Let me walk you through my personal history of shaving my legs: At the tender age of 11, I decided that I was clearly an adult, and so I would humbly undertake the task of shaving my legs now. My mom banned me from shaving above the knees and I rebelliously did it anyways. My patchily-shaved legs and I emerged from the bathroom triumphant. Finally, I was a woman. If I could go back and tell 11-year-old me that shaving is a tedious chore and to wait so I could have a couple peaceful years of hairy legs, I would. But I was tragically insecure about having dark hair on my pale legs, so I doubt I'd get through to past-me. She was very stubborn.
If you are a woman who has decided that hair removal is for you, odds are that your shaving routine hasn't changed much since that first attempt. You might throw on shaving cream (in my early days, shampoo would suffice), run a razor against the grain, rinse and you're done! I always thought that itchiness, red bumps, and ingrown hairs were just something everyone who shaved dealt with. However, after attempting a few different methods, I've learned that there are things we can do to minimize discomfort and exit the bathroom with the smoothest legs you could imagine. This is my attempt to pass my advice along to new shavers, or veterans who might need to switch up their shaving routine.
Step #1: Exfoliate Your Legs Before You Shave
I've always adored the process of scrubbing down in the shower with some kind of physical exfoliant. The first one I ever tried was from Lush that I daringly bought because there was vodka in it. Note: This product will sadly not get you drunk. It will, however, get you very smooth. This scrub taught me more lessons than just that, though. After dutifully shaving my legs, I plopped the scrub on and was surprised at the burning feeling. Now, I know better: Exfoliate before shaving, never, ever after.
There are a few practical reasons why it's important to exfoliate your legs before shaving. Firstly, as promised, scrubs loosen dead skin that builds up on your legs. By exfoliating before a shave, not only is your skin prepped and smooth, but hairs that are lightly ingrown might be coerced into popping up and coming to a head, which will then cause a razor to chop them off. If your skin is too sensitive for scrubs, there are some amazing exfoliating mitts (shop below) that will do the job without causing irritation.
Lastly, shaving creates tiny little wounds on your legs when it slices off hairs. While this may not feel painful when it's happening, many exfoliators contain salt or other ingredients that will sting when introduced to fresh, tender skin. So, I repeat: please, please only exfoliate before you shave, and never after.
Step #2: Choose the Right Shaving Cream
Now that your legs are exfoliated and smooth, it's time to actually get to shaving. But first, it's important to choose the right shaving cream to put on your legs so that the razor can glide easily. Anything too thick (conditioner, lotion, etc.) will get stuck in your razor and may cause irritation down the line if the blades aren't cleaned. Anything too thin (like just…shower water) will not lubricate your razor enough and can lead to cuts and bumps.
I don't believe that it is strictly necessary to use a cream that's specifically formulated for shaving, although it never hurts. A body cleanser may work just fine, as long as it's the right viscosity: not too thick, not too thin. If you're having a hard time finding your perfect shaving cream, take a peek over in the men's sections – that's where they hide the good (and cheap!) shit. After lathering on your shaving cream of choice on wet legs, you can break out the razor and get to removing that hair.
Step #3: Pick the Right Razor
You might be thinking: Why do I need a new razor, I've only had this one for the past five years! A fair point. The longer you use a razor, the more product, hair, and dead skin builds up between the blades. In an ideal world, you would change your razor head (the part that contains the blades) after 6-8 uses, depending on how much hair is being excavated during those uses. Now, I like to think that I'm a realistic person. Just to let you know: There is not a single chance that I'll start buying new razor heads every 6-8 uses. That's just not going to happen for me. However, if you have very sensitive skin or you shave your legs pretty often, you might want to take this advice into consideration.
The razor department is incredibly saturated, and some razors that used to be marketed only towards men are starting to realize that women shave, too. Most women's razors come with a head that has around 3 blades (along with a lot of unnecessary pink and somewhat necessary hydrating pads) for a super close shave. While this works for some women, often single-blade razors work best for sensitive skin, and cause fewer ingrown hairs and less razor burn. Oui the People's gorgeous rose-gold single-blade razor is a massive hit, and is currently available for pre-order. Some other razor companies, like Leaf Shave, let you customize the number of blades you prefer. Not only are these razors great for getting a close shave, but they're also low-waste and plastic-free, so the planet will thank you.
When you're actually in the shower getting it done, I recommend rinsing your razor in water after every stroke. This will not only clean out hair and product so your blades remain clean longer, but helps make sure that every pass of the razor actually removes the hair. There's nothing more frustrating then hopping out of the shower only to realize that you missed a large section of leg. If you opt for a metal razor like the ones from Oui the People or Leaf, be sure to take them out of the shower with you and dry them off so they don't rust.
Step #4: Slather Lotion on Your Newly Shaved Legs
This next step depends on how your skin tends to react to shaving generally. If your skin tends to dry out post-shower, slather on some powerful lotion. If irritation and ingrown hairs are your mortal enemy, then there are some products that will help eliminate them for you overtime, so that you can enjoy smooth, perfectly hairless legs.
For someone like me, who suffers from both dry legs and ingrown hairs (do I win a prize?!), my post-shave routine involves an anti-ingrown hair product, a body serum, a body lotion, and maybe a body oil if I don't need to immediately put on pants. You might say that I'm a maximalist and you may be right, but you wouldn't criticize if you could also see my legs.
For more stories like this, including celebrity news, beauty and fashion advice, savvy political commentary, and fascinating features, sign up for the Marie Claire newsletter.