Whether you grow a beard or walk around with a naked face, there's a good chance you're having a rough time shaving. Preparing a man face for years of enjoyment, like a fine leather jacket, doesn't start in front of mirror with a multi-blade razor, it starts way before that.
I've been shaping my beard for 15 years. I've tried electric, multi-blade and now vintage shaving, and I'm here to give you the best tips I've learned in that time.
I've found that the most precise, cleanest, smoothest shave comes from hot, wet shaving with a single-blade razor, super sharp double-edge blades and a proper shave brush, just like your grandpa used to use — kind of like every other hipster thing.
So many new companies emerged recently, pushing $1 a month razors and alternatives to the grocery-store option. The online shave companies are fine, but still not quite right. They solve the expense problem but don't necessarily make a better experience.
Turns out, there's a way to actually enjoy sculpting a beard or getting a baby-smooth face without disposable plastic garbage. And yes, it involves some work, but don't all good things?
Warning: This will involve dragging your significant other with you around town to pick up all the right stuff — and will require some investment. But it'll be revenge for all of those trips you suffered in the past and this time, totally worth it.
Also, you could buy everything online, but that really takes the joy out of shopping locally.
Prepare your face to receive the blade
Before jumping straight to the mirror, you must first prepare your skin and beard for the culling. Women have known all about skin care for years; men are just now figuring it out.
At the very minimum, I recommend a facial cleanser in the shower with some exfoliating. Apply moisturizer for every day use (SPF is a bonus) after the shower. Turns out both men and women have skin on their faces — who knew — and now you'll start to look and feel better, too.
I live by the Jack Black brand for all of this, mostly because I thought it was invented by famous actor and musician Jack Black. It is not. It says so on their website — they were first. I was disappointed. But turns out it's pretty great, anyway.
Check out the different products that apply to your skin type and purchase accordingly.
Dillard's and Ulta sell this brand and most of its products in Reno.
In between shave days, I use Double-Duty Face Moisturizer SPF 20 ($28), because it soaks in really fast and I can never feel the greasy lotion later. But beware, I've gotten SPF in my eyes on sweaty days, so keep it out of your eyeballs.
There are tons of other brands with similar products in different price ranges. Go explore some of them. Don't balk at the price though — as with most man brands, this stuff lasts six months to a year per bottle, so you're not spending much over time.
Note for bearded men: I also use beard shampoo and conditioner. I prefer Beardsley brand over the weird pirate one. Reno's dry weather ruins beards and causes split ends and breakage and also dries out skin underneath, causing itching and flaky skin.
Clean your beard regularly to get out oils and dead skin, and then condition it to survive in the desert. You can use head shampoo, but most men use stuff on par with dishwasher detergent, so that's probably not a great idea.
For a splurge, go to Pantry Products in The Basement near Beautiful Bearded Man to get a daily beard oil that smells like various man stuff, such as leather, wood or flowers.
Pick out a razor, blades and a brush
I'm a strong believer in the vintage safety razor design. It's simple, it's more efficient than multiple blades, it's cheaper in the long run because the razor will last forever.
I use refurbished razors built during WWII because they are made of brass with nickel plating, platinum plating and one with 24K gold plating.
However, using a vintage safety razor does require practice and skill to use well, so don't expect to just drag it against your face half asleep. Seriously — don't do that.
There are several new companies remaking old designs from the 1920s and 1950s when men had to shave, I assume, three times a day to keep up that Mad Men look.
These razors are easily found at Beautiful Bearded Man in The Basement and Derby Supply Co. on First Street, both of which are right downtown. They will set you up with a good starter razor, stand and shave bowl (we'll get to this next), all made of stainless steel or chrome.
Some of them can range from $30 to $250 for a good razor. But you will never buy another razor again (unless, like me, you start collecting them obsessively and then you will buy them all the time and join Facebook groups about collecting them).
There are considerable differences in the design of the handles and heads, but that's a topic for further personal research. Entire blogs and online forums are devoted to this. Ask your barber for help picking out a beginner razor.
Safety razors take incredibly sharp double-edge blades. The blades come in packs of five up to 100 (though those are usually just big boxes of five packs). Tons of brands still make them and they are all a little different.
Some are sharper, some are duller, some are teflon coated, some are not.
The biggest benefit, other than the myriad of choices, is that they are the cheapest blades. The most expensive ones are about 35 cents a piece. So, a box of 100 might cost $35 and then last one or two years depending on your shaving frequency.
The best thing to do is to buy a few different five packs to see what works best for your face and hair. Thick hair requires sharper blades to prevent ingrown hairs.
Feather blades are largely considered the sharpest, but not the nicest.
A shave brush does way more for softening hair than any other product trying to replicate this process. A badger brush loaded with frothy shave cream or shave soap helps lift hairs and lubricate them.
Don't use aerosol creams, they won't work. Just put cream or shave soap in a shave bowl and work it into a lather with hot water.
Some shave soaps use lanolin (wool fat oil) and are plush. Others use menthol and various oils. Find what's best and ask the barbers for recommendations. Be sure to smell them first because the soap will be on your face for a while.
Brushes are the most expensive ($100 or more) because they are made from real badger hair (some synthetics exist but are not great feeling). The softest hair is called silver tip and it's expensive because it's only from the neck of the animal. Lower grades are more affordable but less soft.
There are hundreds of YouTube videos devoted to lathering and applying with a brush, seriously, it's embarrassing. But still worth a look.
It's shave time, are you ready?
There is a ritual that makes shaving pleasant. Even if you continue using multi-blade razors, do this. If you don't, you're going to have a bad time.
My facial hair is pretty rough, like a carbon-nanotubes-and copper-level toughness. After exfoliating, shampooing and conditioning my face in the shower, I apply a shave oil from Pantry Products to soften it even more.
Since I have a beard, I use Jack Black's Beard Lube Conditioning Shave ($17) on my cheeks because it's invisible so I can see my cheek beard line. For clean shavers, skip this step and product.
For the neck area, I use the shave brush and shave soaps mentioned above.
A lot of people argue over the "with the grain" and "against the grain" motion because against the grain can rip hairs out and cause pain and suffering.
You actually want to do three motions.
The key with safety razors is to not press the skin at all. You're not slicing cheese, you're lightly skimming hair off the top of your face. Think of your face as one of those zen gardens and tiny rakes.
First, shave down the direction of the hair, even if it's in a bizarre backward, spiral direction. Follow that.
Then shave across the direction of the hair. This is often forgotten but it makes a huge difference for getting strays and reducing irritation.
Finally, shave against the direction of the hair. By now, your stubble is so short that it shouldn't hurt or yank and will make for the smoothest shave ever.
Truth be told, I use two razors per shave because I'm persnickety. One of them is slanted like a guillotine, so I'm constantly thinking "off with their heads!" Most people don't need to do this. I would recommend it for men with thick, curly hair. The slanted razors require a little more finesse to use well but are worth it.
Some folks use an alum block after a shave. It's a small antiseptic block that shrinks pores, closes up minor nicks and smoothes skin. It stings a bit, so be sure to rinse it off or it can burn.
For larger cuts, use a styptic pencil from the pharmacy to stop bleeding.
Finish off with an after-shave balm. I like the British Truefitt and Hill now sold at Derby Supply Co. I bought mine for $45 and it lasted four years — so worth it since the Brits have been shaving way longer than the Americans. They offer various unscented and scented varieties to sooth your face for the day.
There are plenty of other after shaves worth exploring.
Talk to barbers or look up YouTube videos for specific techniques for safety razors. The first few shaves, especially if you use electric trimmers and shavers now, will be rough. But keep going and you, too, will achieve greatness.