Learning how to exfoliate properly is a process of learning the steps. Any of us can do that. The catch is that learning how to do something properly is only the first part of exfoliate well. You also need to figure out when the best time is to actually exfoliate. You need to weigh multiple factors including on whether you need to shave that day. Depending on who you ask, people will tell you is either best to shave before exfoliate or after. It has become one of those continual discussions within beauty where everyone swears they’re right and the other side is hopelessly misinformed. People support their preference with various point-by-point discussions on why their method is superior, but it can be a bit hard to determine who you’re supposed to believe. Let’s take a quick look into their discussion and see what we can learn.
This camp generally likes to focus on the potential benefits to shaving from exfoliating first. They like to highlight that exfoliating helps to strip away dirt, grime, and oils that would otherwise make it harder to get a close shave. They’re quite correct about this too. Exfoliating beforehand will mean there is much less for your razor to pick up or catch on. You’ll get a smoother shave just from this fact, but there are other benefits that aren’t being touched on. Exfoliating products can actually help soften the hair you’ll be shaving with sufficient exposure. Think about it. Even our physical scrubs tend to have a light chemical exfoliant in them with breaking up the oils in the skin. This ingredient softens the hairs and after you rinse away the scrub or cleanser the hairs will be left more pliable. This further makes for a smoother shave. This seems to make it clear why exfoliating before your shave would be good, but what about exfoliating after?
People advocating for this camp generally don’t dispute the potential benefits of the other camp, but they do highlight there is a particular problem associated with exfoliating before: you can end up hurting yourself more while shaving. This is because the exfoliation removes some of the protective layers of your outer skin. Exfoliating before, they claim, also doesn’t help with care after shaving. They like to highlight that exfoliating after tends to be able to help reduce the potential for ingrown hairs over the long term and as a result contributes to a lessened level of skin irritation. These are valid arguments that make as much sense as the other side. It makes perfect sense that a lot of us end up caught between the two camps and entirely uncertain on who is closer to the truth. Notably though, the “exfoliate after” camp does ignore a potential flaw in their reasoning.
Flaws and Safety
Exfoliating after may help to ease one potential problem associated with shaving, but it actually runs a greater risk of causing more irritation as shaving, especially close shaving, is a form of exfoliation. The wrong kind of exfoliating product may hurt your skin if you’re exfoliating after you shave instead of simply shaving carefully if you exfoliate after. This is what ultimately shifts things towards exfoliating before your shave. The benefits outweigh the risks in that case. All the benefits help to counteract the potential for nicks while shaving because they make those nicks far less likely. Clean, smooth skin with soft hair provides far less resistance to the razor. You can, of course, experiment with exfoliating after if you like, but do be mindful of your skin’s reaction to make sure you’re not causing an excess amount of irritation.
While many of the “either or” disagreements in beauty actually have their truth located in a middle ground, the debate over whether you should shave before or after exfoliating does not. You’re far less likely to hurt your skin if your exfoliate before your shave. Exfoliating before improves far more factors for your skin than exfoliating after does. You will want to exfoliate your skin sometime before your shave again, yes, but exfoliating after should never be the general rule.