Learning how to shave was a really stressful experience. I just couldn’t stand that puberty moustache anymore, so I knew it was time to learn to operate the razor, but at first sight this appeared as a hell of a challenge.
My upper lip looked like a minefield filled with dozens of cuts and it didn’t help that a strong rash developed in the next couple of days.
I got rid of the puberty stash, but was this the price I needed to pay?
When my beard started growing out, I turned to my father for the much needed advice and I’ll remember one of the important dilemmas back then was whether I should shave with or against the grain.
What the heck is a grain?
Razors are involved, so you need to be extra careful and prepare yourself to deal with cuts and scratches down the road. You’ll quickly learn how your ability to be patient is of essence when developing your shaving routine.
Before you even start lathering up your very best shaving cream, you’ll need to decide whether to shave against or with the grain.
What is grain when we talk shaving?
Grain is a term used to refer to the direction your beard is growing. Take a single look in the mirror and you’ll notice how each section of your facial hair has its own soul and grows into a completely different direction compared with the rest of your beard.
The beard on your cheeks and above your lips (that glorious mustache you have going on) falls downwards. Your chinstrap curtain usually follows the line of your jaw to the tip of your chin. The goatee patch can be pretty wild going in all different directions, but the single lesson you should learn from your face is that there are no rules.
Your beard can grow wherever it pleases and you have almost zero saying in the entire process. The only thing you can do is mapping out the grain on your entire face and deciding between two options:
- Against the grain – This method allows the razor to get really close to your skin and give you the chance to make a really clean cut. If you’re handy with the blade you can perform the perfect shave with a safety razor or a straight blade. Skin irritation is a common problem.
- With the grain – You can’t perform a deep cut of your facial hair when following the direction your beard grows, but on the other hand you won’t stress your skin so much. Ingrown hair and hair pulling are still two problematic areas you need to take into consideration.
Whatever your choice may be, you’ll need to learn how to shave properly, so you can avoid some of the biggest problems man face while shaving both against and with the grain.
Does shaving against the grain provide you a closer shave?
When you’re shaving against the grain you’re actually cutting your facial hair follicles from beneath. This puts your blade in an angle that allows a cut closer to the skin. It’s quite logical, the blade comes in contact with the skin first as it continues cutting your hair.
This is something you can’t achieve while shaving with the grain as you’ll always cut your facial hair first, and if your beard is thick enough, you may end up not even touching the skin on your face.
The negative side here is that you’ll most probably have a short stubble after you’re done shaving. Something that can’t happen when you go against the natural direction your beard grows.
Whatever shaving style you decide fits your needs, you’ll need to practice on your razor grip, so you have ultimate control over the blade, which will help you cut your beard under the desired angle.
Before you start cutting, let’s see how safe is shaving against the grain and what’s the equipment you’ll need to perform a clean cut.
Is it safe?
Men that are used to this type of shaving routine have found out how using a straight or a safety razor provides a superior cut depth compared to cartridge and disposable razors.
It’s true, the straight and the safety razor offer greater precision than any other type of blade including electrical razors, but there’s one problem.
They’re pretty hard to handle due to their structure.
Instead of five or six lightweight blades you have a single sharp blade that can split your facial hair in half. Plus, these sharp edged tiny knives have such a specific design that allows you to cover different angles on your face, but at the same time requires great precision to do so.
It’s not only about having all the right tools, you’ll also need to learn how to use them.
Taking into consideration the hours you’ll need to put in to learn to shave with a completely new type of razor, you’ll also need to start thinking of how to protect your face from the stress you’re putting it through.
There’s a steep learning curve you’ll need to overcome if you want to leave the bathroom with as few cuts and nicks as possible.
Irritated skin is a common problem among men with sensitive skin that shave regularly, which turns into a burning question among men that shave against the grain (ATG).
ATG Shaving Kit
To avoid all of this you’ll need to know how to shave, but at the same time be aware of all the products you need to use to keep your face moisturized and protected from the stressful process of shaving against the grain.
That’s why we carefully selected all the right tools and skin care products you’ll need to get before making the first cut.
