In the words of the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want, which means sometimes when you shave, you end up with little irritated red bumps all over your legs and bikini line instead of silky smooth hairless skin. Razor burn isn’t just visually annoying, it can be painful and difficult to soothe. Because we don’t ever want to deal with it again, especially now that beach season is here, we reached out to a pro to find out what causes it in the first place, how to prevent it from happening, and how to fix it fast.
"Razor burn is a sign of skin irritation, explains New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Jody Levine. "As a result, your skin can experience redness, warmth and sensitivity, and one or more little raised bumps."
It's often caused when your razor's blade is dull and is continuously applied with pressure over the same area several times—this causes friction, which leads to the irritation. It can also occur when you're shaving skin that's not well lubricated or when dry shaving.
To avoid feeling the burn in the first place, Dr. Levine suggests hydrating the skin with warm water beforehand. "For best results, wait a few minutes from when you step in to the shower before you start shaving. This is especially important for the bikini area, as it helps to soften the hair and makes it easier to cut," she recommends.
Another tip is to use a razor with fresh blades. Believe it or not, Dr. Levine says you should change your blades after every eight to ten shaves. She recommends the Venus Swirl Razor ($8; target.com), which has a flexiball build-in that allows the razor to pivot over traditionally "hard-to-shave" contoured areas like over the knees and under the arms.
"If you’re using the right razor with fresh blades, you’ll find that all you need to do is go over each area once with a light stroke to remove hair properly," she says.
Finally, you'll want to make sure you're using a cream or a shave gel to avoid further friction between the skin and the razor. "Essentially, you shouldn’t feel like you’re scraping the skin as you’re shaving, but instead should feel the razor glide easily and smoothly over your skin. I recommend using a moisture rich-shave gel or cream like the new Venus with Olay Moisturizing Shower & Shave Cream ($4; target.com), which combines moisturizing ingredients to gently clean and protect your skin while shaving." We also like Skintimate Skin Therapy Moisturizing Women's Shave Gel ($3; target.com).
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But how do you fix it if the accident already happened? If your skin is red or itchy, our pro suggests a very small amount of mild over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream applied twice daily until the irritation goes away. If it doesn't go away, talk to your derm and a prescription might be needed.
"However, it is more important to understand why you had this reaction in the first place and adjust your routine so it doesn’t happen again. Perhaps it is time to switch out your razor blade, try a better quality razor, or perhaps you need to start using shave gel rather than soap."