At one time it was a rite of passage that every boy had to learn when the bumfluff on his face had grown to the extent that a shave was required. Part of learning to be a man was about father teaching son how to shave, though I have no recollection of my dad ever doing so. These days you wonder whether mothers have to teach their daughters how to shave legs and armpits too (or take them for a ritual bikini line?), but for now I will focus on the boy thing.
It was traditionally a process fraught with trial and error, though less so since the technology has improved remarkably since I was 15 or so. My first razor was equivalent to one of those single blade static BIC plastic so-called “safety razors” that still cut you to ribbons, though I soon moved on to a Wilkinson Sword number that seems positively antiquated nowadays – though a step up from the cut-throat razors portrayed on any movie depicting the 50s backwards. At first it seemed relatively straightforward, but then the first growth of facial hair is very soft. The more you shave it and the older you get, so the stubble becomes thicker and the shaving becomes progressively harder to complete successfully.
Since then, I’ve moved on, tried every variant (electric and manual) and settled on Gillette Fusion without power. That is, four blades, flexible head and plenty of agility for navigating the bumps and hollows of the average (or even exceptional) male face. It’s pretty good, but the point about shaving is that it’s such an individual thing that everybody will have slightly different preferences.
I personally never got on with electric shavers, though others swear by them. You avoid cuts but end up barely touching the stubble. Press on to extract more facial hair and your face will be burned and with a truly attractive red shaving rash (not!) If you do insist on them, try with shaving oil on your face to add lubrication.
So how do you do good old-fashioned wet shaving? Conventional wisdom may or may not provide the best answer. On my MBA course we met the two guys who set up the King of Shaves company, whose products are available in almost every supermarket but who are set up as a virtual company. At the time they had but 14 employees and had outsourced virtually every operation except product design, marketing and finance.
Now the MD (Will King), explained how the company came to be, and proceeded to give guidance on shaving, which included the rule that you should only ever shave downwards, that is with the grain. In my experience, no matter how sharp your razor blade you still can’t ever get a truly close shave like that, certainly not to my satisfaction – and there seems little if any point in shaving but still looking stubbly and haggard. Shaving against the grain increases the closeness of the shave by pulling the hair follicle further out and shaving it lower down, so it then recedes into its receptacle leaving the face looking clean-shaven.
The down side is that you are much more likely to end up cut to ribbons by shaving against the grain, particularly if you wield your razor in a swashbuckling style, but that risk is to my way of thinking worthwhile if the alternative is to be getting five o’clock shadow before midday, or to end up like Richard Nixon by shaving four times a day. There’s no point in shaving if you look haggard in no time flat.
However, there are precautions you can take to minimise the likelihood of looking like the victim of Jason in Friday the 13th. First among these is to use a sharp blade at all times. As with chopping food ingredients, you are much more likely to cut yourself with a blunt tool, and in shaving the benefit of using a really sharp blade is that you need fewer strokes to hack off the stubble.
Don’t forget a good quality shaving medium, which primarily is a device like foam to hold the water to your face and thereby moisten the contact between razor and face. Traditionally this would be a thick lather acquired from a stick and applied with a badger-hair brush. These days there are any number of canned foams around, and if you don’t like those then gels and oils. Gels like the King of Shaves tend to suit me better, and the gloopier of foams do not, but then the texture of those is really not good – they don’t cling to the face quite like traditional shaving soaps.
But most important of all, follow the example of Geo F Trumper, official hairdresser and barber to HM and the royal family. Their knack is as follows:
- Soften the bristles, which could be done with a pre-shave moisturising lotion, but which could be done with a good shower and an equally good soaping.
- Use good hot water and soap to wash the face thoroughly
- Apply shaving foam
- The sharp blade goes without saying!
- First run with the grain
- Second run against the grain
- Wash the face and dry thoroughly
- A good post-shave moisturising balm will help reduce irritation and the risk of shaving rash, but not after-shave, since the alcohol will dry the skin out.
If you’re doing it by yourself, it’s as well to have a good mirror to hand too. Yes, I know you can shave by touch alone, and some people even succeed in shaving in the shower. Each to his own, but I would sooner see what it is I’m shaving. As well to have a styptic pencil or tissue handy in case of cuts too, but the confident shaver will utilise quick, clean strokes in the clear expectation that the results will be skin like the proverbial baby’s bottom.
Good luck in your endeavours, but remember there is always an alternative. You could grow a beard, regardless of what anyone else thinks!