Avoid razor burn and nicks by preparing underarm skin before shaving.

©iStockphoto.com/Valua Vitaly

Shaving can be an irritating affair that leaves you with stubble not long after you finish. And then there are those nicks, cuts and red bumps that the razor can leave in its wake. It's hardly a recipe for beauty or comfort.

But when you think about it, it's not difficult to understand why shaving can cause such effects on your skin. When you shave, you scrape away some of the protective layer of skin. For the underarm area, this causes particular problems, as your newly shaven skin might be more sensitive to stinging antiperspirants and deodorants. And if you've got itchy, bumpy skin on your underarms, you might be tempted to skip your deodorant altogether.

Getting a smooth shave is also important for aesthetic reasons. Scraping that razor over your tender skin all summer long will not give you the look you seek when you're wearing sleeveless tops and bathing suits during the warmer months.

There are several reasons why the underarms pose shaving challenges. Because of their curvy contour, it's harder for the razor to glide smoothly over the skin. Also, for many people, underarm hair does not grow in one direction, as it does on the legs and elsewhere on the body. As a result, good shaving practices, such as shaving in the direction of the hair growth to avoid ingrown hairs and irritation, can be very difficult to observe [source: Lawrence].

But it's not all bad news. Although shaving your underarms can pose a challenge, if you take a little time before you apply razor to hair, you can get a closer shave with fewer red bumps, nicks or cuts to show for it.

Read on for tips on how best to prepare your underarms for a smooth, close shave.