The science behind shaving - and how to best care for your skin while doing it

The science behind shaving - and how to best care for your skin while doing it

Shaving - it’s something we rarely talk about, but many of us do it every day. Whether we’re shaving our face, our legs or somewhere in between, there are certain things we need to understand to keep our skin in good shape. For those who shave every day, shaving can become a painful and upsetting process, with chronically red, inflamed skin and ingrown hairs an ongoing problem.

The history of shaving

The first metal razor was invented around 3000BC, and likely an intimidating piece of apparatus. It wasn't until the late 19th century that the safety razor appeared. Gilette was the first to introduce the idea of disposable blades in the early 20th century, removing the need to sharpen razors on a strop before each use. For women, shaving legs and underarms became common practice in the early 20th century, and razors were marketed to them for the first time in around 1915. The negative side effects of shaving are well known, and efforts to combat a poor shaving experience have focused on both razor technology and caring for the skin before, during and after shaving.

When shaving goes wrong

Red, irritated skin, accidental cuts and ingrown hairs are common problems linked with shaving. These can be caused by using blunt or clogged razors, shaving against the direction of hair growth instead of with it, shaving too quickly, applying too much force, shaving dry skin or without sufficient preparation or lubrication, and not taking proper care of the skin post-shaving.

Tips for the perfect hassle-free shave

1. Exfoliate the skin first

 Getting rid of built-up skin debris, loose hairs, excess sebum and dirt before you shave means the blade will be less likely to get blocked, and less likely to snag and pull the hair. Exfoliation allows the hairs to sit more upright on the skin, allowing better blade contact. Exfoliation will also release trapped hairs which have the potential to become ingrown (1). 


2. Hydrate the hair before you shave

A key step to achieving a smooth, trouble-free shave is to hydrate the hair first. Soft, hydrated hair requires far less force to cut, resulting in a less traumatic shave. Studies have shown that soaking the hair in warm water for 2 minutes will result in a 50% reduction in the amount of force required to cut the hair (2). Traditionally, barbers applied a warm water-soaked towel to the face before shaving for this purpose. A similar result can be achieved by washing the area in warm water before shaving.

3. Take special care of the neck area

 Shaving the neck can cause particular difficulties. The hair on the neck grows at a more acute angle than on the face, making it more difficult for the blade to cut the hair. To make matters worse, in men the skin of the neck is rougher, often forming a small mound around each hair follicle. For this reason, the neck area is a common site for ingrown hairs, shaving rash and nicks and cuts (3). As a result, it's important to take extra care to prepare the neck area before shaving (see steps 1 and 2 above).

4. Lubricate

An effective lubricant will reduce friction between the blade and the skin - see more on this below. The lubricant also prevents the blade from damaging the top layer of skin and therefore reduces the risk of pain, irritation and inflammation post-shaving (1, 2). 

5. Use a sharp blade

 Use a blade that is sharp enough to comfortably shave the hair, and regularly check the blade for clogged hair during shaving. Blunt or clogged blades encourage extra force or repeated strokes to effectively cut the hair, increasing the risk of trauma to the skin.

6. Proper after-shave care

 The process of shaving can set off inflammation in the skin, particularly when skin is sensitive. Taking the steps above will reduce this risk, but it is essential that a well formulated, protective moisturiser, for example one of our serums or face creams, is applied after shaving to keep skin well nourished and the skin’s barrier intact.

The problem with shaving creams

 Traditionally, foaming white shaving cream was the lubricant of choice for shaving. Shaving creams are traditionally an emulsion of oils, soaps, detergents and water, together with preservatives to prevent bacterial growth. Although shaving creams lubricate the skin, the detergents and soaps in the formula can remove the skin’s important oils, leaving the skin dry and the barrier damaged. To reduce the risk of skin barrier damage, shaving creams should always be rinsed away thoroughly, and followed by the application of an excellent quality, barrier-restoring moisturiser.

Shaving oils - a safer shaving option

 At Mokosh, we point out, maybe a little too often (!), that the delicate skin of the face will remain more healthy without the use of detergents in any form (read more here).  Using a shaving oil instead of a detergent-based shaving cream has significant advantages. Shaving oils will not dehydrate the skin like shaving creams, they offer more effective lubrication than a water-based emulsion and, if they are well-formulated, they leave the skin softened, nourished and well-hydrated post-shave.

 We tested our Elderberry and Raspberry Serums on willing face-shaving volunteers. Both serums are light, nutrient-rich botanical oils and therefore we felt they would be perfect for use as shaving oils. The result was an overwhelming ‘YES’ to their effectiveness and ease of use as a lubricant for shaving. The added benefit was that no additional moisturiser needed to be applied post-shaving, although very dry skin types might prefer to layer one of our protective face creams on top. Skin felt softer and more nourished, and inflammation, nicks and cuts were reduced. To us, they are your perfect simple answer to fuss-free shaving.


Shaving oil is also a great option for shaving legs and underarms. Have you given it a go? We'd love to hear your experience!


  1. Draelos, Z.D. (2012) Male skin and ingredients relevant to skin care. British Journal of Dermatology 166 (Suppl 1): 13-16
  2. Oblong, J.E. (2012) Male skin care: shaving and dermatologic needs. Dermatologic Therapy  25: 238-243. Dermatologic Therapy 
  3. Cowley, K. and Vanoosthyze, K. (2012) Insights into shaving and its impact on skin. British Journal of Dermatology 166 (Suppl 1): 6-12

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