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I’m someone who has very challenging skin… it’s very pale, rosacea-prone, and the hairs that grow out of it tend to curl for starters. All of this makes for a perfect storm when trying to deal with ingrown hairs and razor bumps. As someone who has visited multiple dermatologists and aestheticians I have a lot of experience here, that can be beneficial to others with similar issues and even people with completely different skin types.
What causes ingrowns and bumps?
Well this is obvious, but the answer is of course shaving. Shaving cuts the hair down to the skin, causing it to be right at the surface of the skin. If your hair tends to grow at an angle, or you have lots of dead skin on your face due to a lack of exfoliation, the hair can easily start to grow under your skin. This causes a painful pimple-like thing that we call ingrown hairs. At this point you have to wait it out which can be pretty gross, or try to dig it out (super not recommended) which will likely cause scarring. Bumps are basically less severe ingrown hairs, but sometimes there are many of them at a time which can make it seem very severe. By the way, I could have just shown an image but I didn’t want to gross you out, so you’re welcome.
An aesthetician can help you out with removing ingrowns and this might be recommended if you have a lot of them. They’ll also have some ideas of what products you should use that are tailored to your skin. There are some basic things you can do that make sense for most skin types that I’ll go over.
Here are some options of what you can do:
Option 1: don’t shave
While this may seem silly, beards are very in these days! I don’t love the look of a wizard beard, so a trimmer will be necessary. A trimmer will allow you to cut the hair down but still leave some behind. This is related to the next option:
Option 2: Use a trimmer for a stubble look
The scruffy stubble is also in and can look really good on some people. In this case you still need a trimmer, but you want one that can cut down to a certain length.
Let’s go to a more extreme skin case: a lot of men with darker skin have problems with ingrowns due to naturally coarse and tightly curling facial hair. So severe that they can get something called Pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB) which is even worse than razor burn. It’s when the condition gets so bad that you get an infection. If left untreated it can cause scarring, but there’s an easy fix!
Paraphrased per Wikipedia:
- For men who prefer to shave, studies show the optimal length to be about 0.5 mm to 1 mm to prevent the hair from growing back into the skin. Using a beard trimmer at the lowest setting (0.5mm or 1mm) instead of shaving is an efficient alternative“
This is great because with this method you no longer have to worry about shaving cream or replacing razors. Instead, you can buy a simple trimmer that will last a long time, saving you money in the long run. This is a good no-nonsense way to address the problem, which is also very cost effective. Here are a couple of good trimmers:
Why don’t I do this? Because I can grow a full beard despite being in my 30s. Have you ever seen Joe Dirt? That’s about how it would grow for me. Even when cutting very short with a trimmer, you still see that goatee outline, so the stubble look doesn’t look great on me. So now we have one option left:
Option 3: Shave
Back to the root of the entire problem! However, there are some ways to try and address the problem. Here are the two shaving methods that I recommend:
Option 3a: Electric razor
For those with less sensitive skin that get ingrowns, electric razors can be a good option. This is because they don’t cut the hair as close to the skin. I don’t use them anymore as electric razors tend to irritate my sensitive skin, presumable due to all of the rotational movement. So while I wasn’t getting ingrowns anymore I was getting minor bumps and irritation. But as a reminder, my skin is VERY sensitive.
If using electric, I highly recommend doing a wet shave. AKA wet your face, use shaving cream etc. I used to use my electric shaver in the shower by combining it with a shower mirror, which made it so that I could eliminate a bunch of steps!
Based on my experience here are my recommendations:
Panasonic Arc3: $104.99
For my sensitive skin it turned out to be a bit much, but this is the best electric razor for sensitive skin that I’ve used. The main downside is they get dull eventually and the foils aren’t cheaply replaced.
Philips Oneblade: $27.99
Most people love these, and I did for a time. Supposed to be good for sensitive skin and ingrowns, but I had a major in-grown hair issue when trying to trim armpit hair which turned me off of it. But still recommended (for your face) and very cheap!
Option 3b: manual shaving
Yes manual shaving is the method most likely to give you ingrowns or bumps, but there are ways to address this with some strategies and products.
Here are some factors that affect ingrowns/bumps:
- Repetitions: Blades going across your skin many times in the same spot can irritate your skin and lead to pimples and/or ingrowns
- Good shaving cream: I would say this is true of all shaving methods, good shaving cream will ready your face for a shave and protect your skin from irritation. If you only do one thing, trying a shaving cream is a good start.
