In the quest for smooth, fuzz-free skin, most women reach for a razor to remove unwanted hair from their underarms, bikini area, and legs. In fact, shaving is the number one hair removal method used by women—at least when it comes to getting rid of hair down there.
There are plenty of reasons it's so popular: “Shaving is cheap, easy, you can do it at any time, and you don't have to have an appointment,” says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an OB/GYN at the Mount Kisco Medical Group.
But navigating your body’s nooks and crannies with a razor can be a, well, hairy situation. Shaving can cause skin irritation, ingrown hairs, and microcuts—tiny open wounds that leave you vulnerable to infection. So what’s the best, safest way to do it? We asked Dweck, as well as Doris Day, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City, to fill us in.
7 Tips for a Better Shave
1. Invest in a multiblade razor.
It all comes down to the right tools—and a sharp multiblade razor is key. More blades on your razor means fewer passes to remove hair, saving you from repeatedly scraping across your skin and upping the odds of irritation.
You also want to choose a razor with a head that pivots and is flexible, rather than fixed, so it glides easily across your body’s curves and corners, reducing the risk of nicks, Day says.
2. Ditch blades as soon as they get dull.
Though the high cost of replacement blades makes you want to keep them for as long as possible, you should be tossing blades as soon as they start to get dull—or worse—rusty.
Although it depends on how thick and coarse your hair is, in general, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends changing your razor blade after five to seven uses. And if you’re shaving three times a week, yes, that means about every two weeks.
“If there’s one dull spot on the razor, that one spot passes over [the entire area you’re shaving] so you'll get irritations, nicks, and cuts,” Day says. “Once you realize you have to make more passes to remove the hair, it's time to get a new razor.”
3. Use shaving gel.
Of course, no razor should ever be without its trusty sidekick: shave gel or cream. Both Dweck and Day say you should never shave dry, which can cause razor burn and nick your skin.
Day prefers gels, which provide a layer of protection between the razor blade and your skin and soften the hair, making it easier to clip. Gels also tend to be less opaque than shaving cream so you can get a better glimpse of where you’re shaving.
If you’d like to go more natural, Dweck says it’s fine to use coconut oil, which has loads of moisturizing properties. Just keep in mind, oil can get sticky, which can up the chances of nicking. In a pinch, Day suggests using your hair conditioner since it also softens the hair.
4. It’s OK to go against the grain.
Although the AAD recommends shaving in the same direction as your hair growth, Dweck says that tip is mainly based on men’s facial shaving. Their coarse hair can get pulled and therefore the skin can get irritated—read: razor burned—more easily. Shaving in the same direction as the hair growth may help reduce that irritation.
When it comes to your legs, however, both Day and Dweck say it’s generally fine to go against the grain. The caveat: If you’re frequently getting razor bumps and ingrown hairs—especially around your bikini line, which typically has coarser hair—shave in the same direction to prevent irritations and folliculitis.
5. Shave lightly and trim first.
Don’t press down too hard, which can irritate or even cut your skin. “Tiny cuts can increase risk of bacterial or viral infections,” says Dweck. (However, she says that the risk of infection from a shaving-induced microcut is low. So don't freak if you've nicked yourself in the shower.) You’re more likely to get razor burn or an ingrown hair.
And while the length of the hair doesn’t matter, it might be easier to shave frequently, when you’ve got shorter hair. There's no issue shaving multiple times a week or even daily, Dweck says, as long as the skin isn't irritated.
If you wait, and the hair is longer (likely in the bikini area), it can be harder to see where you’re placing the razor, which ups your risk for cuts, Dweck says. Trim the hair a little beforehand for better visibility.
6. Wait 'til the end of your shower.
Timing can also help your shaving session go more smoothly: “The best time to shave is toward the end of the shower when your skin is the most hydrated,” says Day. “The hair is softest then, so it will respond best to the razor.”
A few more notes: If you’re a pedicure regular, avoid shaving within two days of your appointment. “If you have any open skin [from a shaving nick], your risk of infection is high,” notes Day. “Shave after a pedicure instead.” The same holds true for hitting the beach. Dweck says your legs may sting if you shave right before jumping into salt water. And it might sound obvious, but you should also—definitely—avoid shaving sunburned skin.
7. Use cortisone and salicylic acid to fix occasional issues.
Even if you follow these smart strategies, you may still experience the occasional ingrown hair or skin irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin.
To soothe razor bumps, dab on one percent over-the-counter cortisone cream along with some aloe vera gel. If you have an ingrown hair, fight the urge to dig into your skin with a pair of tweezers to free it. “You can scar the hair follicle and make [ingrown hairs] more likely,” says Day. Instead, she recommends using a dab of salicylic acid spot treatment, which exfoliates the top layer of skin and helps the ingrown hair work its way out.