Proper way to shave a beard?

Dear Alice,

This is something I've wondered about for a good long while. When shaving my face, should I go WITH the grain, or against it? Also, should one pre-lather, or what? Basically, what is the proper method for shaving?


Dear Bruce,

You need wonder no longer. Shaving is a common and inexpensive way to remove unwanted hair. There are ways to shave that can ensure your skin will be so smooth you won't be able to stop stroking your cheeks. Conversely, shaving incorrectly can cause skin irritations, especially if your skin is thin, dry, or very sensitive.

For a close, comfortable shave try the following:

  1. Wash your face with warm water before you shave, or shave after a warm bath or shower. Warm water softens facial hair and readies skin for the razor. Shaving dry skin can cause razor burn and ingrown hairs, not to mention increasing the likelihood of cutting yourself.
  2. Apply shaving cream, lotion, or gel before shaving to protect and lubricate your skin.              
  3. Shave in the direction of hair growth, or WITH the grain. This decreases your chances of razor burn and ingrown hairs, two of the most common problems associated with shaving. Make sure you use a clean, sharp razor. After shaving, rinse your skin with warm water to remove shaving cream and any shaved hairs stuck to the skin.

If using an electric razor, you don't need to wet your face or use any shaving cream. However you may want to avoid using the closest setting, which can irritate the skin.

If your skin does feel irritated after shaving, it might help to apply an alcohol-free lotion or aftershave. You can try an aftershave cream containing aloe vera or other emollients to help soothe the skin. Avoid potentially skin-irritating products such as colognes and perfumes, or any products containing alcohol as a main ingredient.

To address the main hazards of shaving, it might help to explore razor burn and ingrown hairs. Razor burn is a skin irritation caused by shaving sensitive areas (think underarms, pubic areas) or by using improper techniques (putting too much pressure on the razor as you shave, shaving with a dirty razor, not using a proper lubricant, and shaving AGAINST the grain of hair growth). Freshly exposed skin is particularly susceptible to irritation from bacteria that normally lives on the skin and body and is usually responsible for the burning one feels. Razor burn appears as a mild rash that can last from a few hours to a few days.

Ingrown hairs, also a fairly common problem, are hairs that grow out slightly and then curl back to penetrate the skin. People with curly hair tend to have more ingrown hairs than do those with straight hair. This results in redness, tenderness and swelling at the site of penetration. Commonly, ingrown hairs occur because of shaving too frequently or too closely. To avoid ingrown hairs, try not to shave over the same area more than once. Using a sharp blade and enough lubrication can also help prevent ingrown hairs.

With all that said, happy shaving! Of if you prefer, happy beard growing! While following these shaving techniques can help reduce some unpleasant side-effects associated with shaving, it's up to you whether you shave or let your facial hair grow.

Last updated Apr 03, 2014
Originally published Sep 01, 1994

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