Tips For The Perfect Shave

Ah, progress. It’s cool having the latest and greatest of everything, but it’s daunting, too.

On some levels, our grandparents had it easy. Sure they had to walk 10 miles to school (Uphill! Both ways!) and didn’t know an iPhone from an eye patch, but everything was simpler and less stressful.

Take shaving. You’re a man in 1940. You have two choices. Head to the barber with your two bits or to your bathroom with a can of Barbasol and a razor. End of story.

These days, entire drugstore aisles are devoted to shaving products. Blades that vibrate, eco-friendly creams, pressurized gels, salves, oils, and toners abound. And we’re not even talking about the boutique brands, fancy brushes, or electric razors. No wonder scruff has made a comeback.

The average guy shaves 20,000 times in his life. Getting a smooth, painless, reasonably priced shave does not require an engineering degree or a trust fund. Everything you need to do to avoid bumpy, nicked, irritated skin is spelled out in the following steps. Here’s our perfect shave tips.

Before you shave

men's shaving tips mirrorPhase One:  Ready the Playing Field

Step 1:  Soften Your Whiskers

Importance:  Non-Negotiable

The Lowdown: Experts agree that it’s imperative to soften your beard before hacking away at it with a blade. (That’s why those guys getting a barber’s shave have hot, wet towels covering their faces.) The best way to do this at home is to shave in the shower where your pores are open and your skin and whiskers are their softest.

Try This: Of course, to pull this off effectively and not look like Patches the 20-year old poodle, you’ll need a good fog-free mirror. There are many affordable ones on the market, like the ShowerTek Original Heated Fog Proof Shower Mirror. It runs around $20 and works great. As one fan says, “This mirror NEVER fogs up on me. I can’t recommend it enough and I get the absolute best shave ever!”

Insider Info: If you have an aversion to shaving in the shower, don’t let too much time elapse between getting out and starting the process. If your bathroom mirror has defogged on its own, you’ve waited too long. When showering beforehand isn’t an option, wash your face with warm water. If you shave without washing first you’ll trap all that dirt in your pores. Soaking a washcloth in warm water and placing it on your face for up to a minute will help to further soften your beard. Note: You don’t want the water to be too hot. It will slacken your skin and wick away moisture, two things that are counterproductive to getting a close shave.

Prep your face for shaving

men's shaving tips shave balmStep 2:  Prep Your Face

Importance: High (especially if you’re prone to breakouts and razor burn)

The Lowdown: You might be vaguely aware that there are some “pre-shave oils” on the market that soften your beard and protect skin from razor burn. You might also have dismissed them as unnecessary. We’re here to tell you that they’re not, particularly if you’re prone to bumps and irritation.

Try This: While it’s easy to drop big bucks on pricey brands in this category, there are many reasonably priced products that do the job just as well. Lots of guys really like Proraso Pre and Post Shave ($13) because, as one reviewer says, “It’s great for softening the beard before shaving and my skin has been noticeably healthier since using it.” A little goes a long way. “Given the amount in the jar and how far it goes, I will only need to purchase this product at most twice a year,” says one happy consumer. Hint: It can also double as an aftershave balm and save you even more.

Insider Info:  A lot of the high-priced oils are really nothing more than two parts castor oil to one part olive oil with a couple of drops of essential oil (like lavender) added in. You can simply save yourself some dough by just slapping a little hair conditioner on your face, waiting a minute, then rinsing with warm water. (Beard hair is hair too, after all.) Your skin and whiskers will be primed and ready, and won’t care in the least that you didn’t shed big bucks on some hoity-toity product.

Shave cream vs. shave gel

men's shaving tips shave gelPhase Two: Suit Up  — Shave Cream vs. Shave Gel

Importance: High

The Lowdown:  The difference between shaving gels and creams is that, while creams are typically no more than foam, gels are designed to soften the hair and moisturize the skin to help prevent razor burn. Gels also tend to be a better bargain because you only need to dispense a small amount to create a generous lather in your hands before applying to your beard. Whatever you do, don’t use that yellow bar of soap that’s intended to deodorize your body. It won’t do your face any favors and will leave residue on your blade.

Try This: While a lot of guys just grab whatever’s on sale or whatever they’ve been using since high school, many have replaced that big orange can with Aveeno Therapeutic Shaving Gel ($4.50) because, as one reviewer says, it’s the “holy grail of shaving.”  Others concur: “Since using it, not once have I gotten razor burn or razor bumps. I haven’t had a single ingrown hair either,” says one dude, while another says, ” The name says ‘therapeutic’ for a good reason: it works very well in clearing up razor bumps, razor irritation, and also protects from cuts.” There’s an added bonus – a little goes a long way.  “The first thing I noticed was that it has great expansion. A small portion is more than sufficient for my entire face,” said a reviewer.

