Shaving. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years and most men do it daily. We’re doing it all the time with better razors and lotions but that doesn’t mean we’re doing it easier. Shaving demands preparation, care and attention. A lack of any one of those can results in nicks, ingrown hairs and razor burn.
So you’re one of the roughly 90 per cent of men who shave regularly – what’s the best way to do it?
Don’t forget that you’re dealing with skin, your body’s biggest organ, and one that is extremely sensitive. It regulates your temperature, protects you from infection and is capable of renewing itself. But any part of it can be dry, flaky, oily or dehydrated. Your skin is under constant bombardment from age, stress, lack of sleep, smoke, pollution, caffeine, alcohol, junk food, lack of sleep and innumerable other aspects of modern life.
The skin of the face and neck is particularly sensitive with a concentration of sebaceous glands, which protect hair and produce sebum, a moisturising oil. But too much sebum means oily skin and too little leads to dry skin. What your skin needs is the right amount of sebum and a balanced pH level, usually around 6.5. And it needs to be clean and healthy.
Get to know your skin and its type. Is it sensitive? Dry? Oily? Are you one of those sandy-haired people whose skin seems to age prematurely? Your skin type is central to how you approach shaving.
Dry skin, due to insufficient sebum, is conversely resistant to water and is at its worst in the colder months. Skin dehydrates, pores constrict, chaffing can occur and ageing is accelerated. Get in the habit of cleansing and moisturising every day and use products rich in natural vegetable oils and essential oils. Never use alcohol-based products.
Oily skin is generally due to overactive sebaceous glands, but the worst thing you can do is try to dry it out. Apply astringents or alcohols and your sebaceous glands will go into overdrive. Much better is to use products that contain essential oils that clean and balance without drying. Once again, cleanse and moisturise but choose milder products.
Sensitive skin is, by definition, certain to react more vigorously to toxins, stress, lack of sleep, bad diet and so on. So if that’s your type, treat your skin with respect. Manage it as you would a minor ailment. Follow the same process as for oily or dry skin but check to ensure that anything you put on your face is as mild as possible. Always use products that are chemical, alkaline and alcohol free. Use a moisturiser that contains mild essential oils such as shea butter, aloe vera or green tea.
And with all types of skin, make sure you drink plenty of water. Not only will it help flush toxins from the body, it will keep you hydrated, happy and healthy. The stunning Elle Macpherson is reputed to drink at least three litres of water a day. Say no more.
Most men who shave prefer a wet shave – research suggests that the figure might be as high as 80 per cent. The key to a good wet shave is a combination of hot water, a quality shave preparation and a sound technique. Compromise on any one of those and you risk a nasty experience.
Hot, but not scalding, water cleanses and moisturises the skin and softens the beard, as well as opening the pores. When a pore relaxes, the hair in it becomes looser, more pliable and easier to manage. With lubricated skin and a soft and manageable beard, the razor is better able to catch the hair without catching the skin. Once you’ve finished shaving, splash cold water on your face – that will remove any soap, close the pores and refresh the face.
Before you pick up a razor, get to know your face and find out in which direction the hair grows on your face. This is called the grain. The key to a successful shave is going with the grain. Shaving with the direction of your growth will remove most of the hair but shave against the grain and you’ll risk razor burn, irritation, even bleeding. The only time you should consider shaving against the growth is after you’ve gone with the grain and only then if you have a particularly tough beard.
You must lubricate and protect your skin while softening your beard and only a fine, dense lather can do all three. Using a brush or brisk rubbing motion with your hand will help exfoliate the skin, open the pores and saturate the whiskers. But just as importantly, raise the whiskers, making shaving easier. Ideally, the lather should be warm – a cold lather will close the pores, restricting movement of the bristle. What you’re after is a loose follicle and pliable skin and you won’t get that with a cold lather or, heaven forbid, one containing alcohol which many aerosols contain.
Make sure the pressure of your stroke is just right. Too much will flatten the bristles and irritate the skin and too little will give you a ragged shave. Start at the sideburn and draw the razor down, using strokes of about 50 mm on the cheeks, neck and moustache area. Shave above and below the jawline using small strokes and take care of the chin area. This is the most common area for nicks and should never be attempted with a single stroke. Always rinse your razor after every stroke using hot water and once you’ve finished,feel your face to make sure the shave is close enough.
If not, re-lather and shave against the grain, using less pressure than before. Use an opposite technique, starting at the bottom of the neck and working up, but using the same sized strokes.
Shaving removes a layer of skin. What’s left exposed is sensitive and prone to dryness. So after rinsing your face with cold water, apply a post shave product which must be alcohol free and low in fragrance. Judicious use of a good-quality post shave product promotes cell regeneration that will help to keep you skin healthy making it easier to shave.
THE OUCH FACTOR
We’ve all had them, but that doesn’t mean a painful shave is something you should just get used to. A key factor to eliminating pain is to understand what causes it. Basically, you’re dealing with cuts and their little brothers, nicks, razor burn, ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
Perhaps the creepiest shaving injury is ingrown hairs, which occur when the hair grows back into the skin, either because it’s been pushed back by an imperfect shaving process or it has folded back on itself and re-entered the follicle. They can also occur when the skin becomes so dry and tight that it traps a growing hair underneath the surface. It’s a nasty business, because your body’s defence system fronts up to the hair like it was foreign body. That leads to inflammation and, potentially, infection.
