The Secret to a Perfect Shave

Razor burn. Ingrown hairs. Nicks and cuts. It’s no wonder so many guys hate shaving! We’re here to tell you it doesn’t have to be like this. We have a few tricks up our sleeve for getting a smooth, comfortable shave every time. Give our tips a try and you’ll understand why the term “shave nerd” exists. (Psst… these tips aren’t just for fellas. Ladies can also follow these guidelines for a great shave!)

Several traditional wet shaving tools including a straight razor, safety razor, shave brush, and lather mug

Analyze your tools

“You need to have the right tool for the job,” said every dad ever. What are you shaving with? If you’re using a sub-par razor, you’re going to get a sub-par shave. If you’re of a certain age, your dad probably shaved with a safety razor—and that’s exactly what you should be using. Safety razors offer an unbelievably close, smooth shave. Cartridge razor companies try to tell you that multiple blades give a better shave, but they actually drag across the skin, causing razor burn and bumps. Electric razors may cause less irritation than cartridge razors, but they just don’t get close enough.

Blades

For those who aren’t familiar, safety razors use a single, double-sided blade. Your shave can be more or less aggressive depending on the razor’s head: open-comb & slanted heads are more aggressive, closed-comb heads are less aggressive. Generally, those with coarser hair prefer a more aggressive shave, but personal preference is also a factor. If you’re not sure what type of shave will work best for you, try an adjustable safety razor. They allow you to expose more or less of the blade so you can find a setting that feels tailor-made for you.

(Note: if you want to go super old school, a straight razor will also provide a great shave. Just keep in mind they do require a lot more skill and upkeep than a safety razor.)

Brushes

If you don’t have a shave brush, get one. (There are plenty of great vegan options if you’d prefer not to use badger hair!) A shave brush is essential for a few reasons. Using a brush aerates and adds extra moisture to your cream or soap, creating a dense, creamy lather that can’t be beat. When applying the lather to your face with the brush, you need to use vigorous circular motions. This will fully coat your whiskers with lather and lift them away from your face, perfectly prepping them for your razor. Using a brush will also exfoliate, resulting in softer, smoother skin post-shave.

Two bottles of essential oils set against a warm, blurry background

Prep your skin

If you’ve ever skipped priming your walls before painting, the extra work that followed probably drove home an important lesson: prep work saves you time and effort in the long run. It’s no different when shaving—getting your skin ready beforehand will noticeably improve your shave.

Shaving after a hot shower is ideal because it opens pores and softens whiskers. If you don’t have time for a shower, grab a face towel and dunk it in hot water. Wring out most of the water and place the towel on your face for a few minutes. This will have a similarly beneficial effect—there’s a reason they do it in barbershops!

Follow up with a pre-shave oil. This is especially important if you suffer from a lot of irritation and razor burn when you shave. Pre-shave oil will soften the beard, provide a layer of protection between your skin and the blade, and help the blade glide more smoothly. Your pre-shave oil doesn’t need to be anything fancy—if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, most plain oils will work just fine. Jojoba, grapeseed, and sweet almond oils are all lightweight with excellent glide.

A man applying shave soap with a shave brush in a round mirror

Lather up

Ditch the aerosol can and go for a hydrating cream or soap instead. Creams and soaps contain moisturizing vegetable oils and/or animal fats that create a rich lather for a more comfortable shave that won’t leave your skin feeling stripped afterwards. Depending on the formula, your cream or soap will have varying degrees of cushion and slickness. Cushion is directly related to the denseness of the lather and is best described as a protective layer that reduces razor burn and cuts. Slickness (also called glide) helps the blade slide across the skin with less friction and therefore less irritation. Everyone has a different preference, but you will want a certain amount of both cushion and slickness for a truly great shave.

Another advantage creams and soaps have over shave foams and gels is a superior post-shave feel. As mentioned above, you don’t want your skin to feel dry and stripped after shaving. A product with a good post-shave feel will contain moisturizing ingredients so your face feels hydrated and smooth after every shave. Post-shave feel is especially important for those with dryness and sensitivity, as it will help keep skin nourished. Experiment with soaps that contain tallow, lanolin, glycerin, or natural oils to find what feels best for you.

How to get an amazing lather:

1) Get your brush wet

Let it sit in warm water for a minute or two to soften hairs & soak up water.

2) Squeeze out excess moisture

Too much water = loose lather, not enough water = not enough lather! This is a delicate balance, just remember that you can always add more water if you need it.

3) Load the brush

If using a soap, make circular and up and down motions to fully coat the brush. If using a cream, place a dollop in a shave bowl or make an indent in the center of your brush and place a dollop of cream there.

4) Create lather

Face lathering: Move your brush in vigorous circular motions over every area of your face that you want to shave. Continue until you have a rich lather (about two minutes). Using a shave bowl: make quick circular motions in your bowl until you have a satisfactory lather. If you need it, add some water, but only a few drops at a time.

5) Apply lather

Using up and down motions, “paint” your face with the lather until you have covered the entire shaving area.

A man shaving with a traditional single-edge safety razor

Shave

First off, make sure your blade is sharp. A dull blade is going to drag and tear at the skin—obviously not ideal. The good news is, safety razor blades are inexpensive, so you won’t be tempted to keep using a past-its-prime blade just to save money.

As for technique, shave with short, light strokes. Using too much pressure will leave your face feeling irritated and red. Short strokes will prevent you from being too heavy-handed. Remember that the weight of your razor is enough to cut your whiskers, so don’t apply any more pressure. Experiment with different angles until you find what works best for you. Make sure to rinse the blade between each stroke to keep your razor from getting clogged and ensure a clean cut.

Unless you’re a barber, shave with the grain. You may think that shaving against the grain gets you a better shave, but you’re actually pulling and twisting the hairs, leading to razor burn and ingrown hairs. Stick to shaving with the grain for considerably less irritation and a better shaving experience.

Six bottles of Myrsol after shave arranged in a rainbow formation

Post-Shave

Rinse with a splash of cold water to help close pores and follow with an aftershave. Some guys prefer traditional alcohol-based splashes for that refreshing tingle they provide. Alcohol-based formulas are antiseptic, so they will prevent infection from nicks while toning the skin. But if you’ve got sensitive skin, that aforementioned tingle may feel more like an unpleasant burn. If that’s the case for you, opt for an aftershave balm instead. They contain soothing ingredients to calm and hydrate irritated skin. (Some may contain small amounts of alcohol as a natural preservative, but they won’t cause that stinging sensation.)

A dramatically lit bathroom faucet with the water running

Clean Up

Keep your tools in tip-top shape to get the most out of them. Make sure your razor is thoroughly clean before storing it. If you have problems with razor bumps and ingrown hairs, you may want to wipe your blade with rubbing alcohol after every shave. To avoid shedding and extend the life of your shaving brush, follow these steps:

1) Rinse well in warm tap water (not hot, it can destroy the glue)

2) Squeeze out excess water

3) Shake gently

4) Towel dry by brushing against the towel in a painting motion

5) Place in a brush holder (bristles pointed down)

6) Store in a ventilated area (no medicine cabinets!)

Once or twice a year: soak your brush in a solution of borax (1 tablespoon borax / 1 cup water) or vinegar (20% vinegar / 80% water) for a few minutes to remove mineral deposits. Follow the steps above.

We hope these tips and tricks help you on your journey to shave nirvana! Happy shaving!

Want to learn more? Check out The Smallflower Wet Shaving Glossary

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