How To Be Smart In A World of Dumb Shavers

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Shaving.  For most of us it’s just another part of grooming, done without much thought. For others it’s a painful chore with enough nicks and cuts to call an ambulance, ingrown hairs that feel like a volcano about to blow, or so much a razor burn the fire department has to be called in. You can make the experience a lot more pleasant with the proper techniques and products.

Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Preparation is probably the most overlooked aspect of shaving. The area to be shaved must be clean and wet (or if you’re shaving with an electric razor, clean and dry). One good way to do this is to use a facial soap on the area to be shaved (even if it’s not the face). You could even use a little of the shaving lather you’re going to use to shave with instead of the facial soap (more on lather later). No deodorant or body bars here: they tend to strip off too much of the skin’s natural oils, making shaving more difficult. Wash and rinse with lots of warm (not hot) water. Doctors say it can take up to three minutes to properly prepare the skin this way for shaving.

Want to give your prep a little boost? If you’re in the shower, try applying some hair conditioner to the area you’re going to shave. Just make sure it’s a “softening” conditioner and not a “strengthening” conditioner. Use it just like you would on the top of your head–massage it in, wait 30 seconds, and rinse thoroughly.

Shaving “Software”

Now next let’s discuss shaving “software” — foams, gels, creams, and soaps. All other things being equal, the least desirable shaving software is anything that comes out of a pressurized can. That’s because the propellant gases will get into the lather and create tiny pockets of air that tend to dry out the skin–then all sorts of artificial lubricants and other junk have to be added to make up for it (have you ever looked at the ingredient list of that can of…goo?). Instead, use something that comes out of a squeeze tube.  For an even better experience use a traditional lathering soap or cream, using a shaving brush to build lather. Using a shaving brush has other advantages too: it can gently remove tiny bits of debris off the skin and hair, surrounding each follicle with lathery goodness; it can raise the hair off the skin slightly, making the razor blade’s cutting action more effective; and it just feels good on the skin.

Here are my suggestions for some good shaving creams and shaving soaps.

Shaving “Hardware”

What about the razor? This part can be a little tricky because there are a number of variables that come into play. The obvious one is the number of blades but there are other things to consider like the angle that the blades are set to and the design of the cartridge head. You may have to experiment a little to find the razor type that’s best for you but use a razor with as few blades as necessary to do the job (do you really need a razor with seven blades that vibrates like a marital aid?): any more is just an open invitation for razor burn. And avoid using a fully-disposable razor. They’re made to a lower quality control standard (and besides, it’s just that much more plastic to clog a landfill).

Here is some research done on different cartridge razors and double edge razors.

Shaving Technique

The best equipment in the world won’t help much if you don’t have proper shave technique. Consider that your goal should be hair reduction rather than elimination. That way it is as comfortable and “safe” as possible. You do this by shaving in stages or “passes,” with each pass reducing the amount the remaining stubble until you have achieved the level of shave you desire. Your first pass should be with the grain of the beard (the direction the hair grows in. Use your hand to stroke an area from different directions–one direction will feel smoother than the others. That’s the grain). Don’t try to get every little spot or shave the same spot over and over again – your first pass should almost feel leisurely. If you want a closer shave after that first pass, briefly rinse (just to keep the skin wet), relather, and shave “across” the grain (the direction 90 degrees away from the grain). Still not close enough? Rinse, relather, and shave across the grain from the opposite direction. STILL not close enough (geeze, you want that “baby’s butt smooth” look, eh)? Rinse, relather, and shave against the grain – careful though, some people can’t pull that off.

(It’s worth noting that if you use a razor with a single blade, like the old-style double edge safety razor your father or grandfather used, you might be able to “cheat” a little bit and just follow the predominant direction of the grain, not every twist and turn.)

After The Shave

After the shave rinse very well with warm water to remove any residual lather (otherwise you might clog up some pores and end up with little pimple-looking things, or worse yet, an ingrown hair). You might even go so far as to soak a cotton pad with witch hazel and wipe down the area. Then rinse really well with cool water and apply an aftershave balm that doesn’t have alcohol as a main ingredient.

I shaved with an electric razor for 30+ years and never much thought about it. Buzz, buzz, zip, zip, done in two minutes. Yeah, I had a 5 ‘O Clock shadow at two, but I thought that was “normal.” Then I discovered traditional wet shaving and my life was changed. I created a YouTube channel about how to shave properly and co-founded a related shaving and grooming website, sharpologist.com.

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