The Secrets To A Perfectly Smooth Shave
For most of us, learning how to shave was a case of trial and error. Armed with fatherly advice and guesswork, the daily routine of men around the world became little more than an effort to avoid bloodbaths, ingrown hairs and embarrassing rashes. It is my sincere belief that the sheer disdain most men have for shaving is what triggered the resurgence of the beard more than a decade ago.
Your shave could be so much more. It could become an indulgent ritual rather than a rushed (and bloody) chore. Given that you’ll shave about 20,000 times in your life, it’s probably worth learning how to do it properly.
The truth is, you don’t need 16 blades or a case of repetitive strain injury to get a smooth shave. The right products – the best razor, shaving brush and skincare products – coupled with the right technique will suffice and, over time, revolutionise the state of your face.
How to prep your skin for a smooth shave
As with most things in life, the best defence is good offence. In other words, prepping your skin properly will go a long way to preventing nicks and cuts. To begin with, remove all facial debris with a quality cleanser such as PETER THOMAS ROTH Cloud Cream Cleanser. This will even out the microscopic landscape of your skin and ensure your razor has a smooth ride. Use lukewarm water to cleanse and keep your face moist. Dry hair is as tough as copper wire and infinitely more difficult to cut.
For those with a coarse thicket of a beard, a face exfoliator such as Grown Alchemist’s Facial Polish with pink grapefruit and glucomannaan extract, which will help dislodge ingrown hairs and smooth the surface of the skin more effectively than a cleanser. Do not go overboard, though. Shaving is an act of exfoliation in itself and you won’t have any skin left unless you are gentle.
Men with a permanent five o’clock shadow will benefit from a pre-shave oil such as Anthony Pre-shave and Conditioning Beard Oil applied underneath their shaving cream for an extra layer of cushioning.
The best razor for a smooth shave
There was a time when hyper-masculine marketing convinced us that the more blades we had on our razor, the more likely we were to get a closer shave. But the more blades you have, the more likely it is you’ll damage your face. Or, at the very least, trigger some form of irritation. With a multi-blade razor, one pass over a patch of skin is not really one pass. It’s several. And your chances of a reaction increase exponentially with each one.
The more visible brands on the market dug their own grave with superfluous additions and exorbitant prices for cartridges. The inclusion of pivoting heads, sonic vibrations and pop-out trimmers on a landfill-ready piece of fluorescent plastic was enough to turn men back to the razors of yore. And that’s no bad thing, because the razor blade is a technology that was perfected long ago.
So, what is the best razor for a smooth shave? A straight razor will get you a far closer shave provided you learn the correct technique and possess an unflinchingly steady grip. Failing that, a double-edged razor such as the D R Harris Three-Piece Safety Razor will do a great job and last far longer (not to mention cost less) than your average commercial razor.
If that thought fills you with dread, then save your pennies and stick with a Mach 3 (which is, frankly, where Gillette should have stopped). Just be sure to fit it onto a handle that’s not an eyesore. We like the Pankhurst London Refillable Razor.
Note: the weight of the handle is hugely important because it will determine the amount of pressure you end up using. Cheap plastic handles invariably cause men to use too much elbow grease, a technical fault that will end in bloodshed.
The best shaving brush and soap
There is no reason why you can’t recreate the full barbershop experience in the comfort of your own home. Repurpose a washcloth with a couple of drops of essential oil, soak it in warm water and nuke it in the microwave before letting it cool a bit, then rinse it and apply to your face for a quick steam.
From there, lather up with cream soap and a badger brush – try the Czech & Speake No. 88 Shaving Set & Stand – using large circular motions. When choosing the best shaving brush for a close shave, real badger hair is always preferable because it has the ability to absorb water and create an indulgent lather that’s impossible to mimic with foam. Moreover, the mechanical action of the bristles against your skin will provide a light exfoliation and help lift hairs, which makes them easier to cut.
Synthetic badger hair offers nothing but theatre and has a tendency to irritate sensitive skin. Once again, avoid the cheaper substitutes out there and think about cost per use. A good badger brush should last you for life provided you care for it properly.
How to achieve the perfect shave
The secret to a smooth shave? It’s all in the angle. You should apply the razor to your skin at about a 30 to 45 degree angle. This sounds simple enough and yet most men have a tendency unconsciously to alter this angle when shaving the opposite side of the face from the hand they’re using. Going over random patches in a crisscross fashion using erratic, disjointed strokes will only cause irritation. It is far better to start at the sideburn, using your free hand to pull the skin taut as you angle the razor and slide it gently down your cheek. Make sure you rinse the blade after each pass.
If one or two passes in this direction don’t provide a close enough finish, then – and only then – can you go against the grain. Just be sure to re-lather before you shave in a different direction. While going against the grain on the second or third pass might provide you with a super-close shave, know that when the follicle is cut too close to the skin you’ve upped your chances of getting an ingrown hair.
Tricky areas such as the chin and upper lip require a steady hand and some entertaining facial gymnastics. To get the area right underneath the septum, lift the nose and use a softer pressure than you would on the cheeks. To get the area underneath the chin, practise an inanely wide grin that broadens the skin and allows the lower lip to curl over the bottom teeth. Note that the direction of the grain usually changes by the time you get to the neck area, so be sure to adjust your technique.
The best shaving products for aftercare
Dragging a sharp piece of metal down the side of your face is not an entirely consequence-free act. While the skin on your freshly shorn face may look perfect, a microscope will reveal a whole world of mutilation that is not visible to the naked eye.
Each stroke of your blade doesn’t just remove hair. It peels away protective horny cells (yes, that’s their actual name) in the outermost layer of the skin. The lipids that are in charge of trapping moisture are also expelled. In summary, any irritation caused by friction is exacerbated by the fact that you have zero protective barrier and your skin is losing moisture at a dramatic rate.
It stands to reason, then, that you need to repair skin as quickly as possible after shaving. A good-quality post-shave product, such as Susanne Kaufmann After Shave Balm or Lab Series Razor Burn Relief Ultra Lotion, will help rehydrate and rebuild traumatised skin over the coming hours.
The rules of aftershave
Dousing your face in a fragranced aftershave that contains alcohol is not advised. (Yes, we agree. Aftershave is a complete misnomer.) While it may be worth the Mr Macaulay Culkin-esque squeal, a product formulated with too much alcohol will make your neck feel like it has been set on fire while stripping the skin of any remaining moisture. Stinging and burning are never good signs or, indeed, proof that a product is working. If you have particularly hot skin after your shave, try Pankhurst London Aftershave Ice Gel.
Illustration by Mr Joe McKendry