Full disclosure: I've been shaving my arms since fifth grade. I don't regret this decision, but if you're considering taking the plunge (er, razor glide?), brace yourself for the things that happen if you shave your arms. It's a much bigger commitment than shaving your legs, so be sure you really want to keep up with it.
Admittedly, I'm not sure how much I'd mentally processed what shaving my arms would mean as a fifth grader. All I remember was some mean kid in my class named John Wayne (real original) told me I had gorilla arms one day at recess. Do girls have to shave their arms?, I wondered. My 11-year-old psyche was literally shattered, and that was the first time I recall being truly self-conscious about my body.
Since my mom had let me start shaving my legs that year, I asked her if I could shave my arms, too. She warned me that I could never stop once I started, and that I should think really hard about it. Obviously I spent all of eight seconds pondering a lifetime of arm shaving and decided to do it. Looking back, I definitely think it was silly to give that freaking mean kid so much power over how I felt about myself, but I do love my silky smooth arms. So, thanks?
Of course, hair removal is a very personal choice, and one that other people don’t really have the right to weigh in on. Should you decide to shave your arms, here are some things to be aware of before you start.
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OK, this is obvious, but I certainly didn't think about it as a fifth-grader. When you shave your arms, there is a high probability that arm stubble will pop up after a few days. Although it’s a myth that your hair will grow back thicker and darker, dermatologist Lauren Eckert Ploch, MD, MEd, FAAD tells Bustle that “the hair does have a blunt end after shaving so it can feel thicker.” You'll want to shave frequently to avoid that from happening, which is where the whole "once you start, you can't stop" mentality comes from for me. I mean, of course, I could grow my arm hair back out, but the process would be very itchy.
2. Razor Burn
Arms are even more tempting to dry shave since you don't have to bend over and do any shower yoga to shave them, but control the urge. Dry shaving puts you at a much bigger risk for razor burn. Both Ploch and Nada Elbuluk, MD, MSC, an assistant professor of dermatology at the USC Keck School of Medicine, tell Bustle they recommend using shaving cream if you’re going to shave your arms. Dermatologist Ella Toombs, MD, FAAD says the product you use to shave doesn’t really matter, “as long as it's a liquid and glides.” To further reduce the risk of irritation “I also recommend shaving in the direction of hair growth,” Ploch says. Elbulk agrees, adding that you should “not repeatedly go over the same areas multiple times, and not shave irritated or inflamed skin.”
3. Elbow Nicks
Elbows are essentially miniature knees. Speaking about any risks to shaving your arms versus shaving your legs, Toombs tells Bustle that while your arms are “not more sensitive” than your legs, you “must respect the creases, folds and curves” of your arms. IMO it's even easier to nick your elbows since the angle is weird, so take your time when shaving.
4. Ingrown Hairs
“If you’re prone to ingrown hairs, exfoliating with cream or wash that has ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or classic acid beforehand can help,” Elbuluk says. I always opt for a moisturizing exfoliant that also helps soften up my hairs before I go after them with a razor. “Products with hydroxy acids can help prevent ingrown hairs but should not be applied immediately after shaving as they can often cause burning and discomfort,” Ploch says.
5. Dry Skin
Anyone who’s shaved any part of their body has probably noticed how shaving can dry out skin, so treat your arms like your legs and always moisturize after. Board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine Jeannette Graf, MD, says that dryness and irritation can be exacerbated if you’re also dealing with eczema. Graf suggests using moisturizer on your arms after shaving to prevent any dryness or flaking.
If you can find a lotion with SPF, that’s even better. “Hair (especially dark hair) provides some sun protection, so removing the hair may expose skin to harmful UV rays even more,” Ploch explains. Use a zinc oxide-containing sunscreen lotion daily regardless of season or forecast.
6. You Might Consider Alternatives
If you don’t want to deal with the short, annoying stubble, start tossing around the idea of waxing your arms or laser hair removal as alternative hair removal methods. “I find that laser hair reduction and depilatory creams are the least irritating methods of hair removal long-term,” Ploch says. Toombs also recommends depilatory treatments since they are “less traumatic to the skin, won't cut or abrade, and superficially removes hair from hair follicles.”
Since you’re dealing with a blade, there’s a chance you might cut yourself. But no need to worry: there’s an easy fix. Graf says that if you accidentally cut yourself while shaving your arm, rinse the area with warm water in the shower.
Afterward, she suggests using something like arnica gel or Neosporin to heal the cut and reduce redness. Cuts from shaving take a couple of days to heal, but you can cover them up with a bandage.
To make sure you’re shaving the right and safe way, she says to consider a few things. First, be vigilant about cleaning your razors, throwing them away after they’ve become dull, and using shaving cream. Since the arms have curves, she suggests shaving in sections, rinsing off the razor in between strokes. She likes to shave arms at night in order to avoid using things like deodorant that can cause further irritation on freshly shaved skin.
Lauren Eckert Ploch, MD, MEd, FAAD
Nada Elbuluk, MD, MSC, assistant professor of dermatology at the USC Keck School of Medicine
Jeannette Graf, MD, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine
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