Not having the perfect shave technique can create a world of misery for any man.
Whether you have a thick and coarse or a thin beard, it’s incredibly important that you shave with the grain.
We will go over all that and more in great detail below!
But first, to make sure everyone is on the same page (and this might be a bit elementary for some men), what does shave with the grain really mean?
Shave With The Grain Meaning
When it comes to shaving your face, head, pubes, or anywhere else on your body, you will often hear shaving enthusiasts and barbers alike proclaiming that you MUST shave with the grain.
So, what does this really mean?
In short, it means that the razor blade needs to travel in the same direction that your hair is growing.
Take your face for instance – on most men’s cheeks their hair grows in a downward direction (but you will see this isn’t always true in just a minute).
To further demonstrate this, here is a picture of my cheek (I haven’t shaved in a few days to make this demonstration a bit clearer):
As you can see, the hair almost always goes in a right-to-left and downward direction. If I were to bring the razor blade upwards towards my nose (i.e. against the grain), this would cause severe discomfort!
Which leads us to the next section (and likely the one you will want to pay closest attention to in this article):
Direction Of Beard Growth On Your Face
Every man is different.
You are uniquely YOU.
So, if we can all agree on this, why do we blindly follow a random YouTuber’s motions when shaving with a new razor for the first time?
This misnomer that you must go downwards on the cheeks, downwards on the chin, and upwards on the neck is simply wrong.
In order to prevent any confusion, I am going to offer my beard as a guinea pig for this example.
As you saw above, the hair on my cheek doesn’t always grow in a downward direction.
Instead, it goes from my nose to my ear.
So, what does this mean?
- I need to train my beard to grow in a direction that I want (more on this in a minute).
- If I were to shave today (which I probably should), I will want to take the razor blade and follow the direction of the hair grown and run it from the front of my face towards my neck area.
But it gets way more complicated than that.
Now here is a shot of my neck:
As you can see, the hair on my neck goes in a couple of directions…
…oh joy (now regular readers will see why I always keep some stubble).
Check out the hair at my chin first. As you can see (outlined in blue), it goes in a downwards direction from the point on my chin to my adams apple.
Here’s where things go astray:
When you look at the area around my adams apple it’s a disaster.
If I were to shave this hair straight down, it would cause severe irritation (trust me) as I would be going across the grain (almost borderline against the grain).
So therefore, when I shave my lower neck area, I still need to heed to the ‘shave with the grain’ principle and bring my razor in a up/right direction in order to follow the beard growth pattern.
If there is any point you should take away from this article, it’s this:
EVERY MAN’S BEARD GROWS IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION!
That means if you suffer razor bumps or general skin irritation after shaving, the next time you shave, you will want to take a minute or two and really examine how the hair grows in.
If you are having a hard time determining the growth patterns, then we would recommend that you (should your job allow) grow out your beard for a few extra days in order to easily see the growth pattern.
Oh, and about that ‘training’ I was talking about earlier?
If you get yourself a beard brush, with repeated use, you can actually train your whiskers to grow in a uniform direction (this is more prevalent with longer beard growth such as a thick stubble).
This will help to make for a much more efficient shave when your hairs are all trained to grow in the same direction (in my case, I should train those dreaded neck hairs to go downwards as opposed to the up/right direction for a comfortable shave).
Should You Always Avoid Going Against The Grain?
So, if you browse Reddit like I do on an incessant basis, you are prone to see the subreddit /r/wicked_edge trending every now and again.
If you haven’t heard of /r/wicked_edge it’s a great resource where men share their thoughts on traditional (i.e. wet) shaving.
A word of caution: The fan base there is incredibly passionate about their shaving ritual. So, don’t be surprised if it might seem a little intimidating and overwhelming at first!
But back to the original question:
Is there ever a time when its ok to shave against the grain, or should it ALWAYS be with the grain?
Answer: YES (with a caveat)!
The only razor blade that should ever go against the grain on your face would be with be with a double edge safety razor or a straight edge razor.
Both of these razors feature a single blade that works to remove the hair (unlike a cartridge razor that has multiple blades).
When using a safety razor, you will learn that in order to get that desired ‘baby butt smooth’ shave, you will need to make the following passes:
- With The Grain (WTG)
- Across The Grain (XTG)
- Against The Grain (ATG)
The order here is critical.
If you just jump straight to step 3, you are likely to experience a pretty rough shave that will leave you quickly reaching for the aftershave balm in order to ease the pain.
Given that these shaving systems (safety and straight razors) have just a single blade, passing it along your face three times (and lathering three times) won’t cause much irritation if your technique is on point.
But chances are highly likely that you don’t use one of the above shaving systems, instead you are likely using a cartridge (think Gillette or Schick high end models) or disposable razor (think Bic or other throwaway razors).
These shave systems employ what’s called ‘lift-and-cut’ technology.
With the multiple razor blades found on the heads of these popular razors, they work in tandem with one another to get the job done.
Take for instance a 5-blade razor, you will likely see the following cutting motion in play when you go to make a pass:
- Blade 1 – Cut
- Blade 2 – Lift
- Blade 3 – Cut
- Blade 4 – Lift
- Blade 5 – Cut
This works wonders for efficiency.
Instead of having to lather up several times like you would with a safety or straight razor, you can simply lather once and get an incredibly close shave in a fraction of the time.
But here’s the deal:
Some men LOVE to get a smooth shave, and if they only have a cartridge razor at the ready, they will attempt to go against the grain in order to achieve a smoother finish.
