In 2016, we surveyed more than 3,000 men about shaving, and we discovered something surprising: most men are dissatisfied with the shave they are getting.
That’s rather shocking, considering that there has been a flood of new shaving products – and grandiose promises of performance – on the market in the last few years. Entire websites, forums, and stores are dedicated to men’s shaving, so what gives?
We’ve written extensively about shaving before here on GG and in our extensive Shaving Guide. The Shaving Guide is a magnum opus contains a 288-page eBook, more than 70 video tutorials, and 150+ product reviews. Today, we’d like to share some of the Shaving Guide’s great content with you.
We realized that the answer to the question of how to get a truly great shave is simple: go back to square one and start at the beginning. Sometimes the answer to a persistent problem that hasn’t been solved by tweaks here and there is to start afresh.
To start at the beginning, we will cover how to set yourself up for a great shave BEFORE your even get your razor out.
Shaving 101: The Challenges of Getting a Great Shave
Shaving 101 addresses one of the key challenges that come up BEFORE you begin to shave. Namely, many men don’t address the needs of their skin before they start shaving. In our survey, here’s what men had to say their biggest concerns were:
- Getting a close shave
- Finding the time to shave properly
- Managing sensitive skin
- Dealing with thick or coarse beard hair
- How to prevent and treat nicks, cuts, and irritation
- Shaving around face angles
- Managing costs
- Missing spots
- Making a mess
- Poor lighting
- Lack of surface space
Sound familiar? Many of these issues stem from pre-shave prep rather than the shave itself.
Setting Yourself Up for a Great Shave: Pre-Shave Skincare
Like so many things, the preparations made before starting a task can hugely affect the end result of your work. With shaving, the prep work is often neglected as a discussion point.
Before pulling out your razor, it’s worth taking a step back to assess your preparedness. If a great shave is the goal, your skin needs to be ready so you can focus on the job at hand. Chances are, some of the aforementioned shaving “challenges” are bugging you. Setting yourself up for shaving success begins with addressing persistent skin issues that affect your shave, specifically acne, irritation, razor burn, and your regular skincare routine.
Shaving removes facial hair as well as the top layer of skin to reveal the skin beneath it, so it makes sense to take good care of your skin. Shaving will become an easier task if your skin is well looked after. Many of the challenges that come with shaving, such as dealing with skin surface irregularities and ingrown hairs, can be greatly eased with good products and a consistent routine. That’s right, a routine isn’t just for the ladies – if you don’t have one, you need one.
The goal of having a good skincare routine, for the purposes of this guide, is to prep your skin for a close shave. Skincare can do many other things, such as protect you from the effects of the sun, pollution, and aging, but here we will stick to the key shaving-related steps. Even if you have great skin, there are a few basic steps that every man needs to follow, regardless of skin type or age: cleanse daily and moisturize.
Cleanse Daily: Cleansing removes the dirt and oil from your face which we all inevitably build up from contact with our hands, the air, clothing, and pillows, among other things. You may not have acne or any visible dirt on your face, but the chemicals, grime and natural oils in the environment settle invisibly into your pores and have the potential to do harm over time. Furthermore, if you apply any products to your face, the residual should be removed at the end of the day. When you shave, the skin at risk of being nicked, so it’s always best to start with a clean canvas to prevent further irritation.
Moisturize: Cleansing removes the skin’s natural oils, which help hold in the skin’s moisture. Using a moisturizer adds the moisture back into the skin and helps alleviate the dryness that comes hand in hand with your skin type, shaving, or dry air. Note that moisturizer should cover the whole face, and not just the area you shave. Our tip: Buy a daily moisturizer with sunscreen to help protect against daily sun exposure, and avoid fragrance (as an ingredient), which can irritate skin.
Ingrown Hair & Razor Burn
An ingrown hair has had the unfortunate misdirection to grow back into skin instead of out through the follicle. Shaving creates the perfect environment for ingrown hairs. The hair has been cut off below the surface level, allowing for skin cells, dirt and oil to trap the hair under the surface of the skin.
Razor burn is an immediate reaction to shaving that can last for a few hours up to a few days. The skin becomes red, hot or bumpy after shaving – it looks and feels painful and itchy. It’s simple – your skin doesn’t like how it’s being treated! This condition can seem similar (and is a precursor) to ingrown hairs, so the treatments are similar. There are several reasons why shaving can cause razor burn, namely a lack of proper lubrication and using dull razor blades. To prevent razor burn, a shave should be as gentle on your face as possible. Any friction, tugging, or pushing will irritate the skin. To avoid razor burn, use the following guidelines:
- Pre-shave prep should soften the beard as much as possible for easier removal. Splash the face with hot water, use a hot towel, or shower prior to shaving. Employ shaving cream or soap in combination with a shaving brush to prep, lubricate, and lift the hair away from the face, making it easier to cut.
