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How to shave with a straight razor Add to ...

Illustrations by Remie Geoffroi for The Globe and Mail

Practice makes perfect

Before taking a straight blade to your face, “ put shaving cream on a balloon and shave it,” says Judah Down, owner of JD’s Barber Shop in Vancouver. “ When you can shave the balloon without popping it, you’re ready.” Parker shavettes, the replaceable-blade razors that barbers use, are ideal for beginners (besides being inexpensive and low-maintenance, you can practise on your face without the blade attached). A little steam goes a long way, too: After a hot shower softens your whiskers, it’s easier for the blade to slice hair. A proper lather is equally key, creating lubrication. Seth Harman, owner of MenEssentials in Toronto, suggests swirling Taylor of Old Bond Street shaving cream in a bowl with a warm, wet brush, then brushing your face in a swirling motion, lifting and coating the stubble.

The proper technique

When it comes to the actual process of shaving, hold the razor with your index and middle fingers on the back of the blade, your ring finger under the tang and your thumb near the heel. Keep the blade at a 15-degree angle and scrape it gently along the skin. If the angle is too high, you’ll risk cutting yourself; if it’s too low, you will only remove lather. Apply very little pressure when you do shave. “ The weight of the hardware is enough,” says Harman, adding that pressing down on the razor will only dig into and nick the skin. A few other pointers to keep in mind: Keep your face lathered at all times (bareback shaving results in skin irritation) and run the blade under hot water as you go (a warm blade is more malleable and forgiving). Above all, don’t rush – the experience should be indulgent, even meditative.

Order of operations

Starting on the right side of your face, reach over your head with your left hand and draw the skin upward, creating a flat surface for the blade. With slow, short strokes, glide the blade with the grain of your beard (remember that the orientation of follicles change in different areas, namely the neck). At the jaw, tilt your head back and, with the fingers of your left hand, stretch and straighten the skin. Switching to the other side of the face, either switch hands on the razor or, if you don’t trust your dexterity, keep the same grip. The skin on the throat is sensitive and susceptible to cutting, so take special care. Reach moustache hairs under your nose with a downward scoop. At this point, “ use the corner of the blade as opposed to the width,” says Down.

After the shave

For a baby-smooth finish, multiple passes are standard. For the finest finish, you can try going with the grain and then against it, though shaving this way increases the chances of dinging. “ When you feel comfortable and aren’t cutting yourself anymore, reapply cream and get your shave even closer,” Down says. After you rinse with cold water to close the pores and calm the skin, Harman suggests rubbing a Shavex potassium-alum block across your face. An astringent, alum helps to stop any bleeding and tingles in spots where you’ve dug too deep, making it a good post-shave litmus test for beginners. To keep your skin hydrated, apply a soothing aftershave balm that contains no alcohol and patch any persistent bleeding with a styptic repair gel.

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