Okay, that’s a tongue-in-cheek title but the fact is that most men have never been taught how to shave properly. This article will try to remedy this fact and keep men’s faces rash-free!

There are many rites of passage in a man’s life and the first ‘real’ shave has to be one of them. You all know the one I mean – where real bristles are poking out of your chin to replace the fluff of adolescence. It’s an important moment, yet how many young men are taught to shave correctly? Very few, it would seem.

That’s an odd thing when you think about it. A father will teach his son all manner of things, from how to fish to how to how to service a car – but almost never how to shave. My theory is that it’s the same mindset as when men visit a public washroom. No-one speaks and for sure no one looks! Some of this taboo seems to have rubbed off into all grooming activities – and that includes shaving.

I’m an advocate of the cut-throat or straight razor but I’m no zealot. If you want to use a safety razor that’s fine by me. The principles will still be the same for obtaining not only a smooth shave but also avoiding razor-burn and the dreaded shaving rash. So here, for all of you out there who view shaving as a dismal experience and for those just starting, is how it’s done.

First off, make sure you’re using a sharp razor. That may seem an obvious thing to say but remember that mature stubble, say in a man of twenty-five years or more of age, has the same tensile strength as copper wire. Strong, eh? So you are asking a lot of any razor to plane that lot off! Straight razors are whetted on a strop before each use, so giving (in effect) a new blade every shave. Safety razors lose their edge progressively with each use – how long before you have to replace the blade depends on how often you shave and the toughness of your beard, which varies considerably from man to man. So if this is your first ever real shave, use a new blade.

Secondly, learn a bit about your beard and how it grows. Place a finger under your nose. If you draw it straight down across your lips and under your chin, chances are that that’s your beard’s ‘watershed’. (To call this a ‘watershed’ is not far from the truth. Our remote ancestors’ beards grew like this so rain would shed from their faces.) The hairs on your lips and chin, and the ones on your neck, will ‘fan out’ from this imaginary line. This is called your beard’s ‘grain’. The hairs on your cheeks also usually grow away from this line but point downwards more.

Having learned the ‘grain’ of your beard – and it does differ amongst individuals – the first pass of the razor should be ‘with the grain’ so, having applied a good quality shaving cream or soap, draw the razor in the direction of the ‘grain’. It also helps to stretch the skin slightly in order to present the flattest possible surface to the blade – this will help to avoid nicks. Watch your fingers! When you have finished shaving with the grain, try your face out for smoothness. You’ll notice that with the ‘grain’ it feels great, but against it it still feels quite scratchy – unless you’re one of the lucky guys whose beard hair grows straight out from his skin!

So what to do? If you want the smoothest shave possible, lather again and shave across the ‘grain’, then again against it. This last direction – against the ‘grain’ of the beard – gives the smoothest finish of all but can be tricky for a novice, especially if using a straight razor. Personally I find that two passes gives me a great smooth shave.

In this article I’m only talking about straight razors or single-blade safety razors. There’s a reason for this. The triple- and quadruple-bladed razors available today are great, but one single pass of a four-blade cartridge is the same as four separate passes with a single and this heavy skin exfoliation is one of the prime causes of both razor burn and unsightly rashes, particularly on young skin. Too, multi-blades can cause the problem of ingrowing hairs and ‘razor bumps’ if used too enthusiastically. Save them until you’re so familiar with your face that one pass is all you need.

To finish, use a good skin food or after-shave balm – your face will love you for it and so will the opposite sex! Try to avoid alcohol-based lotions – not only do they sting like crazy but the have a very drying effect on the skin. If you want to go down the biological route, try one based on Aloe Vera – it’s a great moisturiser and chemical-free.

So that’s it. A very basic guide to getting a good shave without looking like you’ve been in a bar brawl. The watchwords are simple – practice and concentration. Take your time – shaving isn’t supposed to hurt or be a boring chore – and enjoy what is a truly manly art.