Let’s begin with the most important thing:
Not everyone is capable of handling a professional straight razor blade so going with a good cartridge razor isn’t something you should be ashamed of in any case. It’s important that you make a clean cut and don’t get your skin irritated because no one wants to deal with eczema related problems.
If you’re going for perfect results then a straight razor is your primary weapon of choice. Combined with a good shaving soap, which you’ll need to lather up to get the desired cream density, these two grooming tools make up the classic shaving kit used by your grandfather. It’s still heavily used by professional barbers, but it lost its grounds among wider audiences due to the need of learning the technique to perfection.
And as we all know the only way for you to achieve a perfect shaving form is through continuous repetition. All those hours you’ve invested in learning how to shave with a straight razor and you’re still making dozens of cuts in a single take.
You got two options if you want to use this particular blade. Go to the barber and leave him do all the hard stuff or dedicate yourself to developing the perfect stroke with a straight razor in your hands.
Safety razors are somewhere in the middle between cartridges and straight razors because they offer the best that both worlds have to offer.
On one hand they have that cartridge like design that features a safety stop (thus the name) and a handle that allows you to take ultimate control over the angle you’re making the cut. This makes them a great fit for novice users that want to learn how to make a close cut, but still don’t have enough hours in their hands to use a straight razor.
The learning curve is pretty straightforward and you’ll need only couple of strokes to get a feel of what you need to do with this classic razor equipped with a safety bar.
It can be your first time shaving and you’ll quickly adapt to the shaving style the cartridge based razor has to offer. Usually consisted out of 4 or 5 tiny blades (I now see there are some companies producing 6 and 7 bladed razors) that are softer than the average razor, whether it’s a safety or a straight one.
This makes them the safer option that isn’t very hard to use. Just make sure there’s a safety line as well because you’ll still be making the occasional cut every once in a while.
A quality option will provide you with around 10 shaves, depending from the strength and texture of your beard. Be careful with the brand you choose to go with as you’ll stick with the handle for a long time. Pick a quality product at first and you’ll be able to use it for years. You’ll change the blades very often, but the handle can remain the same. Have that in mind when you go out shopping.
Picking the right razor for your needs and level of experience is crucial when developing a perfect ATG shaving technique. It’s not bad enough you’re peeling of the skin on your face with every stroke, but you also want to go in the opposite direction of the one your hair grows, automatically exposing your face to additional stress levels.
No problemo brother. We got you covered. If you follow our little guide and get all the necessary products from the selection we’ve made bellow, you’ll master shaving against the grain and take your clean cut to the next level.
Pre shave oil
Used to clean your skin from debris and keep your facial hair moisturized, which allows you to make a cleaner cut while shaving. The pre shave oil softens both your beard and skin, making shaving a more pleasant experience. Essential and carrier oils used to make this product act as world class cleansers and antiseptics among other things, battling the creation of bacteria on your skin. All of this helps you battle eczema and other skin related problems like rashes, itches and ingrown hair.
Now that you have your beard all softened up it’s time to apply a lubricant that will help you make a clean cut with any type of razor you choose. People using straight and safety razors should really consider getting a shaving soap or a butter because of the thicker lather it’s capable of producing. Creams are your second option and depending on the lathering technique you apply, they’re also capable of producing a solid foamy like lather with no bubbles. You should really avoid foams and gels as they’re filled with harmful ingredients bad for your skin and facial hair like parabens and fragrances.
Shaving brushes aren’t used solely because of their capability to create a thick lather. They’re also a handy grooming tool that will softly exfoliate your skin and help you separate your facial hair follicle from your face. This is crucial when trying to make a close cut shaving against the grain as you would want each and every beard hair not touching your skin. After all you need to cut your beard under a certain angle contrary from its natural path. Boar or badger brush that looks good on your nightstand will do the trick.
The choice you make here is greatly affected by the type of skin you have and whether or not you’ll be using a pre-shave oil. If you have normal skin, balms are ok most of the time, but if you have dryish skin you should avoid anything containing alcohol. Strong aftershave lotions are slowly becoming a thing of the past as we began realizing how they can make more damage than be useful. Yes, they’ll cleanse your face, but they can also irritate it to the level you develop a nasty rash. Non-alcoholic aftershave balms are probably your safest option. If you need any suggestions, here’s a list with our top aftershave balms.
