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Before you go any further: You don't have to shave your bikini area if you don't want to shave your bikini area.
1. Find the right razor for the job.
2. Start by trimming your hair down.
Trim down the edges, trim everywhere, or trim everywhere but your labia, until the hair is just a few centimeters long. You can use scissors or try a bikini trimmer (like this non-electric one on the end of a razor, or a rechargeable option like this). Be patient with this process regardless of the tool.
If you are happy with the length of your hair after trimming, you can stop here, and don't have to shave everything off.
Tip: Gently pull your labia taut before you go near them with the trimmer, to reduce the chance of nicking yourself, or getting your skin caught in an electric trimmer.
3. Hang out in a hot shower for 5 to 10 minutes, or soak in a warm bath beforehand.
4. Gently exfoliate your skin before you start shaving.
"This primes the area so you can remove the hair more easily," Dr. Michele S. Green, a New York City dermatologist, tells BuzzFeed Life. "It makes the skin softer, and makes the hair pop up a little bit, so it's easier to get the hair at the root." Plus, it also reduces the chance of ingrown hairs.
The key here is not to use anything too harsh, and to not scrub too hard. Good rule of thumb? If you wouldn't use it on your face, don't use it between your legs. (And definitely don't use anything with microbeads. Get more info on why here). Brewed, cooled coffee grounds, a loofah sponge (like these), or a soft exfoliating mitt (like this one) all work well for pubic hairs that are growing on the inside of your legs or in the folds between your legs and your vulva (they also work well for the rest of your legs).
But for your vulva itself, Dr. David E. Bank, the director for the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery, recommends sticking with a dry wash cloth, that you rub very gently over your skin.
5. Apply a gentle shaving cream.
Dr. Bank recommends looking for one that's unscented or fragrance-free, because scents and perfumes can cause irritation. (Here's one option.)
For some, oil-based alternatives to shaving cream can work well — like coconut oil, olive oil, mineral oil, or baby oil. But Dr. Green recommends sticking with a gentle shaving cream. "Oils can irritate your skin and clog your pores," she tells BuzzFeed Life.
6. Shave in the same direction your hair grows.
7. Glide the razor gently over your skin; resist the urge to press down on it as you shave.
Let the blades do the work! (This is why you need to use sharp blades, and replace them when they dull. More on that in a second).
Putting pressure on your skin just opens another door for irritation. To get a closer shave using this technique, you can gently pull your skin taut before shaving.
8. Apply more shaving cream as needed.
9. After rinsing and patting dry, moisturize your newly shaved skin.
"A bland, preferably oil-free, fragrance-free simple moisturizer would be your best bet," says Dr. Bank. Moisturizers with oil or sunscreen in them are more likely to clog your skin's pores, especially if you're already prone to clogged pores. Dr. Green also says to avoid anything that contains AHA (alpha hydroxy acid), which is a common ingredient in anti-aging lotions. Here's one option.
10. Wear cotton underwear and avoid tight clothing.
Polyester is an occluding fabric — it's not breathable, and could increase your chances of irritation. Dr. Bank recommends wearing soft, 100% cotton underwear that doesn't hug your skin too tightly for several hours after shaving to help reduce the chance of ingrown hairs.
11. When the stubble starts to show, make it less prickly with an exfoliating pad.
Pads like Soften Her can make that cactus-y feeling less noticeable, so you can go a little longer between shaves. (It also claims it can help prevent ingrown hairs).
12. Change your razor blade regularly.
Old razors can give you infections, don't give you a close shave, and can irritate your skin. "After about the fourth shave they start to get dull," says Dr. Bank. (One full shave includes your legs, underarms, and bikini area). But he also says you should pay attention to your body: If by the third shave you're dealing with skin irritation, you should go ahead and swap it out.
To make your razor blade last as long as possible, run it under warm to hot water after every use. "Then very gently pat the blade dry with a towel or dry washcloth," says Dr. Bank — drying the blade helps it last longer, but rubbing it with a towel will dull it. You also should store your razor outside of the shower, because the heat and steam can cause it to rust more quickly.
Also: If your razor looks at all rusty, ever, toss it. Immediately.