So who gets ingrown hairs? People with thick, curly hair are prone as are those with particularly dry skin. Men with southern European heritage seem particularly prone to razor bumps which are seriously ingrown hairs. The usual suspects are to blame: poor tools, technique and products. It should go without saying that you need a good, sharp razor, not a cheap disposable one, and it must be clean. Always store it in a dry place to avoid rusting. A dull blade won’t cause ingrown hairs and razor bumps but it will certainly aggravate the condition. Similarly, use a good brush, preferably with badger hair or something comparable, to help lift the bristles from the face during lathering.
Always avoid soaps, foams and gels that contain any trace of alcohol. While a good glass of shiraz might be one of life’s delights, alcohol is not something you want on your face. It dries the skin and will make shaving more difficult..and you can extend that warning to aftershaves and colognes.
As we said earlier, technique is crucial. Don’t apply too much pressure to the blade and never, ever shave against the grain unless you’ve shaved with it first.
The majority of ingrown hairs occur on the neck, so if you’re suffering, try to avoid wearing tight-collared shirts – friction from the fabric will only irritate an already painful area.
Quite simply, this is when you’ve removed too much skin. Like any graze or scrape, it can be very, very painful. Many sufferers already have sensitive skin and people with light complexions are at particular risk.
As with ingrown hairs, the root of the problem is poor technique, tools or products. The remedies, use a sharp, clean blade, go with the grain and don’t use too much pressure. If it feels like you’re scraping the skin, you probably are. Back off and give your face some love. Shaving should feel more like a caress. Consider using a three or four blade razor. The extra blades will shave you better and reduce the likelihood that you’ll shave over the same area twice, taking off extra skin as a result.
There’s a great episode of The Simpsons in which Homer shows Bart how to shave. He cuts himself a dozen times, sticks on half a toilet roll to stem the bleeding, then slaps on some fiery, alcohol-based aftershave and screams in agony. Within a couple of seconds, his five-o’clock shadow is back to what it was before he shaved. If The Simpsons has taught us anything, it’s to never imitate Homer. A bleeding shaver is probably an inattentive shaver. Just think: you’re working over your face with a few pieces of metal sharp enough to slice through flesh. You owe it to yourself to concentrate and concentrate hard. Your face is not a flat surface and every contour, furrow and nook makes the job of shaving more difficult. So do inflexible razors – a blade that swivels will give you a much better chance of avoiding cuts.
Dry skin is also more prone to cuts, simply because the blade is less likely to glide. So once again, moisturise, lubricate, lather.
SO YOU LIKE TO BE HAIRY
Let’s face it – not everyone wants to be clean shaven. While beards are less fashionable than they were in the 70s and 80s, moustaches retain a certain popularity and sideburns are back in a big way.
Beards and goatees. It’s a fallacy that having a beard means that you can just forget about maintaining your face. Sure, you won’t have to shave every day but, unless you want to look like the Wild Man of Borneo, you’ll still have to maintain your beard. A short beard needs attention several times a week, a full beard about every 10 days. Ragged beards are plain unattractive, so some careful trimming – and shaving the defining areas surrounding the beard – will keep you looking fresh and tidy.
Goatees need far more attention, perhaps as much as a clean shaven face. When shaving around the goatee, always use horizontal strokes and move towards the beard, not away from it. A goatee demands more precision than a full beard, so invest in a small moustache trimmer to perfect the detail.
Moustaches. You don’t need to be an Iraqi despot to appreciate a good moustache. They can change not only a man’s look, but also his bearing. Everyone from Hercule Poirot through to Einstein, Magnum PI, Friedrich Nietzsche and Ned Flanders has had good value out of a hairy upper lip but, like beards, they need work. Get a good quality trimmer and find yourself an excellent barber – that way you can get some professional maintenance for your mo when you go for a haircut.
Sideburns. Joe Cocker had arguably the world’s best sideburns in his Mad Dogs and Englishmen days but considering all the toxic substances he was putting in his body at the time, it’s a wonder the sideburns were even remotely even. And that’s the thing with sideburns: if they’re not even, they’re ridiculous. Here’s a tip: always look into the mirror face on when you’re trimming your sideburns. Turn you head side on and you can’t possibly know if you’re matching up evenly with the other side. A little ambidexterity helps too – shave the left sideburn with your left hand and the right sideburn with your right hand. Reaching across your face simply won’t give a good result.
The Head. It used to be that only Yul Brynner looked good with a shaved head but the style is far more popular these days. The rules for shaving the head are the same as for shaving the face. Good tools, product and technique are vital, shave with the grain and keep the skin supple and clean. And take your time. Cuts on the face are bad enough but there’s a lot more area to be covered on the head. The last thing you want is to finish shaving and realize you look like you’ve just fallen through a plate glass window.
Some people find shaving to be an almost traumatic experience but with the right tools, products and technique, razor burn, ingrown hairs and nicks will be eliminated – and your face will thank you for it. Each shave will be a minor triumph and what better way to start the day than with a victory?