Guys don’t have it easy when it comes to the noble moustache. A proper ‘stache is basically impossible in high school, and the grown-up working world demands us to be clean shaven and proper. But the moustache has not died, nor have the principles of how to shave the “right” way. Yes, those Mach 3 cartridge razors are fine, but there are a lot of other things any man worth his salt should know.
Greatist took the guesswork out of a perfect shave with the total guide to shaving health for men, whether they’re looking to stay clean cut or rocking full beards or moustaches for Movember.
A Very (Very) Brief History of the Moustache
The purpose and public perception of facial hair has changed drastically since its Palaeolithic beginnings to its modern (often hipster) iterations. Facial hair of any kind began as a natural defense against the elements. Back then, shaving was only possible with stone implements: Not a very close shave, or a safe one, for that matter. Even by 2650 B.C., facial hair was a point of pride, worn either as a sign of masculinity, religious belief, or status. Artifacts from Egypt show men wearing a pencil-line moustache, the Gauls also wore moustaches even though the Romans thought the style was barbaric. In fact, facial hair was a mainstay for troops in the military across civilizations. The ability to shave was often seen as a sign of status or rank since blades were comparably expensive and difficult to maintain.
As shaving technology became cheaper to make and easier to use, more men started shaving regularly and beards gathered an undue stigma. Businessmen were generally expected to be clean shaven in the 90s, but the ‘stache is making a comeback thanks to a modern love for all things nostalgia and hand-made.
Moustaches aren’t just respectable, they’re ubiquitous, especially for younger generations trying to rekindle some old-timey flare or support a good cause like Movember. So how do you shave properly or, better yet, maintain that handsome ‘stache or beard? We talked to Michael Curcio of the New York Shaving Company and Master Barber Justin Virgil of Kiehl’s Spa 1851 for the complete need-to-know.
What to Buy
Razors — Cartridge, Straight, Safety, or Electric?
Says Curcio: “Electric razors use a tug-and-cut technology, which is not that good for you. Cartridges have a lot of friction and can cause razor rash. Straight razors and safety razors use clean cuts, which are better for you. I always recommend a safety razor, it’s a healthier way of shaving. A lot of it is personal preference, you can take tips and recommendations but you have to see what’s right for you.”
Says Virgil: “I recommend a store-bought cartridge razor. The key to blades, regardless of what kind, is that you’re using a sharp blade and you’re replacing it as much as necessary. A lot of shaving irritation is caused by dull blades. That’s like square one for a health shave.
“The safety razor is a nice middle ground, but it does require a more deliberate shave. It’s more dangerous than the cartridge but much less dangerous than the straight. Those blades are relatively cheap so you can use a fresh blade every day.”
Cartridge wins out for ease of use, though both experts suggest safety razors for a healthier and cleaner shave. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and comfort, though electric razors are off the table.
Shaving Creams, Brushes, and Moustache Wax
Says Curcio: “You want all natural ingredients [in your shave cream], no numbing agents or menthol. A lot of people are wary of a shaving brush. I say, try it once and most likely you won’t go back. It feels better, it helps extend the life of a shaving cream, you use less cream with a brush and if you want to get into the nice, wonderful world of shaving soaps, you need a brush.
“For moustache wax, I’d recommend Firehouse moustache wax. There’s no weird smell, it’s all natural, and it actually holds up even in humidity.”
Says Virgil: “Brushes don’t work with anything post WWII, you know, any of the modern stuff. It does give a rich lather, massages the skin, stands up the hair, and increases blood flow. Is it necessary? No. Is it a nice luxury? Absolutely. It looks nice and it’s a fun way to ‘church up’ your bathroom a bit.”
Shaving creams with all natural ingredients are the way to go. Numbing agents such as menthol reduce skin sensitivity, which can be a plus or a minus, depending on the guy. Shaving cream brushes are fun, and do provide some benefits, but aren’t necessary for a healthy shave.
How to Shave
Regardless of what razor you use or which direction you like to start shaving, there are some basic and all-important ground rules for the ultimate, clean shave. [Note: While there are other steps like pre-shave tonics and after shave which can be included, the below is for the health-conscious moustachio with limited supplies.]
- Open Up the Pores: With a warm shower or with a hot towel around the face. Heat helps soften the hair and increase blood flow, allowing the hairs to stand out even more.
