When Should You Start Shaving? A Newbies Guide
I get it guys, we can all agree that shaving, while fun at first, will quickly become a tiring process.
There is no more traditional rite of passage as a man than lathering up your first shaving cream and taking hold of a brand new razor blade and cutting those whiskers clean off for the very first time.
To help you out on this exciting journey, Tools of Men wanted to put together a handbook of sorts, that will help guide you along the way on shaving, the tools to consider, and some general guidelines on technique.
By the end of this guide, you should be set straight on the options that exist in the marketplace, along with some great information that you can take with you the rest of your life.
Does This Sound A Bit Familiar To You?
When it comes to shaving, men may start at differing ages in their life.
Once puberty kicks in and the testosterone levels start to go on the rise, some men may start shaving as early as 14 and as late as 20.
However, when it comes to the actual facial hair that you start sprouting it can either be patchy at first or complete coverage (or even somewhere in between) – it really depends on the genetic lottery of your genes.
But here’s the deal:
Did you ever hear the expression there’s more than one way to skin a cat?
Well when it comes to shaving, this is especially true.
What Tool Should You Use For Your First Shave?
The entire shave industry is a $13 billion dollar market (source).
Needless to say, there are a ton of options out there.
From subscription services like Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s that offer affordable razors for only a few bucks a month all the way to age old techniques entailing a double edge safety razor – which is the type of razor that many of your grandfathers or great grandfathers used in the early 1900s – the options are almost limitless.
To help sort you through all the options out there, we here at Tools of Men are sort of experts on shaving as we have written about it quite extensively.
So, here’s the deal…
When it comes to shaving, here are your options that exist (sorted loosely in popularity):
These are by and far one of the most popular options out there for men. With their multi-blade design and their ‘lift-and-cut’ technology, you can get a pretty close shave with this razor in only a pass or two.
Unfortunately, the main sticking point to this option is two-fold. First and foremost, cartridge razors can be pretty costly to own on the long term. Their ejectable heads can be replaced on a weekly or even monthly basis, but will cost about ~$4 a head.
Secondly, the ‘lift-and-cut’ technique, while great for getting a close shave, can actually cause severe irritation for men especially around the neck area. This can make for a miserable post-shave experience that will leave you nagging with pain for several hours in the morning. Also, in some cases, men may experience razor bumps as the hair is cut just below the surface of the skin and may grow back into the skin after a few days.
But with their cost and susceptibility to irritation, there is no denying their ability to shave close to the surface and causing little to no nicks on your skin.
Which brings me to my last point:
While their cost can run a bit higher, the cartridge razors are undoubtedly one of the best tools to learn how to shave with.
Understanding the proper steps to a perfect shave routine will help to set you up for success for years down the road.
If the whole applying shaving cream to your face doesn’t sound too appealing to you (although some electric shavers can work with a shaving cream), then electric shavers make for a pretty fair substitute.
While they may sting the wallet at first, as the sticker price for a quality electric shaver may reach as high as a few hundred dollars, their long-term costs are surprisingly cheap as blades are usually less than $50 and will only need to be replaced once every few years.
Coming in either rotary or foil variants, its largely a man’s preference on which electric shaver to go with.
A rotary head (usually found in Philips Norelco products), will cut in more of a weed-wacker type fashion as the razor blade is being moved in a circular motion.
This is perfect for the contours of your face and getting around close areas (i.e. nose, upper lip).
Opposite of rotary heads you will have a foil head.
Foil heads (usually found in Braun or Panasonic brands), will do a tremendous job at cutting your hair incredibly close to the skin.
So, if you are a man that is looking to never really sport a beard (or even slight stubble look), a foil head razor will be the better of two choices.
How does it get so close?
Unlike a weed-wacker design of the rotary head, foil heads cut in an oscillating manner where the blade moves from left-to-right.
While not cutting hair below the skin like a cartridge razor, razor bumps or skin irritation usually isn’t a large concern for most men who use this type of electric shaver.
One caveat to the foil based electric shaver is that it just simply doesn’t compete nearly as well as rotary heads at getting around the contours and hard to reach places of your face (i.e. under and around your nose) – although companies have made stride correcting this downfall in recent years with more adjustable heads on the units themselves.
Generally speaking, men who are just learning how to shave and don’t want to worry about shaving cream, changing blades regularly, or any of the hassle of dealing with razor blades, electric shavers do make for a good alternative if you are looking for consistent results day-after-day.
