As a dermatologist, one of the top concerns my patients share about the skin beyond their face is how to care for sensitive skin on their body. People often assume that sensitive skin is a result of the environment, the weather, or that it’s just how their skin is. While the weather and the environment are factors that can impact experiencing sensitive skin symptoms, there can be much more to the story.
What is Sensitive Skin?
The term sensitive skin is commonly used to describe a reduced tolerance to make-up and personal care products on the face and body—but it can mean a lot of things to different women. In general, sensitive skin is divided into four categories: acne, rosacea, burning/stinging and contact dermatitis—which breaks down into allergies and irritants. Most of these classifications are focused on facial skin, even though women experience symptoms of sensitive skin on other parts of the body as well. Concerning the skin below your face, irritant contact dermatitis is the most common type of sensitive skin.
Sensitive Skin is Universal
Women of all ages, skin tones, types and in all parts of the world can experience symptoms of sensitive skin. In a recent survey conducted by Gillette Venus, 99.6% of women worldwide identified themselves as having sensitive skin on parts of their bodies other than the face. Of those who reported some level of sensitive skin, women universally believe they have sensitive skin in the areas of the body they shave, identifying themselves as having the highest instance of sensitive skin in the bikini area, reported by 93%, followed by underarms at 88% and legs at 80%. Of these women globally, dryness (68%) was the most commonly cited symptom leading women to believe they had sensitive skin on their legs, while redness was the leading symptom both for bikini (57%) and underarms (42%).
The Skin-ny on Shaving and Sensitivity
Women often mistake symptoms of shaving irritation from using a poor quality razor for sensitive skin. Gillette Venus found this myth to be commonly held among women worldwide, with 75% of survey respondents sharing that they experience irritation on their legs, underarms or bikini after shaving. Of those women who experience irritation after shaving, the most noted belief as to why this occurs is that they just have sensitive skin. However, 82% of US dermatologists surveyed by Gillette Venus weighed in with the truth, agreeing that irritation from shaving is often confused with having sensitive skin.
Of women surveyed globally, the bikini and underarms proved to be the most common areas for experiencing shaving irritation, since hair in these areas is typically coarser and the areas are curved. In the bikini area, skin is also less taut than it is on the legs, so women have a tendency to go over that area with more strokes when shaving and pull more tightly on the skin, increasing irritation.
Here’s how to spot the most often reported skin irritation symptoms, typically damage to the epidermis, which women experience as a result of shaving:
- Redness on the skin: change of color on the skin toward redness that indicates increased blood flow to that area; will include warm temperature feeling of the skin
- Raised bumps: small raised area above the level of the skin
- Underarm/bikini: likely an ingrown hair (see ingrown hairs below)
- Legs: considered folliculitis, an inflammation of the hair follicle
- Razor burn: inflammation of the skin following shaving (includes redness, warmth & sensitivity)
- Itchy skin: skin itches when it’s irritated or dry
- Flakiness or peeling of the skin: represents dry, dead skin that’s detaching from the skin below
- Stinging and burning: another manifestation of inflammation and irritation
- Ingrown hairs: hairs that grow into or under the skin that are associated with a red, painful bump; typically found in underarm and bikini areas
- Cut: a break in the skin
- Nick: a small cut
The choices my patients make to cope with these symptoms of skin irritation can end up impacting their day, their lifestyle and often their self-confidence. Women may choose a different outfit in an effort not to display their irritated legs or underarms. In the summer, some women may skip out on a day at the beach. They even describe changing or canceling plans and investing unnecessarily in extra skin moisturizers or lotions. Despite the efforts to “manage” the irritation, they often don’t realize they could prevent it in the first place by simply changing the way they shave or the type of razor they use.
Some Skin Solutions
Making small changes can have a big impact on the amount and frequency of skin irritation symptoms you experience. For the best foundation, I recommend choosing a high-quality razor designed to address some causes of women’s skin irritation from shaving and I also recommend switching the razor blade regularly. For patients experiencing skin irritation due to shaving, 76% of US dermatologists surveyed by Gillette Venus would recommend choosing a razor with features more suitable for sensitive skin.
