PSA: You Really Don't Want To Do This Right After Shaving — Here's Why
As the sun becomes a main character in your life again this spring, you might show more skin as you shed the scarves, coats, and other winter wear—as a result, you might consider shaving more often (if that's something you like to do, of course). How you decide to remove your hair—if at all—is entirely personal, but there are some general guidelines to follow as you navigate the world of shaving products, techniques, and routines.
For example, you may know that it's great to exfoliate your skin before shaving. "Gentle exfoliation can help [loosen] the free edge of hairs that may be trapped under the skin," board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., previously told mbg. "This can give you a smoother shave and lower the likelihood of razor bumps or irritation."
Now, we're here to offer a much-needed warning: Save exfoliation for your pre-shaving ritual. If you're trying out some chemical exfoliants, such as AHAs in body lotions, that's great! But here's the thing: There's a time and place for that—and it's not post-shave.
What are AHA lotions?
AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acids, which are exfoliating compounds that are hydrophilic, meaning they are water-loving. Like other exfoliants, they are used to slough off dead skin cells, brighten, even tone, and reverse signs of aging. But because of their hydrophilic qualities, they are moisturizing as well—which sets them apart from other chemical exfoliants.
"AHAs such as glycolic acid and lactic acid are excellent ingredients to look for in body lotions. AHAs help to exfoliate the skin by sloughing off dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin, and once those flakes and dead skin cells are out of the way, moisture is able to penetrate the skin better and perform optimally to hydrate the underlying skin," says board-certified dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, M.D. Some of our favorite exfoliating body products are the REN AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum, Soft Services Smoothing Solution, and Paula's Choice Skin Revealing 10% AHA.
Of course, body care exfoliants will be very different from products you use on your face, as they should be. The skin on the body is much thicker than the face, so it can tolerate stronger concentrations and might even need a more potent product in order to see significant improvement. That being said, with increased strength comes an increased risk for irritation if used incorrectly.
Why you shouldn't apply them after shaving.
OK, now that you're familiar with the benefits of body exfoliation, let's talk about when to use these products. First things first, don't use exfoliating lotions directly after shaving—yes, slathering on a body lotion post-shave will make the skin feel oh-so-silky, but you need to make sure there are no exfoliating actives in the formula. Why? "With an AHA or BHA lotion, the last A stands for acid, and they will sting. Think putting lemon juice on freshly shaved skin," says board-certified dermatologist Brandith Irwin, M.D., founder of Skintour.com, Madison Skin & Laser Center, and MadisonMD Skincare.
Ouch, right? Irwin recommends staying away from retinol body lotions right after shaving as well, as the vitamin A derivative also promotes cell turnover (which can irritate freshly shaved skin).
Instead, she says, "You want something that helps repair the barrier layer that you just irritated." Yes, taking a blade to your skin is a form of manual exfoliation in its own right, and you don't want to overdo it. So look for a formula that's strictly moisturizing and perhaps fragrance-free, as fragrance can irritate sensitive skin right after shaving.
Our go-to is the mindbodygreen postbiotic body lotion. Packed with ultra-hydrating ingredients like aloe vera, coconut oil, and shea butter, the rich formula works to hydrate your skin and make it feel even smoother, sans irritation.
When to use exfoliating lotions in your routine.
Now, just because you can't use them right after you shave doesn't mean you should toss these lotions altogether. As we discussed, using a chemical exfoliant on your body can offer some pretty smooth and silky benefits. For maximum benefit, you'll want to use these exfoliating body products a day or two before you shave.
If you'd like to exfoliate right before grabbing the razor, you can use a physical scrub, which manually removes the dead cells from the surface of the skin. Just make sure to choose a very gentle buffer and use light pressure—you can also just use a warm, wet washcloth to physically exfoliate the skin pre-shave, no product necessary.
However, Marcus recommends going the chemical route, just to make sure you don't rub too harshly. "Mechanical exfoliation with scrubs can cause micro-tears in the skin," she says. "Chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, loosen the connection between dead skin cells and allow them to be rinsed away. With dead skin cells out of the way, skin is primed for a close shave, and follicles are primed for subsequent smooth regrowth with less risk of ingrown hairs."
After your shave, avoid applying exfoliating lotions or those with retinol for a day or two. For that post-shave hydration, reach for something simple, conditioning, and fragrance-free.
Exfoliating body lotions are great for sloughing off excess dead skin and hydrating your skin simultaneously—just make them your pre-shaving ritual. If you do use an exfoliating body lotion, apply it a day or two before shaving for an extra smooth, ingrown-free experience. Post-shave, reach for a hydrating, fragrance-free body lotion rather than an exfoliating body product to ensure your barrier is restored and avoid irritation.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.