Tips for Safe Hair Removal with Atopic Dermatitis

About 10 percent of people will develop atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema, in their lifetimes, according to the National Eczema Association. The condition, which causes red, itchy, and painful skin, affects men and women equally, and its symptoms can make hair removal via shaving, waxing, and laser treatments problematic for both sexes.

“Hair removal can irritate the skin because the skin’s surface is damaged in the process,” says Sheila Farhang, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Avant Dermatology & Aesthetics in Tucson, Arizona. “Physical methods like shaving or waxing remove the surface layers of the skin, and chemical methods like using a depilatory can burn the skin.”

Despite these challenges, there are ways those suffering from eczema can safely remove unwanted hair without irritating the skin or triggering a flare. Here are the tips on how to remove hair safely with eczema, with as little irritation as possible.

1. Moisturize and hydrate skin. “Moistening and hydrating beard hair, for example, prior to shaving can make the hair more supple and easier to shave,” notes Beth Goldstein, MD, of Central Dermatology Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “Hot water can dry out the skin, so using lukewarm water — either applied to the skin with a towel for a few minutes before shaving or getting the area you want to shave moistened for a few minutes in the shower — can be useful.”

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2. Exfoliate when possible. Gently exfoliate the skin after hydrating to keep it healthy and less prone to damage and irritation from shaving, recommends Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. “Either physical exfoliation with a gentle scrub or chemical exfoliation with a toner or cleanser containing glycolic or other alpha hydroxy acid are great because this decreases the risk that skin will be covering where the hair is growing,” she says.

3. Grab a razor. Like waxing and depilatories, shaving with a razor can also irritate already inflamed skin. Still, most dermatologists recommend shaving over the other methods. “Depilatory creams and waxing are more likely to cause irritation in those with sensitive skin,” explains Dr. King. “These creams contain strong chemicals, and you can really hurt your skin, particularly if you leave the product on too long.” For best results, Drs. Goldstein and King recommend that you:

  • Make sure to use a razor with a sharp blade and replace blades on a regular basis.
  • Keep razor blades as clean and disinfected as possible to avoid infections.
  • Shave in one direction — following the direction in which the hair grows rather than “going against the grain” to get the closest shave. This can help you avoid further skin irritation.
  • Try an electric razor. Electric razors don’t give a close shave, which can lead to painful ingrown hairs and further irritate eczema patches.

4. Use products meant for shaving. While soap and warm water sound like a good idea, stick to products specially formulated for shaving. When you have eczema, “it's important to use a shaving cream or mousse because when you shave, you’re shaving the outermost layers of skin, too,” King notes. “If you don't use a good product with emollients and occlusive (moisturizing agents) to protect and moisturize the skin, you can end up with abrasions and irritation, which can only make eczema worse.” King recommends shaving products that contain coconut oil, aloe, and hyaluronic acid “to soften the hair and provide optimum slip for a comfortable shave.” Be sure to check labels to find products that are fragrance-free, soap-free, and suitable for sensitive skin, she adds.

5. Moisturize some more. After shaving, moisturizing is key. “One of the best things you can do for eczema-prone skin is to keep it moisturized,” says Farhang. “This starts with your daily shower and a soothing body wash designed with dermatologists for sensitive skin. Long-lasting hydration improves the skin barrier, which can help future flare-ups be less severe. You also want to hydrate from the inside, so be sure to stay on top of your water consumption and drink the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.” King also suggests using an over-the-counter hydrocortisone topical cream, as needed, to help soothe shaving irritation, as well as an emollient to keep skin soft. However, before using these products, talk to your dermatologist to make sure they’re right for you.

6. If possible, try laser treatment. While laser hair removal can be expensive, Farhang, Goldstein, and King all agree that, for people with atopic dermatitis, it’s also one of the safest, least invasive options for hair removal. “The most definitive solution is to get rid of the hair, either by laser hair removal or electrolysis,” says King.

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