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09/28/2015 11:32 am ET Updated Oct 02, 2015

What You've Heard About Shaving Your Face -- And The Truth

Everyone's talking about it as a hair-removal method, but here's what you should know before you pick up a razor.
Photo: Cultura/Philipp Nemenz/Getty Images

What you've heard: Shaving is a great exfoliator.
The truth: Actually, the primary benefit is hair removal -- shaving can remove peach fuzz that lasers miss, and it's much cheaper than the hair-removal treatment electrolysis. You do get some exfoliation, says Francesca Fusco, MD, a dermatologist in New York City, but if sloughing off dead skin is your main objective, at-home peels, acid-based products and in-office exfoliating treatments are more effective.

What you've heard: You need a special facial razor.
The truth: They can be helpful, as they're smaller than your standard razor and easier to maneuver around the curves of your face, but any single-blade razor will work. The single blade helps to minimize the chance of nicks and ingrown hairs, says Nada Elbuluk, MD, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center.

What you've heard: Shave against the grain, like you do on your legs.
The truth: You want to shave in the direction the hair grows. And as you shave, think about the way men do it, pulling the skin taut to get the closest shave possible. A few more beginners' tips:

  • If you're using anti-aging retinol products at night (the recommended time to apply them), you should shave in the morning, as putting the products on freshly shaved skin could cause irritation. 
  • Start with a clean face, and use shaving cream if you're using a standard razor (battery-operated facial razors don't need it). 
  • When you're done, apply a moisturizer with sunscreen and avoid any products with potential irritants, such as retinol or acids.

What you've heard: Shaving is a great option for anyone.
The truth: If you're on any kind of acne medication, especially prescription isotretinoins, don't shave, says Dr. Fusco, as those meds increase sensitivity, so you're more likely to be left with irritated skin. And women with any active skin problem --such as cold sores, impetigo, acne or eczema -- shouldn't shave until the problem is fully healed, because shaving could aggravate the area and make the issue worse, says Dr. Elbuluk.

One more note: If your facial hair is coarse or thick, especially around the chin or jawline, get it looked at by a doctor before you start shaving it off. It could be a sign of an underlying hormonal issue and your doc can't diagnose based on hair that's not there anymore.

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