Unless you're growing (or sporting) a full beard, shaving is undoubtedly part of your daily routine. Many men learned to shave as teenagers at their father's side and maybe even still use the same kind of aftershave splash as their dad. Shaving products have come a long way, and for the best shave, you'll need to have more in your bag of tricks than a single-blade razor and a can of foaming shaving cream.
Fortunately, there's no right or wrong way to shave. Whatever works best for your skin and your personal care routine is what's right, but there are some tips and tricks to help make shaving an easier, less irritating experience.
If you're ready for a baby-smooth, bump-free face, the right technique can help you take the guesswork out of shaving. But don't grab your six-bladed razor and state-of-the-art shave gel just yet. First, check out the next page for a look at how to prepare your skin properly for a close shave.
Preparing to Shave
The first step to getting the best shave is to start with a clean face. Cleansing your skin opens pores and softens hair and stubble, which are important steps to make hair removal easier. It also removes dirt, bacteria and anything else you may be harboring in that beard. Instead of reaching for a bar of standard-issue soap, though, choose a moisturizing face wash. Shaving is irritating to the skin, and every time you shave, you remove the skin's natural protective oils. A moisturizing face wash will help to hydrate your skin and reduce that moisture loss.
In addition to cleansing, exfoliating your skin is also an important step in getting a great shave. Exfoliation is nothing more than scrubbing the dead skin cells off with a washcloth, loofah or facial cleansing product specifically designed for such a thing. And unless you have sensitive skin, it'll help keep your skin healthy and looking great (if you do have sensitive skin, exfoliation can sometimes be too harsh).
It's best to shave after or at the end of your shower to take advantage of how the steam has opened your pores, but applying a hot towel to your face for three to five minutes works, too.
Choose a thick, moisturizing shaving gel and smooth it on your face and neck. The longer you allow the gel to soak into your skin and hair, the softer the hair will be -- give it a few minutes to do its job, especially if you have sensitive skin.
How do you know which products to use? We'll decode them, next.
Choosing Shaving Creams and Oils
Many men have questions when it's time to choose shaving products. What's the deal with shaving oil? Is there a difference between shaving cream and gel? Do you really need aftershave? Let's get to the bottom of shaving oil, first.
Shaving oil may be new to you. It's not the same as the blade oil that electric razors need. Shaving oil is a pretreatment for your skin that adds additional lubrication between your skin and the razor blade. Look for oils that are plant-based, such as olive oil -- these will be less likely to clog pores or leave you feeling greasy -- and apply it to your skin before you lather up with shaving cream.
And speaking of shaving creams, when you choose a shaving cream or gel, look for a product that's thick and hydrating. The purpose of these gels and creams is to create a protective layer between your skin and the razor, which helps to reduce irritation and razor burn. It creates a slippery surface for your razor blade to glide over, which equals less drag and irritation. Creams and gels also help soften your stubble, and if they don't contain alcohol-based ingredients, they will also help soften and moisturize your skin.
Aftershaves, the last step in the product line, offer more than a pretty smell -- they help to close your pores, and the best ones also moisturize your skin. Choose an aftershave that's a lotion or balm and that contains hydrating ingredients such as shea butter, glycerin, jojoba, coconut or other oils. Be sure it doesn't contain alcohol-based ingredients -- these will only strip moisture and natural oils from your face.
Choosing Electric Shavers and Razors
Let's talk tools. Despite your best efforts to prepare your skin for a close, razor burn-free shave, your razor choice can make or break it. First, you need to decide which you like better: electric (dry shaving) or disposable/cartridge razors (wet shaving). Basically, they'll both chop off your hair fairly close to your skin, but each has its pros and cons.
The closest shaves are generally going to be the ones you get from a straight razor at your barber. If you're not practiced in the art of shaving with a straight razor, you may find you get the closest at-home shave with a multiblade, cartridge-style razor, the sharper the better.
If you're hoping to avoid skin irritation, an electric razor may help. But be careful which setting you choose -- as the razor heats up with use, it can irritate skin if it's on the setting closest to your skin. There are two types of electric razors: foil and rotary. Foil shavers cut hair with blades that move from side to side. Rotary shavers cut hair with circular blades that spin and bend. Rotary shavers are generally considered to be easier to use than foil shavers because they can reach all the angles of your face, but foil shavers generally give the closer shave of the two [source: Consumer Search].
Additionally, some electric shavers are cordless and rechargeable, and some you have to plug in. Some are for dry shaving only, while others are shower-friendly. What works best for your skin and stubble will be individual to your skin's needs, so don't be afraid of a little trial and error to find the right tool.