Double Edge Safety Razors
If you browse Reddit regularly, you might see the traditional shaving subreddit, /r/wicked_edge, pop up on /r/all every now and again.
These men in this community often clamor (almost to the point of annoyance), at just how great traditional shaving is and why every man needs to be doing it NOW.
But there’s a catch:
Traditional shaving with a double edge safety razor or straight razor may look incredibly sexy from the onset with their brilliant chrome or stainless steel handles, these tools do come with a learning curve, and for some, a very steep one at that.
You see, as much flak as the big brands that make cartridge razors may get, they are still pretty damn good at delivering a close shave with hardly any cuts to the surface of your skin.
The reason why they are so great at getting a good close cut is due to how the blade is constructed.
The optimal cutting angle that the blade should be meeting your face is around the 30-degree mark.
It’s at this angle that the razor blade can both get a clean cut on your whisker while not cutting your skin to bits.
Unfortunately, too shallow or too aggressive of an angle will lead to severe discomfort and likely cuts to your face.
So where are we going with this?
Well those cartridge razors, whether its 3 or 6 blades, have been already preset to the optimal cutting angle. Therefore, if you are just learning how to shave for the very first time, then you don’t have to worry about the blade angle at all.
With double edge safety razors on the other hand, it’s just a single blade that requires the user to find this cutting angle yourself.
Therefore, when it comes to shaving with these razors, there is a lot of trial and error before you find the best way to shave your face for the optimal (and comfortable) experience.
Beyond the actual use of a double edge safety razor, there is one critical advantage, and usually the reason why there is so much fanfare in the traditional wet shaving community, and that has to do with their cost.
Well, some of the best safety razor blades on the market will only set you back a few cents per blade.
Yes, you read that right!
When compared to their cartridge counterpart, they are incredibly affordable – especially if you are looking for long term savings.
Another factor to consider with double edge safety razors is that they provide considerable amount of control when compared to all other alternatives on the market.
As you can determine how many times the single blade touches your skin.
If you regularly experience post-shave skin irritation, razor bumps, or even ingrown hairs, the control that you have when using a double edge safety razor is unparalleled and should be able to mitigate any of these annoyances that you may experience with razors.
So, where does this leave us with double edge safety razor?
Well, to be completely honest, this is a great long term solution.
However, we wouldn’t recommend them for men just learning to shave for the very first time.
We will explain why in just a minute…but first let’s cover the disposable razor:
While these razors look very similar to cartridge razors, there are a few subtle differences.
These aren’t meant for long term use. The razor head is fixed to the handle, leading you to throw out the entire razor after a few short shaves as the blades will begin to dull rather quickly.
From our experience, disposable razors do tend to be a bit more on the rougher side.
Therefore, when just learning to shave, it’s probably best that you don’t start with this razor as it will likely lead to both irritation and frustration.
So, who uses these types of razors?
While it would be hard to narrow it down to any one demographic, their throwaway nature is perfect for those who may be on the road frequently and want to have access to a razor blade when it a pinch.
Plus they are TSA safe to take on a plane with you.
Unless you are living in the early 1900s and want to accidentally slice off your nose, straight razors are simply not a good tool for those learning to shave the first time.
These razors, while classic, have the steepest learning curve of all the razors and require a lot of skill in both technique and a deep understanding of the entire shave process.
Best to skip this one until you are retired and are looking for something to new to do in the morning.
Pre Shave Oils, Shave Creams, Shave Soaps, Shave Brushes, and Aftershave Balms Oh My!
The wide world of shaving can get confusing at first when it comes to all the different products that claim they will enhance your morning shave for a more pleasurable experience.
If it’s your first shave ever, we wouldn’t recommend going overboard and buying up all the shaving products that you see on the market.
Instead, we would highly recommend that you gently ease your way into the process of shaving.
When it comes to shaving, the two most important products are going to be the razor (duh), and shave cream.
For the shave cream itself, since its your first time, we would recommend picking up one that we recently reviewed that does NOT require a shave brush.
These latherless shave creams will do the job of creating a rich lubricated layer on the surface of your skin that will make it easier for the blade to glide and get a clean cut on your whiskers.
The absence of a shave brush will make the process easier for newcomers and simply one where you can concentrate on shaving and not the preceding steps.
While we don’t recommend these products for first timers (with perhaps the exception being aftershave balm), here is at the very least, a brief primer on some popular products and what they do:
Pre Shave Oils
Pre shave oils help to soften up your whiskers prior to the application of the shave cream on your face.
