Shaving your face at home is, for many men, both a daily ritual and a big pain in the ass. Or face, as the case may be. After you execute your 4 prep steps with a quick buzz, softening, buffing and washing (no really, click that link and read that, it’s sort of important), you’re ready to shave.
Although we find a safety or DE razor best for home shaving (or even a straight razor, if you can handle one), for this post we are going to be talking about shaving using Natalie’s dad’s trusty Mach3 or something similar. The instructions here apply to nearly every shaving method though.
Read on for the best shave you’re likely to get outside of a barber shop.
Popular wisdom dictates that one should not go straight at your face without proper skin and stubble prep like conditioning and softening your whiskers (make sure to read our full tutorial for our barbershop shaving prep adapted for your home routine right here, if you didn’t read it above).
Cold Water Shaving
Going completely contrary to that belief, there is the tradition of cold water shaving, which leaves out the softening part and is apparently the manliest of manly man activities ever. It is supposed to be great for your skin, and likely character, because unpleasantness is supposed to build character, says Calvin’s dad.
Historically, the argument for cold water shaving seemed to be that men didn’t have time to light a fire and heat water, and don’t need little luxuries like hot water and a comfortable shave or a sharp razor (cold water shaving dulls the blade something fierce).
Obviously, times have changed, and we hope today’s men are comfortable enough in their masculinity to not feel the need to choose the fastest, laziest, most uncomfortable method of everything to sprout some extra chest hair.
There is some argument for cold water shaving, however, and in our experience it does leave your face feeling healthier and stronger post-shave and in the long run. That being said, it is markedly less comfortable during the shave. We are not saying one way is inherently better than the other, but we do encourage you to try it a few times and see what works best for you.
When it comes to shaving emollient, there are a lot of options. You have shave soaps, creams, gels, and that awful mix of chemicals in a can.
Then there are pre-shave oils, which can help give you some extra glide if you need it. In our experience, it is more helpful under shave soap than cream, but a pre-shave is not a must either way.
We have always liked shave soaps and creams best, as they produce a nice lather, get in between the whiskers well, and give you a great shave medium. Note: not all creams make a lather (some just give you a super conditioned, lotion-like glide), but they still work well.
Please simply don’t with the canned shaving creams and gels. You’re looking for a perfect shave here, perhaps even a little old fashioned. Chemical propellants and petroleum probably shouldn’t get to come to the party.
Even if not for all the chemicals, you don’t get nearly as many shaves out of a can as you do out of a soap or lathering cream. Although soaps and creams are pricier, you use far less product to get the same lather, and you actually end up saving money in the end.
You can lather up decently without a brush, but it’s just not the same. There are but a few definitively masculine accessories that every man should own, and this should be one in your arsenal (well, if you shave – Tyler doesn’t have much need at home for a couple of square inches of cheek).
You have main three choices of brush types:
- Badger – the gold standard of shaving brushes. They soak up a lot of water so you can whip up a fantastic lather, and are incredibly soft. They can be incredibly expensive for the highest grade of badger hair (that would be the Silvertip: read more about the grades of badger brushes here), but even the lowest grade, Pure Badger would be a fine choice for beginning traditional shavers.
- Boar – a much stiffer bristle. Some men seem to like the scratchiness of the rougher bristles, and these brushes are good at lathering up really hard soaps, but this type of hair is usually better for hair and beard brushes than shaving brushes.
- Synthetic – good for those who don’t use animal products. If you travel or just don’t have time to do a proper brush cleaning before running out the door, synthetic is a more forgiving bristle than either of the natural varieties.
Clients often ask us how to get their best shave at home, and want to know whether to shave up or down. Our answer is both and neither. That is because your facial hair has 14 distinct zones, and they don’t all grow the same way.
Every barber is taught the 14 steps of shaving in school (although some schools just throw you into the shark tank with a blade and expect you to have read the textbook, in all honesty), and it is a good method, in theory. But we have known some barbers that follow them blindly on every face in the exact same way, and dudes are bleeding. Our clients, on the other hand, routinely fall asleep mid-shave.
That’s because, while we know and love the 14 steps of shaving, we only follow them sort of. To the point that we’re not even going to list them out here. This is what it looks like though.
The idea behind the steps is to follow the grains of the facial hair and shave with it for the most part. In our experience on thousands of faces, though, no one’s facial hair follows the standard grains exactly. We recommend you examine your face and figure out your own facial hair grain, then just shave in the same direction.
For many faces, that one pass is enough to get the job done – shaving at home is one of those times when “good enough” really can be good enough. If you really want that baby smooth face, though, you can do a second pass where you draw the razor sideways across the grain, and finally, on a third pass, you can go against the grain.
With every closer subsequent pass, your chance of irritation and ingrown hairs will increase, but not nearly as much as if you were to try to go against the grain right off the bat.
Barbers have so many shave secrets up their sleeves, but in our minds, there is one element that makes our shaves so good and is lacking from many home shaves. Even with the best grain mapping, your shave will be rough if you are not properly stretching the skin.
When you are in our chairs, we are in control of your face. You lay back, relax, and do literally nothing, while we stretch your skin flat (notice we did not say tight). Use a combination of your hand, fingers, and gentle head tilts to get sections of your skin as flat and smooth as possible.
Overextending your neck, especially if you’re lean, creates more recesses and hollows for your razor to have trouble with, puffing our your cheeks gives you a round surface, and pulling faces by using your facial muscles literally pulls the hair back into the skin, and you’re left with less closeness.
Cold Water Rinse
While there are staunch defenders of both hot water and cold water shaving, everyone agrees that post-shave, cold is where it’s at.
You need a rinse to remove any shave residue that can clog your pores, and the cold water snaps them closed to further prevent anything getting in there and causing breakouts.
Cold water is your skin’s call to battle – to shield itself from the elements, so it toughens and tightens up, leaving you looking your best.
Let’s talk about aftershave. Is anybody truly a fan?
Yes, the burning means it is killing the little beastlies, but alcohol is not generally a friend to the skin. There are some nicer aftershaves out there, but we usually reach for a post-shave lotion of some sort.
The one we love in the shop and can hardly seem to keep on the shelves is Midwest Beard & Moustache Company’s Aftershave Balm. It kills what it needs to with bentonite clay and witch hazel, all without the burn.
Shaving is an art, and when it comes to methods, techniques and variations, the knowledge base is seemingly endless. If you want to geek out on shaving to a barber-like degree, here is a 40 page manual on shaving to peruse at your leisure. Enjoy.
In this post we just scratched the surface of home shaving. We will certainly cover all of the above sections in far more detail in future posts, and delve even deeper into the world of shaving, but these 4 steps should get your well of your way to your best home shave ever.