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How to shave your legs dry: tips and tricks

woman shaving her legs in her bathtub

Shaving your legs is a common practice for many people, but it's important to remember that almost all humans have body hair at one time or another; it's a fact of life. What you do with your hair, if you choose to do anything at all, is entirely up to you. However, it's important to note that the nicks, burns, ingrown hairs and irritation that can accompany voluntary shaving aren't exactly good selling points

But for those of us who choose to shave, we know how important it is to do it right. Without the right preparation, the smoothest of shaving creams and the sharpest of blades, shaving is ineffective at best and downright dangerous at worst.

But every once in a while, a situation arises in which we find ourselves with last-minute unwanted stubble and no time (or means) to shower. Enter the illusory dry shave. Often considered a cardinal sin of hair removal, dry shaving can be done safely, as long as it is done correctly.

Read on to discover the safest way to shave your legs, according to board-certified dermatologists Onyeka Obioha-Lolagne, MD, and Ranella Hirsch, MD, and aesthetician Jodi Shays.

Meet the expert

  • Jodi Shays is an esthetician and owner and founder of Queen Bee Salon and Spa in Culver City, California, and Seattle, Washington.
  • Onyeka Obioha-LolagneMD, is a board certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist based in Los Angeles.
  • Ranella Hirsch, MD, is a board certified dermatologist based in New York City.

Is it safe to shave your legs dry?

razor used to shave the legs

The good news is that all our experts agree that, while not ideal, dry shaving is absolutely safe, as long as you follow the right precautions. "Dry shaving should really only be done in a pinch," says Shays. "Bringing a razor to cold, bare skin that is unprepared is a major red flag for your body's largest organ. It will communicate to the brain that it is under attack, which is why many people complain of inflammation after dry shaving."

And speaking of a "true" dry shave, it's important that we're all on the same page about what that means. In simple terms, dry shaving is shaving an area of your body outside of the shower without any water, oil or shaving gel, shares Obioha-Lolagne.

Traditionally, we are taught to shave with warm water and shaving cream. Water, especially at higher temperatures, softens the skin and allows for smoother hair removal. Adding shaving cream or a similar emollient makes for an easier and safer glide of the razor blade, Shays says. Plus, Obioha-Lolagne adds, it reduces the risk of post-shave irritation and folliculitis (AKA inflammation around the hair follicles).

Hirsch adds the warning that when dry shaving: be careful, "safety depends on who does the shaving and how it's done...technique is key."

Benefits of dry shaving legs

There's really only one advantage to shaving dry with a traditional razor blade, and that's occasional convenience.

Consider dry shaving as a last resort, for those rare times when stubble needs to be static and you find yourself completely without water. And given the need for precautions and techniques to properly dry shave, it may be easier (and certainly less risky) to wait for a proper shave later.

Risk of dry shaving legs

shaving with a classic razor

This is where things get complicated because there are many Potential risks associated with dry shaving. These risks are even more pronounced if you use a dull razor and/or do not use any type of lubrication. These include:

    • Irritation and inflammation: If you're looking for a painless close shave, dry shaving may not be your best choice. Without proper prep work and protection, you can end up with abrasions, irritation and inflammation, all of which can lead to more serious problems down the line, according to Hirsch.
    • Dry and scaly skin: There's a reason we're taught to shave using lots of moisture: shaving dries out the skin. Without nourishing ingredients and emollient agents, skin can become very dry, flaky and scaly after dry shaving.
    • Cuts and cracks: If your skin is already dry and sensitiveDry shaving is likely to result in nicks and cuts, which are mildly painful and uncomfortable, but can also cause greater problems if bacteria enter the wound, warns Hirsch. Even if the skin is well hydrated, the absence of water and good lubrication make snags and cuts all the more likely.
    • Tingling, itching or burning sensation: Dryness and irritation, two major risks in dry shaving, can lead to itching, stinging and burning that lasts long after the job is done, Shays says.
    • Razor: Without any kind of softening agent or enough slip, dry shaving can lead to razor burn, which presents as blotchy, red, irritated skin.
    • Uneven results: The goal of shaving is to give the skin a smooth, soft feel by removing hair. But without enough product and prep work, a razor won't glide smoothly over the skin and catch all the hairs. By dry shaving, you risk uneven results and a stubborn beard.
    • Folliculitis: Folliculitis, which is usually triggered by a bacterial or fungal infection, causes inflammation around the hair follicle and appears as raised bumps that are itchy and/or painful, according to Obioha-Lolagne. Dry shaving makes the condition all the more likely.
  • Ingrown hairs and similar shaving bumps: No one likes ingrown hairs and bumpy skin after shaving, and the risk is much greater when shaving dry.

