One of the quirks of Western culture is a desire to get rid of body hair in certain areas where we've deemed it unacceptable. For this reason, most women spend hours shaving their legs and under their arms, and they spend money on an assortment of products designed to make the shaving process (and the results) smoother.
Shaving your underarms is particularly tricky -- it's at an odd angle, you can't really look directly at them, and one of them will have to be done without the help of your dominant hand. A botched shaving job can lead to irritated skin in a very awkward place. Even without any serious nicks or scrapes, many people suffer from razor burn, rashes and other forms of underarm irritation. What's the best way to go about this unpleasant but socially necessary task while avoiding razor burn?
Luckily, dermatologists, beauty experts and cosmetics manufacturers have given this problem some thought, not to mention millions of dollars in research. Their efforts won't just make the underarm care industry lots of money -- they can help you avoid underarm razor burn. Here, in no particular order, are the top 5 tips for preventing underarm razor burn.
5: Shave at Night
When you shave anywhere, the blade does some damage to the skin. It opens thousands of tiny gashes, gouges and cuts. Luckily, these don't cause any serious damage, and they heal quickly. The problems start when you immediately apply a chemical to the area, or the area becomes sweaty. What do you usually do right after you shave your underarms? You probably apply deodorant. And what do your underarms do just about all the time? They sweat.
The chemicals, fragrances and other ingredients in your deodorant or antiperspirant get into those tiny cuts. In fact, anti-perspirants work by plugging up the pores under your arms so you don't sweat, which means they do an excellent job of getting into those tiny cuts. This can really irritate the skin under your arms. Your own sweat can irritate the area, too, because bacteria thrive in that moist, dark environment. They'll thrive there anyway, but if you shave at night, right before bed, you're unlikely to be running around in the hot sun. Less sweat right after shaving means fewer bacteria getting into cuts, which equals less chance of irritation.
By the time morning comes around, your skin will have healed, so antiperspirant and sweat won't do much harm.
4: Shave in the Shower
The moisture in the shower softens hair slightly, making it easier to shave. But there's a right way and a wrong way to shave in the shower. For one thing, you want to get the shaving done early in the shower. After about 10 minutes, the heat and moisture of the shower make your skin swell. If you shave it then, you won't get a very close shave. Later, when the skin dries out and returns to its unswollen state, there will be stubble.
It's also very important to store your razor in such a way that it gets completely dry in between showers. If it is allowed to stay moist, it makes a wonderful home for bacteria, and we've already explained why you want to keep bacteria away from your underarms.
Another important factor is the freshness of your razor. Experts say you should change blades every two weeks, or every five shaves or so. A dull razor forces you to press down harder or make more passes with the razor, which increases skin irritation. Multi-blade razors are better than single-blade razors for this same reason -- you'll accomplish a smooth shave with fewer passes, so there's less wear and tear on the delicate skin under your arms.
3: Get Permanent Hair Removal
There are two main methods of getting the hair of your underarms permanently removed: laser hair removal and electrolysis. They operate in different ways, but the end goal is the same -- to remove hair and keep it from ever growing back. You don't have to worry about razor burn when a razor never touches your underarms.
Electrolysis destroys the hair follicles (the part of your skin that hairs grow from) via the insertion of a tiny electrode. The electrode zaps the follicle, which will never grow another hair again. It's a tedious process, but is generally regarded as an effective method of removing hair permanently.
Laser hair removal takes advantage of the fact that the pigments in dark hair follicles are darker than the surrounding skin. The follicle absorbs more light and heat than the skin, so a targeted laser can destroy the follicle without harming surrounding skin cells. However, because it relies on the contrast between the hair follicle's color and skin color, it works best with dark hair and light skin. While it can work with dark skin, people with blonde or light red underarm hair will need to find another method of underarm hair removal.
Both electrolysis and laser hair removal have varying degrees of success, depending largely on the skill of the operator. They are both also quite expensive. A single session can cost from $100 to several hundred dollars, and seven or more sessions may be needed to complete the treatment.
2: Follow Directions
One of the complications of shaving your underarms is that the hair in that area doesn't grow in just one direction. The secret is to shave in a "T" shape. Start at the top, then shave down through the middle of your underarm. Then shave across the whole underarm from one side to the other. It helps to pull the skin in the area so it's as flattened out as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, frequent shaving does not cause the hair to grow back thicker or coarser. Certain deodorants or lotions may provide the opposite effect, softening underarm hair and causing it to grow back lighter. So shave as often as you need to, but remember the "T" formation.
1: Read the Ingredients
If you experience persistent skin irritation in your underarms, the problem might not be razor burn at all. It might be the shaving cream, deodorant or antiperspirant you're using. Many of these products contain alcohol, which dries and irritates the skin, fragrances that may cause a contact allergy or irritate the tiny cuts caused by shaving, or other chemicals that just don't agree with your skin.
To combat the problem, stop using whatever shaving creams and deodorants you've been using. Apply a hydrocortisone cream to the area for a few days until the irritation subsides. When you shave, use an alcohol-free shaving cream. The best solution is one that contains aloe, which will soften and soothe the skin. You may have to experiment with different deodorants and anti-perspirants. Some people develop skin irritation due to the aluminum and other chemicals in anti-perspirants, while others have problems with the fragrances in deodorants. Start with a product containing the fewest added fragrances and work up from there to see what your skin will tolerate. It's up to you to balance underarm care with your particular sweat- and odor-fighting needs.
There's one last thing you might be overlooking -- your clothes. Tight shirts made of materials that don't breathe well can trap sweat, promote bacterial growth and lead to irritated underarms. Loose cotton shirts are your best bet.
For more on taking good care of your skin, visit the links on the next page.
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- Cosmo staff. "Beauty Q&A." Cosmopolitan, August 2009. Vol. 247, no. 2., p. 88.
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- Day, Doris. "Q&A." Redbook, Aug. 2007. Vol. 209, no. 2, p. 64.
- Goins, Lisa. "Bare Essentials." In Style, Spring 2009. Vol. 16, no. 4, p. 181.
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