MANual of Style

Lesson Two: Shaving and Facial Hair by Shreyas
10 December, 2009, 5:22 am
Filed under: Basic Concepts | Tags: , , ,

Since dudes (prior to Mr. Bowie*) don’t wear makeup, the biggest thing you can do to change your face is to change the hair growing on it. This is not an operation to be undertaken lightly! Careless shaving can lead to irritation, ingrown hairs, cuts, and embarrassment, whereas careless growth can lead to being mistaken for a policeman, child molester, old-timey pugilist, mountain man, or worse!

Since we just talked about the face, let me remind you: regardless of whether you go clean-shaven or grow your facial hair out, you still need to take care of the skin underneath. If you shave, wash your face before you get out the razor. This helps you get a closer shave. If you keep a beard or moustache, wash the area normally (or shampoo it if it’s very long), and moisturize or condition the hair and skin. That should keep down itchiness, flakes, and other unpleasantness.

*: Our guest Facial Hair Expert, Bret, man with a handlebar moustache, assures us that men prior to Mr. Bowie wore makeup in Egypt. Also, we did mention we’d be talking about concealer later on, but you won’t need to buy your own if your girlfriend has any, probably. Your masculinity will remain secure.

To Shave or Not To Shave

This one’s really up to you. I have it on good authority that I look silly with a beard, so I don’t wear one. Whatever you choose, choose it on purpose. That’s going to be a rule that I’ll be repeating over and over in the course of this blog: whenever you make a decision, realize that you’re doing it and realize the consequences of that choice. If you’ve grown a beard because your father had the same beard and it looked cool on him, that’s one thing, but if it’s because you don’t know where your razor is and the drugstore is all the way across town, then that’s another, much less desirable thing.

Don’t forget there are lots of middle-ground options here: groomed stubble (yes, like David Beckham, and yes, I know he’s kind of a douche), just a beard, just a moustache, goatee, fringes, sideburns, etc. Think about it.

Lesson Two: ShaveWet or Dry?

I strongly recommend that you go with a bladed razor and some kinda shaving product if you’re going clean-shaven. It’s nice to keep around an electric for emergency trims when you’re on-the-go and can’t be bothered to bust out your shaving stuff, or won’t have access to water and a mirror, but even the best electric razors give inferior shaves to blade razors you can get for pocket change. I use a Gillette M3 Power, which is a little goofy (it vibrates) but it does a great job even when I’m shaving in the shower with nothing but hot water.

That said, if you prefer to have a little bit of stubble, or your skin is easily irritated by shaving, electric might be a better option for you. You can control the length of your stubble pretty precisely with a trimmer.

Wet Shaving Basics

To get a good close shave, you need to open up your pores and soften the hair. That’s what barbers are doing when they put that great hot towel on your face. (By the way, if you haven’t had a barber shave you professionally, go have it done just once. It’s nice.) To get the same effect at home, just shave in or after your shower, before your skin cools down again. Use whatever kind of shaving lubricant you prefer. I don’t really like the creamy lather stuff in the can much anymore, because I can’t see what I’m doing and I cut myself a lot, so I use a lightweight non-lathering shave lotion. Shaving is hard to generalize about, because what works for your hair and skin types might not work for mine, so the best thing for you to do is try out sample sizes of different products until you find one you like.

Shaving against the ‘grain’—the direction your hair grows—is more likely to irritate your skin or cause cuts and scratches, so only do that if you’re pretty confident you’ll be okay. I need to do it because there are patches where I can’t get a close shave with the grain, but you might not have that concern.

After you’re done shaving, splash your face with cool water or whatever aftershave stuff you use. It’s fun and it soothes your skin, which is good because dragging a razor-sharp blade all over your face is not really a gentle operation and can irritate it.


If you get painful red bumps a few hours or days after shaving, you’ve got ingrown hairs. Ouch. The best way to deal with these is to stop shaving for several days and use a hydrocortisone cream (the stuff you use to treat poison ivy or insect bites) to reduce the inflammation. Once the bumps are gone, you can start over. If you repeat this process a couple of times and it doesn’t seem to be improving,shave less closely. Get an electric or use those wire-wrapped cartridges that keep the razor blades from directly touching your skin.

