Many guys think that they experience razor burn because they have sensitive skin. While that might be true for some men, it is actually more likely that they just have poor shaving technique. Rushing through a shave, using low quality products, and lack of a post-shave routine can all be causes of discomfort during and after a shave.
An easy way to think of developing a foolproof routine is to remember 5 P's of shaving: Products, Patience, Prep, Practice and Post-shave. We'll discuss the specific application of these in another post, but hopefully this overview will help you recognize areas where you can improve your process.
1. Products - If you're using an electric shaver, cartridge razor, or (heaven forbid) a disposable, it's time to make a change. In theory, an electric razor should be the fastest and easiest way to avoid skin irritation. A magnified look at the difference between a whisker cut by a razor blade (left) vs an electric shaver (right) should make it obvious that the electric is a poor choice for achieving a polished look:
On the left, you can see that the razor blade provides a clean cut all the way across the hair. The electric shaver is a different story. This strand looks more like it was pulled apart, rather than sliced as it should be. Of course having your facial hair pulled is a sure-fire way to end up with redness and discomfort, and it will still leave behind a stubbly look. Instead, we recommend shaving with a traditional double-edge safety razor.
Another suboptimal product that men often use is canned shaving foam. Foam is mostly air which, of course, does not act as an effective lubricant for your skin. Shaving soaps that are available as a puck, or creams packaged in a tub or tube are much better alternatives. In particular, look for products with naturally derived ingredients such as stearic acid, potassium hydroxide, glycerin, and lanolin to provide a protective and slippery layer between your skin and razor blade.
2. Patience - If you've never really spent much time on shaving, you'll probably have to learn some patience for the process. Slow down, pay attention to what you're doing, and enjoy it. Yes, it is possible to actually enjoy shaving. Once you start to explore the vast number of product options available, refine your technique, and see the immediate improvements in your results, it's likely that you will start to look forward to the routine.
3. Prep - Preparing for your shave the right way is an absolute must. If you experience frequent razor burn and nicks, you're probably not giving this enough attention. You also need to understand that prep is a multi-step process, and that's why Patience is one of the 4 P's. The first and most important step is to take a close look at your whiskers and note the direction of growth in each area of your face and neck. This is essential for knowing which direction to shave during each pass. Then it's time to prepare your skin. Start with a warm water splash to soften it up and open your pores. Your next prep step is to moisturize. This will keep your skin pliable and less susceptible to nicks and razor burn. Any high quality facial moisturize will work, but aftershave balm would be our top recommendation as pre-shave moisturizer if you've got it handy.
4. Practice - Now it's time to practice your technique. For the sake of this article we are going to assume that you're using a cartridge or safety razor. This is where the mapping of your whisker growth comes into play. Keep in mind that you will shave in multiple passes will be beard reduction, not complete removal. On your first pass with the razor, you should always shave with the direction of hair growth. Next, you can shave across the grain. After your technique is perfected, and only if you feel it is absolutely necessary, you can shave against the grain. Again, this is about practice and developing your best technique to achieve the smoothest shave possible. You should not expect to have expert-level results on your first morning, but you'll get there!
5. Post-Shave - The final consideration should be your post-shave routine. Even the most careful technique and steadiest hand can still slip, causing the occasional nick or irritation. This is where aftershaves can lend a helping hand. Alcohol based products sanitize and give a bracing sensation. Balms are an excellent choice to soothe and moisturize. When used in combination, you should see an accelerated recovery time along with reduced redness.