The Great Shave Debate: Why Shaving Against the Grain Isn’t Always Best

Shaving is a daily ritual for many men, yet most are woefully unaware of the direction they should be shaving in order to achieve a smooth, safe, and healthy shave.

For a comfortable shave, you want to avoid shaving against the grain as much as possible, as this can cause razor burn, ingrown hairs, folliculitis, and even infections. Shaving with the grain, or in the direction your hair naturally grows, reduces the risk of these painful and unsightly issues. This technique minimizes skin irritation by allowing the razor to glide more smoothly over the skin.

But Why is it Potentially Bad?

Shaving against the grain can lead to a host of problems, primarily due to the additional pressure it places on the hair follicles and skin. When you shave against the grain, you’re forcing the razor to lift the hairs before cutting them, which can result in the hair being cut below the skin level.

This often causes the hair to curl back into the skin as it grows, leading to painful ingrown hairs.

Ingrown hairs, in turn, can become inflamed and form unsightly red bumps, contributing to an uneven skin texture and breakouts that might require additional treatment. Beyond just the aesthetic issues, these ingrown hairs can lead to more serious infections if left untreated, potentially causing long-term skin damage.

Moreover, the friction from shaving against the grain can exacerbate skin sensitivity, leading to further discomfort and prolonged redness. For those with sensitive skin or conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, this additional irritation can make shaving a particularly unpleasant chore. The micro-abrasions caused by the razor tugging against the grain can also open the door to bacterial infections, making proper post-shave care crucial.

Why Razor Choice is Important Should You Decide to Shave Against the Grain

While companies like Gillette and Wilkinson Sword put together tutorials on how to shave safely against the grain, it’s critical to understand that not all razors are created equal.

If you do choose to venture against the grain, personally, I recommend sticking with a single-edge razor or a safety razor. These types of razors do not experience hysteresis phenomenon like multi-blade razors do, meaning they do not tug and pull (also known as lift-and-cut) at the hairs before cutting them. Therefore, even when pulled against the grain, the hair is never truly cut beneath the skin level, thus reducing the likelihood of ingrown hairs.

In addition, employing a sharp, well-maintained blade ensures a cleaner cut with less discomfort and minimizes the chances of causing nicks and razor burn. It’s paramount to replace blades frequently to maintain their sharpness and effectiveness.

Why Any Online Advice (Including this Article) Should Only Serve as a Rough Outline

Truth be told, we could talk about the theories and techniques all day, but personal experience trumps all.

Each individual’s skin and hair type is unique, and what works for one person might not work for another. It’s essential to experiment and observe how your skin responds to different shaving methods and tools.

Start by shaving with the grain, and if you find that it doesn’t provide the closeness you desire, try shaving across the grain as a middle ground before deciding to go against the grain for a closer shave. Pay close attention to your skin’s reaction during and after shaving, and make adjustments based on your observations.

Lastly, correctly mapping your grain is crucial to all of this, as an ill-mapped shave can lead to poor decisions on what areas are truly going with or against the grain. Take the time to feel the direction of hair growth in different areas of your face and neck.

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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