Fact: A straight-razor shave is as good as shaving gets. The smoothness, the closeness, the I’m-suddenly-in-a-different-era-ness. And yet, straight-razor shaves are a luxury most don’t regularly indulge in, namely because it requires a great deal of time, patience, and a dedicated mastery of a brand-new technique (or a trip to the barber).
But here’s the thing: This precise level of quality is attainable even without using a straight razor. In fact, you might even be able to get a shave as smooth and as close with what’s in your bathroom this very moment. By deploying a smattering of time-honed, expert-endorsed techniques, you can turn your Gillette disposable into a more effective shaving tool than any scythe-like apparatus you’d find in a barber shop. Herein, courtesy of Leo Wyatt, Principal Barber at Best Barber in New York City, one of the The 12 Best Barbershops in America, you’ll find a comprehensive, 23-step guide for your best shave ever.
Always use hot water.
Most guys know this rule by heart, but it bears stern repeating, since some don’t. (In fact, my roommate is a cold-water-shaving heathen.) “Moist heat softens the skin, making it more supple for an easier, closer shave,” says Wyatt. It opens up your pores, too, allowing you to chop away more of each individual hair than you’d be able to with cold water.
Quit it with the Barbasol.
There’s not a guy on the planet who’s unfamiliar with the signatures of Barbasol—the barber-shop fragrance, the snow-white foam. But if you’re still using foaming creams or gels to shave, you’re only getting in your own way. “Foam obstructs visibility, and creates air pockets, which leave gaps in protection,” says Wyatt. Such gaps mean that, even though your face may look entirely covered in shaving cream, it’s not—so you’re essentially bare-shaving certain swathes of your skin. It doesn’t matter if you use a gel or a cream. What matters is that you opt for a non-foaming variety.
Never forget the pre-shave oil.
It lubricates the skin, which allows for easy, consistent application of shaving cream or gel—which in turn will minimize nicks and redness. And for more great advice for men, check out the 40 Common Mistakes No Man Over 40 Should Make.
Don’t shave in the shower.
The most unappreciated piece of shaving gear is something you can’t buy in a convenience store: lighting. For a perfect shave, you’ll need bright lighting and clear visibility, both of which, says Wyatt, are “typically better at your sink than at your shower.”
As a bonus, post-shower, your skin will already be lathered up—and your pores opened up—by the hot water. (Unless you shower in cold water, in which case…. Dude. C’mon. We just went over that.)
Pull your skin taut.
Using your thumb and first two fingers, pull your skin as taut as a canvas. This will give you a smooth surface to work with for the ultimate close shave.
Shave with the grain.
You’ve likely heard this phrase passed down as intergenerational advice. You’ve also likely wondering, What in the world does it mean? Basically, “the grain” means “the direction your hair grows in.” So, if you want to minimize nicks, you’ll want your razor to follow the grain, “especially if you’re prone to irritation or razor bumps,” says Wyatt. Generally speaking, you’ll want to shave with downstrokes on your face and upstrokes on your neck. But, again, take extra care, since hair grows in different directions for all guys.
Double-check the missable spots.
The toughest spot to shave smooth is that three-millimeter crest under your nose. The easiest spot to miss is that half- to one-inch spot in front of your ears, under your sideburns. Double (or triple!) check these regions.
Sure, mornings are rushed—but that’s no excuse to bulldoze through your shaving routine. A hurried shave will only lead to cuts and nicks (or, worse, a dab of forgotten shaving cream behind the ear). “It’s all about technique, taking the time to do each step properly and thoroughly, using good products, and having good visibility,” says Wyatt. In short: Take three extra minutes and you won’t walk out the door with a bloody face.
Use a three-blade razor.
A few decades ago, it seems, the shaving gods decided that one razor simply wasn’t enough. Now, you’ll find three-blade, five-blade, and even seven-blade—yes, there’s a seven-blade razor out there—options in your pharmacy.
Now, this numeral-increasing measuring contest isn’t a bad thing; having multiple blades mean razors can actually cut hairs underneath your skin. It also means there are more sharp things on your face that could cut you. The optimal balance? Three blades.
Or a single-blade one.
Though many guys swear by the three-blade razor, if you’re prone to razor bumps, choose a single-blade razor. Multi-blade razors tend to yank on facial hairs; that’s what causes razor bumps. A single-blade razor won’t yank any hairs. There’s only one drawback: though you’ll have few to little bumps, you won’t get as close a shave.