Here’s why this isn’t advised:
This lift-and-cut technique when going against the grain will cause the hairs to be cut much deeper beneath the surface of your skin.
Therefore, if you have thick or coarse hair (or even thinner hair follicles), there is an increased likelihood that the hair follicle will curl back into your skin when it begins to regrow.
If the hair starts to curl into your skin, it will cause a painful and unsightly razor bump.
Now if a razor bump doesn’t occur, you are still likely going to suffer some degree of razor burn that could have simply been avoided by just simply shaving with the grain.
To summarize the above section, these are the rules you need to know:
- Safety razors and straight razors are safe to go against the grain ONLY after you have already made passes with the grain and across the grain.
- Cartridge or disposable razors (anything with more than one blade) should NEVER go against the grain as it can cause adverse effects.
‘Shaving With The Grain Does Not Work’
If you are one of the few men who have spent countless hours carefully mapping your beard growth and taking slow strokes with your razor only to be cursing yourself afterwards as you sit in discomfort, here’s what we have to say to you:
There are very REAL options out there that may get your shave a bit more comfortable.
First things first, the razor itself.
While you might be lured by a cartridge razor that has 5, 6, or 7 blades (yes they do make a cartridge razor with 7 blades, and yes, I was just as surprised too!), if you are experiencing discomfort after you shave you might want to take a minute or two to consider an alternative shaving system.
Now as pricey or highly-regarded the tool may be that you decide to use, if shaving against the grain is STILL failing you then you will want to consider how often you are changing your razor blades.
In regards to safety razors, these are the ‘buy it for life’ option on the market that do an incredibly good job at getting a close shave at an affordable price.
What makes them so great?
This allows you to change your blade regularly in order to get a close shave with the grain…
Shaving systems aside, here are two other solutions in order to get a closer shave when going with the grain:
Shaving oil & shave cream.
Shaving oil, typically based on natural ingredients like castor oil, will help to complement the natural oil your skin produces.
This helps to make the hair softer so the razor blade will get a cleaner and closer cut than what you otherwise would expect.
The same goes for a quality shave cream.
If you are still using a canned cream, you need to stop…now.
Canned creams dry out your skin incessantly and do a really poor job of making the razor ‘sing’ so to speak.
Last but not least, proper shave prep.
ALWAYS take a shower before shaving. The hot water will make your hair follicles softer in order to lessen the amount of work required for the razor blade to do its job.
If you are in a pinch for time, then apply a hot damp towel to your face for several minutes instead. It will help to achieve nearly identical results in a fraction of the time.
Does Shaving With The Grain Promote Hair Growth?
I roll my eyes every time I see this, but still always address it as this question comes up all too frequently by both men AND women!
If you shave your face, chest, pubes, or anything on your body, there is this notion out there that the hair will grow back both fuller and thicker.
Here’s the honest truth:
Your hair WILL NOT grow back thicker or fuller.
Shaving with the grain WILL NOT promote hair growth.
As a bald man, I WISH every time I shaved my head the hair would grow back. But alas, this has yet to occur and I suspect that this won’t change any time soon!
So why do people think this?
When you shave your hair and a day or two passes, it will appear thicker and fuller.
This is because you are looking at the widest point of the hair follicle.
Hair grows in a tapered manner with the base being the thickest part of the hair.
So, when you just shaved and a few days have passed, you are simply seeing a cross section of the hair at its thickest point.
But after a few weeks the hair will look just as it were before you shaved it completely off.
There is another catch to this myth…
Most men will begin to shave when they are going through puberty. Giving the increased beard growth, it will seem like every time you shave new hair will be sprouting up.
However, it’s just purely coincidental that shaving with the grain causes hair growth. For the statisticians out there, this is simply a result of ‘correlation does not imply causation’.
Shaving Against The Grain For Thicker Beards
For men who have incredibly thick hair follicles, you want to tread very lightly when it comes to going against the grain.
The only instance we would ever recommend is that you a safety razor or straight razor and go in the following steps we outlined in the above section.
To ensure that you don’t suffer from an uptick in ingrown hairs since you are likely much more susceptible to them, you should only make one pass with the grain and one pass across the grain at first.
Do this a few times and see if you begin to develop any ingrown hairs.
If you are in the clear, then you are safe to proceed against the grain for a closer shave.
Shave With Or Against The Grain For Other Body Hair (Pubes, Chest, Head, Etc.)?
The same rules that apply for your face will apply to the rest of your body.
Therefore, if you plan on taking a cartridge razor (NEVER a safety razor) to your pubes or chest, take a minute to look at the hair growth patterns.
While most men’s body hair and pubic hair grows in a downward manner, you will want to still map the hair growth patterns beforehand.
If you are shaving your body for the very first time, we would recommend that you do much of the ‘de-foresting’ with a pair of hair clippers or a body groomer.
This will help to ensure that the razor head doesn’t get clogged so you don’t have to rinse incessantly after every inch or two of shaving.
Oh, and be sure to apply ample shaving cream.
Seriously, you can’t be liberal enough with this stuff as it will help to reduce any itchy feeling long after you are done shaving (to ensure no itch on your body post shave, use either a moisturizer or aftershave balm).
What We Learned About Shaving With The Grain
Shaving properly can make a huge improvement in overall comfort.
So long as you have a sharp razor blade that is changed out regularly along with a proper shave cream, you will always want to shave with the grain every time.
But never underestimate the importance of mapping your hair growth to ensure you aren’t mistakenly going across the grain or against the grain on the initial pass.