisturize your skin.

We will expand on a few of these points further below.

Razor Bumps

Razor bumps are ingrown hairs.  These bumps are often caused when a razor blade cuts the hair just beneath the skin’s surface.  This often occurs with cartridge razors as they lift-and-cut (hysteresis) with each pass.

Why does this matter?

The razor blades on cartridge razors work in tandem with one another.  One razor blade will lift the hair slightly up, and the second blade follows close behind to cut the follicle.  With each pass, the hair gets cut so low that the tip will be just beneath the surface of the skin.

As the hair regrows, it may turn inwards.  Men with curly hair are susceptible to razor bumps.  Safety razors, beard trimmers, and select cartridge razors can help to prevent razor bumps as they don’t cut as low.

Razor Selection is Important

safety razor in foreground with cartridge razor in background

There are many different types of razors available to men including the cartridge razor, disposable razor, safety razor, straight razor, electric shaver, and trimmers.  Here’s a brief overview of a few systems to consider to prevent shaving acne:

  • Select Cartridge Razors: A specially made cartridge razor, such as the Gillette SkinGuard, has wide-set blades that won’t cut the hair nearly as low.  Typically, the fewer the blades the better here when using a cartridge razor.
  • Single Blade Razors: With a single cutting blade, the razor will never cut the hair beneath the skin’s surface.  Single blade razors come in many different varieties, including the straight razor, safety razor, and modern hybrid razors such as the OneBlade Core
  • Trimmers: Whether it’s a beard trimmer, stubble trimmer, or a hybrid trimmer like the MicroTouch Solo, these shaving devices cut hair to only a fraction of an inch.  With no razor blade ever touching your skin, there is virtually no chance that shaving acne can occur.

Blade Rotation

Razor blades require regular replacement.  Not only will they dull, which can cause severe irritation, but they also can carry bacteria.  If you find yourself apprehensive about replacing a cartridge razor regularly due to costs, consider a safety razor or trimmer.  

A safety razor and trimmer’s long-term cost of ownership is significantly lower when compared to a cartridge razor

No matter which razor device you prefer, just make sure you are using a sharp and clean blade.

Shaving Cream Application

Shaving cream can be applied either by your hands or with a shaving brush.  How you apply shaving cream is important. Here’s why:


There are a few things you should know when applying shaving cream with your hands:

  • Washing is Important:  When you wash your hands thoroughly before applying shaving cream, you prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • Longer Hair is Matted: If you only shave once or twice a week, the hair may be matted down or pressed against your skin when the shaving cream is applied with your hands.  This may require you to make more passes with the razor blade to remove all the hair.  Additional passes may cause both shaving acne and irritation.
  • Pore Clogging: If you don’t wash or exfoliate before shaving, then you may be pressing dead skin cells, dirt, and other pollutants further into your pores which may worsen acne. 

Shaving Brush

Applying shaving cream with a shave brush can be helpful:

  • Gentle Exfoliation: Shaving brushes effectively remove dead skin cells and dirt trapped deep in your pores.  This can help to reduce both infection and razor burn.
  • Bacteria is a Concern:  The knot on shaving brushes is susceptible to bacteria growth.  Always make sure that the brush is stored with bristles pointing down.  Ideally, you should place the brush in a dry environment outside of the bathroom.
  • Compatibility Issues: Not all shaving creams are well-suited for a shaving brush.  Only traditional soft-bodied shaving creams and shave soaps work well with a shaving brush.
  • Hair Prep: The individual bristles of a shave brush will help to make the hair stand straight up.  This makes it easier for the razor to cut in fewer passes.

Disinfect & Moisturize After Shaving

Consider adding an aftershave to your grooming routine.  

Aftershave balms are the recommended product as they are specially designed for treating your skin.  Aftershave balms contain several natural, non-stinging, and nourishing agents: 

  • Astringent: One common base ingredient found in aftershave balms is witch hazel.  Witch hazel is a natural astringent that has proven to relieve irritation and treat minor cuts (source).  
  • Antiseptic:  Some aftershave balms may contain antiseptic agents that will rid the skin of any harmful bacteria upon application. This should help to prevent shaving acne.
  • Moisturizing: Repeatedly shaving will cause your skin to dry out.  By containing various humectants, an aftershave balm will retain the moisture within your skin. 

Aftershave splashes and lotions often contain denatured alcohol.  While alcohol is effective at killing bacteria, it also will dry out your skin.  Therefore, if you are adamant about using an aftershave splash or lotion, be sure also to apply a face moisturizer to counteract alcohol’s drying effect.

Other aftershave alternatives can be considered as well.

Trimmers Help to Prevent Pimples

Modern beard trimmers, stubble trimmers, and hybrid razors are good at providing razor-like results.  Current trimmers can cut hair down to only 0.2mm.

When clipping your facial hair with a trimmer, a blade never touches the surface of your skin.  Therefore, the chance of infection or oil pooling in your pores is non-existent.  

Consider a trimmer if you are okay with having a slight bit of stubble on your face after shaving.  

Final Thoughts

As you have learned, shaving acne or pimples may be a byproduct of a poor shaving routine.  Therefore, it is important to objectively look at each aspect of your regimen and make changes accordingly.

Rather than going out and buying all new products, exercise restraint and only make one change to your routine at a time.  This will help determine if a new product or fresh razor blade will make all the difference in the final results.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more.

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