For many of us, shaving is a daily - or weekly - process. The more you shave, and the more you experiment with your techniques with your specific growth pattern, the more you can hone how to best shave to avoid irritation while still providing a close, smooth shave. Though shaving with a safety razor can solve a plethora of skin problems, from ingrown hair, razor burn, general skin irritation, and more, everyone's facial growth pattern is different, and can grow in directions that make it quite difficult to use mindless, same-direction strokes. In this article, I’ll introduce a few shaving techniques employed, and why it is pretty common practice. However it’s important to remember that, if any of these cause you irritation after sufficient practice, move on to something else!
Before you Begin!
Map your Facial Hair: This is something that is not often talked about on a large scale. Conventional practice says to shave with the grain, which means to shave “north to south”, starting at the top of the cheeks and working down to the bottom of the neck. However, for many of us, this couldn’t be more true. Hair growth patterns are genetic and, therefore, susceptible to great variability. If the hair on your neck grows sideways toward/away from your ears, this would be your “grain”.
With the grain: This is usually what most people start with. Going with the grain of your hair growth with a sharp and smooth blade is the easiest, most surefire way to prevent the tugging of skin and make sure you get a decent shave without irritation. For my growth, the hair on my neck grows sideways, toward the direction of my ears. Therefore, my ‘with the grain’ pass involves me moving my razor from my chin and outward on both sides of my face.
Across the grain: For many with sensitive skin, this pass is an absolute must to ensure that you get a closer shave without irritation. ‘With the grain’ passes usually leave enough stubble (unless an aggressive razor is used) so that shaving directly against the grain will cause a lot of tension in the hair shaft, pulling up on the skin and making it easier for razor burn to take place, especially on the thin skin of the neck. This pass is done by attacking the grain from a 90º angle and, oftentimes, from both directions. This means that if your grain does, in fact, grow straight downward on your face, your ‘across the grain’ pass (commonly abbreviated to XTG) moves from the ears to the nose/mouth. For an even closer XTG pass, many may then do a quick pass from the nose/mouth, out toward the ears. Your “with the grain” and “across the grain” passes are what’s known as your bulk reduction passes. Usually done in large swipes, these take down most of the hair length while using minimal repeated blade contact, as this does not quite help with efficiency in these shaving directions.
Against the grain: For the absolute smoothest shave, an against the grain pass would almost be a necessity. Assuming you’ve taken the common grain passes I described above, you should now be left with a minimal amount of growth, and can typically shave against the grain with little or no irritation. However, depending on the texture and density of your growth, these simple, straight passes may still leave you with a lot of discomfort, or even razor burn. Now we’ll get into some of the more “advanced” techniques that can help you to get a smoother cut.
Techniques for the Experienced Shaver
As I mentioned earlier, everyone’s facial hair pattern is different, so everyone’s technique may vary. However, as you dig deeper into shaving techniques, there are a few commonly used iterations of shaving techniques to help you get an even smoother shave.
The Gillette Slide: This is named after a shaving ‘technique’ seen in many Gillette ads from the 50’s and 60’s, where the man would hold the safety razor so the blade itself was parallel with the jawline/floor, but would complete the stroke not up to down, but rather across, from the ear to the corner of the mouth. This is accomplishing a very similar task as that achieved by a slant razor: using a “slicing”, ratherthan chopping approach to the hair. However, you must be very careful with this technique, as swiping with too horizontal an angle could result in a very nasty cut! Some may use this for a full shave, but it is best used for areas with tricky growth. I find that the coarse hair on my neck is removed more easily with this technique. In this image, you can see the orientation of the razor head (in blue), with the black arrow indicating the direction the head will follow.
Blade Buffing: For me, this is one of the most effective techniques for a smooth shave. Blade buffing is a technique where you essentially “scrub” the razor in short strokes into the facial hair growth, and doing so on stubbornly rough patches can greatly reduce the growth without the discomfort of shaving directly against the grain. This also works great on angular areas of the face - such as the chin - where changing contour may cause a change in the blade angle or cause tugging. While there isn’t as much risk for nicks on this technique, there is a great possibility of significant irritation and razor burn without adequate protection. You’ll need an equal parts slick and protective lather for this one. Try to not buff over the same area too much, use the lightest pressure possible, and perhaps avoid areas like underneath the ears and the sides of the neck, or any other area you may have where hairs grow in swirling/unrelated directions. In the image, you can see that buffing is done in very short strokes, not overlapping.
J-Hook: This is one of the coolest looking shaving techniques, whereby you take short strokes with the razor, and allow the razor head to trace a “J” shaped path. For example, if J hooking from the sideburns, the head would align with the sideburn, then pivot either direction toward the nose, or toward the ear (be careful with that one!). As you can tell from the image below, one end of the razor head should be pivoting, while the other end should remain at a relatively fixed point. I find this technique to be the most helpful in regions such as at the end of the jaw - underneath the ear - where, for many guys, hair grows in a tight circular pattern.
Now that you've learned some new techniques, try and put them into practice. Many of these have been lifesavers (okay, not quite) for my daily shaving routine, allowing me to shave with absolutely no irritation. If you've got any questions, don't hesitate to reach out to us, we'd be happy to help you along with these techniques. Shave on!