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Close shave: how your shaving habits affect your skin and health

May 9th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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Your razor commandments: how to avoid the likes of pustules, abscesses and bacterial infections. And you thought shaving rash was the worst of it…

If you’re a regular shaver, you’re a pretty typical Brit. According to Mintel, 77 per cent of UK women shave their underarms, and 85 per cent shave their legs. For such a day to day grooming activity, however, shaving isn’t always as safe and straightforward as it ought to be. Sure, the gruesome barbershop days of old are long gone, but modern shaving stats also make for grisly reading- according to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 60 per cent of US women have incurred at least one health complication from pubic hair removal, with razor cuts and resulting infections some of the most common depilation disasters. Clearly an injury in your nether regions is never welcome, but poor shaving hygiene and practice can lead to serious issues elsewhere too, and occasionally hospitalisation according to the experts. To keep your relationship with your razor harmonious, pay heed to the following razor rules, because no one needs an abscess if their armpit.

Be real about when your razor is blunt

You can flog that razor horse for one more week right? That will be a big fat no. If your blades are dull, accumulating scum and grime (don’t even) or past their use by date, they need to be binned. Here’s the cold hard truth about your razor’s lifespan according to cosmetic physician Dr Sabika Karim:

“I would advise my patients to use a good quality razor and change the blades on a regular basis. I recommend changing blades once a week.”

If weekly razor replacement seems inconvenient and expensive, first bear in mind that you could be saving yourself a whole lot of stress and gore (more on that later), and secondly signing up to a subscription razor service such as Friction Free Shaving reduces the faff and sky high high street costs of getting regular replacements. You can select a satisfyingly weighty and sleek chrome razor handle, alongside four refills, delivered to your door for £9 a month. Convenience and hygiene aren’t the only perks of the service either- our editor Victoria is a long-term FFS subscriber and reports that it’s the best razor she’s ever used (thorough, smooth and non-snaggy). You’ll never be tempted to resort to a blunt razor again. Especially when you read the following…

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Give your razor space and air

Sure, your razor may seem high maintenance, but if you don’t keep it as dry as possible post-shave, and store it in a hygienic manner, you could have a bacteria banquet on your hands/ legs/ bits. Your razor will already be harbouring “a few hundred thousand microorganisms on the surface of the blades” according to Dr Karim, including dead skin cells that are removed alongside hair, but leaving yours in a damp, warm environment will cause bacteria to proliferate, plus it’s all the more likely to pick up harmful crud if it’s face down in a moist soap dish. Said bacterial cocktail could actually be quite scary too, as Dr Karim explains:

“A bacteria ridden, blunt razor cut could lead to more generalised infections such as cellulitis, which is an infection of the deeper layers of the skin most commonly caused by bacteria that normally live on the skin's surface. Cellulitis can cause swelling, fevers and can become extremely serious; in the worst case, left untreated it can even lead to bacteraemia, which is a bacterial infection of the blood and a serious medical condition that could lead to hospitalisation.”

Don’t assume that a hot rinse after shaving will clean your blades completely- Dr Karim underlines that while this helps to remove debris you can see, germs can still fester. Ensure that you store your razor upright, ideally in an airy environment. Plastic blade covers can help to prevent bacterial growth and protect your blades, but only put them on once your razor is fully dry, otherwise you’re starting another bacteria party.

Don’t rush it

Shaving is the speediest, handiest and least painful method of hair removal, but don’t get casual about defuzzing. As anyone who’s nicked an ankle will know, razor cuts can bleed far more profusely than you might imagine, and once you’ve got a cut, you’re vulnerable to infection, particularly if your razor was blunt in the first place (ironically blunt blades often lead to more nicks as you tend to apply more pressure when shaving). Dr Karim elaborates on the potential consequences of cutting yourself with a less than fresh razor:

“Not only do they increase the risk of pseudo-folliculitis (shaving rash), but the incomplete cutting of the hair can lead to folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicle), causing red raised bumps that can be unsightly and itchy. Worse still, the hair follicles can become infected with Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria, which can cause pustules and abscesses to form.”

Plague like post-shave symptoms aren’t exactly on anyone’s list, but if such side-effects keep occuring, the long-term effects aren’t pretty either:

“Recurrent episodes of any of the above can also give rise to long term complications such as post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, where the skin becomes darker, hypertrophic scarring and keloid scar formation.”

Gliding over skin gently, in a slow and steady manner and with a sparkling clean razor should hopefully avert any literal blood baths or bacterial infections. You don’t really bargain for either when you’re shaving your legs of a morning.

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Don’t dry shave

Not only is the scrape of a razor over dry, prickly skin a ‘nails on a blackboard’ type experience, but it also increases the likelihood of cuts and nicks, which are bad news for all the reasons above, not least painful and not what you were going to when you simply wanted smooth limbs. Build up a lather with a small amount of shaving gel or cream first to cushion skin and your blade. All better.

Cool off

Hot water is handy for giving your blade a rinse between passes and after shaving, but soaking skin for too long in piping hot water can also leave you more susceptible to cuts (getting shaving right is sometimes quite the Goldilocks situation). Very hot water dries out skin anyway, so for all over body benefits, err towards the lukewarm.

Bear in mind where you’re putting your blade

If you’re shaving your legs, armpits and other areas of the body all in the one session, as most of us do, this makes regular blade replacement all the more crucial, as Dr Karim explains that “the microbiome of the body varies and it’s really important to avoid the spread of bacteria between different parts of the body.” She compares hanging onto blunt razor blades to sleeping in damp sheets or rarely washing your towels, both of which would be social and domestic unthinkables. Somehow we’re not quite as disciplined where razor hygiene is concerned, but it’s even more vital for women to replace razor blades often as it is for men- generally, ours travel to more varied and exotic locations than our chins.

Resist picking at rashes or bumps

Prevention is clearly better than cure, but if you’ve got razor burn or a stubborn ingrown hair, poking at it is highly likely to result in infection, or just general aggravation of the area. Keep skin clean and dry, applying aloe vera to soothe, and if anything goes nasty, book in with your GP.

Don’t share razors

But you already knew that. Using someone else’s razor multiplies your potential bacteria count, plus you don’t know when the blades where last replaced, or where they’ve been. Just. No. FFS offers a fancy engraving service to prevent any house share mix-ups. Also, a razor will never look so elegant as when its rose gold handle is embellished with your name in italics. It’s the height of depilation sophistication.

This feature was written in partnership with Friction Free Shaving

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