Men Know Razor Bumps from Shaving – 3 Steps to Avoid the Pain

(edited from the Skin Therapy Letter article: Male Skin Care)

For decades, skin care has primarily been considered to be the domain of women, but recently, an increasing number of men are also endeavoring to maintain optimal skin health and prevent unwanted changes that can occur with intrinsic and extrinsic aging. Caring for the skin requires a basic understanding of its functions and the differences between genders, as well as variations among individuals.

Although some skin care products can be effectively used by both men and women, awareness of gender-specific attributes are helpful for guiding aspects of skin care regimens and the choice of products, in order to improve outcomes. This article will focus on the unique facets of men’s skin physiology with particular emphasis on shaving and the prevention of razor bumps.

Differences Between Male and Female Skin

The skin of men and women differs as a consequence of hormonal influences. Listed below are some male-specific physiologic features of the skin.

Hair distribution and characteristics differ between genders and are largely determined by a combination of genetic, cultural, interpersonal, and behavioral factors. In addition to stimulating hair growth, the rise in testosterone levels in males increases the size, growth rate, and pigmentation of hair. As such, men have more facial hair than women, making this attribute one of the most defining features of males.1

Skin thickness:
At all ages, male skin is thicker than that of females in all anatomic areas, but onset of skin thinning can occur as early as 20 years of age.1-3 In contrast, women’s skin, although thinner, maintains its thickness until about the fourth or fifth decades of life.

Sebaceous glands:
Sebaceous glands (SGs) are associated with hair follicles throughout the body, with the face and scalp having the highest density. Oily secretions (sebum) from SGs are thought to help with hydration and lubrication of the outermost layer of the skin.

SGs are regulated by androgens, resulting in increased size and secretory activity. Typically, men produce more sebum than women, therefore, severe acne & the subsequent potential of acne scarring is more prevalent in men than in women.1,2


Men have a higher sweat rate than women.1 In comparison with men, sweating is triggered at higher body temperatures before perspiration occurs in women.
Consistently warm conditions, especially in the underarm regions, encourage bacterial growth that causes body odors. Particularly in males, increased hair density in these areas helps to control moisture.

Men have a greater predisposition to bacterial and viral infections, and therefore, recovery from internal infections may present more challenges.1,3

Wound healing:
At all ages, men appear to have slower wound healing rates than women1,3 and are at greater risk for dysregulated wound healing, which is particularly evident in the elderly population.

Shaving Technique

Facial hair removal practices adopted by men and women can differ significantly. Women prefer manual razors, waxing, threading, electrolysis, or the use of depilatories; whereas men favor the use of manual or electric razors to manage facial hair growth.4 The shaving ritual is individualistic and focused on easing the associated discomfort.

The optimal shave should be fast, comfortable (minimizing irritation, nick/cuts, and razor burns), effective (e.g., achieving desired results and restoring smoother skin post-shave with moisturizers), and safe (e.g., without aggravating or causing more skin problems, such as redness, infection, and ingrown hairs).

The key components of successful shaving include:

1. Pre-shave:
In this phase, the hair and skin need to be prepared for shaving. It is important to cleanse the face of pollutants, dirt, and contaminants by using lukewarm water and mild soap. This is followed by application of shaving lubricant (e.g., creams or gels). This step serves to moisten the skin and hairs, making them softer and easier to cut; a dry razor shave is difficult to achieve without aggravating the skin and causing razor burn. Although adequate hydration time allows for easy hair cutting, excess hydration can weaken the skin, making it more vulnerable to damage (i.e., insufficient hydration will leave hair too rigid and excessive hydration will leave skin too soft to withstand contact with the blade). Furthermore, shaving lubricants assist in reducing friction between the skin and the shaving blade, allowing for an easier glide of strokes. The shaving preparation should not aggravate the skin or cause undesirable effects, such as worsening of acne or induce an allergic reaction.

2. Shave:
The many different blade-shaving technologies include single- and multiple-blade systems, which are further diversified by manual or electric operation. The basic design premise of multi-blade systems is that it produces a smoother shave in fewer strokes. Less passes improves shaving efficiency and causes less trauma to softened skin. These devices should also allow for full facial as well as neck shaving, while maintaining flexibility in order to access hard-to-reach areas, such as the cleft chin, corners of the mouth, and the region under the nose. The blades should be good quality to avoid cuts and skin abrasion. Disposable razors or blade cartridges should be frequently inspected and replaced regularly depending on frequency of use to minimize the chance for cuts, irritation, and infection.

3. Post-shave:
Once the actual shaving is completed, it is essential to restore hydration to the skin. During the shaving process, the outermost layer of the skin can be removed with the razor blade, resulting in decreased barrier function as well as micro-trauma to the skin, causing dryness and irritation. Moisturization and protection may be restored through the use of non-irritating, emollient enriched aftershave products.


Razor Bumps

Razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) is a common chronic inflammatory, non-infectious condition affecting both men and women; Usually males with coarse or curly hair are typically affected. Razor bumps frequently results from the habitual removal of unwanted hair, which promotes hairs to enter the dermis or epidermis prior to exiting the follicular opening (trans-follicular penetration) or re-entering skin that is adjacent to the follicular opening (extra-follicular penetration).5,6

The use of inappropriate shaving techniques or devices that tug and pull at the skin), such as a dry and/or close shave (e.g., when pulling the skin taut) can promote trans-follicular penetration. Dry shaves create sharper hair tips and when a close shave is achieved, causing the hair to retract back into the follicle, resulting in irritation. Over time, repetitive skin trauma can cause papules and pustules to form, further progressing to keloid scars that appear as hard hyperpigmented bumps

Adequate pre-shave preparation and post-shave use of hydrating emollients can contribute to skin barrier maintenance and reduce the incidence of razor bumps.

The desired improvement of razor bumps can only be achieved with persistence and focus on avoiding aggravating factors.


As more manufactures are responding to the growing demand for men’s skin care products and services, it is helpful for both consumers and clinicians to be aware of the unique properties of male skin physiology, especially when seeking advice prior to the implementation of therapeutic and cosmetic approaches. In particular, facial skin differs greatly between genders. In contemporary culture, shaving has evolved into a common, often necessary, ritual.

With that in mind, acquiring a basic understanding of the complexities of men’s skin better positions physicians to encourage patients to adopt optimal grooming strategies for shaving and skin care in order to avoid inflicting skin damage that can cause other complications, such as razor bumps, allergenicity, hyperpigmentation, or even permanent scarring.

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