The art of shaving has come a long way. Dating back roughly 60,000 years when men used sharpened clam shells as primitive razors, to today’s models that heat up and vibrate, shaving is an industry all its own. But no matter how many products or fancy razors we have at our disposal, nothing mitigates the fact that shaving involves dragging a razor blade across the surface of your skin, and if not done right, can create a whole host of problems, from razor burn to ingrown hairs. The good news is that a great shave comes down to a few simple steps.
One quick note before we start: don’t think that just because you’re bearded, this guide to how to shave properly doesn’t apply to you. Even if you only regularly shave that tiny strip on your cheeks, it’s better to do it the right way.
“A person’s pre-shave routine is just as important as the actual shave itself,” says Babe of Brooklyn’s Wil Allen, who added that most guys don’t allow enough time for a proper shaving routine. So whether that means waking up a bit earlier or showing up a bit later, give yourself enough time for proper prep. Start by washing your face with a gentle cleanser, and allow some time for your skin to warm up. This lifts the whiskers and makes skin more pliable. Wait to shave until after you’ve showered, or follow Allen’s advice and invest in a facial steamer. Then, you’ll want to create a smooth surface with some gentle exfoliation, but avoid using a scrub, which—when followed by shaving—can irritate skin. Instead, co-founder of Pacific Shaving Co. Stan Ades recommends using a konjac sponge, which provides gentle, yet effective exfoliation to remove the thin layer of dead skin cells that could lead to future ingrowns.
If you’ve got extra-sensitive skin or coarse hair, start with a pre-shave oil on warm, damp skin to provide extra lubrication and soften the hair. When it comes to shaving cream, this is where you should be picky. “Search for shaving creams that support both wet and dry shaving,” says Allen. These usually contain glycerine as their main ingredient, which cushions your skin against the razor and keeps hydration in, rather than soap-based foams which dry out skin. Also, avoid formulas containing menthol and camphor, as they can irritate freshly-shaven skin.
Choose Your Razor
Although the thought of a self-heating razor or one that vibrates seems like something every self-respecting man should have, it isn’t. For most guys who want an easy shave, something like the classic Gillette Mach 3 usually does the trick. However, Ades recommends those with acne-prone skin may want to choose a razor with fewer blades. If you want something more traditional, such as a straight razor, and you’ve got the patience and dexterity to use it, go for it. But the most important thing to consider is the sharpness of the blade, rather than the type. Sharp blades make for cleaner cuts, which means less irritation and less risk for problems later.
Now, here’s the part where we actually show you how to shave properly. After you’re all lathered up, pull your skin taut with your free hand and gently glide the razor over your face, going with the grain. There’s no need to press hard—let the razor do the work. Rinse your razor in hot water after each go, and repeat until you’re clean-shaven. If you wish, you could re-lather and repeat, going against the grain for a closer shave, but avoid this if your skin is acne-prone or you’re susceptible to in-growns.
If you accidentally nick yourself, keep an alum block or styptic pencil on hand to stop the bleeding. Speaking of, one of the trickiest parts of shaving is getting around the Adam’s apple, but Ades has some advice for that, too. “Force yourself to swallow and then ‘hold’ that swallow down without fully completing it. That motion will take your Adam's apple out of the way, long enough for a clean, safe shave across the area.”
Soothe and Protect
Forget everything you heard about all aftershaves stinging. That means they contain alcohol which makes them drying, and that’s the opposite of what your skin needs. If you like the feeling of an aftershave tonic, go for a refreshing toner to soothe skin and clear follicles of debris. Allen recommends Babe of Brooklyn's Herbal Toner, which is stacked with calming ingredients plus charcoal to draw out dirt that can clog hair follicles.Then it’s time to soothe and hydrate your skin. If you’re more of a minimalist and prefer an all-in-one aftershave type product, use a post-shave balm to keep skin hydrated. But if you’re regimented to a routine, you can carry on as normal, but steer clear of products containing irritants like retinol, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and vitamin C, which can aggravate freshly-shaven skin.
Prevent and Treat Ingrowns
For most men, following our guide to how to shave properly should prevent ingrown hairs from happening altogether. Ades told us that many men find shaving more frequently keeps ingrowns at bay by making sure the follicle can’t grow long enough to curl back into the skin. If you find ingrowns are a regular thing, follow Allen’s advice and see a dermatologist. But for the occasional plug, apply a warm compress 2-3 times a day, then spot treat with an ingrown hair treatment like TendSkin, to relieve the trapped hair and reduce inflammation. Try to avoid shaving over the affected area for a few days, or until it’s fully healed.
Whether you’re a daily shaver, a once-in-a-whiler, or fully-bearded and in need of some maintenance here and there, it’s worth putting in the effort to get the best shave possible. Your skin will thank you for it later.