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How to shave with acne

One of the banes of many men’s shaving routine; acne can make what is an enjoyable experience a journey of pure misery.  Whether you are a teenager just learning to shave, someone with lifelong problems, or someone who never had an issue with it growing up and find it is an issue in your life now, shave with acne is unattractive, painful, and if you are not careful can lead to scarring.  While many people advocate not shaving when dealing with acne, not everyone has that option.  In today’s post I will go over what the common causes of acne are, how to shave with existing breakouts, and how a healthy shave routine can help prevent future outbreaks.

Acne:  What is it and what causes it

Acne occurs when oil and dead skin cells become trapped within the hair follicle.  This in turn creates a plug within the pore. This plug of dead cells and oil is called a “comedone”.  There are two primary types of acne: open and closed comedones, commonly referred to as blackheads and whiteheads.  Closed comedones (whiteheads) are small plugged follicles, the contents of which are not exposed to the skin. Open comedones (blackheads) are small follicles with dilated openings to the skin allowing oxidation of the debris within the follicle leading to the black color.  Blackheads and whiteheads are examples of non-inflamed comedones.

shave with acne

Example of acne in shaving areas.

If it is a particularly bad breakout and bacteria invade, the follicle wall may rupture within the hair follicle gland, creating inflammation and redness.  Inflamed blemishes can vary depending on the damage to the follicle wall and the amount of infection present. Severe cases of acne may lead to deeper lesions and cysts.  Scarring is not a normal outcome of acne, but those with cysts and deep inflammatory papules are very much at risk.  The bacterium responsible for the inflammation is called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).  This is a bacterium that is always present on your skin, but when pores become engorged with excess oil and dead skin cells, it creates an anaerobic environment where P. acnes can thrive.

How to shave with existing breakouts

Use a shaving soap and shaving brush

A shaving brush will gently exfoliate the dead skin cells on you face, lessening the chance of them clogging your pores.  A quality shaving soap will gently cleanse your face of dirt and oils.  Choose products free of sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. These artificial ingredients both make great suds action but can irritate and dry out skin.

Do not try for a close shave

The fewer times you have to drag a blade across your face the better.  Each time you perform a shaving pass you have the potential to cut open existing pimples, spread bacteria across your face, and irritate your skin.  I highly recommend using a single edge blade such as a safety razor or a straight razor.  While not ideal, single edge disposables will work in a pinch.

Only shave with the grain (WTG) of the hair

While shaving across the grain (XTG) or against the grain (ATG) can result in a better shave it is more likely to irritate your skin and exasperate your acne problem.

Once you are done shaving use an antiseptic to fight bacteria and an astringent to reduce swelling.  This can be in the form of your favorite aftershave or you can use an alum block.  Another popular option is the use of witch hazel as an aftershave.

Alum block to help kill off bacteria.



Using these four guidelines we can start to deal with the acne and still obtain a decent shave.  While the four measures above won’t guarantee that your acne will go away, it will allow you to shave and you should start seeing improvements in your complexion as well.

Prevent future outbreaks

Using the above information we know what acne is and how to shave while dealing with a break out.  Let’s go over what we can do to prevent the chance of future breakouts.

We know that acne problems can be tied to three things:  the natural oil on our skin, dead skin cells, and the bacteria P. Acnes.  Let’s lay out what we can do for each of these factors.

How to deal with oily skin

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser or plain water.  Many people make the mistake of using a strong cleanser to remove the oils from their face.  While this may provide immediate relief your body has an innate feedback loop and will detect the absence of oils.  To counter the “overly dry” condition your body will produce an excess of oils to counter the dry condition.  You then end up with an overly oily face and repeat the cycle.  After a while your skin can become overly sensitive from the repeated application of skin cleanser.  Try using a mild cleanser or just water.  This will help rid your face of the excess oils while not stripping the oils completely.  As far as shaving goes, try and look at the ingredients and avoid those that contain sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (SLSs).  These ingredients can be overly drying to your skin.

How to deal with the dead skin cells

Exfoliating your face will remove the dead skin cells that can clog pores.  This can be done with a loofah or a product made for the task. Stores carry many options ranging from loofahs to creams with weak acids to break down the dead skin cells.  Most acne products contain powerful exfoliators to keep the dead skin cells away and promote new cell growth.  If these are what you use, this may keep skin in an over-exfoliated state, making it sensitive.  As far as shaving, the use of a shaving brush on your face will clean and exfoliate the area quite well.

Dealing with the P. Acnes bacteria

Due to the nature of wet shaving you will not have much of a problem with your razor being “dirty”.  However, if you suffer from acne every little precaution can help.  After shaving made sure to clean and disinfect your razor.  For a safety razor; open the razor, rinse any hair or shaving soap residue from the blade and blade holder, dip the razor in a container of isopropyl alcohol. and let it air dry . For a straight razor; wipe the blade clean, strop the razor 10 to 20 times, wipe down with a tissue dipped in isopropyl alcohol.  Let your razor air dry until your next shave and you are good to go.

If these tips don’t help you get your acne under control, talk to your doctor or see a dermatologist. Acne can be a huge problem for people of all ages.  Acne is unattractive, physically painful, and can cause an emotional burden that will last for years.  For mild to moderate cases of acne, over-the-counter products often work well, but more serious cases often need a doctor’s attention.


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Have a great day and a smooth shave!



How to shave with razor bumps and ingrown hairs

1 Comment

  1. I had a pretty bad case of acne growing up so this is kind of a personal issue for me. If you have any other hints or tips please let me know and I will add it to the article.

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