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Help! Trying shaving again after 3.5 years

The purpose of this post is to ask for some advice. I'll give a brief history of my experience with shaving in hopes it will procure the best responses. Thanks in advance!

I'm a 44 year old mixed caucasian male (Italian/Spanish/German heritage) with medium brown curly hair. Most of my facial hair (whiskers) have turned white, as has my chest hair (but not the hair on my head). I started shaving when I was about 15 years old and always had a problem with ingrown hairs/razor bumps, etc that led to infections, crusty skin and just a host of shaving problems over the years. While I could sometimes shave and initially it would feel ok, it was rare that it felt or looked good hours later or days later, as I would see razor bumps forming, sometimes a few, sometimes in patches (picture below, though it got much worse than that; this is the only pic I have).

shaving.jpg


Over the years, I have tried: single, double and triple blade disposables, foil and rotary electric shavers, depilatories, straight razors and about eight different double edge safety razors with a variety of blades. While the latter combination seemed to be the best, I still had the same outcome. The patches of bubbling, scabbing infections around my mouth and chin only seemed to get worse and worse. Sometimes I would just notice that while whiskers above my lip and on my cheeks were growing back, I couldn't see any whiskers coming in below my lips on both sides and I could feel trouble brewing below the surface. Sometimes the whole area would crust over and be infected with pus underneath. I was taking antibiotics orally and applying topically. To have to shave again was almost unbearable, and it took weeks to heal, just to start all over again. It got to the point that I decided to stop shaving about 3.5 years ago, since which time I have maintained a beard (picture below), which is what dermatologists and skin estheticians have recommended for me to do for many years now. While I was happy to find out I can have a very nice looking beard that is filled in and well-shaped, I've never really wanted or had a beard before, though I grew accustomed to it (though I dyed it since a lot of it is white, especially on the cheeks). Still, I prefer to be clean shaven.

beard.jpg


A couple of days ago I decided to give shaving another go for a few reasons. For one, I now live in a different environment (near Cancun, Mexico) and didn't know if that would have any effect since places I previously lived (the 'foothills' of South Carolina; Panajachel and Antigua, Guatemala) were different in elevation, humidity, etc. Also, maybe there are some advances in products in the last few years that I haven't tried. Mostly though, I think I can try to be more methodical and careful in my approach to shaving. I somewhat did this when I started wet shaving with DE razors (age 35-40), but perhaps I could give attention to pre-shave and post-shave practices that will help. I don't know if it is the products, attention to cleanliness of equipment, process or whatever - but I am hoping to get some good advice here.

Currently I have a Vikings Blade "The Chieftain" DE razor, a good variety of blades, Proraso Eucalyptus and Menthol Shave Soap and GoodFellas After Shave Moisturizing Balm. I don't have any pre-shave product, but was considering the Proraso Refreshing Eucalyptus and Menthol Pre Shave Cream. I invite and greatly appreciate any advice you can give (products, routines, best practices, etc), especially if you have had a similar issue and had success overcoming it.
 
I would suggest the whole line of Proraso sensitive skin. The preshave, cream, and post shave. I would also probably suggest alum and witchhazel before the post shave balm. I'd eliminate any menthol or fragrance.

I hope you can find something that works for you.
 
Welcome aboard!

I agree with JKaboom, focus on your prep. Keep careful track of ingredients (keep things as simple as possible.)

In addition, I suggest you map your beard, so you understand precisely what you are doing with each pass.

Best of luck with your quest!!
 
I vote for keeping it simple and limiting how many chemicals based products you apply to your face.


Once you decide on your razor/blade combo.

Hot shower.
Shave. 2 pass. Every other day may help.
Warm rinse.
Cool rinse.
Balm or Aftershave (not both).

Preshaves are not needed. 4 posts shave products are not needed.
 
I would suggest the whole line of Proraso sensitive skin. The preshave, cream, and post shave. I would also probably suggest alum and witchhazel before the post shave balm. I'd eliminate any menthol or fragrance.

I hope you can find something that works for you.

Yes. Witch hazel may help you immensely. Here is a recipe that includes tea tree oil as an astringent:

1 bottle of Witch Hazel (240ml)

1 bottle Tea Tree Oil – add 5 or 6 drops into WITCH HAZEL

1 bottle of Lavender Oil – add 10 drops into WITCH HAZEL

1 bottle of Peppermint Oil – add 10 drops into WITCH HAZEL

Give it a good shake.
 