Venus’ new Embrace Sensitive razor is specifically designed to help reduce irritation by bringing together Venus’ best blade technology, effective lubrication and a design specifically geared to a woman’s curves. The Venus Embrace Sensitive razor is a perfect match for sensitive skin with 5-blades, a protective Ribbon of Moisture™ and a touch of aloe for glide. This combination is designed specifically to reveal beautiful skin, even on sensitive skin.
Shaving year round to help exfoliate dead skin cells, and using skin prep on wet skin to soften the hairs will give you the best surface on which to shave and will help decrease instances of irritation. In fact, the top recommendation given by surveyed US dermatologists to female patients who experience skin irritation from shaving was to use a shaving preparation. The new Venus Embrace Sensitive works well with the irritation defense prep, Satin Care Ultra Sensitive, which has been specifically formulated to be fragrance and dye free and dermatologist tested on sensitive skin. Showering in warm, not extremely hot, water helps soften skin without stripping the skin and drying it out further. Applying a moisturizing skin cream to the whole body, right after the shower, helps replenish lost moisture and nutrients, which is especially important in those months of extreme heat or cold.
Go Deep on Skin
Your skin is your largest organ. It’s exposed to the elements all day long and in different ways during the seasons. For women, smooth skin can be a source of pride, a glowing symbol of youth or health and it can be a beautiful sign of femininity. Taking care and protecting your skin, including all the parts you shave, is important not just for your appearance, but for your overall wellness.
- How woman around the world stack-up on sensitive skin: The majority of women across the globe (75%) experience irritation after shaving, most often on their bikini area (94%), then underarms (88%) and legs (80%).
- The most common signs of shaving irritation women experience on their legs are dryness (46%), redness (38%) and itching (33%).
- When asked to describe the signs of shaving irritation they experience on their legs, Swedish women report the most dryness (57%) while Japanese women report the most redness (64%) and Brazilian women report the highest instances of itching (46%)
- The most common signs of shaving irritation women experience on their underarms are redness (51%), itching (35%) and burning/stinging (26%).
- When asked to describe the signs of shaving irritation they experience on their underarms, Russian women report the most redness (65%) while Brazilian women report highest instances of itching (47%) and Japanese women report experiencing burning/stinging the most (45%)
- The most common signs of shaving irritation women experience on their bikini area are redness (66%), itching (45%) and bumps (39%).
- When asked to describe the signs of shaving irritation they experience on their bikini area, Russian women report very high instances of redness (80%), Swedish women report high instances of itching (53%) and US women report experiencing the most bumps (73%)
- Women in Brazil and Russia experience more instances of skin irritation after shaving in all areas of the body than any other country surveyed:
- Brazil: Legs (87%), Underarms (94%), Bikini (97%)
- Russia: Legs (92%), Underarms (98%), Bikini (99%)
- As a result of having skin irritation after shaving, women around the world resort to different compensating behaviors:
- Russian women are most likely (63%) to apply moisturizer after shaving
- Women in Japan are most likely (60%) to shave less frequently
- German women are most likely (51%) to avoid applying deodorant immediately after shaving
About the Author
Dr. Jody Levine, internationally renowned celebrity dermatologist, is board certified by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Pediatrics and received her M.D. at Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Levine is a go-to resource for media influencers, having appeared on The Rachael Ray Show, Fox News, ABC News and in top-tier print publications including W magazine, Elle, Allure, Self, Shape, Marie Claire, New York Magazine and The New York Times. She also sits on the medical advisory board of Parents magazine. Dr. Levine has been designated as one of “The Best People, Places, and Things This Fair City Has to Offer”, by Gotham Magazine, and has been selected for the list of “Super Doctors” in the New York Times Magazine for the last three years. The Consumer’s Research Council of America has named her one of “America’s Top Dermatologists” every year since 2009. Dr. Levine has also written scholarly papers in prestigious journals, including Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Levine, together with her husband, a plastic surgeon, hold a private practice on the Upper East Side, Plastic Surgery & Dermatology of NYC. She resides in New York City with her husband and four children.