DermNet provides Google Translate, a free machine translation service. Note that this may not provide an exact translation in all languages



Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2013.

Table of contents

Shaving is most probably one of the oldest and most common methods of removing unwanted hair in both large and small areas. Shaving removes hair by using a razor or any other sharp bladed tool to slice the hair off at skin level. It is the method used by most men to remove facial hair on a regular, if not daily basis as part of their morning grooming. In women, shaving is the most common method used for removing hair from the underarms, legs and pubic area.

Shaving in men has been fashionable since the early 20th century. This habit is attributed to army requirements. Soldiers were obliged to shave during the first world war, to enable close fitting gas masks to be worn to protect during chemical warfare.

How is shaving done?

There are basically two types of shaving methods, one is the “manual or wet shave” which uses a straight razor or safety razor; and the other is the “dry shave” which uses an electric razor.

The manual or wet shave involves lathering up the area with soap, shaving cream or gel before shaving with a straight or safety razor.

  • The straight razor is the father of all shaving tools and is basically a knife blade sharpened on a stone to create a very thin sharp wedge which is smoothed out using a leather strop. The smooth razor sharp edge is extremely dangerous and this method is now really only used by professional barbers.
  • In the early 1900s King Gillette revolutionized shaving by developing the safety razor. This disposable razor did away with the “art” of manual sharpening, and created a thin stainless steel blade within a case so injury is nearly impossible. Gillette's invention made shaving at home a possibility for everyone and all disposable safety razors of today are based on this design. Modern razors often have multiple blades, lubricating strips and a pivotting head.

The dry shave is exactly what it says, it is shaving without having to use water or shaving cream. In about the late 1920s Jacob Schick invented the electric razor and dry shaving was born. In an electric razor the blades are hidden behind a perforated piece of metal called a foil. As the foil rubs over the skin the hairs poke through the perforations and are sliced off by the oscillating or spinning blade.

How effective is shaving?

Shaving is one of the fastest and most effective methods of removing hair in large quantities. However, its effects are short-lived because hair will grow above the surface of the skin within several hours, or at best in a few days after the shave. Hence for most men who want to be clean-shaven, daily shaving becomes routine.

The myth that shaving causes your hair to grow back thicker is not true. It may appear that hair grows back thicker but this is because the tip of the hair now has a blunt edge after being cut and as it starts to grow above the surface of the skin it not only feels stiffer but looks thicker too. Compare this to an unshaven hair where the tip has a tapered or beveled edge which makes it softer and lighter.

Who is suitable for shaving?

Almost anyone wanting to remove unwanted hair is a candidate for shaving, males and females. It can be used to remove hair from large or small areas including the moustache, beard, eyebrows, legs, arms, underarms, bikini line and pubic area.

Shaving is very accessible, affordable and painless if done correctly.

Are there side effects to shaving?

Shaving in most instances is safe and painless if done correctly. Side effects from shaving, especially with manual or wet shaving, include:

Shaving rash

Should I use shaving cream?

Shaving cream acts to moisturise the skin, to soften the hair so it is easier to cut, and add an extra layer thus avoiding shaving off the top layer of skin.

Modern shaving creams used for wet shaving are usually dispensed from an aerosol can. The propellent fills the cream with tiny bubbles. Shaving creams are less irritating and more moisturising than soap. Apart from water, they usually contain the following ingredients.

  • Stearic acid and triethanolamine: surfactants (like soap) to remove surface dirt and oil, and attract water
  • Lanolin and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monostearate: emulsifiers to mix the ingredients
  • Glycerin: solvent and emollient

What precautions should I take when shaving?

To avoid side effects of shaving the following precautions can be taken:

  • Always use a new sharp safety razor. Change blades as soon as they become blunt or get nicks in them.
  • Wash the area to be shaved with moisturizing cleansers and warm water to help soften the hair. Keep the skin hot and moist.
  • Apply shaving cream or gel, and allow it to sit for a 2-3 minutes so it can further soften the hair and make a one-pass shave possible. A brush to apply and lather up may help to lift the hairs and really coat them with shaving cream.
  • People with sensitive skin should choose gentle products. Aqueous cream is sometimes recommended, but this can clog the razor blade. Never use soap.
  • Always shave in the direction your hair is growing. Although you may get a closer shave if you go against the grain, you are more likely to get razor burn (irritant contact dermatitis) and pseudofolliculitis (ingrown hairs).
  • Rinse the blade frequently to remove hair and shaving cream.
  • Try to achieve a one-pass shave as going over an area several times is more likely to cause skin irritation.
  • Follow your shave with a cold water rinse to help reduce inflammation.
  • Finish off with a moisturiser to rehydrate the skin.

If after shaving you have irritation or itching you can apply a mild topical corticosteroid cream (e.g. hydrocortisone) to help alleviate the symptoms. Shaving should be avoided until any irritation is resolved.



On DermNet

Other websites

Books about skin diseases


Related information

Sign up to the newsletter