Valerie Monroe
Photo: Jonathan Skow
Q: How can I avoid getting nasty bumps under my arms when I shave?

A: I suppose you don't want to consider not shaving under your arms, and this being the United States in the 21st century—instead of France during the Belle Epoque, when some considered women's underarm hair erotic—that's probably a good idea.

I'm all for liberation from annoying conventions, but I saw a photo of myself taken at a friend's wedding in the mid-1970s that convinced me some annoying conventions are worth the trouble. I wore a bridesmaid's gown—pink, rayon, sleeveless—and the prominent tufts of hair on either side of my bodice were more King Kong than Colette.

So: how to avoid those nasty bumps.

Start with a supersharp razor, says Debra Wattenberg, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Wet your underarms with warm water and apply a moisturizing cleanser (like Olay Ribbons Body Wash, $4) or a moisturizing shave cream (like Aveeno Positively Smooth Shower & Shave Cream, $7). Don't press very hard on the razor because it can force bacteria from the skin into the hair follicles, causing pimples or bumps. If you're still getting irritation, apply a little over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream post-shave, says Wattenberg.

Bottom line: Try shaving in the evening before bed, since sweating can increase irritation, and wait until morning to apply deodorant or antiperspirant.

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