These oils are typically constructed from castor seed oil and will be an extra lubricated layer that will increase shave comfort.
Pre shave oils do tend to be hit-and-miss for some men and are generally favored by those who use more traditional shaving tools like the double edge safety razor or straight razor.
If you are using a cartridge razor, pre shave oil will likely be unnecessary for your shaving regimen.
Traditional Shaving Creams and Soaps
Shaving creams come in many different shapes and sizes. Chances are that you will be familiar with the canned variants that are widely available at your local grocery store or supercenter.
While convenient, canned shave creams just simply aren’t as good as their artesian counterparts.
Canned creams often contain preservatives and other harsh ingredients (i.e. alcohol) that will dry out your skin leading to a more miserable post-shave experience.
As we highlighted earlier, we would recommend checking out a higher quality shave cream that will lead to a much more comfortable experience.
But when selecting a shave cream or soap you must be careful.
Many of the high-end shave creams and soaps will require a shave brush. This means that you will have to whip up a lather manually before its applied to your face – which will not only be a laborious process, but one that is a bit of an overkill for a first timer.
So, what do you need to look out for?
In large part, we would recommend staying away from shave creams that come in a tub form.
Products like the award winning Taylor of Old Bond Street or Art of Shaving Sandalwood shave cream, while great, will require a shave brush for use.
Generally speaking, we would recommend avoid shave soaps as they all require that you own a shave brush.
As we mentioned earlier, in our review of the best shaving creams on the market, we do highlight some brands that don’t require ownership of a shave brush and are a bit friendlier to newcomers.
While shave brushes may have received a lot of flak above, it’s not to say that they are bad in any way, shape, or form.
Just the opposite actually!
In fact, shave brushes can be a great way to help to gently exfoliate your skin by knocking dirt and oils out of your pores while allowing your whiskers to stand up for a cleaner cut of the blade.
Shave brushes themselves do come in a variety of price points depending on the fiber grade that is used in the construction.
If you are looking for a more traditional shaving experience and a richer shaving cream lather, shave brushes make a great pairing with those men who opt to use a double edge safety razor.
If there was one accessory on this list that would probably make sense for a first-timer, it would be the inclusion of aftershave balm.
Aftershave balms are terrific at providing post-shave relief as they contain soothing properties that will help to flush out any bacteria that may be lurking in your pores.
However, it’s absolutely critical that you understand the difference between aftershave balms, splashes, and lotions.
Balms will typically contain natural ingredients that will complement your skin. In addition, it will likely contain a skin toner, like witch hazel, that will close your pores (i.e. astringent) and help you to have a more even skin tone complexion.
Splashes and lotions on the other hand, often contain alcohol. While alcohol is incredibly effective at removing bacteria, unfortunately it will also severely dry out your skin. This means that you will have an ashy face for the remainder of the day which can be off-putting for some.
Lastly, if you nicked yourself even in the slightest, the smallest application of an aftershave splash or lotion will sting due to the alcohol included in the product.
Are You Shaving At The Right Time?
When it comes to shaving, it’s important that your skin and hair follicles are prepped properly.
One of the best ways to prep your skin is to take a hot shower before shaving.
The reason for this isn’t simply because it feels great and the skin is clean (although that is key), but rather, the hot water will do an effective job at both opening the pores on your skin along with swelling the hair follicles.
Open pores and swollen soft hair follicles will ensure that the razor blade will get a clean cut on the shaft with little to pulling or tugging (i.e. reduces irritation).
If you simply don’t have time for a shower, you can employ the barbershop technique and apply a wet hot towel to your face for several minutes to achieve similar results.
Easy Does It: What’s Your Shave Technique?
Technique is key to comfort.
The best shaving cream in the world won’t save your face if your technique is poor.
Therefore, before a blade ever touches your skin, you will need to make sure that you examine the growth pattern of your hair follicles.
When making the initial pass with the razor blade, it’s important to always go with the grain.
This will ensure that the hair gets cut down to nearly skin level.
What may work for your dad, brother, or favorite YouTuber may not exactly work for you as hair growth patterns can vary wildly from one man to the next.
So, just take a minute and examine before you start shaving.
Ready To Go Do This Thing?
As you can see, the wide world of shaving can be pretty big and intimidating from the onset.
With all the different tools you can use on your face along with a vast array of supporting shaving products, it’s no wonder that the multi-billion dollar industry has so many men scratching their heads trying to make sense of one product compared to another.
While this may not deliver the absolute best (nor cheapest) shaving experience, it will be the best to learn from.