Unlike other rites of passage—like, say, getting your driver’s license or learning to ride a bike—chances are no one explicitly taught you the best shaving tips. Most of us in our inexperienced youth probably started shaving behind our parents’ backs, guided by another ill-advised 13-year-old on the finer lessons of how to wield a disposable razor.
While we’ve all gotten better at perfecting a clean shave since then (as have the razor options out there), chances are you’re likely still making some common shaving mistakes. We spoke to the pros, and got filled in on the best shaving tips for women we’ve been missing all these years. Read on for all the swaps you should be making in your routine, and get ready to say goodbye to cuts, dry skin, ingrown hairs, and razor burn.
Shaving cream really is better than soap.
You may be tempted to just reach for your body wash in lieu of shave cream, but for a smooth shave, it’s just not going to cut it. (And let’s not even go near bar soap.) Shave gel, foam, or cream may seem unnecessary, but it’s imperative to get a close shave and minimize bumps and redness.
“In general, it’s best to use a sharp razor blade and shaving cream on all areas of the body to obtain the closest shave,” says New York dermatologist Elyse Love, M.D. “This is particularly important for sensitive skin, such as the underarms and bikini line, as these areas can develop irritation with shaving if proper care isn’t taken.” Shave-specific products typically contain emollients that’ll do the trick. If you’re in a pinch and find yourself without shaving cream, reach for your conditioner, coconut oil, or even olive oil. Avoid shampoo (which will irritate your skin as you shave) and bar soap (which will clog the blades of your razor).
Don’t shave as soon as you get in the shower.
No matter how tropical your shaving gel smells or how fresh your razor blade is, shaving’s kind of a drag. So why put off the inevitable and save it for the end of your shower? There’s a good reason: “Letting your skin sit in a wet, warm environment allows for your skin and hair to soften,” says Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist in NYC. Softer hair and opened-up hair follicles (from the steam) make it easier to get a close, clean shave—so you’re less likely to feel new stubble later that day.
More pressure isn’t better.
Your instincts may be to press harder to grab more hair, but that’s actually making things worse. “The harder you bear down, the more uneven the skin surface becomes, because you’re essentially creating dimples where the blade falls,” explains Deny Engelman, M.D., a dermatologist in NYC. That makes it prime time for nicks and even missed patches, since the razor isn’t evenly slicing away the hairs.
Don’t skimp on exfoliation.
You may be weary of exfoliating on top of shaving, since you’re essentially scraping off the dead skin cells with your razor. This isn’t entirely true. “Some people think that when you shave you’re also exfoliating your skin, which is technically true,” says Engelman. “If you’re prone to razor bumps and irritation, you may want to exfoliate the area beforehand to ensure that the hair can come cleanly out.” Otherwise, those dead skin cells can clog up the razor blade, which is what causes razor burn, explains Bowe. Exfoliating first essentially creates a clean, even canvas for you to then remove hair, and allows your moisturizer to penetrate the skin more effectively.
Consistency is key.
While you may be tempted to give your skin a break in colder months, that can actually lead to more irritation when you do pick up the razor again. Dermatologist Ranella Hirsch advises patients to keep shaving regularly, even in the winter, because forgoing shaving can actually make your skin more irritated and dry, because the lack of shaving allows more and more dead skin to build up.
Keep your razor safe.
Who knew razors were so high-maintenance? While your first instinct may be to keep your razor chilling in the shower, when you’re not using it you should stash it elsewhere. “Not only can keeping your razor in a moist environment rust the blades,” says Bowe. “It also increases your risk of bacterial or fungal infection.” Yikes. After you shave, rinse your razor well with warm water, pat it dry with a towel, and store it in a spot where it won’t get wet. Plus, doing this gives you an opportunity to remove stragglers trapped in the blade—which you should do with a dry blade using a towel or toilet paper (and not—we repeat—not your fingers).
It’s like an unfortunate law of the universe: Speeding through your shave can cause nicks and cuts. If that happens, though, don’t bother sticking a piece of tissue on it, which will stay put for only five seconds. “Rinse the area and rub a bit of antiperspirant on it,” advises Engelman. “Antiperspirant contains aluminum chloride, which can constrict blood vessels and clot a nick.” You could also apply an ice cube or eye drops to the area, both of which constrict the blood vessels and help the nick to clot more quickly. Then seal it with a balm like Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Skin Protectant, which helps protect bigger cuts and keeps them from scabbing over.