Despite many men having shaved almost their entire natural lives, nailing that perfectly smooth mug has always been frustratingly out of reach. Rather than giving up and going all James Harden, however, we decided to turn to the experts over at Mankind Grooming Studio and asked them to share with us their cutting-edge knowledge. Herein, we talk with stylist Shannon during an exclusive pre-party for Toronto Men’s Fashion Week to find out exactly what men can do to improve their shaving routine.
Pay attention to the grain of your beard to avoid irritation
Do you get irritation around your jaw line or your neck? “That’s one of the most common places,” says Shannon. Much irritation comes from shaving against the direction your beard grows straight away. Consider shaving with the grain first, then lathering up a second time for an against-the-grain shave. Pay attention to how the hairs on your neck grow, which, by the way, can be completely different than the grain on your face. Before prepping your shave, carefully examine your jaw and neck using a mirror and your fingertips to determine which way it grows. If you’re not careful, shaving against the grain can result in cuts and ingrown hairs.
Preparation is paramount
According to Shannon, preparation should be a man’s focus when he sets out to get the perfect shave. For example, only a fraction of a 45-minute straight razor appointment offered at Mankind Grooming is dedicated to the actual shave—the rest is all getting your beard nice and soft. And no, you’re not exempt if you’re using a drugstore blade.
“We use hot towels for a long time, like several minutes, and really rub the product in before we even start with a shaving blade,” says Shannon. The hot towel helps raise the hairs of your beard and loosens the follicles so they cut more easily. As for the product she’s referring to, it’s your new best friend: pre-shave oil. Regardless of which lubricant or essential the product contains (popular ones include jojoba oil, castor oil and shea butter), the effect is that it seals in your skin’s moisture and makes the hair supple, ready for shaving. It also acts as an extra layer of protection.
Don’t want to deal with towels and oils? There’s an alternative. “Shaving straight out of the shower is the ideal time, that’s how you get the hair nice and soft,” says Shannon.
Reach for the right products
One of the best upgrades a guy can make is spending a few more bills on good quality products. “A lot of guys skimp on hair products and skin products—they don’t want to spend money on them, they don’t think they’re worth anything,” says Shannon. A better approach is finding products with a proven track record. She recommends shaving supplies from American Crew and Dermalogica, but there are many brands looking out for your mug’s best interest. Kiehls, Jack Black Skin Care and Baxter of California are also good places to start looking for quality shaving creams, moisturizers and oils.
If you’re already stocked ditch the dollar store blade and graduate to a straight razor of your own. “Some guys take it on as a hobby where they sharpen their own blade on a leather strap and they spend all this time on it,” says Shannon. Those can run anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars, depending on how dedicated you are to the craft.
On selecting a razor
That said, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all blade out there. “Some things might seem a little gimmicky to you, but work really well for other people,” she told us. “Either your face can handle just the one blade you can use that for weeks on end for a dollar, or maybe your face needs like a four- or five-blade head that you can only use once or twice.”
Experiment to find out which types of blades cause the least irritation and take the fewest strokes. The results may surprise you—don’t feel bad that triple-blade from the drugstore may just be the ticket. There is a place we draw the line, however. “Like 17 blades on one razor for $26?” she laughs. “You don’t need that.”
How long to spend on a shave
From the first stroke to the last, the average shave at home should take at least 10 minutes, according to Shannon—that is, a good once-over using just shaving cream and using a single stroke down the grain. Use virtually no pressure when you’re doing this to minimize irritation.
The easiest way to screw up
“One thing that you should avoid are cheap products, like things full of alcohol,” warns Shannon. “Alcohol is not good for your skin, it dries it out.” This goes for before, during and after the deed—don’t you dare slap on your dad’s aftershave, or you’ll be in for one hell of a surprise.