- During your shave, use a clean, sharp blade with barely-there pressure in the direction of the grain of your hair. Dullness is the enemy of a good shave, and it is probably the biggest contributor to razor burn. A dull blade will force you to make multiple passes. More passes = more razor burn. A cartridge razor has multiple blades, so when the blades are dull the dragging effect against the skin is multiplied by the number of blades. A double edge (a.k.a. the safety razor) is recommended for frequent sufferers of razor burn since it only employs a single blade, therefore reducing the amount of blade contact needed to shave. A safety razor also has a little heft to it, so you don’t need to use pressure to get it to work – just gravity.
- Post shave, splash your face with cold water to close the pores and minimize the potential for ingrowns. Finish with a post-shave product that includes soothing ingredients (such as aloe vera) and Salicylic Acid (an exfoliant) to help keep hair follicles clear of buildup. Finally, clean your tools thoroughly.
Ingrown hair is the ugly cousin of razor burn. The easiest way to prevent ingrown hairs (and razor burn!) is to avoid hair removal entirely, but that’s not why we’re here, is it? The next best way to take good care of your skin and prevent ingrowns is through your daily skincare and shave routine, making some adjustments to your shave process, and then through careful removal.
Let’s be honest – acne sucks, and it’s a beast to treat and prevent. It can strike at any age, come and go, and then reappear at the most inconvenient time. For men, covering up acne is still taboo, so it’s even more important to treat and prevent it as best you can. To get the best shave possible and to look your best, getting acne under control is a top priority. Following the basic skincare management steps outlined above are especially crucial for acne sufferers. Shaving also adds a layer of complication to the mix, because it scrapes closely across the surface of the skin and will interact with any bumps or bacteria present as a result of acne, which can often make the issue worse.
Acne is the result of dead skin cells and oil clogging the pores, which produces an environment in which the otherwise mild-mannered Propionibacterium acnes bacteria flourish. The result is inflammation that is visible on the skin surface in the form of a pimple.
Here are our top recommendations for managing acne:
- Visit your dermatologist. As with many things, it’s crucial to get a professional opinion about your skin. Acne can be a blanket term for many conditions, and your doctor will be best able to tell you what exactly is happening and recommend treatments. Many prescription level acne treatments are stronger versions of OTC available ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide and retinol. If the prescription strength version is too strong for your skin, you can look for drugstore versions with lower concentrations of the same active ingredient.
- Establish a basic skincare routine (if you haven’t already done so). Follow the same steps: cleanse, moisturize, and add an exfoliation step. Each one of these steps should be tailored for acne sufferers by choosing acne-specific products, at least until you get the hang of deciphering ingredient labels. In general, the formulas will be lighter and oil-free, but can be quite strong, so adjust them for more/fewer uses depending on how your skin reacts.
- Treat and prevent future acne. In addition to your basic skincare routine, consider adding some specific treatments to target current breakouts and prevent future ones. Many products will feature multiple ingredients, so you won’t need to have a separate product for each function. Note that cleansers will only come in contact with your skin briefly, so while they play an important supporting treatment role, it likely won’t be enough to only use an acne cleanser to treat it.
- Persist with Trial and Error. Acne is a tough nut to crack, and it may take some time for you to find a personalized routine that really works for you. When things don’t work, persist with research, trial and error, varying the frequency of use, and different combinations of products and ingredients. Expect 6-8 weeks to show results. If you want to make a change to your regimen, change one product per 6-8 week period evaluate its effectiveness.
- Kick habits that can exacerbate acne. There are many other non-skincare things you can do to help prevent breakouts. Acne-prone skin is simply more reactive to bacteria, so do everything you can to keep it away from your skin. Clean surfaces that come in contact with your face often, such as sunglasses, cell phones, headsets, desk phones and hat bands; change your pillowcases and towels frequently; don’t pick at your pimples, it will simply spread the bacteria around.
Lessening acne should give you a smoother, less-nick and irritation prone canvas over which to shave. For a more thorough look at addressing acne, including suggested products, take a look at our full-fledged guide to How to Get Clear Skin here.
Once you’ve tackled pre-shave skin care a good result should be easier no matter the technique or tools you choose to use. In the future, we’ll be releasing more of the great content found in our Shaving Guide. If you are interested in taking the full course, check out all the things it offers here.