If your skin gets red and irritated in patches, you’re razor burned. This is usually a result of bad lubrication, bad equipment, or bad technique. So, the first thing to try is to check your blade. If it’s dull, replace it. Failing that, shave differently. Be careful not to put too much pressure on your skin or shave too quickly. If you’re used to shaving against the grain, try avoiding that for a couple of days. If none of that works, try a different shaving cream.

Every one of us gets cut now and then. Since it’s tough to find styptic pencils, and torn scraps of toilet paper make you look like a kid, try sealing your shaving cuts with a tiny smear of Vaseline once the bleeding stops. It’ll protect the wound without forming a scab.

If you’ve tried all the things above and your skin still gets inflamed after you shave, you might need to try a shaving powder or gel like Magic Shave, which is formulated for black men, who tend to have sensitive skin and tough hair. As far as I can tell, this stuff is Nair with something in it to keep it from burning your face off.

(Elizabeth, who is a photographer, says: I don’t know many men who’ve used the product, but I know models who have sworn by it for getting sensitive areas smooth and hair-free with zero pain. For a male friend with EXTREMELY sensitive skin, Magic gave him a minor chemical burn– he doused the area with vinegar, just like in Fight Club, and was fine.)

In defense of Beards

Beards (and moustaches) have long been considered the refuge of the slovenly. Many moustachioed men have been told they’d fail with the ladies if they kept their facial hair. My fiancee is no big fan, which has lead to a bit of domestic strife at times. It doesn’t have to be this way! If you feel most confident and most attractive with a bit of foliage, go for it. The important thing is to make your style work for you—and not every type of beard looks good on every face.

Beard Care

The most important thing to remember is that keeping facial hair which is flattering and attractive is not, as commonly assumed, less work than a clean-shaven face. It may be even more work, depending on the type of facial hair and the amount of styling the hair needs. If you decide to grow part of your facial hair, just treat that hair as part of the hair on your scalp. Shampoo and condition it, comb it if you have to, have your barber or stylist give it a trim when you go in to get your hair cut. An experienced barber will be able to tell you what you need to do to keep it shipshape between visits.


If you’ve decided you want to grow something, but you’re not sure what, how do you decide? Well, there are two principles to apply here, thinking about the inside edges of your beard (I’m just going to stop saying “and moustache” now. Assume it.) and the outside edges.

The parts of your beard that are within the borders of your face act like shadows. That means you can use them to subtly sculpt your features—for instance, my sideburns are angled at the bottom to create triangular dark shapes under my cheekbones, to make my face look thinner. The parts of your beard thatextend beyond the borders of your face change its perceived shape. The most attractive face shape is roughly oval, so what you can do with this is use your beard to fill out the gaps. Take a look at this pic of Abe Lincoln. The famous top hat and beard make an attractive, oval outline out of his roundish head and weak chin.

Here’s a quick guide to beards for common face shapes. If you don’t know what shape your face is, look in the mirror after a shower with your hair as tightly pressed to your scalp as possible. Look at the silhouette straight on.

  • Round faces need to look longer and thinner. Bushy sideburns are no good here, but when kept short and angled inward, manicured sideburns can give your face the appearance of definition and make it look slender. A chin beard is a good choice here, or anything that would elongate the longest part of your chin.
  • Square faces are similar to round faces in their issues. Instead of just elongating the face, however, you want to soften the width of your jaw. Chin beards and goatees are good here too, but you might want to include some short, all-over stubble to get a more oval effect. (I know people talk about a great strong square jaw, but that is Superman in comic books. It’s less attractive than ovals in real life.)
  • Short faces need extra length on the chin, so something hanging off there is good. If you don’t want to (or can’t) grow facial hair that’s long, something which points downward will have the same effect here, like a soul patch.
  • Long faces need to look shorter, so something on the cheeks helps: I suggest all-over stubble, possibly of 3-4 days’ growth, depending on how fast your hair grows. If it’s hard for you to grow facial hair, maybe a week. If you have a full beard in three days, try 24 hours.
  • Pointy Chins / Triangular faces can handle a full beard, in order to add weight and balance out the jaw.
  • Narrow faces can use a prominent moustache in order to add more width in the middle. Bushy sideburns can do the same thing, but I’d choose one or the other.

