Shaving is one of those rituals that’s supposed to be so easy, no one ever tells you how to do it. Lesson one should be how to prevent razor burn—and how to treat it if you get it—but those two things usually end up being an annoying process of trial and error. If you started shaving with a disposable razor and a prayer (and have the nicks, red bumps, and ingrown hairs to show for it), you’ll know there’s a learning curve. Even now, it’s not that uncommon for a quick shaving session to occasionally end in red or inflamed spots. The good news is there’s definitely an easy fix.
Below, experts weigh in on how to completely prevent skin irritation while shaving any body part, and what to do if you’re the unfortunate recipient of razor burn.
What Is Razor Burn?
Anyone who’s experienced razor burn can identify the stinging, irritated sensation immediately. But knowing the most common causes can help you avoid worsening it.
“Razor burn is essentially skin irritation caused by a razor disrupting the outer skin layer,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. “Too much pressure or too many passes over your skin can cause microscopic nicks in the skin barrier, increasing a loss of hydration and inflammation.” The fewer times you have to go over each area and the the more smoothly your razor glides, the less likely you are to experience it.
How to Prevent Razor Burn
Thankfully, it’s not that hard to avoid getting razor burn for good; a few simple swaps will ensure you won’t irritate your skin again. Below, the best tips for an irritation-free shave—no matter if you’re shaving your pubic hair, your legs, or anywhere else on your body.
1. Prep your skin beforehand.
The key word: exfoliate. If you’re prone to razor bumps and ingrown hairs, always exfoliate before you shave. “Exfoliating can help release any potential trapped or ingrown hairs so they can be cut by the blades,” says Caitlin Orszulak, research and development scientist for Gillette Venus. It also sloughs off dead cells that can clog up your razor blades and cause irritation.
2. Shave after showering.
Shaving should always be the final step in your shower routine. According to Orszulak, it’s much easier for a razor to cut through fully hydrated hairs than dry ones, which prevents dragging. “After only three minutes of hydration from the water in the shower, the force required to cut through hair is significantly reduced,” she says. Zeichner also points out that your skin is much softer toward the end of your shower, which allows the blades to glide over it more easily.
3. Select your razor carefully.
You have two options here that can both cut down on the potential for irritation: Either choose a single-blade safety razor or opt for one with multiple blades in an extra-thin design; both require less force. Karen Young, founder of Oui the People, prefers the former approach, which works especially well for sensitive skin types. Using only one blade means less tugging and pulling; her Single Razor has a nicely weighted handle that makes it easy to get a pressure-free shave.
If you’d rather stick to multi-blade razors, look for those that are designed to minimize pulling. The Venus Extra Smooth Sensitive is a stellar drugstore option that cuts through hair at a reduced force thanks to extra-thin spring-mounted blades. Whichever one you choose, just remember to switch out the blades whenever they begin to dull. And while it’s convenient to store your razor right in the shower, it will last longer if you keep it in a dry environment to avoid rusting the blades. (That’s a sure ticket to getting razor burn and maybe even a bacterial infection.)
Here’s a more in-depth list of the best razors for women out there, complete with full reviews.
$75.00, Oui the People
4. Always use shaving cream.
As tempting as it may be to let your conditioner or body wash multitask, shaving creams were designed for the express purpose of preventing irritation and nourishing your skin. So please, let them fulfill their destinies.
“Shaving creams or gels provide a lubricating layer between your skin’s surface and your razor to reduce friction and help protect your skin from any abrasion,” says Orszulak. Because these tend to be thicker formulas, they also provide a visual guide to help you see exactly where your razor has and hasn’t been, so you can avoid making multiple passes over the same spot.
Check out our list of the best shaving creams for women for more of our favorites.
5. Protect your skin barrier with lotion or body oil.
Just like your face, the rest of your body also has a skin barrier. Keeping it moisturized is the easiest way to avoid irritation. Zeichner recommends the Vaseline Intensive Care Healing Lotion, which has a nongreasy formula that’s great for restoring hydration and forming a protective seal. Young likes using Oui the People’s Featherweight body oil right out of the shower. “Dry skin is a hotbed for irritation,” she says.
How to Treat Razor Burn
Of course, even with the best razors and perfect shaving technique, accidents can still happen. If you do wind up with a bad case of razor burn, here’s how you can treat it.
1. Try anti-inflammatories like aloe or oatmeal.
Derms recommend treating razor burn like any other case of mild skin irritation—look for anti-inflammatories and avoid irritants. Two of the best options are aloe and colloidal oatmeal, which are readily available in any drugstore. Aveeno Body Lotion remains a favorite for its emollient, gentle effects.
2. Apply a cold compress.
If your skin reacts the way it does after a waxing session and feels warm and inflamed, get it out of the heat immediately. A cold compress can help take down that initial irritation and constrict blood vessels; just wet a clean washcloth in cold water and let it sit over the area.
3. Consider an over-the-counter treatment.
In more extreme cases of redness or swelling, head to the drugstore for an over-the-counter topical like hydrocortisone to help with swelling. As always, consult your derm or doctor if it starts showing signs of infection, but razor burn is a minor enough skin irritation that it should resolve on its own in several days.
Sarah Wu is a writer in Berlin. Follow her on Instagram @say.wu.
Originally Appeared on Glamour