Should you shave with the grain or against the grain?
By now you’ve heard shaving arguments from both camps. You’re stuck and don’t know what to do. Despite hundreds of how-to videos and articles, you’re no closer to a satisfying answer. Let’s change that.
Just because you do something every day doesn’t mean you’re good at it. That’s because there’s a difference between performing a task and understanding that task.
The reason you can’t find a unanimous answer is because there isn’t one. Both with the grain and against the grain are correct. What you need to be asking is this: When is shaving against the grain worth the risk of excessive irritation?
Below, you’ll find the proper method of shaving against the grain. Plus, reasons some men and women should avoid this super-close method of shaving altogether. Continue reading to find out more.
Table of Contents
What Does with the Grain Mean?
The hair on your body grows in different directions. Although humans differ in many complex ways, our body and facial hair patterns are similar. So, stating the general direction of human body hair is relatively safe.
Your facial hair grows in two main patterns. The hair on your cheeks grows downwards, towards the floor. Shaving with the grain on your cheeks, lips, and chin means holding your razor on your skin and gliding down.
The second pattern begins at your jawline and ends at the base of your neck where it meets the collar bone. This hair grows upwards, towards the ceiling. To shave your neck with the grain, glide your razor up towards the ceiling.
Other parts of your body are like your face but with minor variation. Your pubic hair grows downwards. So does your leg hair.
Your armpit hair isn’t so obvious. It grows in multiple directions. Hair above the middle crease grows downward. Hair below the middle crease grows upwards.
If you shave your head, the basics are simple. The hair on the back and sides of your head grows downwards, and the hair on the top of your head grows forwards or “up.”
The problem with head hair rests in the transitional areas where the sides and back meet the crown. I recommend letting your hair grow out just enough to feel it. Then run your hand over your head and note its directions.
We can break all this information down into an easy to remember rule: If you feel your razor tugging, you’re shaving against the grain.
It’s not always 100% true. A dull razor will always feel like it’s tugging. But in most cases this rule will help you avoid unnecessary damage to your skin.
When in Doubt, Shave with the Grain
Let’s begin with a solid, undisputable fact: Shaving against the grain achieves a closer shave than shaving with the grain. Period.
But unless you know what you’re doing, I recommend you avoid it. For most people that shave daily, with the grain is safer and far less damaging to your face.
The fact is shaving against the grain isn’t something you can safely do without adequate preparation and knowledge.
When you drag your razor with your hairs, you tug and pull them far less than if you shave in the opposite direction. Your average person’s shaving method does not consider the extra aggravation against the grain shaving causes.
If you have sensitive skin, shaving against the grain probably isn’t worth it. No matter how careful and diligently you shave, razors cause irritation. Most skin types can handle that irritation if performed well.
However, sensitive skin types cannot shave against the grain, no matter how much they respect the shaving ritual.
How Do You Know if You Have Sensitive Skin?
According to a research paper from 2011, roughly 45% of Americans claim to have sensitive skin. That’s nearly half the population.
The easiest way to know if you have sensitive skin is to consider your family skin types. Genetics plays the biggest role in your sensitive skin problems. Ask your parents, grandparents, siblings, and distant cousins.
If you have sensitive skin on other parts of your body, it’s a good indicator that your face is also sensitive. That’s because your skin shares common traits throughout.
Sensitive skin can fluctuate. If you notice you’re more sensitive at certain points of the year or month, you’re not crazy. Weather changes can spike or reduce your sensitivity. Increased sun exposure and the ingredients in the skin care products irritate sensitive skin, too.
If that sounds like you, then your skin needs a lot more attention than normal skin types. You cannot use anything with fragrances. Avoid products with alcohol, like aftershave.
Most important of all: Only shave against the grain with the utmost caution and attention.
Just because you have sensitive skin does not mean you cannot enjoy a baby smooth shaving experience. It’s still possible to wet shave against the grain. But proceed with caution.