A couple of observations to help a fellow fair skinned gent:

  • There is some great advice above - less is more - less products, chemicals, additives.
  • Start with fewer products and add more as needed/tolerated but only one at a time and several exposures before adding something new.
  • Pre-shave should be a good washing of your face with warm water, a shower is helpful, for hydrating your face and beard - do not dry off your face. A good shave soap left to sit on your beard for a minute or so is sufficient before shaving with a clean, sharp blade. Rinse with warm or cool, not hot water and pat dry.
  • Again as above - witch hazel is a great suggestion for post shave along with some sort of moisturizer; stick with hypoallergenic options and use just one.
  • If you shave in the morning (night), wash, witch hazel and moisturize again at night (morning). Skip the shave next day but wash, witch hazel and moisturize each morning and night you are not shaving.
  • Shave the second day or third, or even fourth then repeat. Every other day is usually a bit too much for me and I start experiencing the same effects you are seeing, though maybe not quite so pronounced.
  • Use a single blade DE or SE shaving tool when you shave, avoid blade buffing, taking too many strokes or exerting too much pressure particularly on the affected areas. Consider skipping any against the grain shaving in the affected area.
  • When washing, drying, shaving, applying witch hazel or moisturizer, be gentle with your skin - avoid scrubbing.
  • Wash your phone, hands, desk phone and avoid touching your face with anything during the day (ok - anything but the kisses of that precious child). Avoid holding your phone against you face or, as a recovering beard wearer, stroking your chin thoughtfully.
Good luck! Let us know if any of this helped.
 
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Fantastic advice here! Having a sensitive chin area (not as bad as yours), I make peace with not shaving as closely in this area.

Another great piece of advice I received here is to take very short strokes around my chin (5-7mm). It's impossible to follow the curves in this area while retaining a reasonable razor angle. Additionally, these short strokes make it easier to keep a light touch.

One other point I'm sure others will expand on is that the mildest razor may not be the least irritating, at least once you learn how to lighten your touch. The same applies to blade sharpness.

Please update on your progress.

... Thom
 
Keep your shave prep simple. I'd suggest unscented glycerine soap like Neutrogena. Whole Foods Market also has bars of inexpensive unscented glycerin soap. Let your whiskers hydrate for at least a couple of minutes before lathering up.

Use a good shave soap with little fragrance such as Haslinger Sensitive or Aloe Vera.

People with really curly hair can have problems if they cut their whiskers too close, that can encourage ingrown hairs. Avoid multi-blade cartridge razors for this reason. Use a DE or SE instead. This may sound weird, but try not too shave real close. Maybe just a single pass with the grain and a few touch-ups in places you might have missed.

Aftershave is up to you, but I'd avoid heavily scented products, or oily products. Something simple like an Osma alum block may work nicely, but be sure to rinse it off when finished. The goal is to leave the skin clean and clear of any residues.
 
Welcome aboard!

I agree with JKaboom, focus on your prep. Keep careful track of ingredients (keep things as simple as possible.)

In addition, I suggest you map your beard, so you understand precisely what you are doing with each pass.

Best of luck with your quest!!
Aside from just kind of knowing my trouble areas and the growth direction of my beard, I never really mapped it. I'll try it out; thanks for the advice!
 
Yes. Witch hazel may help you immensely. Here is a recipe that includes tea tree oil as an astringent:

1 bottle of Witch Hazel (240ml)

1 bottle Tea Tree Oil – add 5 or 6 drops into WITCH HAZEL

1 bottle of Lavender Oil – add 10 drops into WITCH HAZEL

1 bottle of Peppermint Oil – add 10 drops into WITCH HAZEL

Give it a good shake.
I'll try it out; thanks for the detailed recipe!
 
A couple of observations to help a fellow fair skinned gent:

  • There is some great advice above - less is more - less products, chemicals, additives.
  • Start with fewer products and add more as needed/tolerated but only one at a time and several exposures before adding something new.
  • Pre-shave should be a good washing of your face with warm water, a shower is helpful, for hydrating your face and beard - do not dry off your face. A good shave soap left to sit on your beard for a minute or so is sufficient before shaving with a clean, sharp blade. Rinse with warm or cool, not hot water and pat dry.
  • Again as above - witch hazel is a great suggestion for post shave along with some sort of moisturizer; stick with hypoallergenic options and use just one.
  • If you shave in the morning (night), wash, witch hazel and moisturize again at night (morning). Skip the shave next day but wash, witch hazel and moisturize each morning and night you are not shaving.
  • Shave the second day or third, or even fourth then repeat. Every other day is usually a bit too much for me and I start experiencing the same effects you are seeing, though maybe not quite so pronounced.
  • Use a single blade DE or SE shaving tool when you shave, avoid blade buffing, taking too many strokes or exerting too much pressure particularly on the affected areas. Consider skipping any against the grain shaving in the affected area.
  • When washing, drying, shaving, applying witch hazel or moisturizer, be gentle with your skin - avoid scrubbing.
  • Wash your phone, hands, desk phone and avoid touching your face with anything during the day (ok - anything but the kisses of that precious child). Avoid holding your phone against you face or, as a recovering beard wearer, stroking your chin thoughtfully.
Good luck! Let us know if any of this helped.
Great detailed advice that I will definitely try out and report back on. Thanks so much for taking the time to help!
 
I vote for keeping it simple and limiting how many chemicals based products you apply to your face.


Once you decide on your razor/blade combo.

Hot shower.
Shave. 2 pass. Every other day may help.
Warm rinse.
Cool rinse.
Balm or Aftershave (not both).

Preshaves are not needed. 4 posts shave products are not needed.
Thanks for the advice. I'll report back on the results. Much appreciated!
 
Fantastic advice here! Having a sensitive chin area (not as bad as yours), I make peace with not shaving as closely in this area.

Another great piece of advice I received here is to take very short strokes around my chin (5-7mm). It's impossible to follow the curves in this area while retaining a reasonable razor angle. Additionally, these short strokes make it easier to keep a light touch.

One other point I'm sure others will expand on is that the mildest razor may not be the least irritating, at least once you learn how to lighten your touch. The same applies to blade sharpness.

Please update on your progress.

... Thom
Thanks for the advice. I'll work on the technique and report back.
 
Keep your shave prep simple. I'd suggest unscented glycerine soap like Neutrogena. Whole Foods Market also has bars of inexpensive unscented glycerin soap. Let your whiskers hydrate for at least a couple of minutes before lathering up.

Use a good shave soap with little fragrance such as Haslinger Sensitive or Aloe Vera.

People with really curly hair can have problems if they cut their whiskers too close, that can encourage ingrown hairs. Avoid multi-blade cartridge razors for this reason. Use a DE or SE instead. This may sound weird, but try not too shave real close. Maybe just a single pass with the grain and a few touch-ups in places you might have missed.

Aftershave is up to you, but I'd avoid heavily scented products, or oily products. Something simple like an Osma alum block may work nicely, but be sure to rinse it off when finished. The goal is to leave the skin clean and clear of any residues.
Thanks for the advice on soaps and aftershave. I think I'm going to go with a witch hazel recipe I was given that included some tea tree oil. I definitely only go one pass and don't try to go close. Thanks for the advice!
 
I say be glad you can grow a good looking beard 🍻

The issues I face with shaving aren't as severe as what you've experienced, but I also can't grow a decent looking beard either. So all I can do is shave.

If you've taken and applied antibiotics in the past I'm not sure what else you can do if the problem returns. I assume you've been to a dermatologist. I'd take their advice and if that doesn't work I'd go back to sporting a beard.

Best of luck to you. 🍻
 
To reiterate what others have mentioned, it is important to sufficiently hydrate your skin prior to applying anything else before shaving. I once had problems similar to what you have described although not as extensive and was told by an older cousin to apply a soapy layer with a mild hand soap like Ivory, Dove, or one of the pre-shave soap bars available nowadays, and add water, making a watery, slightly soapy consistency. With the emphasis on watery with a mild concentration of the soap. If you get too much soap on, dip your hands in running water and rub into your face to dilute. The water hydrates and the small amount of soap helps keep the layer close to your skin, rather than running off. Do not remove this layer. Then quickly apply your shaving lather, either from cream or shaving soap, to prevent the dilute, soapy layer from drying out. Once I started doing this back in the 70's, I didn't have any more problems with ingrown hairs and the resulting itchy and painful bumps that sometimes got infected. Also, change your blades frequently!
 
There's lots of good advice here and I suspect OP already has enough to think about but the top picture makes me want to jump in, as I can also get bumps like these in those same areas of the face. It's rare and usually after a serious lapse in concentration - I can feel when I have made a mistake that will cause them during the shave, long before they actually appear.

For me, the cause is always over-shaving and too much pressure, which paradoxically seems to be more of a problem with milder razors.

