Shaving Against The Grain?  Here’s Why You Need To Stop

If you are experiencing razor bumps or severe irritation after shaving, it might not actually be your razors fault – it could have to do with the technique that you are employing.

Don’t worry, I was in the same boat for several years.

Back in the day when I was first learning how to shave from my old man, I was mimicking his every move – for better or worse.

What I learned several years later was that this was all completely wrong.

Through no fault to anyone but myself, I was just doing the wrong technique for ME and my facial hair growth patterns.

Now it’s my duty to get the word out to as many men and first time shavers alike as possible  – which I will talk in detail in just a minute.

But first we need to talk about ‘the grain’.

What Is The Grain?

Sure, you may hear terms like shaving with the grain or against the grain, and in some instances, you actually go across the grain, but what does it all really mean?

‘The grain’ so to speak is the natural direction that your hair grows in.

When looking at your face closely, you will notice that all your hair grows in several different directions.

Your cheek hair may be downwards, neck hair to the sides, and chin hair upwards – point is that your facial hair is unique you.

When shaving, no matter the tool, you always want to make sure that you go with the grain.

That means if your cheek hair on your face grows in a downward direction, then when passing the razor blade over your skin, you will want to follow that downward direction.

Even if you decide to shave your chest or crotch, this same rule applies everywhere.

Before we go into the details on why shaving with the grain is so important, its first imperative that you understand what your razor blade does when it meets the surface of your skin.

Cartridge Razors Are Pretty Advanced Little Tools

Now, sure the purists out there of traditional wet shaving will roll their eyes when they see cartridge razors mentioned, but there is no doubt that cartridge razors are indeed great and effective tools at what they do.

How so?

Many of the best cartridge razors have multiple blades that work in tandem with one another.

As the head of the cartridge razor passes along the surface of your skin, it is employing what is dubbed the ‘lift-and-cut’ technique.

This technique is where one razor blade works to lift up your hair follicle, while the next razor blade immediately behind it will be responsible for cutting your hair follicle.

As the hair follicle passes under multiple blades, it gets lifted higher and cut lower.

When you shave against the grain, the tip of the hair follicle goes deeper beneath the surface of your skin when the lift and cut technique is employed.

Of course this will be perfect for those who want that often desired ‘baby butt smooth’ skin for their face, however cutting the hair beneath the surface of your skin lurks pending discomfort in the form of shaving pimples and razor bumps.

When you cut the hair follicle just below the surface of the skin, if your hair doesn’t grow perfectly out of the pore it may cause a razor bump.

Razor bumps occur when the tip of the hair follicle grows back into the surface of your skin.  While the hair grows in this state, a small bump will appear on the surface of your skin as it will become irritated and likely red.

Razor bumps in general can be a pretty painful experience for some men.

Now if you don’t get a razor bump, the other possible aliment that you may experience will be shaving pimples.

While we talk thoroughly about shaving pimples in this recent article, here is a few of the key highlights.

When your hair is deep beneath the surface of the skin, bacteria along with your natural sebum oil will start to fill up the pore.

This combination of bacteria and sebum oil may clog your pore which subsequently causes shaving pimples.

Again, this is caused by the hair getting cut too low beneath the surface of your skin.

The Double Edge Safety Razor Resurgence

There is no doubt that men have taken a regained interest in the double edge safety razor.

Given its incredibly slick design along with the low long term costs of ownership, you simply can’t go wrong with this grooming tool.

When shaving with a double edge safety razor, you get unparalleled control that just simply can’t be realized in an electric shaver, disposable razor, or cartridge razor.  The only other tool that comes close is the classic straight razor – as we thoroughly compared the two tools in this recent article.

Why is the double edge safety razor favored by so many men that experience general skin irritation or razor bumps?

Given that it’s only a single blade that goes across your skin with each pass, there is no ‘lift-and-cut’ technology in play.

This means that you can easily cut your hair down to the skin level when using this tool.

To achieve even a close shave, you would want to shave in the following manner:

  • With the grain
  • Across the grain (optional)
  • Against the grain (optional)

As you can see above, the last two steps are optional dependent on the man.  Therefore, if you want a desired level of smoothness, you can incorporate two or three into your shaving routine.