Insider Info:  How you apply your shaving gel can make a difference in the results. Experts advise applying it in a circular motion ending in an upward stroke – this makes your beard stand up and away from your face allowing the blade better access.

How to choose a razor

men's shaving tips gillette razorPhase Three:  Choose Your Weapon – The Almighty Blade

Importance: Well, it’d be hard to shave without one. Note: we’re not even going to waste space here talking about those blue plastic disposable jobs. They don’t even really qualify as razors. So don’t use them.

The Lowdown: Did you know that Gillette and Schick control a whopping 91 percent of the market for manual razors? It’s no wonder the ads, the commercials, and the aisles are brimming with various permutations of both brands. The two giants have been one-upping each other for years, most recently with the “We can add more blades than you can” game of chicken that began when Gillette introduced its Mach 3 — the first three-blade razor — in 1998. Schick retaliated in 2003 with the four-bladed Quattro and then, in 2005, Gillette upped the ante with the five-bladed Fusion.

Try This: Do more blades really mean a better shave? Apparently so. When it comes down to reader reviews of the best-selling razors, the Fusion edges out both the Mach3 Turbo and Quattro for achieving a close, smooth shave. Why? “I was more than skeptical about switching to five blades, assuming it was little more than marketing,” says one consumer who then admits that he “was pleasantly surprised with the smoothness of shaving with this razor.” Others said that “These are hands-down the best razor blades on the market.” The downside? Price. Most users recommend switching to a new blade after every two shaves, which, at a suggested $26.99 for 8 refill cartridges, can get expensive. Savvy shavers find a way to make it work though. “Buy them on sale and use coupons” suggests one, “a good, pain-free shave is priceless.”

Insider Info: Tip No. 1: Even though you think you may be getting a closer shave by doing it, do NOT shave against the grain. Experts contend that doing this damages the hair shaft and makes the whiskers grow back tougher – something no one wants. If you’ve been shaving that way for a while don’t worry, you can “retrain” your beard. It will just take a couple of weeks. Tip No. 2: Always use long, smooth, vertical strokes and never, ever go horizontally. Pros agree that the majority of nicks and cuts occur when you move across your face from left to right. Don’t be lazy. Pick your razor up to begin a new stroke.

Get a complete shave

men's shaving tips wash facePhase Four:  Finish What You Started – The Final Steps

Importance: High. Nobody likes a quitter.

The Lowdown: When you think you’re finished, you’re probably not. Rinse your face and examine it for stragglers and patches you missed. Be sure to check along your jawline and around your ears and lips for strays. Once you’re sure your job’s complete, splash your face with cool water to close your pores back up. And, as tempting as it may be, do not scrub your face dry with a towel. It will only aggravate your newly smoothed skin. Instead, blot it dry softly. If you’ve nicked yourself, use a styptic pencil and it’ll dry right up. If you don’t have one, apply a piece of toilet paper. Just don’t forget to remove it before leaving the house.

Insider Info: It’s important to rinse and dry your razor because it will help extend the life of your blade, which will save you dough. If you leave your blade wet and covered with gel, it will get corroded and blunt before its time.

After shaving

men's shaving tips aftershavePhase Five: The Thrill of Victory – Apply Aftershave

Importance:  High – replenishing your skin is a good thing

The Lowdown: Your skin has just been put through the wringer and needs to calm down.  That’s why it should come as no shock that an alcohol-based aftershave will impart what’s known as “the burn” (think Kevin McCallister in “Home Alone”). Some guys like that cool sting, while others prefer to soothe their faces with a lotion or balm. A good rule of thumb when choosing an aftershave is that only guys with oily skin can use alcohol-based products. Sensitive or dry skin does better with specially formulated products that combat ingrown hairs and razor burn. Acne-prone complexions can benefit from a balm containing salicylic acid.

Try This: If you have normal skin you might like Nivea for Men After Shave Balm ($6.99). It is enriched with menthol and vitamins, has just a hint of fragrance and has legions of fans. One user says, “This is a great balm, it does exactly what it’s intended for — cools your face right down and soothes it all day.” If your skin tends to be on the oily side, Neutrogena’s Men Razor Defense, Post Shave Lotion ($6.99) won’t clog pores and helps to heal irritated skin. One fan said, “This is the kind of luxury item that makes for a cheap splurge.” Another says, “Smells great, conditions the skin, makes razor-irritation and burning skin vanish.” And L’Oreal Men’s Expert Comfort Max Anti-Irritation After Shave Balm with SPF 15 Sunscreen ($7.99) is an all-around favorite. As one reviewer says ” This product is both non-irritating and not terribly greasy. I find my skin does react well to it with no breakouts. It smells subtle so it won’t overwhelm.” Always a good thing.

Insider Tip:When applying aftershave you typically don’t want to use more than 1/4 teaspoon. Any more is just a waste of product and money. Pour it into your palms, rub them together and apply to your beard and neck and you’re good to go.