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Picture it: You’ve just finished shaving your face. You’re admiring yourself in the mirror. Everything looks so smooth and sharp—and then you spot a pimple. Is there anything more annoying?
Pimples after shaving are a common yet frustrating experience. If you’ve ever wondered what causes acne or whiteheads after shaving and how to prevent them, read on.
Why do I get pimples after shaving?
Almost everyone experiences pimples at some point in life. Around 45 million American adults have acne, affecting about 3% of men and 12% of women (Decker, 2012).
Post-shave pimples can appear anywhere you shave, from your face to your pubic area. They can have a handful of causes; from a build-up of dead skin cells or sebum (the waxy, oily substance your skin naturally produces) that leads to clogged pores to one of the below skin conditions (Ogunbiyi, 2019; Decker, 2012):
- Contact dermatitis: This type of skin inflammation presents with red pustules, crusty pimples, or a rash. Contact dermatitis may occur when you experience an allergic reaction to an ingredient in your shaving cream or face wash (Litchman, 2022).
- Folliculitis: Folliculitis is the official term for an inflamed hair follicle, which shows up as a pus-filled, hair-covered area of skin. Folliculitis is typically caused by a bacterial infection and often goes away on its own (Winters, 2022).
- Folliculitis keloidalis nuchae: This form of folliculitis can cause shaving bumps along with itching, bleeding, and pain. Treatment includes antibiotics and steroids (Ogunbiyi, 2015).
- Ingrown hairs: Instead of coming out of the skin, ingrown hairs grow back inward, creating a painful razor bump.
- Pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB): In addition to the rogue ingrown hair, men with curly hair may be more susceptible to pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB), an inflammatory condition associated with ingrown hairs, hyperpigmentation, and itchy pimples in the beard area or any other area of the body the person shaves.
- Tinea barbae: This is a fungal infection of the beard area that can cause pimples. However, as a type of ringworm, it’s more associated with scaly lesions that have a raised, red border.
- Acne: Acne causes whiteheads and pimples. Shaving can actually worsen acne, as all that action on your face exacerbates the inflammation. Using harsh soap, or washing your skin too often, can also irritate acne-prone skin (Alshammrie, 2020; IQWiG, 2013).
How to shave down there without getting razor burn
How to prevent pimples after shaving
If you want to totally prevent pimples after shaving, stop shaving and check out our post on how to grow a beard. But if you prefer the clean-shaven look, read on for shaving techniques and tips that can help.
1. Wash your face
Use a gentle skin cleanser to wash your face twice a day, morning and night. More gentle cleansers reduce the likelihood of irritation for people with acne or sensitive skin (Decker, 2012).
Follow up with a water- or gel-based moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated (IQWiG, 2013). Depending on your skin type, you might look into other skincare products—like an exfoliant or serum—to address other skin concerns.
2. Shave post-shower
After a hot shower, your skin is hydrated, warm, and clean. That makes it easier to shave without dragging dead skin, oil, or grime across your pores (AAD, n.d.; Ogunbiyi, 2019). If you’re in a rush, moisten a washcloth with warm water before shaving.
3. Use shaving cream or gel
Wet your face with warm water, and then apply a shaving product. Shaving creams come in different formulations, from oils to gels. For the best results, choose one that suits your skin type. For example, if you have dry skin or sensitive skin, look for shaving gels or creams that are made for sensitive skin types (AAD, n.d.).
4. Go slowly
There’s no need to rush. Move thoughtfully and slowly, and use a light touch. This is easier to do when you’re shaving with an electric razor or a disposable razor that has fresh, sharp blades (AAD, n.d.). Rough, rapid shaving can increase skin irritation and lead to pimples (IQWiG, 2013).
What is an ingrown pubic hair?
5. Shave with the grain
You’ve probably heard this one before. It means to shave in the direction your hair grows, not against it. Simply shaving in the direction of hair growth can prevent razor burn and shaving-related bumps (AAD, n.d.; Ogunbiyi, 2019).
6. Clean and dry your razor
Rinse your razor in between every swipe to remove any dirt, grime, or dead skin cells. Once you’re done, clean your razor with hot water and leave it somewhere to dry off.
Leaving it somewhere to dry in between shaves prevents bacteria from growing and contributing to your pimples (AAD, n.d.).
7. Replace your razor on schedule
A dull razor can make shaving unnecessarily difficult. It also increases your chances of ingrown hairs (Ogunbiyi, 2019). Use an electric razor or replace disposable blades after five to seven shaves (AAD, n.d.).
How to get rid of pimples after shaving
Preventing pimples is the first step. Next up is removing them. Fortunately, many over-the-counter skincare products and serums contain ingredients that help with fighting pimples. For example (Decker, 2012):
- Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that unclogs your pores and sloughs off the dead skin and extra sebum. Using a skincare product with glycolic acid can help remove pimples after shaving while also preventing them in the future.
- Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps exfoliate your facial skin. By washing away dead skin cells and reducing inflammation, you give ingrown hairs a way to escape.
- Essential oils with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties—like tea tree oil—may target the bacteria that contribute to pimples and acne after shaving.
- Zinc is a mineral that may also have an anti-inflammatory effect on acne.
Body acne: causes, treatments, how to get rid of it
While it’s tempting to manually remove a pimple, resist the temptation. Done incorrectly, this can make things feel and look worse—worsening inflammation, pushing the pus deeper, and even causing a scar. Instead, apply a warm, damp washcloth to your pimple. This action alone may reduce the inflammation and open your pores. In other words: Don’t pop the pimple; just leave it be (IQWiG, 2013).
Additionally, if you have acne, avoid shaving directly over it as the razor might cut open the acne, inviting the bacteria inside to spill out and affect other parts of your face (Decker, 2012). It may also lead to scarring (IQWiG, 2013).
The bottom line is that getting a pimple after shaving can feel embarrassing. But remember: Pimples are something we all experience, and no matter how big they look to you, they’re never as noticeable to other people. So, give yourself a break! In the meantime, practice patience and follow the tips above for a smooth shave that’s pimple-free.
- Alshammrie, F. F., Alshammari, R., Alharbi, R. M., et al. (2020). Epidemiology of Acne Vulgaris and Its Association With Lifestyle Among Adolescents and Young Adults in Hail, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: A Community-Based Study. Cureus, 12(7), e9277. doi:10.7759/cureus.9277. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32821620/
- American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). (n.d.). Hair Removal: How to Shave. Retrieved May 23, 2022 from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/hair/how-to-shave
- Decker, A. & Graber, E. M. (2012). Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 5(5), 32–40. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22808307/
- Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). (2013). Skin care for acne-prone skin. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279208/
- Litchman, G., Nair, P. A., Atwater, A. R., et al. (2022). Contact Dermatitis. StatPearls. Retrieved May 19, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459230/
- Ogunbiyi, A. (2019). Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 12, 241–247. doi:10.2147/CCID.S149250. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31354326/
- Ogunbiyi, A. & Adedokun, B. (2015). Perceived aetiological factors of folliculitis keloidalis nuchae (acne keloidalis) and treatment options among Nigerian men. The British Journal of Dermatology, 173(2), 22–25. doi:10.1111/bjd.13422. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26207661/
- Winters, R. D. & Mitchell, M. (2022). Folliculitis. StatPearls. Retrieved May 19, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547754/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.