You already bought the razor and the shaving cream—do you really need a lotion or gel that goes on after? While an aftershave might feel like one of those potentially unnecessary purchases, even the most minimalist dermatologists recommend their use. Why? Put simply, shaving not only cuts the hair, but also the outer layer of the skin. This can disrupt the skin barrier and lead to a lack of moisture, not to mention the potential for irritation in the form of nicks, cuts, and rashes.
Since shaving is potentially irritating, it can make the skin more sensitive than it normally is, according to Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. An aftershave product, which can be in the form of a gel, lotion, splash or spritz, can help amp up the skin’s hydration, which can protect the skin barrier.
The problem with many aftershaves, however, is that they contain drying ingredients, including alcohol, as well as potentially irritating ones like fragrance. Unfortunately, these ingredients can be harsh on the skin—stripping away essential oils and potentially causing irritation, especially for those prone to sensitive skin, notes Jeremy Fenton, MD, dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. Luckily, many aftershave products on the market today are alcohol-free and designed to soothe and moisturize the skin, rather than irritate.
What ingredients to look out for in an aftershave
When shopping for an aftershave, it’s important to look for brands that are alcohol free. “Alcohol is drying and irritating, as it works very well at removing oil. However, oil on the skin is one of the most important things protecting it,” says Dr. Fenton. “Generally, those with sensitive skin need to maintain a healthy level of oil and alcohol just removes too much.”
Fragrances, too, are a big no-no, especially for sensitive-prone skin. “There is no benefit to the fragrance other than the smell, plus they may cause an allergic reaction or just be irritating, so it’s safer just to avoid it,” says Dr. Fenton. “Across the board in dermatology, we always recommend people with sensitive skin to avoid products with fragrance and the same is true for your aftershave.”
The ingredients you want in an aftershave
What you should look for is hydrating ingredients that boost moisture in the skin and will help prevent dryness, like glycerin, shea butter or hyaluronic acid. Additionally, because shaving can put stress on the skin, Marisa Garshick, MD, dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery (MDCS) in New York, recommends buying aftershaves that contain calming ingredients, such as aloe or chamomile, as these can help soothe the skin and may calm redness.
The best aftershaves for sensitive skin
Nivea Men Sensitive Post Shave Balm — $17.00
This is one of the more popular aftershaves on the market, especially for people with sensitive skin. Not only does this balm work to soothe and hydrate the skin, but it also helps to lock moisture in, helping to minimize moisture loss after shaving, notes Dr. Garshick. “Despite being a balm, it feels lightweight and absorbs easily, without leaving the skin feeling greasy,” she says. “It nourishes the skin with vitamin E and also contains chamomile, which is soothing.”
Dove Men+Care Sensitive Shave Balm — $19.00
Though there’s no indication on the product itself that this is ideal for sensitive skin, Dr. Garshick points out that its ingredients are ideal for this particular skin type, as they can help soothe dry skin after shaving. “This shave balm contains vitamin B5, which is hydrating and prevents redness and inflammation, as well as glycerin, which keeps skin supple and hydrated,” she says. “It’s also alcohol-free and won’t leave the skin feeling dry.”
Jack Black Post Shave Cooling Gel — $21.00
This sleek-looking aftershave contains a myriad of soothing ingredients that help calm and reduce redness, including aloe vera, sage and lavender. It also contains chamomile, which has anti-inflammatory benefits and can help to reduce redness and soothe the skin, notes Dr. Garshick. “The sage, lavender, rosemary and balm mint have antioxidant benefits to help neutralize free radical damage,” she says. “It is fragrance-free and alcohol-free so it will improve razor burn and irritation without leading to dryness.”
Ursa Major 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic — $32.00
This brand is known for its gentle ingredients and impressive results, so it’s no surprise they make face tonic worth recommending. It contains calming aloe vera as well as green tea, which acts as an antioxidant to protect skin from free radicals that contribute to the effects of photo-aging, explains Brendan Camp, MD, a Manhattan-based dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. “Willow bark, too, is a natural source of beta-hydroxy acids that gently exfoliate skin,” he adds.
Shea Moisture Men Post-Shave Restoring Cream — $11.00
The key ingredients in this aftershave are azelaic acid, which helps reduce the buildup of breakout-causing bacteria in the pores and cuts down on inflammation, and tea tree oil, which soothes the skin and relieves redness and swelling. It also contains shea butter and glycerin, which both work together to hydrate the skin. Dr. Garshick recommends using this morning or night after shaving. While it can be used by all hair types, she notes that it was especially made for those with curly facial hair.
Bliss Bump Attendant Ingrown Eliminating Pads — $22.00
While not meant for use immediately after shaving, Dr. Garshick recommends these pads for some to use 12 hours or so after shaving to help reduce potential ingrowns by gently exfoliating the skin. “It contains a combination of salicylic acid and glycolic acid in addition to green tea extract to soothe and calm the skin,” she says. “It is also formulated with niacinamide to help reduce redness and lavender oil which is calming on the skin.”
Andalou Naturals Post Shave — $14.00
Made with 98 percent naturally derived ingredients that are Non-GMO Project Verified, this brand of aftershave can be ideal for someone with sensitive skin, according to Dr. Garshick. “It is designed to soothe and refresh, and can help reduce the potential for ingrown hairs, clogged pores and irritation,” she says. “It contains antioxidants, including the CannaCell as well as organic hemp seed oil to soothe and tone the skin.” Another perk is that this after shave is alcohol-free, so it can be applied to clean skin after shaving without drying the skin out.
Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion — $17.00
Though not technically an aftershave, Dr. Zeichner is a big fan of using this intensive repair lotion after shaving. Not only does it contain triple purified petrolatum, which can help heal minor scrapes and nicks on the skin, but the texture of the lotion itself is nice and smooth—it’s easy to spread and doesn’t feel sticky or greasy. “The product carries the seal of the national eczema Association, so it can be used even on people with sensitive skin,” he adds.
Thayers Unscented Facial Toner — $11.00
Though also not an aftershave, Dr. Camp recommends this alcohol- and fragrance-free toner as a good option for those with sensitive skin. “In addition to acting as an astringent, witch hazel has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties,” he says. “This product also includes aloe vera to calm skin and glycerin, which draws water into the skin and helps it to retain moisture.”
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