Shaving with acne. If you have experienced it, just reading that opening sentence will have made you flinch a bit.
Here’s my promise to you; by the end of this article, you will know the ultimate routine on how to shave with acne that will:
- Give you a quality shave
- Prevent future breakouts
- Minimize irritation
- Prevent razor bumps
- Maximize comfort
First things first though – you are not alone. 60 million people in the US have acne. But knowing you’re not on your own with this one, doesn’t make shaving with acne any easier.
So for this research project, we went to the real experts, dermatologists and licensed aestheticians to make sure we provided you the best and most proven methods.
Broadly, the key to shaving with acne can be put into three areas:
1 – The Prep Work
2 – The Shave
3 – After Care
The prep is vital before any shave, but especially so when you have acne.
Why prepare properly?
It will open up and clean your pores, helping to stop the spread of bacteria. Plus, if your acne is aggravated by shaving, the prep work generally makes the shave more smooth. The result is you are less likely to get an aggressive reaction.
#1 Cleanse your face with ‘warm’ water and ‘gentle’ cleanser
Don’t make it too hot as this will strip essential oils. But warm water will hydrate and soften the hair follicles.
for optimal hydration and softening of the hair follicles either:
- take a shower before shaving
- apply a warm wet towel on your face for 3 minutes
Use a very gentle cleanser to clean the dirt and dead skin cells off your face
Save the stronger cleanser (i.e. one with salicylic acid or other acne fighting ingredient) for the post-shave wash.
#2 Get popping!
Whilst is not advised under normal circumstances, if there are any whiteheads that are about to blow, it’s best to carry about a controlled explosion before shaving. It’s likely that you’re going to break the skin anyway, so it is best to first remove the bacterias that lurk beneath. Want to know the right way to pop a spot?
#3 Lather up!
TIP – go natural! The more alcohols and chemicals in your choice of shaving later, the more irritation you will experience.
A good, rich, creamy smooth lather is a key part of shaving with acne.
#4 Apply shaving lather with fingers – DON’T use a brush
Picking out a good shaving brush is normally a key part of the pre-shave process. It’s going to help the application of your shave cream/soap/gel, and will get your hairs separated and pronounced making them easier to shave.
However, we’re trying to stop the spread of the bacteria that can contribute to bad skin. A brush is going to spread them around and then play host to them.
So even though you may use your shaving brush to create a good lather within your shaving bowl, use your fingers to apply it to your face. This is going to be a bit more work but worth it.
You’re now ready to shave!
How To Shave With Acne – The Shave
As with any shave, choosing your razor is a big decision. Prim & Prep is not keen on (code for ‘we absolutely hate’) cartridge razors. I don’t have time to go into why now, but trust me, or take a look at this article about safety razors vs cartridge razors.
NOT using a cheap cartridge razor is particularly important when shaving with acne. Those multi-blade cartridges are dirty, clog easily and remove more layers of skin than they should.
This is where one quality razor blade is truly better than 3 to 5 blades.
We would recommend a safety razor for this job. Cleaner, cooler, better.
A lot of this is true even if you weren’t shaving with acne. But Prim & Prep recommends the following tips:
#1 Avoid the spots!
If it’s possible, do. Breaking them will spread bacteria and irritate them. This is also why we suggest not using a cartridge razor. Single blades offer so much more control and versatility.
#2 Go with the grain
Shave in the direction of the hair’s growth. The second time around, if not on a spotty area, you can go back over going against the grain. But that’s not vital. Try and find the balance between a close shave and not irritating your acne.
#3 Don’t press too hard!
You don’t need to beat your own face up. A sharp blade and a well-prepared face should mean you don’t need to apply too much pressure.
#4 Take your time
Don’t rush it. If you rush you’ll miss bits, so you’ll have to go over skin again.
More strokes mean more irritation.
If you rush you’re more likely to make a mistake and take the tops of spots.
And if you rush you’re more likely to do a bad job, so you’ll be back shaving again before you know it!
Post Shave Care
Shaving leaves everyone exposed and a bit raw. But this even more the case for someone with acne.
It’s here you can really help yourself prevent any issues arising from the shave.
#1 Cleanse your face properly!
Clean, warm water to rinse away residue. Softly splash it on your face, rather than vigorously rubbing!
This is when you want to wash your face with any stronger cleanser such as one with salicylic acid as all your pores are open and it is possible you have spread bacteria from pimples that have been popped or cut through the shaving process.
#2 Use a clean towel
Towels play host to all sorts of crap that you don’t want being rubbed into your freshly exposed skin. And pat with the towel rather than rubbing. Again, you are doing what you can to limit irritation.
#3 Use Alum Block
Use what now? Alum block. Once you’ve shaved and you’ve cleansed, you can’t leave your skin wide open. If you do, the grime of life will have an Access All Areas pass to your face and that’s bad news for your acne.
Alum block is something your grandfather probably used, but because post-shave balms became all the rage, it went out of fashion.
It is a natural antiseptic (great news for your skin) and it also naturally makes body tissue contract. So those opened pores get closed up after the antiseptic does its thing on our spots.
Nothing too oily, that’s acne fertilizer. But something that will rehydrate and replenish the skin as the act of shaving may have stripped your skin of certain nutrients.
Aftershave. It’s right there in the name. You use it after a shave. But should you when you have acne? There’s no doubt that it will help close up open pores and finish off the shave. But if you are prone to a reaction after shaving, or are shaving with acne, try giving it a miss.
That alum block is a much better shout, plus you’ll love the retro cool feeling!
If you are keen on using some form of aftershave or tonic, I would suggest using an alcohol-free aftershave or toner as this will prevent you from irritating or drying out your skin.
Other Important Tips
Few key points to remember;
- spend some time prepping pre-shave. It’s going to make all the difference.
- don’t rush. Don’t rush the prep, don’t rush the aftercare and definitely don’t rush the shave.
- don’t use cartridge razors. They’re so bad, even for people who aren’t shaving with acne. But for those that are, they’re a painful germ-fest.
- Alum block. Never heard of it? It might be the answer.
A Possible Alternative to Shaving
Grow. A. Beard.
If growing a full beard isn’t for you, look into simply trimming and shaping. That too means you stop shaving.
As always, any questions, feedback or suggestions, just submit a comment below!
Ben Rose is the founder and senior editor at Prim&Prep, the definitive guide to male grooming. He is a wet shaving expert, body grooming aficionado, and skincare guru. His work has been featured on many other prominent men’s publications including AskMen, Men’s Health, and GQ.