Tips to Shave Safely with Psoriasis

When you have psoriasis, seemingly simple tasks can become potentially perilous undertakings. Everyday grooming, for example, can trigger an outbreak of plaques, thus complicating your psoriasis management plan.

Hair removal, especially, may lead to skin irritation and even bleeding, which can in turn cause a psoriasis flare. This reaction — called the Koebner phenomenon, after the doctor who first identified it — is when a minor skin injury, such as a cut or a sunburn, results in a new psoriasis lesion on the site of the affected area.

About half of all people with psoriasis experience the Koebner phenomenon at some point, and about 10 percent will see it every time they get a cut or other trauma.

Kasi Burns, 30, is all too familiar with psoriasis and the Koebner phenomenon. Burns has been living with psoriasis for more than half her life.

It started on her scalp and then moved down her neck, flaring up in various spots across her body.

Although her psoriasis management strategies are working and her condition is mostly under control — she describes it as pink with some scales — she had to deal with unpleasant grooming experiences for the better part of her young adulthood.

“Shaving has never been fun, and it’s one aspect I tend to bring up when advocating for psoriasis,” she explains. “As my flare-ups became worse over the years, shaving became painful. I would take off chunks of psoriasis or break out from the shave lotions. Then, to top off the pain of losing skin, it would bleed for hours nonstop, and getting a Band-Aid to stick was virtually impossible.”

Burns’s psoriasis was aggressive, sometimes covering 80 percent of her body. But skipping over the affected areas on her legs when she shaved left her with too- obvious patches of hair, in addition to the psoriasis.

In frustration, she tried waxing, which worked for her eyebrows but hurt her legs and took off more skin than shaving. Depilatory creams were the next stop for a solution, but she says they caused red, painful bumps everywhere she applied them.

“I'm hoping that at some point a company will come up with a safe and nonpainful way for those of us with psoriasis to be able to remove unwanted hair,” she says.

In the meantime, she’s back to just shaving. Though she’s picked up a few tricks over the years, she still struggles occasionally with flares and cuts.

How to Shave

Burns’s case is not an isolated one.

Many men and women deal with the same issue. There’s no easy fix, but working with your doctor on psoriasis treatment can help you ease the discomfort and avoid the hazards of shaving, says Michelle Pelle, MD, dermatologist and medical director at MedDerm Associates in San Diego.

She advises simply not shaving or shaving as little as possible, though this is easier for men than for women. “Often, men avoid shaving and grow facial hair, which also covers the psoriasis,” says Dr. Pelle.

If skipping shaving isn't an option for you, try these tips for a safer and less grueling experience:

  • Go slowly. “I've learned that it’s a matter of being extremely careful when I shave,” says Burns.
  • Choose the right razor. “Using electric razors or razors with the fewest blades — three or less — is the best bet,” says Pelle. This strategy may not get you a very close shave, but it will protect skin.
  • Use shaving products made for sensitive skin. You may need to experiment with different brands — they don’t all work equally well, says Burns. While she still experienced more than her share of bleeding with gels marked for sensitive skin, it’s possible to find products that ease rather than irritate. Pelle advises that men with facial psoriasis avoid aftershaves.
  • Get treated. Psoriasis management, possibly including medication prescribed by your doctor, should get the psoriasis under control well enough for you to shave comfortably. Facial treatments that will make shaving cheeks and chins easier are available for men. If you want to shave and can’t, check with your doctor to find out whether there's more you could do to manage your psoriasis symptoms.

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