Irritation-free Shaving

By Steve Watson
October 19, 2020

For some men, wet shaving can cause irritation in the form of a burning rash or bumps around the neck area. There are three important steps to an irritation-free wet shave.

For some men, wet shaving can cause irritation in the form of a burning rash or bumps around the neck area. And though this may be a symptom that might not disappear completely there are safeguards you can put in place to significantly reduce discomfort.

There are three important steps to an irritation-free wet shave – 1) pre-shave, 2) shaving and 3) post-shave.

1 Pre-shave

Preparing the skin and beard is crucial to achieving a close and comfortable shave, free from nicks or irritation. The pre-shave step aims to 1) soften the beard, 2) lift the beard off the skin, 3) create a lubricating barrier between your skin and the razor.

Soften the Beard

Hydrate the skin and beard – The traditional method of preparing the beard is to apply a series of steaming hot towels to the face and neck. The steam causes the beard hairs to soften and swell. The same effect, if not better, is achieved in the shower.

Pre-shave oil – Not essential but if you have very sensitive skin pre-shave oil further helps eliminate or reduce irritation. The oil acts as a physical barrier, reducing friction between your skin and the razor. Work the oil well into the skin and beard. Apply the pre-shave oil after a shower when your skin and beard is well hydrated. A thin film is all that is required.

In the shop we use Bluebeards Revenge Pre-shave oil but you could use a product sold at the supermarket.

Lift the Beard off the Skin

Lather – For convenience many men reach for a can of shaving foam or gel. These are not ideal because they contain chemicals that traditional soaps and creams don’t to create instant foam. Some of these additional chemicals have the opposite effect of everything you are aiming to achieve.

Shaving soap or shaving cream? – Choose either a soap or a cream that requires the use of a shaving brush to create a lather. We use both in the shop with equally excellent results. Whether you choose a soap or a cream work up a lather using a shaving brush and apply generously to the beard. Work the lather well into the beard using a circular motion. This will lift the beard off the skin creating a cushion of lather on which the razor will glide.

Shaving creams can be lathered up directly on the face, though it’s best to lather up in a mug or bowl. Soaps require lathering up in a mug or bowl. Aim for a thick creamy consistency. Too wet and the lather won’t create a fusion; to dry and the razor won’t glide.

In the shop we use Bluebeards Revenge Shaving Cream or Proraso Shaving Soap. Both products receive excellent reviews by shaving connoisseurs.

2 Shaving

Shave in the direction of growth – Which ever type of razor you use shave in the direction of growth. Pay close attention to the growth pattern on the neck. In general the hair grows in a downward direction until just above the Adam’s apple and in an upward direction below the Adam’s apple. Shave accordingly so as to avoid passing the razor against the growth. This is an important step in avoiding irritation.

The neck area – The skin of the neck is much more sensitive than the cheeks and chin. Furthermore, the beard around the neck area tends to grow at a sharp angle and lay flat to the skin. Shaving against the growth lifts the hair and causes the skin to raise up. The razor catches the raised skin and causes irritation or nicks. The hair retracts back beneath the surface of the skin causing further irritation and increases the potential for in growing hairs.

Apply just enough pressure to achieve a close shave. Too light and the razor will skip across the top of the beard and feel like it’s snagging; too heavy and you might cause the skin to deform, changing the relative angle of the razor to the skin.

Two-pass shave – Depending on the density and coarseness of your beard you may benefit from a two-pass shave. The first pass serves to remove the bulk of the beard and the second pass cleans up any remaining hairs. Shaving across the direction of growth during the second pass results in a closer shave.

With a two-pass shave you are less likely to repeatedly pass the razor over the same un-lathered area and cause irritation. Multi-blade razors increase the chances of this happening as the first blade lifts the hair and subsequent blades pass over the raised skin. Additionally, multi-bladed razors increase the amount of razor-to-skin contact. The Gillette Fusion blades, for example, contain five blades in the cartridge. Each pass is the equivalent of 5 passes with a single blade.

3 Post-shave

Rinse using cold water – Shaving damages the skin by removing the very top layer, leaving the surface open to bacteria. Rinse your face in cold water and pat dry with a clean towel. The cold water will cause the blood vessels to constrict, tightens the skin and help calm the shaved area.

Balms – Apply a post-shave balm. Avoid products containing alcohol. The alcohol will further strip any protective layer of oils in the skin and encourage irritation. Apply the balm gently so as to avoid stimulating blood flow to the surface of the skin.

In the shop we use Bluebeards Revenge Post-shave balm but you can use a product sold in the supermarket.

Summary

1. Hydrate the skin and beard

2. Use a pre-shave oil

3. Use a traditional shaving soap or cream

4. Shave in the direction of growth

5. Use the two-pass method

6. Rinse with cold water

7. Apply non-alcohol based post-shave balm

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Steve Watson
Author and founder of Watson's barber's
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