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Does Shaving Cause Acne?

If you’re a breakout-prone man that shaves on a regular basis, you might be wondering: does shaving cause acne? There are a lot of misconceptions about the connections between shaving and breakouts, so I’m here to clear things up. Below, we’ll talk about how shaving can play a role in acne – the answer isn’t quite as straightforward as you’d think. We’ll also talk about what people prone to blemishes can do to ensure they aren’t triggering breakouts when going through their shaving routine.  

Let’s answer this question right off the bat: no, the act of shaving itself does not cause acne. However, there are shaving-related factors that can increase your likelihood of experiencing post-shave breakouts. 

One of the main causes of acne post-shaving is using an old or unclean razor. Doing so can spread dead skin cells, bacteria, and other debris to the skin, which can eventually clog pores. 

Additionally, certain shaving creams and aftershaves can contribute to breakouts. This is because many formulas contain ingredients that either cause clogged pores or irritate the skin.  

With all of this in mind, to prevent post-shave breakouts, it’s important not only to practice safe and hygienic shaving practices but also to pick the best shaving products for your skin type and needs. 

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Razor Bumps vs. Acne

Here’s a big caveat: the acne you experience after shaving may actually not be acne at all. Many men assume that shaving causes acne because they experience post-shave bumps that look like pimples. In reality, they’re often just razor bumps. While the two can look quite similar to the untrained eye, there are key differences.

Razor Bumps

Razor bumps (also known as pseudofolliculitis barbae) are caused by improper shaving techniques. This can include shaving against the grain of the hair (AKA in the opposite direction of hair growth), not properly prepping the skin prior to shaving, or shaving with a dull blade. They occur when the hair grows into the skin, rather than out. This ingrown hair irritates the follicle, which results in swelling and redness. Typically, razor bumps will clear up within a day or two. 

There are a few key things you can do to prevent razor bumps. Before shaving, properly exfoliate your skin to clear the follicle. As you shave, use a shaving cream to prevent irritation. Be sure to also avoid shaving too close to the skin or pulling the skin while shaving.

Additionally, you want to make sure you aren’t shaving too frequently, as this can also lead to razor bumps. Beyond that, it’s also important to replace your razor blade frequently – we’ll talk more about that below.  

Acne

Acne, on the other hand, is typically caused when excess sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria clog the pores. Hormones also play a role in acne. If the bumps around the area where you shave look the same as the pimples you get on other parts of your face, there’s a good chance that these bumps are acne. 

While the best course of action for treating acne will depend on the type of acne you’re dealing with, anyone with acne-prone skin will benefit from establishing a targeting breakout-fighting skincare routine. You’ll also want to avoid products containing ingredients that can clog the pores or irritate the skin. We’ll talk about some ingredients to steer clear of in your shaving products below.

How to Pick a Good Razor to Prevent Acne

There are definitely some razors that are better than others for acne-prone skin, so it’s important to choose yours carefully. Multi-blade razors can work for men that deal with breakouts, but you must choose the right one. There are two key factors you should look for with these types of razors. 

First, you’ll want one with a skin guard. Since multi-blade razors shave super close to the skin, they create a ton of friction, which can cause ingrown hairs and can be irritating – especially if you already have sensitive or inflamed skin. A skin guard helps counteract these negative effects.

You’ll also want to look for a multi-blade razor that has blades that are spaced super close together. This leaves very little room for the skin to get tugged and irritated. 

Alternatively, you can opt for a single-blade razor, which I find to be the simple and easy approach. While it may seem a bit old fashioned, these types of razors are gentler on the skin and more suitable for irritable acne-prone complexions. 

Changing and Cleaning Your Razor

Of course, when it comes to shaving-related acne, even more important than choosing a good razor is cleaning it after every use and replacing the blades on a regular basis. 

Since blades can harbor debris and bacteria that can clog pores and cause acne, it’s crucial that you stay on top of replacing them. To avoid acne caused by shaving, be sure to replace your blades after every five to seven shaves. Doing so will also help prevent razor bumps, which can be caused by using an old, dull blade. If you have a hard time keeping track of how long you’ve been using a razor, I recommend trying a subscription service so that you’re regularly reminded to refresh your blades.   

Now let’s talk about cleaning. To properly and thoroughly clean your razor during your shave, you’ll want to rinse it between each swipe. This will prevent buildup of dead skin cells and other debris. After shaving, run your razor under hot water to remove the grime and sterilize it. Place it somewhere where it can fully dry in order to prevent any bacteria growth. 

How to Pick a Good Shaving Cream to Prevent Acne

A shaving cream (or gel) is an essential product that is necessary for a non-irritating shave. However, some men prone to breakouts might feel the urge to skip this step. Don’t let the thick consistency throw you off. Shaving creams can be safe for acne-prone skin – you just need to pick the right formula.

