How to Shave Your Face

Learn the secrets to a smooth shave with our all-encompassing guide.

By: Calum MarshDate: 2021-07-05

Shaving is such a basic part of our morning routines that most of us don’t even think much about it — we just breeze through the process in the morning and hope we’re awake enough to avoid a knick or cut.

But like many aspects of grooming, a good shaving regimen rewards consideration, and there’s a lot to be said for taking the ritual seriously and performing the actions with care. With the right equipment, and given the best quality products, it can make you feel more completely yourself, rejuvenating you and making you fully prepared to face your day. It’s more than simply a functional exercise in necessary hygiene. At its best, the morning shave can be a moment of quiet luxury, in which you not only remove the stubble from your face, but actively improve how your face feels and looks.

A proper shaving routine starts with heat. If you’ve ever had a real shave at an old-school barber’s, you’ll probably recall the hot towel they like to drape over your face, which is lovely but, at home, perhaps not so realistic. Instead, you can do this either in — if you have enough room and perhaps a mirror on hand — or immediately after a hot shower, when the steam from warm water has softened the bristles of stubble around your face, making them easier to work with and less resistant to the movement of a razor blade. If you’re starting after the shower, try wetting your face with a handful of very hot tap water or a hot damp cloth.

From here, you’ll want to apply a generous layer of shaving cream or shaving soap to the entire area you plan on working with. We’ve all used inexpensive drug store shaving creams in pressurized cannisters, but you might find some improved comfort and effectiveness with a more traditional cream or soap in a bowl: these tend to later more smoothly and cause less irritation. To apply, use a shaving brush — ideally one made of pure badger hair — to swirl the cream into a frothy lather. Now brush it into your face in loose, sweeping circles, the way you apply soap to a car windshield with a rag.

With your face nicely coated, it’s time to start the shave. If your skin often feels rough or irritated after a shave, it might be the razor you’re working with: those slick cartridges with a half-dozen blades on them can really do a number on your skin, and many men find they’re better served with something simpler and more traditional, such as a safety razor or straight razor. A straight razor is the kind you’ve seen in period pieces and costume dramas: foldable pearl handle, nice long blade. A safety razor has a two-sided disposable stainless steel blade that comes in a small sheef and can be inserted and taken out with ease. Both offer an incredibly close, elegant shave.

The safety razor and the straight razor require much less fussing than you are no doubt used to with cartridges. Simply run the blade down your face in slow, smooth lines, taking care to move carefully over the edge of your chin and around your neck area. You will probably find you don’t need to do a second pass or move the blade against the grain; these blades get so close the first time over that the job is done right away. Wash the razor after each use, and because the blades are stainless steal, be sure to keep them dry. A shaving set will let you hand the razor and brush to air dry, which will keep them nice and immaculate for a long time.

After the shave, rinse the excess cream off your face with cold water, which will also seal the open pores and help prevent chaffing. Finish up with a nice aftershave balm or post-shave toner. Aftershaves are usually scented and can be a luxurious way to end the ritual, but they also regularly include restorative and soothing ingredients such as lanolin and aloe vera, which helps restore sensitive skin and mitigate the effect of the razor. Pat dry with a clean towel, take a close look in the mirror to spot-check for missed bristles, and head out to start your day fresher than you thought possible.

Calum Marsh is a writer based in Toronto. His work appears in GQ, Complex, and The New York Times.