Experts agree: It’s best to exfoliate before shaving. “Gentle exfoliation can help [loosen] the free edge of hairs that may be trapped under the skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. “This can give you a smoother shave and lower the likelihood of razor bumps or irritation.”
Razor bumps and ingrowns happen when that free edge of hair becomes trapped within the skin, so it curls downward and grows back into the skin instead—resulting in sore, inflamed, pimple-like spots. Those with coarser hair are more likely to get ingrowns, but “it is also more likely to happen if there is skin covering where the hair is growing,” says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D. Exfoliation removes that top layer of excessive dead skin cells—without that covering, you increase the chances that your freshly shaved hairs will grow freely.
And on a practical level: Your razor will have an easier time removing hair without a film of dead skin cells blocking the area.
Both King and Zeichner agree that pre-shave exfoliation is always a good idea, no matter which part of the body you’re shaving. Just know that more sensitive areas, like the armpits, bikini line, or face, might require gentler exfoliation methods (which we’ll get into later).