Aftershave is any kind of liquid, oil, gel, or other substance meant to be put on your body after you shave.

Using aftershave is a ritual for many people. For the most part, there’s no harm in putting aftershave on to disinfect or soothe your skin.

But some aftershaves can be harmful to your skin, or toxic.

Here’s everything you need to know about what aftershave is used for, what ingredients it should have (and what you should avoid), and whether it’s good for anything besides shaving.

Aftershave is used for exactly what the name says — to treat your skin after you’ve shaved.

The benefits of aftershave depend on exactly what’s in it. But traditional alcohol-based astringent aftershave has acted like a sanitizer for the face after shaving facial hair.

Here’s why: when you shave, you often leave behind many tiny cuts and exposed bits of epidermis (skin) and pores that are more likely to get bacteria or other material lodged inside.

Typical aftershave contains ingredients known as isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) or ethyl alcohol that are similar to what’s used in hand sanitizer or household cleaners like rubbing alcohol.

These ingredients kill bacteria or toxins on your face after a shave. This is why alcohol-based aftershave infamously stings when you put it on your face — it’s antibacterial.

But alcohol-based aftershaves can be more damaging to your skin than beneficial when used over time.

More natural aftershaves, such as jojoba oil or coconut oil; as well as moisturizers like lotion or aloe vera, can still help protect the skin from bacteria getting into cuts while also retaining skin moisture.

Other health benefits of aftershaves that use natural ingredients include:

  • reducing itching and swelling from skin damage and ingrown hairs
  • closing pores to prevent bacteria, dirt, or chemicals from getting in, (which can reduce breakouts, razor burn, or razor bumps)
  • helping cuts from shaving heal quicker
  • preventing hair follicle inflammation (folliculitis) by protecting opened pores with a layer of liquid or oil
  • promoting the regrowth of skin tissue to protect your skin health
  • adding a pleasant smell to your skin

Typical alcohol-based aftershave will kill some bacteria. However, it won’t give you any real health benefits over time.

Avoid aftershaves with artificial fragrances in them. Many fragrances are made of unreported ingredients that you may be allergic to or that may cause irritation.

Here are some ingredients to look for in an aftershave if you want some of possible health benefits after shaving:

You don’t need to use aftershave at all. It can help, but it’s not essential to a healthy shaving routine.

If you’re concerned about moisturizing your skin or protecting your pores from folliculitis or other irritation, rinse your face after you shave to close your pores and try using a natural oil like coconut or jojoba.

Using cold water and an oil can create a protective moisturizing layer over your skin, helping keep your skin healthy while also preventing skin irritation or infection.

Yes! Many of the ingredients in aftershave can have benefits even if you don’t use it after shaving.

Moisturizing ingredients like vitamin E oil, shea butter, and aloe vera can all work for your skin if you use them in a regular skin care routine.

Aftershave for acne

Alcohol-based aftershaves can help kill the bacteria in your skin that can build up in pimples and make them inflamed and uncomfortable.

Other ingredients, such as tea tree oil and witch hazel, also have antiseptic properties that can help reduce severe acne and clear out pores filled with infected fluids that result in new pimples.

Aftershave is best used at a certain point in your shaving routine. Here’s how to use aftershave:

  1. Follow your usual shaving routine, whether it’s your face, legs, armpits, or anywhere else on your body.
  2. Rinse off the area with cold water until you’ve gotten off any remaining shaving cream, gel, or lotion.
  3. Use a clean towel to pat dry. Don’t rub the towel on your skin, as this can irritate or damage your skin.
  4. Put a small amount of aftershave into your palm (about the size of a dime).
  5. Rub the aftershave into both of your hands to spread it evenly.
  6. Rub the aftershave evenly onto the entire surface that you’ve shaved.

Aftershave can have some short-term bacteria-killing benefits if you use it right after you shave. But over time, this can damage your skin.

Look for a more soothing aftershave with natural, plant-based ingredients for the best results when it comes to moisturizing, healing, and soothing your skin after a good shave.

Or don’t use aftershave at all! If you use a good moisturizing shaving cream, lotion, oil, or liquid, it’s not always necessary to use aftershave.

Figure out what works best for you and don’t be afraid to experiment with a few different options.