The strangest thing you’ll learn today in this article is that potassium alum, the basic ingredient of alum blocks, can be found in nature on top of rocks only when the process of oxidation takes place. The harvesting process makes alum one of the best antiseptics and astringent we know. This little white brick will help you close any cut you make while shaving and allow you to go on with your day without having blood stains all over your face.
Till now you should have a functional shaving kit in front of you and know what each product does for your beard. If you’re still undecided on what razor you want to use, it’s probably smarter to start with a cartridge razor with as less blades as possible (preferably two) and build your way towards a straight razor from here.
You have all the right tools that will make shaving against the grain extremely easy for you, so it’s time to see how does one actually shave ATG style.
How to shave against the grain without problems
Shaving against the grain gives you the power to make a closer cut to your skin compared to the results you get when shaving with the grain, but there’s a certain learning curve you’ll need to go through to get familiar with the process, especially if you’re going for the straight razor option.
Here’s everything you need to know, each step down the road, that will help you make this a pleasant experience for you and your skin.
Feat that even the greatest of men failed to overcome during their days, time and time again.
Let us lead you down the road of making the perfectly clean cut, leaving no facial hair on the surface of your face:
- Check the grain of your beard – You can use your hand or a credit card (I would advise not because of all the bacteria on it, but I’ve seen people doing it with no repercussions) to check in which direction your beard is growing. When you’re coming across a surface with the grain you’ll notice how the sound of the card is somewhat smoother, but it quickly becomes louder once you start pushing against the grain on the same spot. Make sure you’re detail oriented and check each patch of hair on your face individually. Be aware of swirls as you’ll need to be extra careful when shaving them. Remember all the spots as you’ll be placing some shaving cream soon.
- Wash your face – This is important guys. No matter the shaving technique you decide to go with, you must get rid of all debris and accumulated oil on your face before making a cut. You can use a face wash, scrub or a regular soap. It really doesn’t matter as long as you don’t skip this step. Having a clean face before you shave is the first step towards a painless shaving experience that won’t turn your face into a minefield of cuts and scars.
- Apply pre-shave oil – Your face is clean, but you’ve dehydrated it with the help of water. Yes, aqua, especially when it’s combined with a soap or a face wash, has the ability to dry off your skin quicker than the Sun. This will make your skin tight and prone to cutting open while shaving and your facial hair will also be thick and could end up swirling back inside its root in a form of an ingrown hair. Oils hydrate your facial hair making it soft and ready for the blade to make a clean cut without pulling your beard.
- Hold a wet towel on your face – Use warm water and hold the towel on your face for about three minutes. This way you’ll make you facial hair even softer and create additional separation between your face and your beard. It’s also a great way to kill any unwanted bacteria stationed on your face ready to wake up those eczema ghosts from the past.
- Lather using a brush – Go with a boar or badger brush because they’re the most quality option you have. Create the lather in a bowl and then apply it gently on your beard. Don’t hurry yourself as you’ll want to cover each piece of hair on your face. Lathering up with a brush gives your face that final preparation before you start scratching it with a razor of your choice. The brush is also considered to be one of the most powerful grooming tools because it provides deep exfoliation for the skin on your face and it additionally separates your beard hair from the skin.
- Make the cut – Till now you’ve probably decided between a straight, safety and cartridge razor. Whatever you decide to go with, and we personally recommend you start with the cartridge option and work your way up, you’ll need to keep a low angle while you’re shaving. Shaving against the grain will make your beard coarse, so it’s always good to make a really close cut to your skin. This way you’ll minimize the chances of skin irritation and rashes.
Shaving against the grain isn’t that scary as people make it, you’ll just need to prepare yourself with all the necessary tools and follow the steps we explained in this detailed guide. If you’re after a closer cut, you’ll have to master the control over a straight or at least a safety razor before you move on from your cartridge or electrical option.
We would love to hear your experience when shaving against the grain and we would love to know whether beard really grows thicker once you start shaving it ATG?
We believe this is a myth, but we would surely love to hear what you have to say about the whole thing.
Also, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to fill up the comment section or send us a message. We’ll try to respond ASAP.