Our skin is at its healthiest and clearest when it is in balance. The more irritation your skin experiences, the more likely it is to break out. Conversely, the less irritation your skin experiences, the better it is able to remain clear.
Sources of irritation include anything which rubs, scratches or comes into prolonged contact with your skin, as well as anything which sends your skin out of balance such as over dryness, sunburns, pore-clogging cosmetics and shaving.
To help clear acne, try to keep your skin as untouched as possible, but the need to hide the skin condition is counterbalanced by the need to eliminate the condition.
If you have acne, especially moderate to severe acne, shaving may aggravate this condition creating both physical discomfort and emotional stress. A daily skin care regime is an essential requirement when treating facial acne, especially when part of it involves shaving.
Shaving when a person has active acne sometimes creates its own dilemma - keeping the skin clean is more difficult to do if there is facial hair which can aggravate the condition.
Multi-bladed razors can damage the dermis and hold dead skin cells and bacteria that a quick rinse under the water doesn’t remove. An alternative is to use disposable, single-bladed razors.
Shaving exfoliates skin and takes away moisture so consider shaving less often - maybe try giving your face a rest on the weekends.
Both manual and electric razors can nick the skin and the following tips will help minimise any damage to the face.
Select a shaving cream or gel that is designed for acne-prone skin. Most skin care product fragrances are not natural and contain man-made chemicals. These can irritate and dry your skin, especially if it's sensitive in the first place. If in doubt, opt for unscented lotions and cleansers.
It is best to soften the facial hair first. Heat and humidity does this or there are pre-shave products which can be used to help to do this. A face wash or facial scrub will warm, deep clean, and help soften facial hair before you shave.
A hot shower may wake you up but it's a not-so-nice a wake-up call for your skin, as the hot temperature triggers dryness, itching and flaking.
Either shave after a shower or wash you face with hot water first using personal cloths and a towel, which only you use. Hydrate skin with warm water for at least three minutes to soften your facial hair and make it easier to cut.
You may want to apply 8 to 10 drops of pre-shave oil, such as jojoba or one that specifically states it is non-comedogenic (won't clog pores), before working up the foam or shaving cream. This will further soften your facial hair as well as help the razor glide and offer more protection.
Massage the oil into your facial hair, going against the grain very gently.
Use the gel or shaving cream liberally when applying.
Use movements which are light, slow, careful and deliberate – let the razor do the work, not you. This is especially important for areas of your skin that are already broken out.
Always shave in the direction of the hair growth and rinse the manual blade regularly throughout the shave.
If at all possible, avoid passing the razor over pimples as this can break whiteheads causing the bacteria to spread and easily invade freshly shaved skin.
Razor bumps happen because shaving can sometimes irritate the hair follicles which then become susceptible to dust or bacteria, may in-grow and get trapped in a follicle. To avoid razor bumps, don't pull the skin too taut when shaving.
Try to avoid areas where the acne spot is more prominent than the facial hair (the area can be shaved once the spot has shrunk).
Go easy with the towel and pat your skin dry rather than a vigorous rub, which will just irritate your face and dry skin out.
A skin care regime for the treatment of acne can now be applied. For example, you can apply a light, post-shave moisturiser after you shave. This will help ensure that your skin does not overcompensate for dryness by producing more oil.
Wash your face at night with a soap-free scrub to remove the daily build-up of oil.
If a manual razor is used:
- Change the blade each time you shave. This will ensure that basic hygiene is being met and the blade will always be sharp.
- Always keep shavers personal - don't share them as you would not want other people's bacteria and mites to compound the skin condition further, and vice versa.
Try to avoid using an electric razor, as they tend to irritate the skin of an acne sufferer no matter if they are advertised as being "gentle" or "made for the neck”.
Electric razors have been known to crush the facial hair and sometimes a hair can penetrate the skin.
If you choose to use an electric razor:
- Make sure the blades are not dull.
- Always clean out the razor head with an antibacterial wipe after use.
Beard trimmers as an alternative
If your skin still becomes irritated despite following these instructions, you could try using a beard trimmer (not to be confused with an electric shaver).
A beard trimmer, as the name suggests, will only trim your beard/facial hair and will not achieve a close shave. However, with the guard removed you can get your beard/facial hair down to a close stubble.
Sources used in writing this article are available on request
Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 18 March 2018
Next review: 18 March 2021