Skin with eczema is sensitive, and that can make shaving a challenge. Strategic application of moisturizer, careful hair removal options, and proper shaving technique may help prevent shaving-related flare-ups.

“Eczema” is a collective term for a group of inflammatory skin conditions with similar symptoms, such as:

  • hypersensitivity
  • itchiness
  • discoloration
  • irritation

Many factors, such as skin barrier dysfunction, can affect the development of eczema, but hypersensitivity to irritants plays an important role. When your skin is extra reactive to allergens and irritants, it causes persistent inflammation and can make some everyday activities, like shaving, more of a challenge.

Shaving involves running a blade over your skin to remove unwanted hair, but it can do much more than that. Shaving, particularly with a dull blade, can remove surface skin cells and cause pulling and rotating of hair left behind in the follicles.

Even on unaffected skin, shaving can sometimes cause irritation and discoloration. This irritation can be worse if you have eczema.

You can improve your eczema shaving experience and reduce your skin irritation and infection risk. It all comes down to diligent skin care and staying on top of best-practice shaving methods.

One of the key symptoms of eczema is dryness. For many people, skin barrier dysfunction prevents the skin from maintaining the appropriate amount of moisture, leading to a chronically dry outer surface.

Dr. Amy Huang, a board certified dermatologist from Manhattan, New York, recommends ditching classic shaving creams and using a moisturizer instead.

“Use moisturizing creams when wet shaving, which can be more gentle to the skin,” she says.

Even if manufacturers label shaving cream as “moisturizing,” it may not be as effective as an actual moisturizer, also called an emollient.

When shaving is difficult, long-term hair removal solutions might sound appealing. It can seem reasonable that less frequent hair removal should result in less persistent irritation.

But long-term hair removal options such as waxing, chemical depilatories, and plucking tend to cause more surface inflammation and discoloration than shaving. They can even directly cause contact dermatitis, a type of eczema that develops when an irritating substance touches your skin.

Huang says razors may be the way to go for hair removal in eczema, and the type of razor can matter.

“Shaving with an electric razor can avoid nicking sensitive skin,” she says. “For people who prefer shavers, avoid dull blades and use a razor specially designed for sensitive skin.”

If you use an electric razor, be careful of when and where you use it. Some electric razors can pull hairs that are too long and might be rough on sensitive areas such as the armpits or genitals.

A dull razor can escape your notice for a long time. You might go months without changing it even though people may need to replace blades within weeks.

A 2020 study noted that even soft hair breaks down the integrity of a steel blade over time. As a blade dulls, its ability to cleanly cut hair diminishes. This can lead to the pulling and twisting of hair in the follicles.

Keeping your blade sharp also lowers the force necessary to cut hair, decreasing the chance that downward pressure may drag the blade across your skin.

Sanitation matters, too. Skin with eczema may be more susceptible to infection, and a dirty blade can easily transport pathogens like bacteria. Cleaning your blade regularly and allowing it to dry fully before you put it away can help reduce infection risk.

Keeping the hair you want to shave soft and supple applies to almost everyone. Soft hair is less likely to curl down toward the skin, snagging your razor while shaving or causing post-shave razor bumps.

Shaving at the end of your shower or holding a warm, damp washcloth to your skin before shaving can help loosen and relax hair.

Hot water or prolonged exposure to water of any temperature can damage your skin barrier. Keeping showers and baths short and at a mild temperature can reduce the chances of worsening eczema.

Another rule of thumb for just about anyone shaving is to shave with the grain of your hair or in the direction hair naturally grows.

Doing this reduces how much your razor pulls on hair as it cuts. Going with the grain also helps prevent ingrown hairs, which can develop when hair becomes trapped beneath the skin’s surface.

Huang recommends moisturizing after you shave. Fragrance-free products specifically formulated for sensitive skin are usually the least irritating.

If over-the-counter creams aren’t enough, your dermatologist can recommend prescription products and ointments that may help improve your skin’s moisture barrier and soothe irritation.

Aftershave can have a drying and astringent effect on skin that can worsen eczema, a condition already affected by skin dryness. Aftershaves often contain fragrances, as well, which can be irritants.

If you enjoy using an aftershave product, alternatives like apple cider vinegar or witch hazel may be less drying options, but talk with your dermatologist before using them.

Cultural beauty standards, not health benefits, may affect whether some people choose to keep hair on the body or remove it. Letting your hair grow out is OK, no matter where it is on your body.

One surefire way to prevent having shaving-related eczema flare-ups is to stop shaving.

Eczema can make skin more sensitive to irritation, often complicating common self-care practices such as shaving. If you aren’t ready to let your hair grow out, you can still shave safely, even with eczema.

Planning your moisturizer use, using a proper technique, and staying on top of razor care are all ways you can improve your shaving experience.