- Analyze Hair Direction: Yeah, really. No one’s facial hair grows in exactly the same direction. In general, most facial hair will grow downwards, with some on the neck hair growing upwards. Always shave in the same direction of the hair.
- Shaving Cream: Apply an even layer across the areas to be shaved. Amount will vary if using a brush, foam, gel, or soap, as well as personal preference.
- Razor Rules: Best practice changes depending on the type of razor. It’s always helpful to have a fresh blade and disinfectant to make sure the razor is clean. For cartridges, shave with the grain, rinsing often. For straight razors and safety razors, shave once with the grain, rinse, and then once against the grain (depending on how close/brave you are). Curcio recommends a 30 to 35 degree angle; the shallower the angle, the closer the shave and also the higher risk of nicks.
- Rinse It Off: Rinse with lukewarm water at first to clean the face, and then splash with ice cold water to close up the pores. This will help prevent razor bumps and promote even hair growth.
But wait, you have a beard and you’re not shaving it any time soon? Kudos good sir, we have some tips for you as well:
- Clean With Lyme Oil: Curcio recommends rinsing and washing beards with lyme oil. Beard hair is slightly different from the hair on our heads and gentle citrus oils, like lyme, help scrub out the grime and grease.
- Rehydrate With Jojoba Oil: Don’t drink this, rub some into your facial hair. Washing with lyme oil will dry out the hair, jojoba oil (liquid wax from a jojoba plant) will bring the moisture back, Curcio says.
- Brushing Basics: “Get a good stiff boar bristle brush,” Curcio says. “The brushing actually helps keep all the hair in line. A lot of guys complain when they’re starting to grow a beard that it’s itchy because it’s growing out and curling back in. Comb it downwards and it will sweep away the dead hairs and it won’t itch.”
- Scrub the Skin: There’s still skin under that beard and it needs some love too. Virgil recommends using a facial scrubber and moisturize one to three times a week to exfoliate the skin.
- Conditioner Hack: Beard hair is different from the hair on our head, but it’s still hair. Apply conditioner to your beard any time you condition your hair. It will soften it and make it more obedient, Virgil says. Rinse out like you would your hair.
Important Rules to Shave By
You know how to shave and how to keep it, but how do can you grow some better facial hair or learn how to use a straight razor? Pick through this potpourri for the last tips you’ll ever need for shaving health.
- Against the Grain: Limit how often you shave against the grain, says Curcio. Doing so will actually take off thin layers of living skin and deteriorate the skin over time.
- Straight Skills: Switching to a straight or safety razor can be daunting. For the first month or two, take your time and get your angles down (both the angles against the face and the angle of the blade), Curcio says. The learning curve about two weeks, or 10 to 15 full shaves. The New York Shaving Company offers classes, though most barbers can lend a hand. YouTube is also populated with tons of How To videos, just mimic with caution since most are not certified barbers.
- Grow Fuller Facial Hair: There’s no quick fix to jump start our genetics, but one way to encourage darker, fuller facial hair is… to shave. Shaving will help the hair come in thicker and courser.
- First Time Grower: Don’t know what kind of facial hair is right for you? Curcio recommends letting it grow for six months (longer if possible) and then see what feels right as you shave. Alternatively, talk to your barber and let him or her help you pick out your best, bearded face.
- Shower Stall: Do not shave while in the shower, says Virgil. Doing so can actually leave the skin too soft and do more damage than good by removing layers of living skin. Wait to shave until out of the shower to let the skin calm while also saving buckets of water.
- Getting Information: The Internet is full of resources but one of the best ones is a real-live barber, says Virgil: “The one thing I say to guys is that a straight razor shave is a great treat for a guy that they won’t have to apologize for. No one’s ever going to give you a hard time for that.” Take that time to ask the barber questions and simply take notes on how they do it.
There’s no better month than November to up our shaving game. Movember not only provides a good excuse to get a moustache but also to connect with potential first timers and vets alike. The beard and moustache community — for all those stereotypes of “being a man” — is warm and welcoming and even a little bit silly. “I think every guy is a little bit reluctant or a little bit embarrassed to try new things because they don’t want anyone to think they spent 20 minutes in front of the mirror,” Virgil says. “Movember is great because it gives you a free pass. If your buddies are giving you a hard time you can say, ‘It’s Movember, get off my ass.'”
Are you (or someone you know) growing a moustache for Movember? Why does shaving health have a stigma around it? Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet the author at @zsniderman.