Back when I was a kid, which was only about 28 years ago, I used to love to go to the barber shop, and only under 2 conditions: 1) it wasn’t my head that was being cut and 2) I could watch barber’s practice the art of shaving.
It brings me back to famous scenes in movies, like when Woopi Goldberg was shaving her husband on the porch in The Color Purple. I forget the bastard’s name.
I don’t see that art practiced much anymore. Instead, I see men taking the quick and easy way out by purchasing multi-edge razors and foam in supermarkets. They are cheap. They are quick. And they offer a closer shave than electric shavers. But a clean shave with a multi-blade razor can quickly become a nightmare for many men: in-grown hair, pimples and rashes are sure to follow.
When we look at old photos from not even that long ago, rare are men who appear in them with rashes, pimples or in-grown hairs in their beard area. And there’s a good reason, too.
Men previously would have a barber, wife or child shave them. And time had to be placed aside for this. A steaming hot towel would be placed on the bearded area to be shaved and left there until the follicles were soft. Shave foam or gels were then applied to the beard with a badger-hair brush and a careful, close shave was executed with a single-edge shaver (image above). A splash of cool liquid followed when the process was complete.
Shaving in 2013 usually consists of: walking into the restroom, applying a shave gel, shaving oneself with a multi-blade shaver, then washing the residue and remaining hair with warm water. Look at men’s pictures today and you’ll quickly see that, dermatologically, a lot has changed from 30 years ago.
It turns out that the process employed in the past is vitally important, and I cannot urge shavers enough to revisit this art. If you follow the steps below, I promise, your skin reactions will be greatly reduced, or, better yet, will vanish. I have zero irritation, now.
A. Invest in a double- or single-edge shaver. No ifs, ands, maybes, or buts. Go get this. You can spend hundreds of your currency on this (if you want to, but it is not necessary. I purchased mine at Boots for around £4 and it works like a charm. No multi-edged, disposable shavers. Repeat: no multi-edged, disposable shavers. Multi-edge shavers, the most common sold in stores today (cf. Gillette) are no good, as one blade yanks the follicle from the pore, another blade trims it, while the remaining blade cuts the follicle at surface level. This yanking process turns out to be quite violent for follicles, as it irritates the pore, making it bleed internally. The congealed blood prevents follicles from reaching the surface, hence in-grown hairs and pimples.
B. Invest in a badger-hair brush. This will be your most important investment as a good brush will cost you a little money. Mine costed me £50, but it was only because it was the medium-range brush at the barber I went to. Any price less is sketchy. Generally, the more expensive, the finer the hair on the brush (from the badger’s neck) and the more effective.
C. Razor blades (single or dual), can be purchased at any pharmacy for little-or-nothing. I got a small pack of 10 at Boots for £4 6 months ago, and I still have 80% remaining. You don’t have to go all out there and deplete your finances on this.
D. Get yourself a good shave cream or gel. This will depend, largely, on the texture of your hair in the beard. This is pretty important, because creams tend to do a better job at penetrating coarse, wirey, curly, or thick beard hair. When it penetrates, it softens the shaft rendering the follicle supple, reducing any chance of irritation during shaving and during regrowth. Gels and foams may work better for beards with finer hair, but all hair types can benefit from the various premium creams on the market. Again, you can pay spend loads of money on these products, or you can pay less. My favourite product is Zirh’s Aloe Vera Shave Cream.
E. An aftershave product is useful.
Steps to a clean, safe shave
1. Never be in a rush. Have a good 30 to 45 minutes set aside so that you can take your time. Speedy shaves yield cuts, burns, bruises and eventually, irritation.
2. Always shave after a long, hot shower. Make sure to allow the warm-to-hot water to splash on your face in the bearded area for as long as it takes to soften the follicles. Warm water opens the pores of the skin making shaving safest. This is massively important.
3. After shower (or a reasonable bit of face splashing with warm water at the wash basin, or through a steaming towel), place your shave gel or cream by way of your badger-hair brush. Don’t forget to rince your brush before use. No need to saturate the brush in your shave product; enough to coat the edge of the brush will suffice. As you apply the cream or gel to the bearded area after a warm shower or intense, warm beard wash, make sure to massage the product into the beard by going up-and-down and back-and-forth. The brush serves to exfoliate during this process as well.
4. With your single- or double-edge shaver, take your time going with the grain of the hair growth. You can make multiple passes with the grain to get as close as possible without a problem. And, if needs be, you can reapply cream or gel, and make a softer pass going against the grain to clean up any visible signs of hair, if a perfectly bald shave is what you desire. This step should not be altered.
5. Once the shave has been successfully executed, wash your face/beard with cold water. We used warm water during shower or in steamy towel to open the pores of the skin, making the shave less prone to irritation. We will now use cold water to close the pores after a shave, protecting the pores and remaining shaft of follicles from infection. When warm water is used in this step, residue from the products and skin tend to clog the pores (which are still open), preventing impending follicles from penetrating the surface of the skin. This is what causes in-grown hairs; they’ve no place else to grow except back into the skin if the surface is impenetrable. This is monumentally important.
7. You can apply an after-shave product after the cold rince. The product can only help to cool the skin and close the pores, reinforcing the cold rince. It also medicates the pores from any damage during the shave process.
If you shave your head, the exact same process applies. Learn the directions in which your hair grows on your head to ensure that when you shave, you shave with the grain (and not against it). Learning to navigate the head is crucial, and is also tricky, as the hair on our heads grow in multiple directions. Generally, the crown of the head is a good starting point, as hair tends to grow outward from there (exceptions with cowlicks). The nape of the neck is also a tricky area, as the hair most often grows in the opposite direction from hair growing in the area just above the nape. As a result, one has a tendancy to assume that the growth is the same in that especially vulnerable and sensitive region of the head.
You will notice that when your beard does grow back, if following these steps, you will be free from rashes, irritation and in-grown hairs. The hair may grow back softer but, most importantly, it will have penetrated the surface without obstruction ensuring clear skin.
It’s an art; master it and love it.