Shaving is an art and a skill. With practice, time and patience, you'll be able to put together a shave routine that results in alpha shaves every time.
Shaving requires a small amount of equipment. To get a decent shave you will need the following items in your shaving kit:
You will need a quality razor with a sharp blade. This can be a cartridge razor with pivoting head, a disposable razor, a double-edge safety razor (DE), or for the steady handed, a cutthroat straight-edge razor.
Beginners are better served with a quality cartridge razor, eventually graduating to a double-edge safety razor. If you’re reading this article to learn how to shave, you probably shouldn’t try a cutthroat razor.
Check out our main article explaining different razors.
A quality lather applied with a badger brush is arguably the most important factor towards obtaining an alpha shave. You can get by without a badger brush but a good badger brush will improve shaving results out of sight.
Shaving cream and shaving soap can be inexpensive and offer superior cushioning and lubrication to canned shaving cream.
Avoid using shampoo and conditioner as these products are formulated towards strengthening a hair’s cuticle (the strong outer layer of hair) and shaving works best when the hair is softer. Regular bath soap is also a poor substitute for a quality shaving soap or foam.
Do you know the difference between soaps and creams?
A good aftershave helps your skin recover. It closes the pores and helps reduce irritation. There are different kinds of lotions, balms and creams.
If you have oily skin, try using a toner or alcohol based aftershave. These will sting your face a little.
For dry skinned folks, balms, lotions, gels and creams may work better. These are usually preferred by people with sensitive skin.
It may take a bit of experimenting before you find the right aftershave solution for your needs.
We have more information about aftershave care.
Take a warm shower or hold a warm, moist cloth over your beard. This will help open your pores and soften the hairs. Wash your face to remove any bacteria or dirt that has been released from your pores. This can also increase the lifespan of your razor blades as they won’t be dulled by cutting dirt or grime.
Shaving prep is the most important step towards obtaining an alpha shave. Tweet this!
A badger brush is loaded with shaving cream or soap and a lather worked up either in a scuttle, directly against the face, or in the hand. If no brush is available, the lather needs to be made in the hands.
Whether using a quality shaving soap or cream, or a can of gel or foam, the lather should be applied to the beard. A badger brush enables the lather to penetrate deeply and helps stand the beard hair upright.
Once the lather is applied, gently massage the foam deep into the beard using your first two fingers. This will ensure the foam penetrates down to the skin, enabling the best possible cushion and lubrication.
Shaving prep is the most important step towards obtaining an alpha shave.
Don’t panic! A razor blade is to be respected, not feared. Cartridge razors and disposables are very forgiving but more care is required for double-edged safety razors and straight (cutthroat) razors.
Notes for beginners
Shave with the grain of the hair. This is especially important for beginners. Angle the blade head with the razor handle as parallel to the ground as possible while still allowing the blade to cut. For DE razors this is usually around 60º from where it touches your face. If the blade isn’t cutting the hair, reduce the angle until it does.
Use as little pressure as possible by letting the weight of the razor do the work. The blade should glide smoothly across your skin. Applying pressure can lead to nicks, cuts and irritation. Try to keep your wrist steady to maintain a consistent angle with the blade. Shave from your shoulder, not your fingers!
Rinse the blade after every stroke. Don’t pull your skin taut in front of the blade. Shaving is best done on a flat skin surface and pulling skin taut prevents the blade’s leading bar from flattening the surface and can also result in ingrown hairs.
Pull your top lip over your teeth to flatten the skin under your nose. Use small, careful strokes to get the fiddly bits of your moustache. Pull your lower lip over your teeth to get the tricky chin areas. Neck hair usually grows with the grain leading upwards, so shave from bottom to top on your neck when shaving with the grain.
If you are an intermediate shaver you may want to re-lather (rinsing optional) and shave a second pass across the grain of the hair. Don’t attempt against the grain shaving unless you are highly experienced and have an A+ prep routine.
Your beard hair grows with a grain i.e. it sprouts out in a particular direction. Most facial hair has a grain running from top to bottom, or north to south if your head is a represented as a globe.
In this example, dragging the razor from north to south will be shaving With the Grain (WTG). Going from east to west (or vice-versa) is Across the Grain (XTG) and from south to north is Against the Grain (ATG). ATG shaving can result in nasty irritations and wounds for inexperienced shavers or people with sensitive skin; it should be avoided by all but the most experienced or foolhardy shavers.
Grain may change in different parts of your face and neck and also differ from person to person. Try to understand which directions the grains are for different parts of your face and neck.
Shaving is traumatic to your skin. It’s had alkaline lather pasted on it before the top layers of skin have been removed along with the hair. It’s time to take a little bit of care of yourself.
Rinse your face with cool water. Toners can be used to restore your skin’s pH, remove excess soap and close the pores. Hydrosols such as witch hazel can be used to sooth and moisturize.
Aftershave balms and lotions can also be used to aid your recovery. Balms calm and moisturize while lotions are more astringent and help close the pores. They may contain antiseptics to prevent infections in any nicks or skin irritations you may have acquired.
Your aftershave routine should depend on your skin type and sensitivity. We have more information about this in our aftershave care page.
You may also need a moisturizer to finish off if your skin feels dry.
This page was a quick introduction to wet shaving. Check out our detailed pages about different aspects of the shaving experience.