How to shave your legs dry the right way

Yes, dry shaving is risky. But, if done correctly, it's also perfectly fine when the situation calls for it (as long as it's a rarity).

woman shaving her legs with an electric razor

First, Hirsch notes that perhaps the safest way to shave dry is to use an electric razor. These are often made with dry shaving in mind.

If you're considering sticking with a regular blade razor, read on to discover our experts' top tips on how to dry shave your legs the right way, minimizing risk and maximizing results.

    • A dull blade is risky even when you shave properly, so make sure you use a sharp blade (or a new one altogether, if you can swing it). And you don't have to be fancy: disposable razors work just fine, as long as they're fresh and thrown away after one use.
    • Before dry shaving, our experts strongly recommend lubricating the skin by applying a thick layer of shaving cream, gel or oil. Shays suggests a waterless product, such as coconut oil or sunflower oil. Hirsch agrees, sharing that she's more likely to recommend an oil rather than a shaving cream when it comes to dry shaving ... or better yet, she says, some sort of moisture strip on the blade to lubricate without any problems. Meanwhile, Obioha-Lolagne says to look for products containing emollients like glycerin, shea butter and oatmeal.
    • Like razors, you don't have to shell out a ton of money for effective shaving products. Obioha-Lolagne says she's a fan of Aveeno Therapeutic shaving gel (6 $), which includes a soothing oatmeal formula formulated for sensitive and easily irritated skin, and Vanicream's Shaving cream (10 $), which creates a protective barrier between the razor and the skin to prevent irritation and contains moisture-repelling ceramides. Whether you use an oil, gel or cream, the goal is to find something so moisturizing, thick and hydrating that you won't even need aftershave products (because if we resort to dry shaving, we're definitely on a major time crunch).
  • Once you are all lubricated, hold the skin with one hand and shave slowly in the direction of your hair growth. This will probably mean shaving in a downward motion (although your instinct may be to go against the grain). Use a light touch and long sweeping strokes to make sure you catch all the hairs. Obioha-Lolagne says shaving more than once on the same area is a big no-no for dry shaving.

And that's really all. We should mention that following these tips won't get you completely out of the woods in terms of risk. But they are effective enough that our three experts consider dry shaving safe when following these techniques.

A few other tips: don't dry shave on areas that are already inflamed, bumpy or irritated, the same goes for any areas with eczema or psoriasis flare-ups, says Shays. And when dry-shaving an area where the hair is longer than about an inch, trim it off before you pick up the razor.

Find 7 tips to shave your legs properly

The last takeaway

Although dry shaving can be risky, following the right protocol can greatly reduce the risk of accidents. When done correctly, dry shaving is perfectly acceptable (as long as it's infrequent).

Should you dry shave every week or even every month? Definitely not. But for those once-in-a-blue-moon moments, go ahead and just take precautions and do it the right way. Otherwise, just deal with the hair until you can take your time and shave properly.

Feel free to read our articles on skin care 

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Gabriela is the creator of the blog, a platform dedicated to natural cosmetics and skin care. Her blog is an invaluable source of information and advice on how to achieve perfect, glowing skin. Gabriela passionately shares her in-depth knowledge of natural products, emerging trends and practical tips for an effective skincare routine.

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