So, to repeat and add to what has already been said:

- Map the beard direction all over. It probably changes direction in different parts of the face. You need to memorise those changes and have a mental image of the growth directions, because you can't see the bristles when your face is covered with lather!

- Proper preparation is key, especially if you are getting tough, grey, old man whiskers. 2+ minutes exposure to warm water is best. A shower is the easiest way to achieve this. I would also use this time to wash the face, so that it is clean prior to shaving. Properly saturating the hairs reduces the force needed to cut them by up to 65%. That means less pressure is required and reduces the chance of over-shaving from having to hack through tough whiskers.

- To begin with, shave only with the grain. The shave won't be especially close, but it should help you to start getting your technique down while reducing the chance of ingrowns and bumps. You can make two passes WTG if necessary.

- Use a very light touch. No pressure. Just gently remove the lather. Imagine you are shaving the surface of a balloon without bursting it. Too much pressure means over-shaving and trapped hair follicles, which cause the bumps. If you didn't have a history of dermatological issues I would say that, based on your picture, the problem is almost certainly too much pressure. DE razors ain't like cartridges and don't need to be pressed down to shave effectively. A light touch is even more important if you find that you do need to go across the grain or against the grain in some areas to get an even result - if you can feel contact between the razor and your face, that's all the pressure you need.

- But to use light pressure effectively, the angle of the razor needs to be right. A common problem for new DE users is compensating for a slightly off angle with pressure. The easiest way to find the angle is to start on the sideburns with just the cap touching the face and the handle perpendicular. It won't shave. Gradually move the angle of the handle down so that it becomes more acute. Eventually, you will feel the blade starting to grab at the tops of the hairs. It will feel tuggy. Move down a little more and the blade will be angled directly at the base of the hairs, which is where you want it. When the angle is right, it will feel efficient. You may need to repeat this process consciously with each stroke when you are learning, until you develop the muscle memory to automatically adjust.

- As stated above, keep strokes short at 5-10mm. It's easier to maintain the right pressure and angle with short strokes.

- Make sure your blade is up to snuff. Sharp blades can actually be easier to use than dull baldes. Dull blades = hacking, discomfort and too much pressure to get them shaving. Don't worry about blade life. If you feel like you need to use a fresh blade for every shave then do it. Another advantage for you could be that using fresh blades helps to keep things sanitary. Speaking of which, although it doesn't help ingrowns, keeping the face clean can often help with general shaving irritation, so that's another good reason to wash the face before shaving, and keep it clean throughout the day. I have pale skin that's prone to allergies / dermatitus, etc and have certainly noticed that after a slightly rough shave, the build-up of dirt and oils during the day can cause irritation to appear that wasn't there immediately after shaving, and washing the face with a gentle cleanser calms it down again.

- Personally, I would avoid greasy aftershave balms and things that plump the skin, as this could cause the pores to engulf the recently shaved hairs. As suggested, an astringent like witch hazel is a good option, or a plain old alcohol splash. I would also avoid pre-shaves unless your goal is to add more slickness to the soap. That could be helpful for you - more slickness is never a bad thing - but in terms of skin / whisker preparation, they don't really add anything.

- Practice is key. You don't say how long you have been DE shaving, or how often, but it takes time to learn to shave with the right technique and routine for your face. Don't give up. Just remember: good prep, with the grain only, good angle, short strokes, no pressure.

- I don't know for sure, but I think that perhaps the razor you are using is a mild, chinese razor. Whilst I am sure it is possible to get a nice shave from it, you may actually find life easier with something a bit more aggressive / efficient. Gear preferences are very personal. If you are happy with it then carry on, but maybe other members can comment on how mild it is and perhaps suggest something else that would be a step up in efficiency whilst still being beginner friendly. Inevitably, people will suggest Hensons...ironically, the last razor that gave me bumps like the ones in your photo was a Henson! For solving "shaving problems" I would stick to traditional razor designs - they may need more work at the outset, but they have stood the test of time.

- And finally, did I mention "no pressure"? That's super important! :001_smile
 
I have less trouble if I use good cartridge razors instead of DE safety razors. Look for one that offers sensitive skin options such as a Schick Hydro or a Gillette three blade.
 
Big Jim may be right. The extraordinary circumstances you describe may necessitate multiblade sensitive skin carts with a lubricating strip. And shave every other day

Given what you describe you might consider keeping the beard. It looks nice and I never found a beard to be uncomfortable in hot climates.
 
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