In my opinion, many people who end up with irritation while shaving don’t have sensitive skin. The reason for the irritation rests in their poor shaving technique and razor choice. So let’s talk razors.
Respect the Blade
One, two, three, or seven? Shaving companies like Gillette have made a lot of money based on the motto “more is better.”
But do more blades mean a better shave?
Let’s think about it for a minute. Say you have a five-blade razor. When you make one pass down your face, it’s the equivalent to five separate passes with a single blade razor. And you rarely do one pass with a razor, right?
Most of the time you make at least two or three. That tallies up to fifteen passes. No wonder you think you have sensitive skin!
Those that suffer from irritation need to learn how to use a safety razor. I know it seems crazy. But advertising has fooled us into thinking more means better.
The reality is far from what multiblade advertisers claim. You’ll get less irritation with a single blade system.
Multiple razors on one cartridge also cut the hair deeper than necessary. The effect compounds when you shave against the grain. If you want less irritation and a smooth, against the grain shave, you must buy a single blade razor.
I highly advise you to only shave with the grain when using a multiblade, cartridge razor. They cause too much damage to your skin to attempt against the grain shaving.
Shaving with a single-blade razor is easy. Plus, it’s cheaper than a multiblade and better for your skin.
Still interested in the proper way to shave against the grain? I’ll show you the best method below.
The Fool Proof Against-the-Grain Shaving Method
If you want the closest possible shave, then you must shave against the grain.
To begin, you cannot shave a three-day beard against the grain on your first attempt. You need to cut those hairs down to near-skin length.
Shaving against the grain means shaving a minimum of three times in a row. The basic process looks like this:
- Shave with the grain
- Shave across the grain
- Shave against the grain
You’ll want to use a single blade razor because shaving three times with a multiblade will cause irritation. Shaving three times with a multiblade is the equivalent of shaving forty to fifty times with a single blade. Ouch!
Before shaving, warm your face up with a shower or splash lots of warm water on your face. Don’t use hot water. It can cause irritation, too.
Pay attention while your shaving and take your time. Once you’re done your first shave with the grain, re-apply your shaving cream and begin your second shave across the grain. Then splash warm water of your face, re-apply again, and shave against the grain.
Here are my tips for shaving against the grain:
- A warm blade is better than a cold blade.
- Apply very little pressure when you shave, pressing down only causes problems
- Make short, 2-inch strokes. Longer strokes lead to razor burn and irritation
- Don’t pull your skin tightly. You want to cut hairs where they come out of the skin, not any deeper. Pulling too much risks cutting the hairs under the skin level, which leads to ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
- Keep a 30-degree angle with your straight razor. Don’t raise the safety razor too far up while shaving your cheeks or it’ll scrape and irritate your skin.
- Pat your face dry, never rub your face with a towel.
- Apply a non-alcoholic after shave. Alcohol dries out and ages your skin. Plus, after shaving three times it’ll sting.
As you can see the process for against the grain shaving is much longer than usual.
Shave every day and your skin will adjust. You may only need to shave twice. Once with the grain and once against the grain.
Baby Smooth Skin Takes Effort
You can shave against the grain, but the process is time consuming. For most people shaving with the grain is a reasonable alternative.
As a rule, I recommend shaving with the grain unless you need baby smooth skin. For day-to-day life, one pass with a razor is more than enough. Plus, it requires a lot more effort and time to shave against the grain.
Sometimes, we need baby smooth skin, like weddings, anniversaries, and first dates. For those special occasions set enough time aside to do it right. I find 45 minutes to an hour is the perfect amount of time to complete the task.
If shaving against the grain still sounds like something you want to do, purchase the right tools. A single blade razor and specialized shaving products will save your skin a lot of stress.
Also, if you know for sure you have sensitive skin, I recommend sticking to shaving with the grain.
For the bold readers out there, don’t be afraid to try something new. Be different. Shave against the grain.