As mentioned above, with no ‘lift-and-cut’ technology in the safety razor, the hair shouldn’t sink too low below the surface even if you do go against the grain.

However, being that safety razors allow this flexibility, every man’s skin will react differently if you do try shaving across or against the grain to increase smoothness.

The Proper Shave Technique Is NOT Universal

Here’s the deal:

When you learned to shave, whether you are winging it on your own, taking notes from your old man, or even following your favorite YouTuber, the steps that they do are not likely the exact same for you – especially when it comes to your neck area.

How so?

Before you ever touch a blade to your face, its imperative that you study the growth pattern of your facial hair.

Now for the most part the hair on your cheeks will grow in a downward direction – therefore when making a pass with any razor blade, you want to follow suit (i.e. shaving in a downward direction).

But when inspecting your neck area, it’s safe to say that no two men are alike in this regard.

With the diagram mapped out, you can easily see which way you will need to shave your hair accordingly.

Once fully mapped out, whether you use a cartridge razor or double edge safety razor, you can always make sure that you are cutting with the grain.

Remedy Post Shave Blues With An Aftershave Balm

Here at Tools of Men we are big believers in the adequate use of an aftershave balm.

Unlike your traditional splash or lotion that you can pick up at the corner drug store, aftershave balm is usually a bit harder to find and is often prevalent at many online retailers like Amazon.

But beyond access, at the very core of the different types of aftershaves rests some stark differences.

First and foremost, aftershave splashes and lotions are full of filler ingredients as the tend to be a bit on the cheaper side of products.

One of the most notable ingredients found in splashes and lotions is the use of alcohol.

While alcohol is incredibly effective at being an antiseptic and fully flushing out your pores to reduce the occurrence of shaving pimples, alcohol also will dry out your skin.

This means that any post shave relief is not found in a traditional aftershave splash or lotion.

Therefore, if you use an aftershave splash especially during the winter months, your skin is likely to be dried out shortly after application.

Not to mention, we didn’t even talk about the stinging sensation that you will experience if you have the tiniest of nicks after shaving against the grain!

So, what’s the answer?

If you take all the bad things about aftershave splashes and lotions (i.e. cheap ingredients, dryness, stinging) and made a completely opposite product – that product would be aftershave balm.

Instead of relying on alcohol to get the job done, aftershave balms are typically stocked full of natural ingredients that will help to complement the overall shaving experience.

First and foremost, aftershave balms will typically rely on a carrier oil which will naturally compliment the sebum oil found within the skin on your face.

This will ensure that your face remains incredibly smooth, and more importantly, well-nourished and hydrated post-shave.

This means that you won’t be experiencing any sort of ashy cheeks shortly after application.

Now you might be wondering how it actually cleans out your pores – and for that aftershave balms typically rely on essential oils and witch hazel.

These products are also all natural and can be effective at getting the job done.

Essential oils like tea tree or sandalwood are natural antiseptics that will help to mitigate the bacteria growth in your pores.

Furthermore, witch hazel is also a natural astringent.

This means that when witch hazel is applied to your skin, it will help to constrict your pores immediately to prevent any seepage of bacteria to cause any post shave skin-irritation.

Check out our review of the best aftershave balms.

What Did We Learn About Shaving?

By and far the most paramount aspect of shaving is to make sure that you always go with the grain on the initial pass.

Depending on the tool that you are using can have a huge impact on the overall comfort of your shave.

Generally speaking, if you find that you are doing all the techniques right when it comes to shaving with a cartridge razor yet are still experiencing irritation, we would recommend for you to check out a double edge safety razor.

Their incredibly affordable price tag, and even lower long term costs make for them to be a great investment for men of all ages and experience levels.

In addition, the control that you have on the amount of passes the razor touches your skin should also allow you to hone in on the exact technique and method to achieve the highest level of comfort.

Just don’t forget that an aftershave balm can help provide an extra layer of comfort if all other aspects of your shave routine are on point.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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