There’s a certain art to shaving.
Whether you use a straight or safety razor, there are a lot of mixed messages out there that can lead to confusion — and some pretty terrible shaving habits as well.
Steven Bailey, classically-trained barber and owner of UOMO Modern Barber, took the time to offer a closer look at common shaving myths and facts. Hopefully his responses will shed some light on some of the best (and worst) shaving practices out there and help you understand a bit more about what goes into the ideal shave.
True or False: You should only shave with the grain when shaving.
False. Shaving is a very personal endeavour. Every man is different. Some beards are harder, some are softer. Some skin types are flexible, others are more brittle. Some men have exposed hair follicles, others have recessed hair follicles. The bottom line is the same hat doesn’t fit everyone.
I have performed over 3000 shaves in my career, and have yet to meet a face that is exactly the same as another. Take it from me: Know your skin and know your beard. You know how it feels, so don’t let anyone tell you that something is impossible. If it feels comfortable and it doesn’t cause any kind of irritation or ingrown hairs, then go for it. If you have soft skin and a hard beard, it would be best to avoid it. You be the judge.
One thing is for certain though, our skin can change over time and with environmental stress. For instance, the same face that would be easy to shave in the summer when the air is hot and humid, would be very different in the mid-winter when the air is dry and cold. My best advice: Shave closer in the summer and less close in winter. Use a good pre-shave and a good badger brush and moisturizing soap and you’ll notice a big difference.
True or False: The amount a shaving agent lathers is key to a great shave.
False. Even though this myth can be answered in so many different ways, it is important to understand that preparation is the key to a good shave. This includes good shaving products.
A pre-shave is the first step. If your skin is dry, I recommend an oil. If it is oily, I recommend a balm like the OM 3in1 shave balm.
Next, choose a soap that has a good lather…but bigger bubbles is not necessarily better. Remember that a lot of shaving soaps use potassium hydroxide (also known as lye). Lye is great for creating a very rich fluffy lather, but it also strips away all the natural oils from your skin. It is more important to choose a soap that is lye-free and that is very moisturizing.
Also, watch out for SLS in shaving soaps…they are even harsher than lye.
True or False: The more you shave, the faster your beard grows.
False. There is no scientific evidence that I am aware of that supports this myth.
True or False: The more blades on a razor, the better the shave.
True. More blades definitely give a better shave. I predict that technology will one day make a blade that consists of 20 micro blades. Gillette has already introduced thinner blades. However, the main thing is that these blades wear down – and this is where the blade companies make their money.
I encourage my clients to emphasize the ‘preparation’ part of shaving…not just the blade. Preparing the skin before you shave with a good pre-shave and a good soap can greatly reduce the wear and tear on your skin and your blades. This will save you money in blade purchases and your skin will be singing a happy tune!
True or False: A hot shave is the closest shave you’ll ever get.
False. This is an interesting myth – and cause for much debate.
Novices to straight razor shaving should understand that the straight razor is a very aggressive form of shaving. There is a reason why they went out of style – they can cause irritation. When I trained with Master Barber Pasquale Giordano from Italy, he gave me by far the closest shave in my life. Ask me if it was the most comfortable and I’ll tell you without blinking: No. It was close…but with my soft skin type and hard beard, it was irritating.
Novices need to understand that the straight razor is not a magic wand that is going to make all of your shaving woes disappear. It is an ancient tool of hair removal that made the most sense until they came out with the safety razor, which revolutionized shaving. When I shave clients I try to get it close, but comfort is more important to me. And, quite frankly, there are some skin types – especially drier skin types – that should be very careful when they shave with a straight razor. It is possible to get a very close shave with straight razor shaving, but closeness should not be the ultimate goal.
True or False: There is no advantage to using any kind of pre-shave products.
False. Pre-shave is more important to some than others.
Drier skin types NEED a pre-shave — hands down. They should use an oil. This will help to plump up the skin cells so that they do not nick as much.
Normal skin types can get a very close shave if they use a balm pre-shave.
Oily skin types often have over-inflated skin cells. This can over-protect the beard, making it hard to shave. Oily skin types definitely need a pre-shave balm that contains eucalyptus and tea-tree oil. These act as astringents that dissolve the oils on the skin, exposing the beard. This makes it easier to shave.
True or False: Your face is pretty resilient. You can use pretty much anything on it after shaving and it will get used to it.
False. Ouch. I remember when I first used my dad’s Old Spice Aftershave. YIKES!
Here it is: NEVER use an alcohol-based aftershave. I dont care what kind of skin you have — it will never be good. The best thing to do is use an aftershave that neutralizes the skin’s pH. The OM Aftershave Splash is ideal for this. All skin types can benefit from this.
The next step for dry skin types is to apply a moisturizing shave balm like the OM Cucumber Lotion. This will add necessary fats back to your skin, making it more moisturized and flexible for the next time you shave.
Oily skin types need to use a shave balm with tea tree oil, which will help to dissolve excessive oil and regulate the pH of the skin. Normal skin types can use either types of aftershave. Just remember that the type of aftershave you will need to use will also depend on the time of year. In the winter, we all need a more moisturizing aftershave. In the summer, we can use something a little lighter.
True or False: There’s no difference between a balm, a gel and a foam when it comes to using them for shaving.
False. There are often times butane and iso-butane gases in aerosol forms of shaving products such as gels and foams. These products can further dry out the skin, leaving it exposed to the elements. A balm from a non-aerosol container is the better option.
True or False: Just like there are different hair types, there are different facial hair types and you need to treat it accordingly.
True. Just like your head, your face is a unique entity. Often they reflect much different qualities to your own hair. It is important to understand those differences and how to shave to them. Softer facial hair needs less preparation than harder facial hair. Some facial hair is curly, others are straight. Curly hair should not be shaved too closely. This can cause ingrown hairs. It is also important to understand that there are differences in hair girth as well. Larger diameter hairs are more difficult to cut than finer hair types.
Once again: Know your face. And if you don`t understand your skin, talk to your local barber about it.