But, whichever you choose, change it often.
The experts at Gillette recommend changing your blade every five to ten shaves. But any mileage you get out of your razor can vary depending on a multitude of factors, including hair thickness, length, and how long you go between shaves.
A good rule of thumb: Take a look at the lubrication strip (that gel-part on top of the blades). If it’s of a measurably lighter hue than when you purchased it, you’re in a need of a swap. And if your blade shows even a hint of rust, well, you needed a new swap a long time ago. “A sharp blade gets you a better shave with less irritation,” says Wyatt.
Keep your razor clean.
To mitigate bacteria growth, thoroughly rinse your razor after every use. And let it air dry for a few minutes before storing—otherwise, you risk rust buildup.
Get your neck beard in check.
Among bearded men, it’s an age-old debate: Where, exactly, should the beard end and the skin begin? Some guys say two fingers’ width down from the chin. Some guys say it’s all the way down at the Adam’s apple. But the truth, as with all things, is somewhere in the middle. “End it about one digit above the Adam’s apple, or where the neck creases when the head is tilted down,” says Wyatt.
Condition your beard.
The best beard oil isn’t a beard oil at all. “Remember, your beard is hair,” says Wyatt. So, treat your beard like you’d treat your mane: condition it. For best results, use a lightweight conditioner, like Malin + Goetz’s cilantro conditioner ($8).
Use this aftershave.
Featuring a pleasantly potent blend of menthol, rosemary, and eucalyptus—plus loaded with skin-rejuvenating Vitamins A, D, and E—Baxter of California’s shave tonic ($17) is sure to soothe any burn you might feel after shaving.
And this shaving cream.
Remember: Pick up a non-foaming option. VMV Hypoallergenics Shave Cream No. 01 ($22) is, in keeping with the company’s namesake, completely devoid of any allergens.
And this moisturizer.
Wyatt recommends Malin + Goetz’s Vitamin E face moisturizer ($50), which is loaded with vitamins—in addition to E, the moisturizer also includes B5 and essential fatty acids—that’ll give your skin a supple, youthful glow.
For cuts, don’t use tissue.
Use ice. Holding an ice cube against a shallow cut on your face will stop the bleeding in a few minutes flat. The cold essentially compresses your skin, and helps blood clot up, all without the need to leave flecks of cotton on your face. Still, be sure to keep some tissue nearby. When the ice melts, it could cause blood to run down your face, since water thins blood out. You’ll want to mop that up—something an ice cube won’t help at all with.
Master drying technique.
Towels, though often made from soft cotton, can be rough on the face, due to grooves in the fabric. Instead of vigorously rubbing your face dry—a practice that can lead to unsightly redness—gently dab skin dry, instead.
Know your stubble.
Unless you’re enlisted or otherwise have to go clean-shaven for dress code, stubble is the way to go. According to a recent study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, women find stubble to be the sexiest facial hair style. If that info’s enough to get you to cop the look, know that, sadly, there’s no one way to get stubble. Every guy’s hair grows at a different length. For some guys, it takes just 48 hours to hit that mark. Others, three weeks. To get an idea of what you’re targeting, look to the most famous Ryans—Gosling and Reynolds—both of whom are godlike purveyors of stubble.
Figure out what works.
Not all facial hair styles work on all guys. It’s why you can’t picture Tom Selleck without a burly mustache yet Chris Evans looks so strange with the same thing. Figure out what works for you. For the lovelorn, at least, here’s a potential direction: That study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology—the same one that found stubble to be the sexiest look—revealed that woman prefer full-grown bears for long-term, committed relationships.
No matter what you choose, though, a word of advice: leave the the mutton chops in the 19th century.
When it comes to shaving, sharing isn’t caring. Even if you can’t outright notice it happening, razors can cover your face in barely perceptible nicks, which leave countless bacteria on the blades, if they’re not sanitized. Sharing your razor with someone is like pressing an open wound of yours against an open wound of theirs (except, admittedly, far less extreme). Don’t do it. Personally, I’ve found that the same people who prefer to shave with cold water have no qualms about sharing razors—so be on the lookout.
Catch your reflection.
Smile. You look like a million bucks.