When persistent blemishes appear in the form of acne, often on facial skin, the problem can be exacerbated several times per day by just carrying on with a typical routine. Scratching an itch on your face, exercising to the point of perspiration and simply going through stressful periods can worsen the condition, but shaving may be the daily habit made most difficult by acne. Fortunately, with planning and care, the acne aggravation caused by shaving can be minimized.
Acne vulgaris, characterized by varying forms of black, white and red blemishes that can become painful or infected, is still being studied for its precise cause, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. However, four specific factors weigh heavily into whether or not acne has the appropriate environment in which to flourish: excessive sebum, pore blockage, concentration of bacteria and skin inflammation. Sebum is the natural oil that the body produces to keep skin nourished, but when it produces too much, it can block the pores and trap the excessive sebum below the skin's surface. Natural skin bacteria will not cause blemishes when it exists at normal levels, but it can multiply in the presence of excess sebum, causing skin inflammation. Varying levels of inflammation can result in several different types of acne that may range in severity.
According to the book "The Acne Cure" by Terry J. Dubrow and Brenda D. Adderly, shaving can, under the right circumstances, bring on acne breakouts, worsen existing acne and contribute to acne-related skin infections. Shaving does not always put the skin under stress, but when it does, the irritation can be intense enough to initiate or exacerbate an acne breakout. Acne blemishes often produce raised bumps that can make it especially difficult to shave with a manual blade. Hasty or careless shaving with such a razor can result in blemishes being sliced open, which can prolong their necessary healing time, cause scarring and expose more sensitive skin to bacteria, which may cause painful infections if not kept clean.
The type of razor you use is one of the most important considerations when trying to minimize acne irritation. Electric razors, while they do not provide the close shave of a fixed blade, are the most gentle and the least likely to damage existing acne, according to Acne.com. Some electric razors also have special features designed to further minimize irritation, such as built-in shaving lotion dispensers. Manual razors with fixed blades also have a variety of features, including multiple blades and soothing lotion strips. While features designed to soothe the skin may be helpful, Acne.com notes the most important manual razor choice is to use disposable, one-time use razors with single fixed blades. Because dull blades can irritate the skin, using disposable razors ensures that the blades will always be sharp. Also, a single blade won't cut as closely as a double or triple blade, which can cut the hair below the surface of the skin and increase the irritation risk.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you always soften your facial hair with lukewarm water before shaving, and that you use light pressure, taking care to avoid nicking blemishes. Use a non-comedogenic shaving cream or gel if using a manual razor, and be sure to shave with the grain. This may be especially difficult around the neck and Adam's apple, because hair can grow in multiple directions in this area.
Though routine shaving should not interrupt your usual acne-care regimen, it may be worth taking special steps immediately after shaving. Shaving can temporarily open the pores, making them more susceptible to bacteria, so using a gentle liquid or gel toner like witch hazel, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid is a smart way to prevent shaving-related breakouts.
- American Academy of Dermatology: Acne
- "The Acne Cure: The Nonprescription Plan That Shows Dramatic Results in as Little as 24 Hours"; Terry J. Dubrow, Brenda D. Adderly; 2003
- Acne.com: Shaving Guide
- Acne.org: Acne.org's Guide to Shaving
- American Academy of Dermatology: How to Shave if You Have Acne or Acne-prone Skin