While getting ready in the morning, it’s easy to go on autopilot with your routine, and that includes taking the same steps—with the same OK-ish results—when it comes to shaving your face. But if you slow down and focus more on your desired outcome of a smooth, long-lasting, nick- and irritation-free shave, you’ll see great improvements in how you look and feel.
Like any endeavor where the results will be scrutinized, the most important part of the shaving process is the preparation. “It’s almost like painting your house. If you power-wash it, you get the best result,” says George Markos, a barber at Temple of Groom. “Everything’s just preparing the skin and then cutting the hair [is secondary].”
Sounds simple enough, right? Here are the proper steps to a clean shave, according to Markos and Julio Guerrero, the master barber and owner of Temple of Groom.
Step 1: Trim away longer hair
If your beard hair is longer than a few millimeters, your very first step is to trim it down using a good quality clipper, like the Wahl Lithium Ion+ Stainless Steel Grooming Kit, which earned the best overall distinction from Reviewed’s experts. You should have no more than a light stubble before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Warm and wet the skin
The most overlooked but essential step is to soften the skin and hair. To do so, use a hot towel, a facial steamer, or the warmth of a steamy shower, if you prefer to shave in-shower. When the hair is softer, it’s easier to manipulate with the blade, making for a closer shave. The moist heat also opens up the pores, helping any later facial treatments absorb more deeply into the skin.
Step 3: Apply lubricant
When your skin is warmed up, your hairs are softened, and you’re thoroughly zen-ed out from relaxing with the hot towel or steam, it’s time to add a lubricant—or two. Many men wet the face and jump in with shaving cream and a razor, but for flawless preparation, consider massaging a few drops of pre-shave oil into the lower half of the face. Along with moisturizing the skin, the oil adds slickness and increased protection from irritation.
Now, you’re ready for shaving cream. Apply your favorite lather with your hands or with a shaving brush. The cream doesn’t only make the razor glide more easily over the skin: Markos says its texture lifts the whiskers up so you get most of the hair in one swipe. Once you apply the lather, hold another warm-water-dampened towel over the face for a few moments. It’ll take some of the shaving cream off, but that’s OK—you don’t need it globbed on to get a good shave. In fact, you’ll likely find it difficult to get a precise shave if the cream is blocking your view of the hair.
Step 4: Begin shaving
Razors up! Guerrero uses a straight razor, but he thinks the multi-blade razors from the drugstore are fine, too. However, if you want to buy a really high-quality razor, Guerrero says to expect to spend at least $40.
To begin, start at the top of your cheekbones or as far up as your temple, if that’s where the unwanted whiskers start. You want to go with the “grain”—or in the direction that the hairs grow out from the skin. This will probably be down toward the chin, but take a close look at the hair pattern before you begin. Work your way down to the chin, taking your time. To avoid irritation, like razor burn or nicks, try to only swipe over an area once. If you do have to go back over because you missed hairs, you may go against the grain, but be extra careful. “If it’s a good razor, one swipe should take it right down,” Markos says. “That’s where you get the irritation afterward—[from going back and forth].”
Step 5: Finish with after-shave and moisturizer
When you’re satisfied with your shave, blot away any excess product with another warm moist towel or rinse your face at the sink. Now you want to treat the skin to keep it looking and feeling its best. A favorite product for preventing ingrown hairs of Markos—and some of the men at Reviewed—is Tend Skin, which you apply in a thin layer using a cotton ball or pad.
When you shave, you’re stripping the skin of any natural oils that built up and acted as the skin barrier previously, so it’s important to replenish it. To do this, follow your aftershave with a good facial moisturizer to restore the skin barrier and protect your skin from outside bacteria.
After all of these steps, you’re done… until the next time you need a shave, that is.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.