First we address the topic of shaving “with the grain”. Shaving “with the grain” means following the direction of hair growth with your razor. For instance, if the hair on your upper lip grows straight down towards your mouth you would shave towards your mouth from your nose to shave with the grain. The importance of following the direction of hair growth lies in the ease of cutting the hair. It causes less distress to the hair, hair follicle, and skin underneath while also offering the path of least resistance. Following this technique if your skin in prone to breaking out with spots or ingrown hairs is especially helpful.
Discussion of grain direction leads us into the next technique of reducing the beard by separate “passes”. Often you will see these passes referred to as “with the grain, across the grain, and against the grain.” Following the order of passes serves to reduce the hair in steps to get as close to the surface of the skin as possible. Going with the grain we discussed above. Shaving at a 90 degree angle, or perpendicular to the direction of growth will follow a path across the grain. Shaving in the reverse direction of growth goes against the grain. Often you see debate as to whether this last step is necessary, however most folks will find that shaving against the grain will top off their shave with the smoothest finish. If you find that your skin is sensitive, or you are new to wet shaving, leaving off this last pass until you are comfortable with the technique and blade angle is advisable.
What is a good angle to hold one’s razor? The first caveat being if you are using a disposable cartridge razor, the angle of the blades is pre-set and you need not worry about it. However to those shaving with double edge razors or cut-throat razors, this matters a great deal. Too shallow an angle and you are not taking off as much beard as you can, too much and you end up scraping skin instead of cutting hair! Neither outcome is advisable! If measured out properly the angle comes out to somewhere close to 30 degrees. However different razors can have differently shaped heads and this angle can differ. The best way we have found is to hold the razor with the handle sticking out perpendicular to your face, and as you slide the razor gently down your face I sharpen the angle so the blade edge nears the hair. When you feel the blade edge begin to catch and cut the hair you have found the correct angle.
No one likes pressure at work, home, and especially when a razor sharp blade is against your face, unless perhaps you’re 007! Using as little pressure as possible no matter your choice in the style of razor is best practice. Because of the hinge on most cartridge razors more pressure will be needed than for a double edge razor, however a light hand will still go a long ways. “What kind of pressure is too much or too little?” We hear you ask? Allow the razor to just set on your face with its natural weight and letting gravity draw it in the direction of your pass is the easiest gauge.
Another small piece of technical advice that will help you on your journey is to keep you arm straight, locking your wrist, and use the movement of your whole arm to control the razor. This will help you control angle, pressure, and prevent painful gouges. (Ouch!) These basic techniques will help set your shaving for smooth success! And smooth is what we are after, right? Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more in depth looks at wet shaving technique in articles to come.