Shaving for Women: Healthy, Younger Looking Skin from "His" Razor?

It's always an awkward conversation when you ask a woman whether she's considered shaving. Even in a medical setting, the question implies there's something wrong that needs to be fixed, and that something is far from feminine. It's a shame, because these outdated gender biases leave us feeling that shaving is a uniquely male skincare routine (and usually their only skincare routine) keeps millions of women from experiencing its benefits. Both men and women have facial hair. Men have more of the thick, coarse terminal hairs that are often pigmented. Although some women have issues with terminal hairs on the face, all of us have a fine layer of vellus hairs: that fine, pale "peach fuzz". As women begin to experience hormonal shifts in their 30's, 40's or 50's, these often become more prominent.

This matters because one of the features which we consider beautiful in women's faces, and particularly youthful women's faces, is reflection of light. Younger faces are composed of dozens of intersecting convex (outward curving) surfaces, each of which captures and reflects back the glow of any lighting. When you look at pictures of women held before us for their beauty, look more closely at how important this is. Comparing them to pictures of other women who look "tired" or "old" highlights this difference further.

The fine baby fuzz of vellus hairs diffuse this light, minimizing the glowing reflection which makes youthful skin look dewy and radiant. In addition, as we age, the upper layers of skin, the stratum corneum, dehydrates, with more loose, dessicated layers of cells over the surface. This gives the skin a dull, sallow and even thickened appearance, emphasizing fine lines and wrinkles.

One of the reason that male skin tends to age fairly well, even though women tend to put far more maintenance into their skin is that guys exfoliate every day when they shave. They remove those dull, dry layers and stimulate the skin each time they pick up a razor.

Many dermatologists and aesthetic offices offer this service to their clients. They call it dermaplaning, epidermal leveling or microplaning, and although it may be done with the edge of a scalpel, it is equally often performed with a standard, disposable safety razor. Devotees of the service love the glow it gives them, but this same effect can be achieved at home without the cost or hassle.

The exfoliation and glow of shaving offers additional benefits beyond other hair removal methods. Those dark, terminal hairs can be removed by razor, waxing or even lasers with beautiful effect, but neither waxing nor lasers tend to impact the vellus hairs. Particularly as we age, the skin can thin and waxing can damage or even tear the skin. This is particularly the case for women who use anti-aging preparations which include tretinoin, Retin-A, or other retinols, which can leave the skin especially vulnerable to waxing. These same women, however, often benefit from the gentle exfoliation and skin stimulation of shaving. This can be a beautiful complement to in-office procedures such as facials, microdermabrasion and chemical peels, although it is important that your physician or aesthetician know that you have added this to your home regimen.

Women are often fearful that shaving will make their hair "grow back darker". Unless the hormonal environment of the hair root changes, this will not occur from mechanical stimulation alone, and shaving can not convert fine vellus hair to dark terminal hair.

Most women only need to add this to their routine as an occasional special treatment. It can give the skin a lovely radiance when done a few days before a special event. Given how slowly vellus hairs grow, many patients shave every 4-6 weeks and few need to do this more than every other week. Treat the skin kindly with a clean, new men's razor (buy yourself one of the high-end ones - the blades are usually much better than two-bladed women's disposables) and both a nourishing shave cream as well as luxurious aftercare serum and moisturizer to drench your freshly exfoliated skin.