Everyone has his individual shaving style and technique, and what works for you is usually what's best for you -- but if you can improve your game, why not give it a try? To get a clean, close, wet shave, start with a sharp razor and shave with gentle strokes. The razor blade should be sharp enough to slice hairs easily with one stroke, and you shouldn't have to push it against your skin. To get even closer, tightly stretch areas of your skin as you shave them. It's easier to glide your razor over a flat, smooth area than over skin that's slack or uneven.
Also, pay attention to how your hair grows and use it to your advantage. Shave first in the direction of your hair growth (this is usually downward) and then again in the other direction (against the grain). Rinse the blade in hot water often, preferably after every stroke, and rinse your face with cool water to close your pores when you're done.
If your skin is prone to developing shaving bumps, also known as ingrown hairs or pseudofolliculitis barbae, you may need to shave differently. Listen up, because changing your shaving technique may help prevent the problem. To minimize the likelihood of ingrown hairs, shave after you shower -- the steam from the hot water will help to open your pores and soften your hair. While shaving, use as few strokes as possible, don't pull your skin taut as you shave and always shave in the same direction as the hair growth. You won't get as close a shave this way, but you'll exchange a five o'clock shadow for fewer red, inflamed bumps.
Alternatively, if you're prone to ingrown hairs or shaving nicks, consider an electric razor. Electric razors and shavers won't give you the same close shave as a multiblade disposable or a straight razor, but you don't need shaving creams or water to get the job done. There are some electric shavers that are made to be wet- and dry-shave friendly -- be sure to read the manual for your specific shaver.
Maintaining Shaving Tools
Whether you prefer to use manual or electric razors, you'll need to do a bit of maintenance to keep them sharp and ready to go. When it comes to maintaining blades, remember the two R's: rinse and replace.
Manual razor blades that aren't properly rinsed between uses will cause nicks and razor burn, as will a dull blade. Rinsing your razor in hot water while shaving and cleaning it thoroughly when you're done will remove any hair or residue buildup between the blades of a multiblade head. Allow the razor to air dry -- never dry it with a towel -- and store it in a dry place.
The time between blade changes will vary from person to person, based on how often you shave and how coarse your hair is. When you need to push against your skin to remove your stubble or if you have any rust on your blade, it's time to toss it out.
Maintaining an electric shaver will depend on the type you have. While it's best to refer to your shaver's manual, there are some commonalities in electric shaver care: Clean, oil and replace the heads.
Just like a manual razor, it's important to keep the head of the electric razor clean. Most come with a small brush for this very purpose, and you should whisk your whiskers out of the shaver head often, if not after each use. Electric shavers also need to be lubricated to keep them running smoothly, and the blades will eventually become dull and need to be replaced. Refer to your owner's manual for the best lubricant as well as the right replacement blades for your shaver, and follow the replacement recommendations for both.
Check out the next page for lots more information about getting the best shave.
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Pseudofolliculitis Barbae." 2011. (Jan. 14, 2011) http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/pseudofolliculitis.html
- Consumer Search. "Mens Electric Shavers: Full Report." December 2010. (Jan. 14, 2011)http://www.consumersearch.com/electric-shavers/review
- Gall, Amy. "In Search of Smooth Surfaces." Dermatology Insights. 2002. (Jan. 14, 2011)http://www.aad.org/Public/conditions/_doc/difall02.pdf
- Gillette. "How to Shave." (Jan. 14, 2011)http://www.gillette.com/en/us/mens-style/how-to-shave.aspx
- Greenberg, Corey. "How to get that perfect shave." Today Weekend Edition. Jan. 30, 2005. (Jan. 14, 2011)http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/6886845/ns/today-today_weekend_edition/
- Hudson's FTM Resource Guide. "All About Shaving." (Jan. 14, 2011) http://www.ftmguide.org/shaving.html
- The Nemours Foundation. "Shaving." January 2007. (Jan. 14, 2011)http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/skin_stuff/shaving.html#
- Shaefer, Kayleen. "The Perfect Shave." Details. (Jan. 14, 2011)http://www.details.com/style-advice/grooming-and-health/200705/how-to-get-the-perfect-shave
- University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. "Winter Dry Skin." Aug. 7, 2006. (Jan. 14, 2011)http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/skinhealth/winterskin.html
- Vivot, Martial. "How often should I change a razor blade?" KFMB-TV. 2009. (Jan. 14, 2011)http://www.cbs8.com/Global/story.asp?S=10853771
- WebMD. "Shaving Tips for Teen Guys." Feb. 8, 2009. (Jan. 14, 2011)http://men.webmd.com/shaving-tips-guys