A Smooth Shave Guide

April 24th, 2015

 1. Trim

If you have a beard longer than “0” (no-guard) on your clippers, trim your face with that first. If you don’t already have a simple pair of clippers, I highly recommend buying some. A kit like this is a fantastic investment. I use clippers like this every couple of days to trim my beard, clean up around my ears, and touch up my taper between visits to the barber shop.

2. Clean & Heat

Cleaning your face with hot water opens your pores and prepares your skin for a close shave. Old-school straight-razor barbers would warm a patron’s face with a hot towel. If you’re shaving at home, consider doing it during, or immediately after, a hot shower.

3. Lather

Start by working the shave cream into a lather in your hands. Then work it into your skin and let it settle for a a minute or two. Massaging in the cream plumps up the muscle called the erector pili, which pushes the hair up, kind of like gooseflesh. This also releases skin-softening oils from underneath the skin. What you want is to push the hair up and soften it so you can cut it off in one quick snap.

4. Prep the Blade

Try to use a new blade whenever possible. I like an old-school single blade safety razor, like this one, with cheap replaceable blades that you can replace after every shave.

5. Shave With the Grain

Go with the grain fist (the direction in which your hair grows). For most people that means from up-to-down above the chin, and from down-to-up below the chin. Before of the funny directions happening around the chin area. If you have loose skin, use your off-hand to pull tight in order to get a clean swipe.

6. Then Against the Grain

After you’ve passed once or twice with the grain, go against the grain. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to consider re-applying another thin layer of cream before going against the grain – it can get pretty rough before it gets really smooth. Run your hand against the grain on your face to find any rough areas you may have missed.

7. Handling Sideburns

I usually aim for just below the midpoint of the ear. Over the years I’ve also trained myself to blend my sideburns with the clippers mentioned, using a upward wrist-flicking technique that creates a fade effect (the hand moves further away from the scalp as it moves upward).

8. Rinse with Lukewarm Water

Pat dry with a clean soft towel.

9. Moisturize

I’m not big on aftershaves or man lotions, but a moisturizer like this with a low level of SPF, used daily, will make a big difference in keeping your skin healthy and young looking long-term.

10. Clean Up After Yourself

It’s a good idea to wipe your pat your blade dry if you plan on using it again. And don’t forget to clean up after yourself – it’s the gentlemanly thing to do.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,



Photography by Alex Crawford. Modeling by Will Howe

  • Cazzman

    Something that helped me greatly was switching to single blade type safety razors. Not only is it cheaper, but they give a much better shave. You can have your 5-blade cartridges, I’m never using them again after going with a safety razor. I’d recommend them to anyone with sensitive skin, anyone who likes an “old-school” technique, or men who like to spend money wisely.

  • James Wong

    Good article, though I was a little thrown by the lack of intro. I even scrolled up to see if I missed it.

  • Carney

    My gf keeps commenting on my brows – whats the manly move there?

    • AdamE

      Don’t know what the manly move is… When the unibrow starts to grow in, after a few days of my wife making fun of me, she’ll usually pluck it (or i’ll do it myself). I certainly wouldn’t shape them or style them, but I’ll pluck the odd stray and then any in the unibrow zone…

  • AdamE

    First off, I would mention point #2 is not technically correct… pores aren’t like doors, they can’t open and close… washing/warming the faces, helps clear away any grime blocking pores, and helps soften the stubble, so it is a very beneficial step, but the anatomy of skin pores is such that they don’t open or close…
    On the issue of #6, there are people who swear against going against the grain, but if your skin is not super sensitive, and you are, as you should be, re-applying cream between each pass (not razoring naked skin…) and shaving with good technique, there’s no problem with against the grain shaving.
    It’s been a few years since I dumped the cartridges in the can, and went to DE wet shaving (weapon of choice is the Merkur Futur adjustable…), much less expensive once you get the basics (brush and razor) since blades are cheap, especially when you buy in bulk. I prefer Feather blades, which are a bit pricier, but drastically cheaper than cartridges, and much better on the skin… I also don’t change blades with every shave, I actually get a week per blade (I clean them thoroughly between shaves) before I notice the performance deteriorating. I agree with Juan about the use of a brush, but am less insistent on it being a badger brush… A brush helps cleaning the pores, and to get the hair to stand on end for easier cutting, facilitates lather generation, enhances the experience, and looks badass on your bathroom counter on a stand with your razor… I actually use one of the newer synthetic silver tip brushes (Edwin Jagger large synthetic silvertip) and get drastically better performance than with the best badger brush I used previously (I also would get mild irritation from the badger brush, from a mild allergic reaction to the badger hair). In terms of process, I don’t use a pre-shave oil, but I wash my face in the shower (Kiehl’s oil control face wash), then wet my face with hot water in the sink, lather up the cream (I do a hybrid bowl/face lather, cream of choice Trumper’s Coconut Oil cream), 3 passes (two with the grain, one against) re-lathering between, followed by targeted finishing (stubborn spots on my face, right under the chin, left side of the neck, and left cheek) techniques (combination of across/against the grain, and the use of some j-hooking and roll-over strokes…), rinse with warm water to rid the excess cream, then cold water, apply an alum block (shave-x) let sit for a minute, and rinse off with cold water. I finish by patting dry (never rub…) with a towel, and to still moist skin, apply aftershave (Trumper’s West indian Limes skin food) and then a moisturizers (keihl’s oil control).

  • Shawn

    I usually let my beard grow, most of the year, but I do like to keep my neck clean, and I also love to shave with (and collect) straight razors. Some will find it funny to collect razors when you grow a beard, hence the reason I keep my neck clean and shaved from the Adam’s apple down – to still have a reason to strop my blades, lather some old school cream in a bowl with a badger brush, etc. Kind of old school English gentleman vibe going!

  • http://www.jollybengali.net/ Malcolm

    Yikes on #6. It’s bad for your skin to go against the grain. Maybe once in a blue moon for a special occasion but otherwise, go with the grain then perhaps cross-grain if you really want.

    Also, rinse with warm water and finish with cold water after you’re done. You want to close up the pores aftewards.

    And agree with Juan on a badger brush. Really great essential.

  • http://ledebonnaire.tumblr.com/ Juan Zara

    Wet shaving all the way! I’ve switched to DE razors three years ago and haven’t looked back. I think I still got some Astra blades left from a 100-pack I got when I was first starting out, that I got for € 9.99. That’s €0.09 for a blade that will give you a shave that’s closer and MUCH less irritating than a €5.00 4-5-10 blade garbage cartridge.

    I must add a badger hair brush as an essential, as it really does make a huge difference in creating and applying the lather to one’s face. That and a good pre-post shave cream (and alum block) like Proraso or Prep to hydrate and moisturize the skin and alleviate razor burn.

    I’ve also got my own recipe for a pre-shave oil, which I apply vigorously in the shower before I shave, but this is really up to the individual.

  • Michael Gray

    I’m going to a new barber next week and am basically going for the exact same cut as Will’s in this article’s pic. Are there any other close-ups like this I can share with the barber?

  • Jared

    Double edge blades are the way to go! At some point u plan to graduate to a straight razor.

    • Jared

      “I” not “u”