Why I Wet Shave...

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How to shave with razor bumps and ingrown hairs

shave with razor bumps

Example of razor bumps

A lot of people ask what razor bumps and ingrown hairs are.  Even more people ask how to shave with razor bumps and how to get rid of them.  It’s a question that is brought up quite often when talking about shaving.  This post is going to cover what razor bumps are, explain how to get rid of razor bumps, and prevent them from recurring.

Razor bumps are a problem that is experienced by men and women alike.  However, razor bumps seem to be more of an issue for many African-Americans, Hispanics, or anyone with thick or curly hair.  Just so we are all on the same page, let’s see what the actual definition of razor bumps and ingrown hair is.

Per WebMD razor bumps are: “Razor bumps … are small, irritated bumps on the skin. They happen after you shave, when strands of hair curl back on themselves and grow into the skin.”

WebMD also states that ingrown hairs are: “hairs that have curled around and grown back into your skin instead of rising up from it.”

Assuming that WebMD is a credible source (and I can only assume it is) we see that razor bumps and ingrown hairs are essentially the same issue.  The hair follicle is redirected either by a clogged pore or the hair follicle being cut so short it grows into the side of the hair duct instead of out of it.  This causes the hair to “bulge” under the skin.  This can cause irritation, pimples, and may lead to infection or scarring.

While an ingrown hair usually refers to an issue with a single hair, razor bumps are often a collection of bumps that occur after shaving.  Razor bumps are more prevalent when shaving due to the sharp edge left after being cut by the razor during shaving.

“So we know what it is, now what?”

Good question.  Now that we know what we are dealing with, we can formulate a two phased plan of attack.

Phase One:  Make the razor bumps go away.

There are a few different things we can do to.

  1. Try using a stiffer shaving brush when lathering.  This will help break free the ingrown hairs and allow the hair gland to heal.  Any shaving brush will help, but using a boar bristle brush and face lathering your shaving soap will yield the best results.
  2. If you still are having issues with the hairs not breaking loose, you can use one of those “finger nail” or “foot scrubbing” brushes to gently scrub your face.  These have shorter, slightly stiffer bristles that can provide a slightly more aggressive exfoliating action.
  3. Give your face a break.  Use a brush to break the hairs free, but don’t shave for a few days if you can help it.  If you have to shave, use very light pressure when shaving and start with just a with the grain pass and maybe an across the grain  (XTG) pass at most.

    photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/26821973@N03/7375790620/">Copper Pete</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons

    Example of a slightly stiffer brush to break free ingrown hairs.

  4. Use an alum block or witch hazel solution after shaving or exfoliating.  The antiseptic properties will help promote healing.
  5. Most importantly, be a little patient.  Your face has bunch of tiny open wounds.  Give your body time to heal or it will never improve.


Phase Two:  Preventing razor bumps.

Seeing as you are reading this article on a site about wet shaving you won’t be surprised that I’m not going to tell you to avoid shaving.  However, I will state that you need to be realistic about what you expect out of your shave.  You may be one of the unfortunate few that due to their genetic make-up will always have some issues with razor bumps.

Scientists have identified a naturally occurring genetic variation called Keratin Polymorphism.  This variation affects the structure of keratin (what your hair and nails are made out of) and makes a weaker bond between the inner and outer root sheath layers of the hair follicle.  This weakness allows the hair follicle to “split”  much easier.  The research suggest that this variation would make it six times more likely to develop razor bumps.

Sometimes mother nature just sucks… I wanted to be 2” taller in high school and ended up getting grey hair when I was 16 instead.  :shrug:  We don’t always get what we want or think we deserve.  Such are the vagrancies of life.

To ensure we don’t have any further issues, per WebMD we should perform the following:

  • Moisten your skin with water and mild soap first. This will soften the hair and open the pores.
  • Use a thick shaving gel.
  • Don’t stretch the skin when you shave. Always shave in the direction the hair is growing.
  • Use the fewest razor strokes possible. Rinse with cold water.
  • Use an electric razor if you can adjust it to avoid the closest setting.
  • After you shave, use a moisturizing cream.

If you take a look at this list, it looks remarkably like a wet shaving routine (with the obvious exception of the electric razor).  More specifically:

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/breatheindigital/4582142453/">RLHyde</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Man lathering face in preparation to shave.

  1. Shower and moisturize your beard:  Hydrates your hair follicles and open ups the pores.  The hydration allows the razor to cut the hair follicle easier while the open pore allows the hair follicle more room to break free.
  2. Lather with a shaving soap:  Exfoliates, lifts, and suspends the hair off of the skin.
  3. Don’t try for the perfect shave:  Don’t push the envelope.  Achieving a damn fine shave on a consistent basis is better than randomly getting a perfect shave every once in a while and having to deal with painful and unattractive skin issues the rest of the time.
  4. Rinse with cold water:  I’m not sure how this would help as far as ingrown hairs, but it is a common practice to tighten up the skin after a shave.
  5. Take care of your skin when you are done shaving.:  Find a quality lotion or aftershave that you enjoy and use it after you shave.  This can improve the tone and texture of your skin and can promote healing of any issues that you may have.

By utilizing both corrective and preventative measures you can eliminate the razor bumps.  However, if these actions don’t seem to be helping you may need to see a doctor for assistance.  As stated above razor bumps are essentially little open wounds over your face.  If they get inflamed or infected you may need to see a doctor for help.  Doctors can prescribe topical steroids to bring down the swelling, Retin A to remove dead skin cells from clogging pores, or antibiotics to treat an infection.

I hope you have found this article to be helpful.  If you liked this article please do me a favor and “Like”, Tweet, G+1 or something similar.  If you would like to be informed of new articles please sign up for the newsletter at the top right of the article.  Thanks!

Have a great day and a smooth shave!




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1 Comment

  1. The “nail cleaning” brush was a recommendation I heard made to someone else. I thought it was a great idea and decided to share it here. Do you have any other hints or tips? Any experiences you would like to share?

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