The Art of the Perfect Shave

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Most women barely have time to get out the door with their teeth brushed, kids off to school, and makeup on before they commute to the office, so shaving is a luxury that gets put on the bottom of the to-do list. But when the long, cold days of winter are a memory and the shorts and no-nylons time of year begins, there is no more hiding. Women, bring out your razors!
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Basic Tips for a Smooth Shave

There is no real trick to shaving. We all know how to do it, but not everyone knows how to get the best results and the softest legs. The following tips are the basics of a great, smooth shave:

  • Use a mild scrub (sugar scrubs are great), damp washcloth with your body wash, or a daily exfoliant such as AHA or BHA to help keep flaky skin at a minimum (which means you can get a closer shave).
  • It is essential for your legs to be wet for at least two or three minutes before starting; wet hair is soft, pliable, and easier to cut. Nothing is as irritating or chafing as shaving dry or slightly damp legs. However, skin should not be soaked (as you might experience in a bathtub) because the skin swells up around the hair follicles, thus preventing a close shave.
  • Finding a razor that works well for your skin, given the pressure you use while shaving, the texture of your skin, and the density of hair growth, takes some experimentation. No single type of razor works well for everyone, though the newer triple blades seem to work wonders. After finding the one that works best for you, the main thing is to change the blade frequently—dull razors make for poor shaving results.
  • When it comes to shaving creams or gels, for both men and women, those that contain emollients (usually those identified as being good for sensitive dry skin) work perfectly on the legs! There is absolutely no reason to buy shaving gels or creams in pretty pink containers when in truth they are virtually identical to those in more masculine or unadorned packages. The only real difference in products targeted specifically to men or women is the type of fragrance, and fragrance-free is best for the least risk of irritation.
  • Avoid shaving products that contain irritants (such as alcohol, menthol, and peppermint). Used over newly shaved skin, irritating ingredients can cause red bumps and ingrown hairs. If you find yourself without shaving cream in the shower, use hair conditioner or body wash instead. This is far easier on the legs than shaving with a bar soap or bar cleanser.
  • For best results, shave against the growth of hair using careful strokes and applying even pressure.
  • After you are done, do NOT use a loofah or washcloth. The action of shaving has already exfoliated your skin and further rubbing can cause irritation and create problems.
  • At night apply a moisturizer, and during the day, if your legs are going to be exposed to sun, apply a moisturizer with sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater) that contains the UVA-protecting ingredients avobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide.
  • Avoid AHAs after shaving. The glycolic acid in AHA products can be unnecessarily irritating to freshly shaved skin.

Preventing Red Bumps

In addition to the occasional nicks and cuts incurred during shaving, it isn't unusual to also have an aftermath of uncomfortable and unattractive razor bumps (red, inflamed blemishes), particularly along the bikini line. Hair follicles are attached to oil glands, and both are attached to nerve endings. Shaving tends to irritate the skin, the hair follicle, and the oil gland, causing a rash-like breakout of annoying bumps. Ingrown hairs can also be a dilemma. Ingrown hairs are curly, wiry hairs that turn, curl, and dig into the adjacent skin as they grow out, or hairs that grow back in the wrong direction, causing a bump that can become infected.

As widespread a beauty problem as this can be, for women and men alike, the lack of products addressing the issue is surprising. The only non-irritating product we know of that is aimed specifically at reducing or preventing these red bumps is Paula's Choice CLINICAL Instant Calm Advanced Redness Relief. This contains stabilized aspirin, which is an effective topical agent that can alleviate most forms of skin irritation. It also contains willowherb and green tea, two potent anti-irritants that further help normalize and heal skin.

If you find the bumps do not respond well to CLINICAL Calm Instant Calm Advanced Redness Relief, try occasionally using an over-the-counter cortisone cream (Aveeno makes a good one) to reduce the redness and irritation. However, if the bumps get infected you need to disinfect them with an over-the-counter antibiotic like Neosporin, Polysporin, or Bacitracin. All three are excellent for quick relief from a small topical infection.

Contrary to what many believe, shaving does not change the texture, color, or rate of hair growth. Hair density is genetically and hormonally determined; it has nothing to do with what you do topically to the skin (unless you traumatically damage the hair follicle via injury or burns). But by following these simple steps you can have beautifully soft and smooth legs just in time for shorts weather.

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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