A. Thanks to bare legs and barely there swimsuits, summer often means extra shaving and more regular trips to the waxer — and for many women, painful, irritating razor burn or bumps that can lead to infection. “Nicks and breaks in the skin caused by shaving open the door to bacterial infections,” says Dr. Steven Manders, a Philadelphia Top Doctor and a dermatologist at Cooper University Hospital. Though the majority of cases are easily treated, infections can lead to everything from painful, ugly bumps to life-threatening complications. Check out Dr. Manders tips below for how to get rid of unwanted hair the safe way.
Go sharp to stay safe. Nasty gashes are prone to infection, and keeping your blade sharp is the first way to prevent a cut. A dull blade requires you to use more pressure, and it gives an uneven shave, which can lead to razor burn and ingrowns. If you’ve used your razor a few times and don’t have a new blade to swap in, rub a little alcohol on the blade to clean it before sliding it across your bod, as bacteria can easily be introduced into recently shaved skin, says Manders. And if you’re susceptible to knicks, consider switching to an electric razor. “It won’t leave you quite as close a shave, but you’ll be less likely to pierce the skin,” says Dr. Manders.
Use warm water. Keep things steamy in the shower to avoid painful razor burn. Warm water softens the skin and hair, and opens your pores, which makes hair easier to cut, says Dr. Manders. If the skin is dry, the blades won’t slide smoothly and can cause dead skin cells to collect in the blade, making it dull. If your skin burns or looks red or irritated après-shave, apply a low-strength hydrocortisone cream like Cortaid. It will reduce redness and inflammation, as well as any itching, says Dr. Manders.
Outsmart ingrowns. That painful, itchy bump that often sprouts up around the bikini line or on a guy’s neck is often the result of a recently cut, curly hair that’s grown sideways into the skin, leading to inflammation and sometimes, infection. Applying a topical antibiotic like Neosporin will help reduce swelling and kill off any existing bacteria. To reduce your chances of getting them in the first place, shave in the direction that your hair grows, says Dr. Manders.
Use aftershave. Yes, even down there. An alcohol-based aftershave will kill off bacteria and reduce your chances of developing folliculitis, an infection of the hair follicles that ranges in severity from slightly bothersome to a hospital stay.
Research your waxer. Waxing removes a thin layer of skin along with the unwanted hair, which leaves your skin open to infection. Making sure that your waxer is using a new stick each time they dip into the wax — double dipping can transfer bacteria from person to person — will cut down on your chances of introducing infection-causing bacteria to the exposed area. Your esthetician should also test the temperature of the wax on his or her inner wrist before applying it to your bod to avoid burns. If the area stays red long after the wax and/or puss-filled bumps or a fever develops, see your doctor, says Dr. Manders.
Know your meds. Acne medications such as Retin-A, Tazorac, Differin, or Accutane make your skin much more sensitive — waxing while on them can create a superficial burn, says Dr. Manders. Stick to other hair removal techniques or stop using the medications at least three to four weeks prior to waxing.