Finally, how do you keep your beard looking good between visits to the barber? I find that the best way to get clean, sharp edges is to lay my razor perpendicular to the desired edge and cut parallel to it; this way, all three (or five, or fifteen, or whatever) blades of my razor cover exactly the same area. I don’t usually shave in curves. Don’t use your ears as reference points, because they might not be symmetrical. If they are asymmetrical, then aligning more asymmetrical features to them will put your whole face off balance. Instead, face a mirror square on and use your fingers to mark your landmarks, making sure they’re level with each other.

Alternatively, if you do have very symmetrical features, you can just draw imaginary lines between them and create edges of your beard-and-stuff along those. The line between the bottom of your ear and the corner of your mouth is a good bottom edge for that cheekbone-emphasizing sideburn we talked about earlier.

Since, as previously mentioned, I look silly with facial hair, I’ve asked my friend Bret, man with a handlebar moustache, if he could answer some questions for those of you who might be considering more extreme facial hair. Thanks, Bret.

How long did it take you to grow your moustache? From clean shave to handlebar moustache it took about eight weeks. Prior to that I let it grow for six without touching a razor. It’s necessary to have a nice, bushy start before you start grooming it.

How do you take care of it? About how long do you spend dealing with your facial hair every day? Most days I can get away with spending five to ten minutes on it in the morning. I comb it with a fine-tooth comb and then apply moustache wax just to the tips to stiffen them up for sculpting. I trim it as needed, but it’s not often a part of my morning routine. For example I notice halfway through the day that some hair is starting to curl into my mouth so I’ll give it a quick trim to neaten it up.

What problems have you found with having such a distinguished ‘stache? Do you ever have bad moustache days? I had my first really bad moustache day the day before Thanksgiving. I’d let the handlebars grow out quite far, maybe an inch-and-a-half to two inches. That morning I went to wax and curl them and one handlebar curled forward instead of up. I screwed around with it all morning and even tried washing it out and rewaxing it and nothing would work. In the end I had to trim it down to a manageable size and lost a good bit of it, but luckily it grows back. That and misplacing my moustache wax are the two biggest problems I’ve had. If you have a full handlebar moustache and no way of waxing it, it becomes impossible to eat without also chewing moustache hair. I’ve started keeping a backup tin just in case.

Do you have advice for those who are considering following in the footsteps of your upper lip? Go for it. The responses I’ve gotten for it have been overwhelmingly positive. Family, friends, co-workers, and even random strangers compliment it. I’ve had it for half a year now and I’ve only received one negative comment and two bewildered ones. Everyone else thinks it’s great. Thanks to hipsters (how often do you say that phrase?) it’s not just for the eccentric for now.

This weekend, I’ll be posting some of my favorite grooming goodies, as well as some additional resource material. On Tuesday, we’ll discuss hair. (The stuff on the top of your head, this time.)


18 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I can’t shave in the shower unless I am entirely clean-shaven. Too much potential to accidentally shave off hair I don’t want shaved off.

Comment by Bret

I use a little hand mirror in the shower. You can easily wipe the steam out with your hand, and it allows you to control how far you want to shave.

Comment by Damián Fraustro

Shave IN the shower, boys.

Comment by droog

Moisturising is important, too. I’ve been told to moisturise either an hour or ten minutes before shaving. As long as I do it sometime, it makes the shave much more comfortable: even moisturising the night before helps an early-morning shave.


Comment by Graham

Nose, ear and eyebrow hair, any thoughts? I clumsily trim the first two with nail scissors, and sometimes my hairdresser offers to tidy the last two. I do look less like an embryonic granpa when it’s done.

Comment by Alex F

Here’s a shaving tip that works for most anyone, but works very well for light-haired folks, or people whose hair grows slowly:

Shave early. Figure out how long it takes you to go from “freshly shaved” to “no longer feels cleanshaven” to “no longer looks cleanshaven”, and adjust when you shave appropriately.

This gives any nicks time to dry up, and redness etc. time to clear up.

So, for a working stiff (unless you’re one of those unlucky folks who actually has a 5 o’clock shadow by 5 o’clock): shave the night before.

For a date or a night out, shave in the afternoon.


