800 words 4 minutes
Shaving cream applied to beard

An alpha shave can be an elusive beast but with a good prep you'll be able to pull baby-butt smooth shaves time after time.

Take the extra few moments to kick back, relax and treat yourself right before you shave.

Why prep is important


When we shave, we want a damned smooth face afterwards. We also don’t want to be covered in nicks, weepers, rashes or gushing cuts.

A solid shaving prep will give you the best chance of obtaining an alpha shave and go a long way to avoiding injuries and irritations.

How does prep help?

Shaving prep is about setting the best conditions possible for you to slide a very sharp blade across your beautiful face.

We want to make sure the skin’s pores are open and the stubble softened. We also want to have a lubricating buffer between the blade and skin. This can only be obtained with a high-quality shaving lather – ordinary soap or going commando (no lather) will give you poor results and increase your chances of injury and irritation.

Shaving prep is about setting the best conditions possible for you to slide a very sharp blade across your beautiful face. Tweet this!

Hair anatomy 101

The shaft of a hair (the bit that sticks out from the skin) has three layers. The inner layers, the cortex and medulla, aren’t overly relevant to shaving theory. The outer layer, the cuticle, is a protective layer of overlapping cells like plate armor. It protects the inner layers and is water resistant. The cuticle is our enemy, when it comes to shaving.

How to defeat the hair

Don't use...

Avoid hair conditioner/shampoo and acidic solutions. These will strengthen the cuticle and make the hair harder to cut.

When the cuticle is damaged the hair will be vulnerable to water. The hair will become softer and easier to cut when it is bloated with moisture.

We can weaken the cuticle in a few different ways. Hot water will peel the cuticle, to a degree. Alkaline solutions can be applied to make the cuticle cells to bloat, lift and separate, allowing moisture to gain access to the inside of the hair. Oils can soften hair. Surfactants can lower the surface tension of liquids which let’s them spread more readily over (and into) the hair.

A good shaving lather will have all the properties listed above and will help soften your beard hair prior to cutting.

How to prep

Preparing the skin

Shaving works best with a clean face/beard and open skin pores. Taking a warm shower and washing your face is the first step for many seasoned shavers. Alternatively, a warm, moist towel can be held over the beard for a minimum of three minutes.

Bonus towel technique

Apply a lather to the beard before applying the warm towel. Wipe the lather away when done and brush on a fresh layer before shaving.

Washing your face will remove any dirt and grit from your face. This makes the razor blade’s job easier by having fewer impediments to it’s cutting action. It also lengthens the lifespan of your blades.

Some people like to use a pre-shave treatment or oil, like Proraso Pre-shave Cream. This isn’t strictly necessary but may make a difference. If you choose this route, follow the instructions that came with the product.

Preparing the beard

Once the skin is prepared, a shaving lather can be applied. This can be generated using a good badger brush and a quality shaving soap or cream.

Don't use...

Shaving cream in a can (aka goo) is no substitute for quality lather applied with a brush.

We have an article on how to use a shaving brush which goes into the finer details of generating a lather. But we’ll cover it briefly here.

(Need help choosing a shaving brush?)

The cream or soap can be lathered in a scuttle, mug, your hand, or directly on your face. Cover the beard using circular motions of the brush, trying to penetrate the depths between the hairs. Once it is a applied, use your first two fingers to rub small circles over the lather to help it get all the way to the skin level. You may want to neaten up the lather with the brush after this step.

Wait a minute or two before picking up your blade. The ingredients in the lather will get to work on the cuticle and the beard will become softer and easier to cut. (Omit this step if you used the lather-under-the-towel trick above).

Ready to shave

Check your blade

Now, you are ready to shave!

Only shave with a sharp blade in your razor. Replace your blade if necessary before shaving. If the blade starts to pull or tug at your beard as you shave, it’s time to get a new blade. (Check out How to keep razor blades sharp).

Shaving with a dulled blade will cause rashes, nicks and ingrown hairs and will undo all your efforts in nailing your shave prep.