There was a time when shaving was not seen as a chore. It was gratifying, a tradition even, passed down from father to son. But today, in a world full of multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and an urge to get through the day as quickly and as effortlessly as possible, the art of shaving is a lost skill. Today, shaving is simply a $13-billion industry in which more blades equates to more money. Serious business, as they say.
Despite all of the new gadgets being attached to razors (i.e., flashlights, vibrating handles, proton beam accelerators), we’re still left with cuts, razor burn, and bumps. Maybe it’s time to bring some of that old-school charm back into our bathrooms. Fortunately, this can be done in three simple steps.
Note: While many of the products featured here are marketed to men, they work just as well for women. And although we refer to facial hair many times throughout the article, these techniques apply to all areas of the body. The face just happens to be one of the more challenging areas to shave.
1. Choose Your Razor
Straight razor – Also known as cut-throat razors, straight razors were very common until the 1950s. Today, they’re typically reserved for antique collectors. While there are those who still use straight razors, there isn’t much of an argument for recommending them. They require considerable skill to master and can actually be dangerous if not handled properly.
We Recommend: Dovo Best Quality razor
Single-blade safety razor – Safety razors came into existence as the “solution” to the possibility of being seriously injured with a straight razor. There is a strong, growing culture that insists these razors deliver the absolute best shave a man can get. They will also save you a lot of money in the long run, with blades costing between 10 and 15 cents each.
Safety razors definitely aren’t for everyone, though. While they will get you an impressively close shave and help to eliminate razor bumps, they may actually cause more irritation for those who have sensitive skin. They also require more patience than what you might be used to with a modern razor. And believe it or not, the resulting shave from a safety razor may be too close for some (who may not find bare skin to be appealing).
Our advice is to give safety razors a fair try. Use one for a couple months and then decide whether it works for you or not. Worst-case scenario: you’ll be forced to learn technique and pay attention to the details that matter, i.e., multiple directions of beard growth on different areas of your neck.
We Recommend: Merkur Model 180 Long Handled Safety Razor
Multi-blade pivot head razor – Multi-blade pivot head razors are what you would expect to find in the average person’s home. It’s hard to beat the performance and ease-of-use that these razors deliver. Unfortunately, they’re so easy to use that many users don’t bother learning how to shave properly. In addition to being a license for sloppy shaving, the blades are quite costly, with cartridges going for upwards of $4 each.
Multi-blade razors may not cut quite as close as a safety razor would, but with the latest offerings on the market, most would say the difference is insignificant. If you don’t mind paying top dollar for a quality shave, you should definitely have one of these in your arsenal.
We Recommend: Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power Razor
Electric razor – Electric razors may appear to be the convenient option here, since you don’t need any additional supplies, i.e., shaving cream. But keep in mind that cleaning and recharging electric razors can become very burdensome. And while a dry shave may be quick, you’ll likely need to shave more often with an electric razor, as most models don’t get as close as manual, wet shaving. Electric razors also require some getting used to, with most users experiencing significant irritation with their first few shaves.
We Recommend: Braun Series 3 380s-4
2. Throw in Some Accessories
Pre-Shave Oil: Adding pre-shave oil to your routine is probably one of the easiest ways to get a better shave. Not many people have even heard of this product. That’s a shame, considering it works wonders. Pre-shave oil softens the beard and works to lubricate the razor, more so than using shaving cream by itself. This ultimately means a shave with reduced friction and less pain.
We Recommend: Art of Shaving Pre-Shave Oil (Unscented). Or, simply make your own by mixing 1 cup castor oil, 1/2 cup olive oil, and, if you prefer scented oil, 5 drops of your favorite essential oil, e.g., lavender.
Shaving Cream: Shaving creams that you might find at your local supermarket will get the job done. But sometimes “getting the job done” isn’t enough. Do yourself a favor and upgrade to a quality shaving cream. You’ll notice a tangible difference. Your skin will get the moisture it needs, and the razor won’t drag nearly as much.
Shaving Brush: If you’re using your hands to apply the shaving cream, understand that you’re missing out. A shaving brush will work to create a rich lather, and it’ll also help to lift the hair from your face/body, making it easier for the razor to do its job. Invest in a badger-hair brush that will last for years, and you’ll wonder how you managed to go so long without one.
When shopping for a badger-hair brush, know that there are different grades of hair. “Pure” badger hair covers the majority of a badger’s body. Its high availability makes it the least expensive option. “Silvertip” badger hair, on the other hand, is found only on the neck area of a badger, making it the rarest of hair. It also happens to be the highest quality. Silvertip badger hair has white tips that are soft, luxurious, and capable of holding a large amount of water. Silvertip badger-hair brushes are sold at a premium, however.
After-Shave Balm: If you’re not using some form of an after-shave, you need to be. But don’t just pick up any old moisturizer lying around the house. You will want to avoid products with alcohol, fragrances, or other ingredients that can irritate or dry-out your skin. For some, something light like witch hazel works great. Others will need a heavier cream to repair any damage done to the skin.
Trimmer: If you find yourself going days or even weeks between shaves, you may want to consider trimming your hair before completely shaving it off. A trimmer will help to remove the bulk of facial/body hair, meaning reduced razor clogging and a longer razor life, as well as fewer strokes and reduced friction.
We Recommend: Philips Norelco Stubble Trimmer
3. Master the Technique
Cleanse: Start off your routine by cleaning your hands and face with a gentle cleanser, such as Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. This highly overlooked step will help prevent infections, which could lead to bigger problems.
Soak: Soaking your skin in warm water works to soften the beard and open pores. If you have a fog-proof mirror, shaving in the shower is most convenient. Otherwise, holding a wet wash cloth over your face (and neck) works well, too. Let the cloth sit for a minute or two while your pores are permeated.
Condition: Apply a small amount of pre-shave oil to the skin, and lightly massage it into the area you want to shave. Adding water during the process will help to spread the oil around.
Lather: Add a dollop of shaving cream, along with a few drops of water, to a shaving bowl (or a wide coffee mug). Use your badger-hair brush to whip the cream (while adding more water as necessary). Continue this process until you have a thick, creamy lather. Proceed to lather the cream into your beard with the brush.
Shave: Here’s where you’ll want to slow it down a bit. Take your time and pay attention to what you’re doing.
- Make sure the blade isn’t dull. Generally, you don’t want to shave more than 4-7 times with the same blade.
- Do your best to minimize strokes. Use long single strokes, rather than multiple short strokes, when possible. However, you’ll likely need short strokes around specific areas, such as the jaw line.
- Pay attention to the direction in which your hair grows in different areas (especially the neck). You’ll benefit from shaving at different angles, focusing on shaving with the grain the first time around. If you’re looking for an even closer shave, reapply shaving cream, and then shave against (or across) the grain a second time. Keep in mind, though, that shaving twice and shaving against the grain will both contribute to additional irritation.
- If you’re having trouble getting to the hair on curvy areas of your skin, such as your jaw line, carefully pull and tighten the skin for an even stroke.
- Continue to add warm water to the area being shaved. Thin out the shaving cream on your face with water as you approach each section of the beard. Your razor will glide easier over a thin layer of shaving cream.
- Rinse the razor after 2-3 strokes. You’re aiming for efficiency, and you won’t get that by shaving with blades that are clogged with hair.
- If you’ve missed a spot, reapply shaving cream and warm water before going over the area again.
Rinse: Use warm water to wash off any remaining cream and/or oil.
Dry: Use a soft towel to pat (not rub) your face dry. Dragging a towel across your (already sensitive) skin will only irritate it further.
Moisturize: Applying a moisturizer (after-shave) will dramatically improve the healing process.