What to Look for in a Shaving Cream

A shaving cream that is good for acne-prone skin should have gentle, calming, and non-irritating ingredients. I recommend going for glycerin-based shaving creams. This humectant moisturizes and softens the hair and skin without causing irritation or clogging the pores. You can also keep an eye out for soothing ingredients, like aloe vera and allantoin. 

Additionally, consider looking for shaving creams made with acne-fighting ingredients. Salicylic acid (which is a chemical exfoliant) is great for unclogging pores to prevent not just acne, but also razor bumps. Tea tree oil is another highly effective ingredient to look out for, as it has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.  

What to Avoid in a Shaving Cream

What might be even more important is avoiding shaving creams that contain irritating and/or acne-causing ingredients. One comedogenic (AKA pore-clogging) ingredient that is commonly added to shaving creams is coconut oil. While this oil is very moisturizing, it’s also a known trigger for breakouts, so it’s best to stay away from shaving creams that contain it. 

I also suggest skipping shaving creams made with dyes or fragrances. These added ingredients can be irritating to acne-prone and sensitive skin, so I recommend avoiding them. 

Similarly, watch out for formulas that contain menthol or eucalyptus oil. These are often included in shaving creams and other products in order to create a cooling sensation. While it’s certainly refreshing, these ingredients can irritate and dry out the skin. 

Additional Products to Use in Your Anti-Acne Shaving Routine

A proper skincare routine is an absolute must for both preventing acne and getting the best possible shave. Here are the types of products to consider adding to your routine to get the best results possible. 

Exfoliating Cleanser

For pre-shave skin prep, you’ll want to use an effective exfoliating cleanser. This type of cleanser will remove dead skin cells and debris on the surface of the skin that can clog both your pores and the razor blades. Ultimately, this leads to a better shave and a clearer complexion. 

While some may recommend using physical scrubs before shaving, these typically aren’t suitable for acneic skin – particularly if you’re currently dealing with breakouts. Scrubs can irritate the blemishes, and may even damage the skin to the point of causing acne scars or marks. 

Instead, opt for a cleanser that contains chemical exfoliants. Salicylic acid is particularly ideal for acne-prone skin, as it is able to dive deep into the pores to dislodge debris and treat and prevent acne. Alpha hydroxy acids – such as glycolic acid and lactic acid – are also great ingredients.  

Aftershave

Aftershaves aren’t completely essential, but many do prefer to use them. Good formulas can help speed up the healing process of nicks, soothe the skin, and tighten the pores.

Aftershaves can be beneficial for taking care of acneic skin post-shave, but you have to carefully select the right product. Just like with shaving creams, some can contain ingredients that trigger acne and irritate the skin.  

For those with breakout-prone skin, I suggest ones that contain antiseptic ingredients like witch hazel or tea tree oil. Both of these ingredients fight acne and have soothing properties, and also work to disinfect any nicks. Gentle moisturizing ingredients – such as aloe and glycerin – are also great additions. 

Some aftershaves – particularly those made specifically for acne-prone or oily skin – are formulated with salicylic acid. These are suitable options for both preventing breakouts and ingrown hairs. 

A lot of aftershaves contain alcohol, but I recommend avoiding these. Alcohol-based aftershaves can dry out and/or irritate the skin, which will ultimately do more harm than good. For the same reason, skip dyes, added fragrances, or menthol. 

Moisturizer

After you shave, you’ll want to rinse off your face with warm water, and then follow up with a moisturizer. Beyond just moisturizing the skin, a good moisturizer will comfort the skin after shaving and create a protective barrier. 

The skin needs to be properly moisturized to function properly, so this isn’t a step you can skip. Those with oily acneic skin may think they don’t need a moisturizer, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. When the skin isn’t getting the moisture it needs, it can overcompensate by producing an excess of oil. This can lead to shine, and can also trigger acne. 

You’ll want to pick a lightweight but thoroughly hydrating moisturizer that’s free of comedogenic ingredients. Skip formulas that contain irritating ingredients, such as fragrances and dyes. 

Sam Wood Author of GoodGlow
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Shaving with Current Breakouts

On a final note, it’s also important to highlight that you should skip the shave if you’re currently dealing with a painful, inflamed breakout. Doing so will just irritate the skin further, and will likely lead to acne scars and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

If you have some mild or moderate acne, you can still shave using the tools and techniques mentioned above – you just need to do so with a bit of extra caution. Try to shave around any blemishes as much as possible, and use a light touch when navigating the area.

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Sam has battled acne for a better part of his life. He created this website after his skin cleared up when he changed his diet and lifestyle. He built GoodGlow.co to be the ultimate guide to clear skin from within. Read more of Sam's articles.


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