Shaving without hurting your skin: A surprisingly complex task

A macro shot of facial hair follicles growing out of skin.

Shaving-related skin irritation is one of the most frequently noted male cosmetic complaints in the Western World.

In fact, studies have shown that only 12% of men are reported to never experience irritation after shaving, while two-thirds of men expect some level of irritation.

Shaving has become so associated with negative outcomes, that experts often advise against it entirely, especially for people with sensitive skin or pre-existing skin conditions like acne or rosacea.

It should come as no surprise then that shaving is considered the black sheep of the personal care industry, with many people seeking out alternative hair removal options.

So then one has to ask: is it even possible for shaving to be part of a healthy skin care routine?

We believe the answer is yes, and we’ll be delving deep into the science, evidence and results in future blog posts and via a new YouTube web series we will be launching this year.

Why do so many people suffer from shaving-induced erythema (razor burn), irritation, or worse?

To set things up, it’s important to understand the challenge itself. Why do so many people suffer from shaving-induced erythema (razor burn), irritation, or worse? Removing the hair isn’t the problem, it’s removing it without hurting your skin. Well, it turns out, the task itself is rife with complications. Some technical, and some self-imposed.

Facial Hair is Hard

You may have heard that facial hair is hard, and relative to it’s environment that is quite true. It’s tensile strength is similar to copper wire, while it’s shear strength would be similar to a piece of chalk. By contrast your skin is very elastic and sensitive. It’s roughly 1000 times less stiff than dry facial hair.

Facial hair, typically coarser and denser due to increased androgenic hormone sensitivity in males, grows from hair follicles deeply embedded in the dermis and extends above the skin surface.

Anytime you have something firm being supported by something that’s not firm, you’re not creating the best environment for cutting — as the firm item to be cut isn’t being held securely.

To combat this, almost all razors try to flatten or stretch the area of the skin in the immediate cutting area, to make it firmer.

Blade shaving of beard hair is particularly affected by the diameter of beard hairs. The higher the cross-sectional area of the hair, the more force is needed to cut it. This diameter varies across individuals.

Facial Hair Grows at all Sorts of Angles and Directions

Beard hairs, as compared to scalp hairs, have lower emerging angles. This is especially the case in the neck area, and this is one of the drivers of increased irritation for many men. Furthermore, the low emerging angle of beard hairs often leads to ingrown hairs and pseudofolliculitis barbae. This makes shaving more problematic as it’s easier for a blade to cut hairs that are more upright typically. For electric shavers, the key challenge of such hairs is for them to feed into the openings of the shaver.

To make matters worse, in some cases the hairs become ‘trapped’ and have reinserted themselves into the skin

To make matters worse, in some cases the hairs become ‘trapped’ and have either reinserted themselves into the skin, or have a shallow enough emerging angle so as part or all of them to remain covered in a thin layer of skin. [either exfoliating before you shave or using a shave brush can reduce the amount of trapped hairs]

Multi-blade razors are known to exacerbate some of these issues by virtue of sometimes cutting the hair follicle below the surface of the skin.

And yet another complication, the direction of hair growth varies across different areas of your face. If you have ever heard advice to shave with the grain (more on that later), it’s referrering to the direction of hair growth. Your hairs can grow in virtually any direction, but luckily they do tend to have consistent growth patterns — meaning the direction of hair growth on a given region of the face is not likely to change.

The process of the blade cutting through the hair is one which translates and pulls the hair due to the forces involved. This can lead to the sensation of pull and tug. By employing a finer cutting edge, lower forces are required to progress the blade through the hair and consequently this leads to an improvement in shaving comfort.

DYK: the radius of the sharpened ultimate blade tip is just a few hundred atoms in size.

Male Skin is Prone to Water Loss and is Slower to Heal

Male skin is also more prone to dehydration, called transepidermal water loss (TEWL) as compared to female skin of the same age.

Furthermore, male skin has been reported to exhibit slower wound healing and lower re-epithelialization capacity as compared to female skin.

Furthermore, male skin has been reported to exhibit slower wound healing and lower re-epithelialization capacity as compared to female skin. This means that shaving-induced skin irritation, or even nicks and cuts induced by shaving may take longer to repair. Not only can this lead to discomfort, but it means your skin may not have had a chance to fully heal before your next shave, and the issues can spiral.

Most Guys are Skipping Steps

If healthy skin is your goal (and it should be!), then you really need to think of shaving as 3 steps: skin preparation, shaving, and moisturizing.

We’ll be diving incredibly deep on all three stages in future posts, but for now there are some basics that all shavers should understand.

Wet Your Hair

Your hair can get roughly half as firm by wetting it. For best results shower before you shave, but at minimum you should wash you face. In both cases not only are you softening the hair, making it easier to cut, but also removing excess oils, dirt and dead skin from the shaving surface.

Put Minimal Load On Your Razor

Given how sharp most razor blades are, and since you’ve softened your hair properly (right?!), the actually cutting force required is pretty minimal (~0.5N). The harder you press the razor to your skin, the more force you’re exerting and any excess force can result in additional damage to your skin.

Moisturize Your Skin

Multiple clinical studies of male shavers indicate that way, way to many men are not moisturizing at all after a shave (62-80%). You shouldn’t be leaving your house without moisturizer (and sunscreen, tbh), but the idea that the majority of men are not even moisturizing after a shave is, well its unfortunate. You want to help your skin replenish and retain moisture.

The Henson Difference

First off, before we discuss some of the mechanical reasons why our razor delivers less irritation, it should be known that our intent is to continue to measure our results, and share them transparently. If that’s of interest, follow us on social or subscribe to this feed.

The Henson razor does a lot of the things most razors do: stretches out the immediate skin area, controls the blade gap, uses a sharp blade, etc. That being said, the level of precision (think: aerospace) that goes into how the blade is supported, limits many of the negative outcomes that can arise.

the rigidity of the blade support, reduces blade chatter and flex, meaning the blade is much less likely to shift its position.

First off, the rigidity of the blade support, reduces blade chatter and flex, meaning the blade is much less likely to shift its position. That means it’s much less likely to generate increased damage to the skin barrier or tug on hair follicles. The part of your hair that is visible is comprised entirely of dead cells, so you shouldn’t feel a ‘clean’ cut at all. Henson users are often alarmed at first by how little they feel the razor.

By virtue of a limited blade exposure and blade gap, the razor controls the immediate shave areas very well and ensures the blade is meeting the hair at an effective cutting angle. Obviously, by using a single blade, the Henson necessarily introduces less friction on the skin and less tugging on the hair.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the gentleness of a Henson is more likely to leave your skin in good condition after you shave. That means your skin will be in a healthier state the next time you shave. So rather than negative outcomes leading to a domino effect of more issues, the opposite happens. Namely, your skin gets healthier and healthier the more you use the product.


The fundamental challenge of safely removing hair without consequent damage to the skin is complex due to the nature of the physiology and the variability associated with facial hair and skin. What further drives poor outcomes are a general lack of pre and post shave acumen, as well as poor choice of shaving tools and techniques. It’s 2024, people deserve a transparent guide to a safe and healthy shave.

At Henson, we believe shaving can be part of a healthy skin care routine. If you have sensitive skin, or are simply tired of razor burn and irritation, then allow us to introduce you to a healthy way to shave.

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