Care for Post-shaving Rashes
You shave to make your skin look better--smooth, hair-free, sleek. So the last thing that you want is to whisk the razor over your legs and raise up an ugly red rash. Unfortunately, a lot of women do just that when they shave incorrectly. "They slap on soap and quickly shave over it, and end up with chafed, red skin--also known as razor burn," says Evelyn Placek, M.D., a dermatologist and doctor of internal medicine in private practice in Scarsdale, New York.
"Razor burn is actually a skin irritation," says Dr. Placek. "When you shave, you're basically peeling off part of your epidermis--the top layer of skin. The redness is a normal response to tissue injury. Blood flow increases to the area to heal the wound, and blood vessels dilate and become red."
Razor burn is hard to get rid of, says Patricia Farris Walters, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. "Every time you shave again, you re-irritate your skin."
One way to avoid razor burn is to stop shaving. If that's not your preferred option, women doctors offer these tips for taking the redness and itching out of shaving.
Reach for hydrocortisone. Reduce embarrassing redness by immediately applying a dab of 1 percent hydrocortisone cream to the area after you shave. "It will take the redness, sting and irritation right down," says Dr. Placek. Hydrocortisone constricts blood vessels, so less blood flows to the area--meaning less redness. "You probably need to do this only twice the first day, and symptoms should fade."
But don't use hydrocortisone daily. Any preparation containing cortisone should be used only as a short-term treatment, for a couple applications or a few days at most. "If you overuse cortisone, your skin could become habituated to it and actually become redder and more irritated when you stop using it," warns Dr. Placek. "So it's not meant to be applied every day." Plus, overuse of cortisone preparations can thin skin over time; blood vessels in the area may enlarge, and in your pubic area, you could even get stretch marks.
Lubricate skin after you shave. "A moisturizing body lotion will help reduce dryness and itchiness after shaving," says D'Anne Kleinsmith, M.D., a staff dermatologist at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Shave after you bathe. Next time you shave, give irritated skin a break by making sure that it's well-hydrated before you graze a razor over it. "The best time to shave is after a shower or bath," says Dr. Placek. "Your skin won't be dry, and your hairs will soften and stand up, so shaving will be less traumatic."
Drop the soap. People with razor-sensitive skin should stick with a shaving cream that contains aloe or some other soothing ingredient, recommends Dr. Placek.
"Shaving cream is a real help," agrees Dr. Kleinsmith. "Put it on after you bathe, when your skin and hair are already soft. Then, leave the shaving cream on for another couple of minutes to soften your hair even more before you shave."
Shave it down. Shave hair in the direction that it grows--in a downward motion. "This won't irritate the hair follicles as much as if you're shaving upward against short, bristly hairs," says Dr. Walters.
Switch to a hair-dissolver cream. If you know that you're prone to razor bumps, consider using a lotion depilatory, which dissolves hair. "These lotions may be a little smelly and messy, but they're less traumatic to the hair follicles than scraping a razor over them," says Dr. Placek.
Most people tolerate depilatories very well, but some people are allergic, says Dr. Walters. If you notice a rash, irritation or burning sensation in reaction to a hair-removing lotion, rinse it off and don't use it again.
Zap bumps with acne preps. As a long-term treatment, topical acne preparations containing 2.5 or 5 percent benzoyl peroxide can help minimize razor bumps and lessen the chance that they will return. "There's actually a shaving cream called Benzashave, which contains benzoyl peroxide, and it can help minimize razor bumps. If you're prone, use it every time you shave," suggests Dr. Placek.
When To See A Doctor
If razor burn or bumps don't seem to heal in a few days, or if they look at all infected, see a doctor. Any signs of pus, increased swelling, heat in the area or throbbing are clues that infection may have set in.
Recurring razor bumps should probably be treated by a doctor, since repeat shaving will only make them worse.
Replace your razor. "You get a close shave with double-edge razors and disposables--so close that they can really irritate your skin and traumatize hair follicles," says Dr. Walters. "And the duller they get, the more irritating they become--like a rake dragged over your skin." She advises that women toss a disposable razor and break out a new one after three or four uses or replace the blade after three or four uses in a nondisposable handle.
Go electric. "Sometimes I recommend that women switch to electric razors," says Dr. Walters. "It may give you a smoother, more even shave than a regular razor."
(For practical advice on removing bikini-line hair, see page 51.)