Comment by James Brown (Blankshield)

I really agree with this. It’s also an argument for shaving before showering: if you do cut yourself, the blood washes away as you’re showering.

Anyway, I find it impossible to shave after showering. The mirrors steam up.


Comment by Graham

I’ve got a fuller beard than the chap up there. I use a small pair of scissors for regular trimming and a cheap razor for tidying up around the edges. Given that my hair is usually pretty unkempt, too tidy a beard would look weird so I don’t go for too neat a look.

Comment by GB Steve

Steve has to spend hours in the barber to get that faux-unkempt look he affects.


Comment by Graham

This might have been a nice place to have a tutorial on shaving with a brush. I’ve been doing that for the last year or two and love it. Just changing from the standard goo to a badge brush with some CO Bigelow cream from Bath and Body Works gave me a closer shave with less irritation. For a super close shave without going against the grain try a three pass method. Use an essential oil to soften the hairs for shaving. Lather with your favorite brush. The first pass should be with the grain of your beard. It will change so you need to take some time to map your face and figure out the direction of the grain in each section. After the first pass relather and shave across the grain in each direction with a relather in between. Super close + no irritation =win.

Comment by Aaron

Aaron, shaving with a brush isn’t something I personally do, so I don’t know a lot about it! I actually gave my 15 year old cousin some CO Bigelow shaving cream for Christmas last year and a few months ago he called me to ask where he could get some more. I guess it’s pretty good stuff.

Comment by shreyas

Brush shaving is a lot of fun. That extra close method sounds good Aaron. However (and I recognise I’m becoming “a non-specific authority told me once”) the barber at my first cut-throat shave spoke against doing multiple passes as giving your skin a rough time, advice I try to follow. I would recommend people being mindful of how it sits with their skin type.

Comment by Alex F

I had a roommate that used Magic Shave on his face and head. It worked very well for him. I tried it once as well, but it didn’t dissolve my facial hair fully. Most likely because I was using the powder and didn’t get the mix quite right. Magic Shave comes in a powder and a premixed lotion. I suggest trying the premixed stuff, the powder can be messy and you may have to experiment to get the mixture just right.

Comment by C. Edwards

I think you glanced over the actually shaving part a little bit. I had a tendency to get ingrown hairs in the past, and i’ve been able to fight this by upping my game when shaving. I would NEVER recommend anyone with even remotely sensitive skin to shave without a lather.

I personally use a basic sandalwood shaving soap from Taylor of Old Bond Street with a good shaving brush. Skip boar hair, go straight to badger. There’s several good brands out there; of the good ones, The Art Of Shaving is the one that marks their goods up the most so unless you can grab a brush of theirs on eBay, skip them.

There’s a lot of fancy handles for sale that take Mach 3 or Fusion blades but unless you can get it for a steal, it will not add that much to your shaving experience (better balance / feel in hand, that’s about it).

Comment by Robb Irrgang

Yes, shaving brushes are superb. They get under the hairs and lift them up, in a way that rubbing gel doesn’t. Also, they exfoliate.


Comment by Graham

Hey Shreyas,

A little sad that there weren’t more specifics on shaving. I was really looking forward to this post being the father figure that I never had, teaching me how to shave for the first time.

I’m a white male, 21, with thin/patchy facial hair (I definitely couldn’t grow a consistent beard). I find shaving against the grain irritating, but shaving with the grain doesn’t leave my skin feeling soft and smooth to someone’s touch (which, like, what’s the point even, then?). There’s a lot of stuff I’m not sure about, most pressingly: short strokes or long ones? how long should shaving take?

What you wrote is great. I’m hoping there are some magic answers that fill in some more specifics of shaving, though.

Looking forward to the article on hair. I have wavy hair that refuses to be styled once it’s reached any considerable length, and which gets greasy quickly. Tips?

Comment by buriedwithoutceremony

For Tuesday, please include some hair tips for those of us who have been struck by the dreaded receding/thinning hairline. There has to be something other than “wear a hat” or “shave your head” that works, right? Right?

Comment by Kevin

I’ll be happy to. As a quick preview, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is you can’t hide your hair loss. The good news is, you can have thinning/receding hair and still look cool.

Comment by shreyas

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