What's the best way to prepare skin for shaving?

Beautiful Skin Image Gallery If she has sensitive skin, she might be sorry she didn’t shave with the grain, instead of against it. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
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For millions of people, shaving is a part of their everyday grooming routine. They can all appreciate the soft, smooth feel of a close shave. However, attaining that stubble-free skin can be an irritating affair. But if you take time to ready your skin properly before taking razor in hand, you can avoid the pitfalls of poor preparation. Banish razor burn, razor bumps, nicks and cuts by following a few simple tips.

There are a few pre-shaving techniques that apply to everyone -- no matter who's doing the shaving or where. The first and most important step is to clean your skin thoroughly before you shave. That way, if you do happen to nick yourself, you'll be less likely to get an infection. While you're cleansing your skin, you should determine the direction of growth for the hair you want to target. Contrary to what you might have heard, it's best to shave with the grain (direction of hair growth), not against it. Doing so not only saves your skin from irritation, but it can also keep ingrown hairs at bay. Another thing to consider while cleansing is exfoliation. It can be helpful to exfoliate your skin once or twice a week to remove dead skin to keep pores clear, which can also combat ingrown hair problems.

Next, it's all about hydration. For those who shave in the shower or bath, you have a leg up on the rest of the shaving population, especially if you save the shave until the end of your bathing process. The warm or hot water from your bath or shower softens hair and opens the pores to release the skin's natural oil, which helps protect skin. And men get an added benefit -- hot water relaxes the muscles of the face, making the skin smoother and easier to shave [source: Greenberg, Madaras]. For those who prefer to shave at the sink, you can get similar benefits by placing a warm, wet towel on your skin for a few minutes prior to shaving.

OK, so your pores are open and the area you're about to shave is totally doused in warm water. What's next? Shaving products. Keep reading to find out what shaving-prep products and tools will make you razor ready.

Shaving Prep: Products, Tips and Tools

A key to proper shaving prep is in the products you use. And it's here where the shaving preparation process can start to change for different people. The main thing to keep in mind is that you want something that will protect your skin while you're passing the razor along it. The goal is for the razor to glide smoothly over the surface, taking only hair -- not skin -- with it. Why is this so important? The friction of the blade against your skin is what causes irritation and razor burn. The product (or products) you pick can depend on your skin type and even your hair's texture.

Before we delve into the topic of oils, soaps, creams and gels, let's talk about the shaving brush. If you've ever seen an old Western or a movie set in the 1940s or 1950s, chances are you've seen a shaving brush in action. If you're not recalling such an image, the device is pretty simple -- it's used to lather up and distribute shaving soap or cream. Most experts agree that the best shaving brushes are made of 100 percent badger hair, which does an exceptional job of holding water and can act as an exfoliant [source: Greenberg]. Ladies, pay attention -- brushes aren't just for men. More and more women are starting to incorporate them into their shaving routines and there are women's skin care lines to prove it, including Whish Body and The Art of Shaving for Women [sources: Whish and The Art of Shaving for Women].

Now that you know the benefits of the brush, let's talk about the products to use with (or without) one. Unless you're operating an electric razor, you need to use something to protect your skin while shaving. But first, some people recommend applying a shaving oil prior to this step, insisting that it can help open your pores, soften hair and protect your skin [sources: Whish and The Art of Shaving for Women]. Whether you go for the oil or opt not to try it, definitely don't skip the shaving soap, cream, lotion or gel.

Old-school style shaving soaps have been around for a very long time, and they continue to be used because their high-fat contents provide a good protective layer for your skin. Shaving cream, lotion and gel also provide protection. Pay attention to ingredients and, if you're prone to dry skin, opt for products that don't contain alcohol or other drying agents. Whatever you choose, massage it gently onto your skin. The massage will help stimulate the release of oils from your skin. And there's no need to make yourself resemble a pile of whipped cream -- you only need a thin layer of shaving product against your skin to achieve a smooth shave [source: Lawrence].

Though many of these pre-shaving tips work for everyone, you might want to take special precautions if you have particularly course and/or curly hair. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of African-American men suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae or PFB -- razor bumps caused by ingrown hairs [source: Gite]. When you shave, your hair is pulled slightly by the razor. Hair that curls back on itself can slip back beneath the skin's surface. It can then have a harder time finding its way back to the surface through the original follicle channel. This process can cause ingrown hairs [source: Lawrence]. To help with this problem, you can buy shaving creams formulated specifically for curly hair. Another tip involves grabbing a pair of tweezers to unravel hairs that are growing back toward your skin. Once you've got the hairs unfurled and heading in the right direction, you can shave them [source: Gite].

To learn more about getting the best shave possible, visit the Web sites on the next page.

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Sources:

  • Brown, Bobbi. "Grooming Your Guy." Prevention 57, no. 6 (June 2005): 75. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (Accessed 10/2/09).
  • Gannon, Chris. "Shaving 301: put down the can of foam." Las Vegas Business Press. December 4, 2006. Accessed online via MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (Accessed 10/2/09).
  • Gite, Lloyd. "How to take the bumps out of shaving." Heart & Soul. June 1996. Accessed online via MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (Accessed 10/2/09).
  • Greenberg, Corey. "How to Get That Perfect Shave: Latest Trends and Products to Avoid Those Nicks and Cuts." Weekend Today. 1/30/05. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6886845/
  • Lawrence, Star. "Getting a Close Shave: Experts Share Tips About the Best Way for Men and Women to Shave Off Unwanted Hair." WebMD. 2005. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=53571
  • Madaras, Lynda. Ready, Set, Grow! Google Books. 2008 (Accessed 9/15/09)http://books.google.com/books?id=iLF8Q7Y_Y1QC&pg=PA41&dq=shave+hair&lr=#v=onepage&q=shave%20hair&f=false