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Surviving a close shave for guys

June 17, 2003|by Chris Copley

Once upon a time, a boy's first shave was a big, big deal. The Romans felt beards were for barbarians; civilized men were cleanshaven. A Roman boy's first shave was also his first step into manhood. A priest held a ceremony for the occasion.

Shaving has come down in the world since then. It is no longer a mark of manhood. It's just something a guy's gotta do each day.

If he shaves at all, that is. Beards are no longer barbaric (although some do look awful), and it's not uncommon to see a guy with a sandpapery growth of three (or five or 10) days' beard on his face.


Most guys shave at least some of their face. Even guys with goatees, mustaches and ticklers make their statement by keeping some beard and losing the rest.

But there's no respect for a guy learning how to shave. Generally, Tri-State barbers don't give shaves anymore; calls to a dozen barbershops in the Tri-State area yielded hang-ups, unreturned messages and one comment: "That's pretty much a thing of the past," from John Rebuck's barbershop in Greencastle, Pa.

Shaving is one of those things other guys just expect you to know how to do.

So how does a guy learn to get a good shave? Skip those fancy electric shavers. They're fast but not close.

For a truly close shave, say the experts, you don't have to use expensive razors and personal-care products. All you need is hot water in a sink, a simple razor (your dad's or brother's will be fine) and some soap or foam.

First, soften your beard.

Hair shafts are softer and easier to cut when they absorb some water. Heat helps the process. That's why shaving is more effective after showering.

But if you're not showering first, begin your shave by filling a sink with very warm to hot water. Wet a washcloth and hold it to your face for a minute or so. Repeat several times, until your face feels warm.

Second, lather your face.

It's cool, in a Victorian British kind of way, to work up some lather with a shaving brush and shaving soap in a dish. But a can of shaving cream or even a good bar of moisturizing soap can do the job, too. What you want is thick lather spread wherever you will apply the razor. And be generous - lather provides lubrication for the blade, protecting your face from nicks and razor burn.

Third, use a sharp blade.

Odd as it sounds, a dull blade will cut you quicker than a sharp blade. So, especially if you're new to the whole shaving thing, make sure you shave with a new blade.

Beard hairs, like head hairs, seldom grow straight out of the skin. They lean a certain direction. Most men shave in the direction in which their beard hairs grow, down from ears to chin and up from throat to chin.

Although TV commercials show men shaving with long, bold strokes, no one in the real world actually shaves that way. Shave with short strokes and rinse the blade frequently.

With your free hand, keep your skin stretched tight and flat. This helps prevent nicks and promotes a close shave.

For truly smooth skin, shave a second time in the opposite direction to the first. Lather up again and shave against the grain of your beard. This clips the beard hairs extremely close to the skin. The result? A face that's smooth and soft.

Fourth, clean up and moisturize.

Wipe lather off skin with a damp washcloth. Some men splash cold water onto their face to quickly close skin pores opened by hot water.

Lather and soap dry out skin. Apply a moisturizing aftershave to the areas you shave. Experts advise against alcohol-based aftershaves. Alcohol will further dry skin.

For more tips, see King of Shaves at and click on "Tips & Myths."

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