Can Aftershave Cause Acne (Getting Pimples After Shaving Face!)

Aftershave can be a soothing finale to your shaving routine, but can it cause acne to flare?

While some aftershave ingredients can cause or worsen acne, not all bumps that occur post-shave are related to acne. There is a distinct difference between acne and razor bumps. Skin type, method of shaving, and choice of aftershave all play a part in the condition of your skin after a shave.

If you are curious about the differences between acne and razor bumps and which aftershave ingredients may cause acne, read on!

Why do you get acne or pimples after you shave?

You long for a close, smooth shave, but aggravating post-razor bumps always seem to pop up. Why do you get acne or pimples after you shave?

The process of shaving puts your skin through a lot depending on pre- and post-shave treatments and the method of shaving. Old, dull razors and poor technique can leave your skin irritated and increase post-shave bumps. Heavy, oily lotions and soaps can clog pores resulting in pimples or full-blown acne flareups. 

If you do suffer from acne or pimples after you shave, it can be difficult to diagnose the issue. Should you treat for acne or will the razor bumps go away?

Looking at the distinct differences between these two common conditions can help you correctly diagnose the problem.

The difference between acne and razor bumps

To fully address the bump issue, it’s important to understand the differences between acne and razor bumps. All bumps aren’t created equal.

Acne is a condition where oil, bacteria, or dead skin cells block the pores in your skin. The results are whiteheads, blackheads, or painful cysts under the skin. Razor bumps are a common name for the condition pseudofolliculitis barbae. This condition is caused by infected or inflamed hair follicles.

Acne is a common problem affecting 80% of people between the ages of 11-30. It can be the result of hormonal changes or be caused by external factors like oily personal care products. Acne not only affects the face but can also appear on the chest or back. 

Pseudofolliculitis barbae – more commonly called razor bumps – are often confused with acne because of the red bump appearance. These bumps are usually directly caused by shaving appearing in the beard area only. They can also be itchy. These razor bumps are more prevalent in men of African or Asian descent or those with curly hair.

A good test to determine if you are suffering from acne or razor bumps is to stop shaving for a few days. If the bumps disappear, it’s likely they are razor bumps. If they persist or are located on other parts of the body as well, then they are likely acne bumps.

How does shaving affect the skin?

Different types of shaving methods affect the skin in different ways. The majority of men use disposable razors for their daily shaves. Others use safety razors or electric razors. Shaving products can also have both positive and negative effects on the skin.

The lift and cut action of disposable razors can cause the trimmed hairs to turn back into the skin and become ingrown causing razor bumps. Using shaving soaps or creams can moisten, soften, and exfoliate the skin preparing it for the shave. Some of the ingredients in these pre-shave products can be too greasy for certain skin types resulting in acne breakouts.

Shaving can also lead to small nicks and cuts that allow bacteria to enter under the skin often leading to pimples. When using a safety razor, shaving “against the grain” of your hair growth can result in painful ingrown hairs.

Does aftershave cause acne?

We’ve discussed the act of shaving and its effects on the skin. Now, let’s turn our attention to aftershave products. 

Aftershave doesn’t necessarily cause acne, but some of the ingredients in your specific aftershave might upset your skin’s natural balance causing oil glands to increase production. This overstimulation could result in an acne flareup. On the other hand, some aftershave ingredients could help improve already established acne.

The good news is that there are many aftershaves on the market today that target different skin types. Once you know how your skin reacts to certain ingredients, you can switch up the products you use if needed.

Can the ingredients in aftershave cause an acne flare-up?

Aftershave products can have many ingredients. Let’s look at some of the most common and discuss their skin effects.

Knowing your own skin type and being informed about ingredients can help you avoid acne flare-ups after shaving. Alcohol, witch hazel, and fragrances are found in most aftershaves on the market today.

Let’s talk about each ingredient separately and determine if they can exacerbate acne.


Alcohol is a common ingredient in aftershave splash products. The strong astringent effect is helpful for tightening pores and killing bacteria. The downside is that alcohol is very drying. 

Dry skin is a form of irritation, and irritated skin is more at risk for developing acne. Applying alcohol products until your skin appears dry can lead to a breakout.

Thankfully, there are alcohol-free aftershave options available. Some are specially formulated for blemish-prone skin.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel is commonly used in aftershave for its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. It shrinks inflamed skin tissue and closes up pores after shaving. Witch hazel is an attractive choice to soothe skin redness, razor burn, itching, and also help decrease bleeding.

Witch hazel can be used to treat mild acne. However, too much witch hazel use can dry the skin out excessively triggering rebound oil production. This could be troublesome for acne sufferers. 

Dermatologists often recommend using a moisturizer in combination with witch hazel to limit the dryness factor.


A great-smelling aftershave is part of the post-shave appeal. Woodsy, leathery, and musky scents are popular, but how do these fragrances affect your skin?

While acne isn’t necessarily a concern with fragrances, allergic skin reactions can occur. Musky scents have been studied extensively showing them to be hormone disruptors. Hormone issues can lead to breakouts.

Fragrances can be made up of natural or synthetic ingredients. The Environmental Working Group states that there are over 3,100 ingredients that can make up fragrances. It’s almost impossible to know which ones are used in your aftershave since the FDA doesn’t require them to be listed separately.

Other ingredients

The above is not an exhaustive list of aftershave ingredients.

Aloe vera, essential oils, vitamin C, and even colorants are known to make an appearance in aftershave bottles. Aloe vera is often used to treat acne. Tea tree oil kills bacteria. Vitamin C brightens skin. Different color additives are included on the acne avoid list since they can contribute to a breakout.

When trying a new aftershave product, it is often a good idea to do a patch test first to make sure your skin is compatible. This will help you avoid any widespread problems.

Does aftershave clog your pores?

We all have our preferences and the aftershave market tries to meet the varied wants and needs of its consumers. If you are trying to avoid clogged pores, one type of aftershave may be a better choice for you than another.

Aftershave splash is mostly made up of astringent ingredients that do not clog pores. Aftershave lotions and balms can include heavier oils that can clog pores. Looking closely at the ingredient list and choosing non-comedogenic products can help you avoid acne breakouts after shaving.

Let’s look at each type of aftershave and its effect on your pores.

Aftershave splash

Aftershave splash is primarily made up of alcohol or witch hazel.

As we discussed earlier, these ingredients don’t clog pores. Instead, they shrink and tighten pores.

Aftershave lotion

Aftershave lotions are a great choice for those with drier skin types, however, many contain pore-clogging ingredients.

Lanolin, olive oil, and almond oil are common additives that can worsen the skin of those susceptible to acne.

Aftershave balm

Aftershave balms are the most emollient of the three types.

Balms are more likely to contain pore-clogging ingredients like avocado/ coconut oil or coconut butter. If you are prone to breakouts, it would be best to avoid these heavy additives.

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