Q: Due to my lifestyle, I simply can’t use a double-edged razor to shave. I have to use an electric shaver. My problem is, I get bad skin irritation when I do so. Are there any ways to avoid that?
A: If you have to use an electric shaver but suffer from skin irritation, there are some innovative new ways to avoid this.
Some researchers working jointly between Proctor and Gamble and the University of Berlin released an article in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science in 2016.
In that article, they discuss the science of how electric shavers work, but more importantly, some new innovations in avoiding razor burn.
For men who must use an electric shaver, there might be some much-needed relief here.
How Electric Razors Work
The researchers discussed two basic types of electric shavers.
Rotary – these shavers have cutting blades in the shape of a circle, resulting in a shaving stroke that is spiral in nature.
Foil – these shavers have a horizontal stroke that goes back and forth, resulting in a shaving stroke that is in a straight line.
Some electric razors combine both circular and horizontal types in different arrangements.
What is a good shave? The researchers gave the following elements as the attributes of a good shave:
- Skin comfort
They noted that for most men, a combination of all these attributes is ideal.
Unfortunately, shaving is hard on men’s skin. One previous study found that 41% of men with self-reported sensitive skin have bad reactions to shaving, including:
However, this study didn’t differentiate between electric and manual shaving.
Why do electric shavers get a bad reputation with skin irritation? The foil of an electric shaver is meant to only allow hair to pass into the blades. However, when the skin is pressed into the foil of an electric shaver, a tiny amount of the outer layers of the skin can meet the blades. The result is tiny little abrasions across a man’s face.
When these abrasions happen, the skin releases proteins called cytokines. These proteins result in redness, itching, and burning.
What Can Be Done?
Many modern electric shavers include new technology, developed in laboratories, to compensate for the skin irritation that they would otherwise create.
Some shavers have active cooling mechanisms to limit the increase in blood flow to the skin.
For instance, some razors use an actively cooled aluminum bar attached to a heat sink that goes between the foil and the blades.
This has been shown in some laboratory research to reduce:
- Skin discomfort
- Skin agitation
- Skin irritation
- It has NOT been shown to significantly reduce
SPEED AND EFFICIENCY
According to a survey of dermatologists, shavers that capture more hairs in one stroke are gentler on the skin because they reduce the likelihood that skin will get pulled into the foil.
So the first tip is to try to avoid going over the same areas over and over again. There are a few ways to do this. Look for razors that:
- Have multiple independently-moving elements. This is due to the fact that men’s facial surfaces have lots of contours, pits, and curves. To get a thorough shave, men may be tempted to go over tricky parts over and over again. This creates skin irritation. Look for shavers that have independently-moving surfaces, because these can follow tricky landscape better than a solid foil.
- Have specialized trimmers built in. Skin often gets pulled into a shaver foil when a man tries to shave longer hairs on the neck that lied down flat. Thus, the researchers suggested using a shaver that has specialized trimmers for those areas, and don’t use the regular foil to go over these areas again and again.
The researchers also noted that some shavers include active vibration, which supposedly increases the amount of hair pulled up through the foil. However, they stated that this is not yet scientifically understood. My own advice is, don’t make an expensive decision based on vibration alone!
Here’s what we learned in a nutshell:
Electric razors can cause skin irritation because skin can often get pulled into the foil and get cut by the electric blades.
Lots of electric razor companies make claims, but which ones are backed up by more scientific evidence?
- Active cooling. This will reduce blood flow to the irritated areas of the skin.
- Multiple independently-moving elements. This will help you follow tricky contours in your face.
- Trimmers that you can use to shave the longer hairs that lay flat on the neck. These hairs often don’t get pulled up into the foil, leaving men shaving the same place over and over.
- Vibration is a feature that does not yet have a ton of research support.
Rietzler, M., Maurer, M., Siebenhaar, F., Angelino, S., Handt, J., Burghardt, R., & Smetana, H. (2016). Innovative approaches to avoid electric shaving-induced skin irritation. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 38, 10-16.