Shaving. The vast majority of us chaps do it and do it most days. By my reckoning if we shave from the age of 15 to the age of 80 at a average of 5 days a week that is somewhere in the region of 17,000 times that we will shave in our lifetimes. That is a lot of shaving! So, you would think that we should all be experts in the field. Sadly, however, the majority of us shave with little thought about the process and as a result shave poorly.
Shaving is treated by many as a chore. Razor burn, ingrown hairs and the uncomfort of an ancient razor tugging and yanking hairs from our faces all makes for an unpleasant experience. But it need not be like this. I hated shaving until I was treated to a traditional cut-throat shave at Truefitt & Hill, Barbers to Prince Phillip and the oldest barbershop in the world having shaved men’s faces the traditional way since 1805. My eyes were opened to the world of shaving properly. I went on to spend a lot of time reading up on shaving and trying techniques and my shaves not only became better in the sense that I got a closer and more comfortable shave, free from razor burn and ingrown hairs, but also I started to enjoy the process and actually look forward to the morning ritual.
There is, of course, huge debate over using single blade DE razors, open razors (cut-throats) and multi blade cartridges, but regardless of which razor type you use there are some golden rules to follow which will improve you shave experience (the benefits of certain razor types is perhaps a topic for discussion all of it’s own)
Rule 1 – Shave after a shower
Preparation is king for a comfortable shave. The hairs need to be moist and supple. So for this reason always shave straight after you have had a shower or bath. If you want to shave at a different time you must wash your face with HOT water (as hot as you can stand). This opens up the pores on your face and softens the hairs and allows them to stand up right. If you have a bit of extra time soak a flannel in hot, hot water and hold it over my beard to really get the beard to softened up.
Rule 2 – Use a shaving brush
Don’t use cans of shaving gel / foam. This stuff is packed full of propellants to get them out of the can (Propane, Butane etc). These are BAD for your skin. The second step to a better shave is using shaving cream or soap in a tub and making the lather with a shaving brush.
The act of applying shaving lather with a brush has multiple benifits. Firstly the brush works your skin and acts as a gentle exfoliant and removes dead skin cells. Secondly the brush allows the hairs to stand up in the lather so that they are standing to attention ready to be cut off by your razor so you get a closer shave. Thirdly the brush allows you to use hot water to make the lather with your cream/soap and you get the benefit of WARM lather. This not only helps keep your pores open but it is also a nice and luxurious feeling using warm lather instead of cold goo from a can. Us men deserve a bit of luxury every so often!
There are loads of different soaps and creams that come in different forms (in a tub, in a tube, like a cake of soap – I use all three types depending on how I feel and which side of the bed I wake up on). There is also the benefit that they come in loads of different fragrances (menthol, coconut, lime, sandalwood etc.) so you can enjoy the smell of an old fashioned barber shop which is great.
Rule 3 – Don’t shave against the grain (ATG) of your beard
Shaving against the grain (ATG) of beard growth is the single biggest cause of skin irritation. DO NOT DO IT! Especially with multi-blade cartridge razors.
Every person will have a unique growth pattern on their face. But generally the hair growth direction is:
- North to South on your cheeks
- South to North on your neck
- From chin backwards on your jaw
But your growth direction may vary. It is also not uncommon to have ‘rogue’ patches which grow in a strange direction, but the key is to be aware of the direction and shave accordingly.
Note – It is actually possible to shave against the grain when using a single blade DE, or straight razor, but certainly not without experience and never with a cartridge razor. So this rule has potential exceptions.
Rule 4 – Close the pores after shaving
This is a very important rule. Up to now we have been opening the pores of our face with hot water and steam to make the hairs stand up. Now we need to close the pores to stop any infection or dirt getting in them and causing bumps or spots. To do this rinse your face with COLD water. Then pat your face with a dry towel (Don’t rub the face dry as it can irritate your hair follicles and you can get ingrown hairs). Then use a little non-alcohol based after shave to close them completely and to sanitise your skin.
It is worth noting at this point that after shave is not the smelly stuff you stick on to attract the gals! Oh no, that is Cologne or Eau du Toilette. Aftershave is not there to make you smell nice – that part comes after shaving.
Rule 5 – Moisturise afterwards
Moisturising is only for girls right? Wrong. I know there is a possibility that a chap might get some gentle ribbing from his chums should he admit to moisturising. However, this is the 21st century and us blokes should look after ourselves. Moisturising is important after shaving as shaving can be pretty hard on your skin.
If you follow these 5 golden rules, even without changing your razor type you will without any doubt start to see improved results and perhaps start enjoying the shave process a little more.