- Sharpness: If your razor is very sharp, you need fewer repetitions across your skin
- Cleanliness: A blade that isn’t frequently replaced is a festering ground for bacteria, making your skin more prone to infections, pimples, and ingrowns. You can replace frequently or sanitize in alcohol
- Exfoliation of skin: Skin that isn’t properly exfoliated will be more prone to ingrowns
Here are the main types of razors:
Cartridge type razors
I find your typical cartridge-type razor to be a poor choice for a few reasons. Since they have multiple blades, that effectively increases the number of repetitions, since one swipe is now 3 or four depending on how many blades there are. I find they are not very sharp and also not very clean. Since they are so expensive, people tend not to replace them nearly as much as they should, and sanitizing them is a bit of a pain.
Double edge safety razor (what I use)
Ok, now if you’ve existed on the internet I’m sure you have heard about double-edged safety razors. Heck, they have entire blogs where somehow that’s all that they talk about. They used to be the primary way most men shaved; Gillette invented them and they reigned for decades. However, the patent expired and they moved on to new ways that were more profitable but not really better (see above for cartridge type).
Double-edged safety razors attributes:
- Cheap: I usually buy the blades that go in them 100 at a time for about 8 dollars. So that’s 8 cents each. This means I can literally throw my blade away every time if I want, but I generally do this every other time.
- Incredibly sharp: These things are literal razor blades. Since they are so sharp you usually only need to swipe once
- Dangerously sharp: The one downside, they are so sharp that you can accidentally cut your face. You cannot use this the way you would a cartridge shaver. No pressure is needed, no changing directions mid-swipe, and don’t get complacent. Why are they called “safety razors?” Because they replaced regular straight edge blades, which you could literally kill yourself with by accident. A double-edged safety razor doesn’t have the blade stick out very far, so while you can cut yourself it won’t be so bad that it could potentially kill you.
- Shaving Soap / Cream: Lots of people use shaving soap, which is the bar of soap version of shaving cream. It needs to be mixed into a foamy lather, which is super nice and works way better than the stuff in a can. I buy a shaving cream that comes in a jar instead, but both should be applied to your face with a:
- Brush: Generally you use a brush to apply the shaving cream or soap. You use the brush to mix the soap and again to apply it. The brush also helps lift the hairs up on your face, helping to prep them for better shaving which also helps stop in growns! I don’t use shaving soap, I buy a shaving cream and just apply it with the brush.
This might all sound a bit involved, but after a little practice and patience, I now prefer it to other methods of shaving.
Here are the products that I use for my shaving:
Bevel Safety Razor: $49.95
A razor made specifically to help avoid bumps and irritation. The way the hair rinses away is better than any other razor I’ve used. Made for people of color, but works great on my pale skin. Could use a cheaper one if you want… but cheaper ones have broken when dropped in my experience.
Here is how I use the above products and what I do that helps me avoid ingrowns:
Shaving procedure using double-edgedw safety razor:
- Shower and wash face: You should be using an exfoliating wash for your face in general. If you have super sensitive skin like my don’t use a physical exfoliator, use a chemical one that has salicylic acid
- Pre-shave conditioner: I literally use my hair conditioner while showering for this. Just put some on your facial hair and wait a few minutes before rinsing it off. This makes shaving easier since it will soften the hair. Try to avoid super-scented conditioners if doing this.
- Keep your face a little wet with warm water: You don’t want to apply the shaving cream to a totally dry face
- Apply shaving cream/soap with the brush: Lots of people use a badger fur brush, I do not. Having used one before I saw no benefit, so I got a vegan one that honestly works better. Brush against the grain of your hair (ex: if hair grows down, brush up) when applying
- Shave with the grain: Glide the blade over the hairs gently in a straight line in the same direction the hair grows. I break this rule a little on my chin, sometimes shaving perpendicular to the hair growth (not against) as the shape of my chin makes shaving a challenge. Hold the blade slightly angled slightly up, approximately 30 degrees.
- Rinse with cool water and then dry face: Make sure you’ve removed all shaving cream and that after drying your face is totally dry
- Apply PFB Vanish: This stuff has both exfoliating and moisturizing ingredients. It will sting a bit, but it definitely helps prevent ingrowns. I leave it on for a few minutes.
- Apply toner: I use a nonalcohol toner and spray it right over the PFB Vanish. If your skin seems irritated, rinse off the PFB then use toner
- Apply serum: This is optional and I frequently skip it; this is more a part of my regular skin routine
- Moisturize: Any skin care routine should end with using a gentle moisturizer! Use one with SPF if it’s morning
I know that sounded like a lot of steps, but you’re probably already showering, washing your face, and putting product on after so it’s really just adding in shaving and the exfoliant.
Obviously everyone’s skin is quite different, but as someone with skin that seems to have lots of problems, the above routine has solved my issues. It took a lot of experimentation to get something that actually worked for me.
If you don’t want to completely change your routine, consider a few minor changes:
- Change your blades/cartridges more often
- Get a good shaving cream
- Try the PFB vanish and add exfoliating to your routine
Hopefully, with a little experimentation and some of my tips, you can find something that works for you!