If you’ve been shaving for a few years, it probably seems like you’ve got your routine down: you know what you’re doing, and can do it almost instinctually. You’ve honed your process over thousands of shaves, and you’ve got it down pat. It’s perfect. You’d be surprised, though—we get a lot of emails from guys, many of whom are experienced shavers, and we’ve found that a lot of guys are making the same shaving mistakes.
So we’ve put together this post of the most common shaving mistakes men make, based on some of the questions we’ve gotten, and from feedback we’ve gotten from friends. Hopefully there’s something here that can make your shaves quicker and easier and more comfortable. And who knows? Maybe you’re making terrible mistakes and not realizing it.
The first mistake is something a whole lot of men make:
1. Skipping the Prep Stage
You might think it’s enough to wet your face, dab on some shaving cream, and start slicing away, but that’s not the case. Your hair is actually very strong and your skin is actually very weak, and skipping the prep stage can result in an ineffective shave for your whiskers, and even worse, razor burn and irritation on your skin.
So work a few extra minutes in your routine and do some prep. Here are some “best practices” you can do:
Get your sink ready. This doesn’t really affect the quality of your shave, but it definitely makes a difference in the time you spend shaving—and your enjoyment of it. Have everything in front of you, and if you share a bathroom with roommates / a romantic partner / family members / whoever else, create a portable shave kit—one that has everything you need in one place—that you can bring from your room to the bathroom.
Treat your skin and whiskers with warm-to-hot water. A shower usually works best, but you can also take a washcloth doused in hot water and gently dab it over your skin. The warmth will soften the hair follicles you plan on shaving, and open your pores for a much smoother shave. If you really have some time and want to treat yourself, you can wrap your face with a warm, damp towel—spa style—for a few minutes.
Use some pre-shave oil. Pre-shave oil is one of the most over-looked—and pleasant—products in the entire shave routine. It provides your skin with some lubrication to ready it for your shaving blade, it smells nice, and as far as products go, it’s pretty long-lasting—usually three to five drops is enough for a single shave, so a single bottle can last for months.
2. Using the Wrong Lather
You probably know by now the importance of using a lather—it softens your skin and hair and reduces friction between the blade and your skin. A dry shave without the right cream can be pretty brutal on your face, and can result in cuts and nicks and bumps—not a great way to start your day!
So shaving cream is important—but not all lathers are created equal. A can of shave gel from the grocery store may work for a lot of guys, but for guys with even nominally sensitive skin, it can dry you out and leave rashy spots.
So take some time and figure out which lathers work for you. We’re big fans of Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shave Cream, and Proraso has a shaving cream that’s gentle and smells great. Whatever you choose, you’ll most likely get the best results if you whip it up into a very thick consistency, apply it with a shaving brush, and re-apply for every pass you make.
3. Using the Wrong Razor
We’ve written at length about razors, and here’s what it boils down to: the best razor is the sharpest razor.
A lot of guys use cartridge razors—those “multi-blade” razors that you’ll find at a bodega or convenience store—and if they work for you, that’s GREAT. They’re incredibly popular, and they’re popular for a reason: they’re quick, they’re easy, and a great majority of guys don’t have any issue with them.
If, however, you find that they tear your face apart, you’re not alone. Those razors are disposables—they’re literally made to be thrown away. They’re often made from cheap steel, and because they’re expensive, men tend to use them for too long—way after they’ve become dull—because they don’t want to buy new ones (or because a trip to the store isn’t on the schedule).
For many men, double-edge safety razors offer a much closer, much easier shave, with far less irritation. Safety razors have only a single blade—and for a lot of men, the multiple blades on a disposable irritate the skin and cause rashes—and when the blade on a safety razor becomes dull, you keep the shaver, toss the razor blade itself, and replace it with a brand new one. Many men use a new blade every time they shave (or every other time they shave), and experience much less irritation.
Here’s an image of a safety razor, in case you’re unfamiliar:
Again, if you use disposables and they work for you, that’s awesome—don’t let us talk you out of it! But if you’re experiencing irritation regardless of what brand of disposable you use, a safety razor or a straight razor might help.
4. Going Against the Grain
If we had to list one of the most common shaving mistakes men make, it would be shaving against the grain.
A lot of guys think that it’s the most efficient way to shave, and an across-the-grain shave clears away whiskers more precisely than a with-the-grain shave.
And—that’s actually true! An against-the-grain pass is the most effective pass that you can make. But the way that many men go about their against-the grain pass is totally wrong, and results in razor burns, bloody nicks, and irritation.
Under no circumstances should you start shaving with an against-the-grain pass. You must first complete a with-the-grain pass, and then—if you want to lower the chances of irritation and razor burn—an across-the-grain pass. After that, if you want to get your face baby-butt smooth, you can complete an against-the-grain pass.
Yes, it can take a while, but traditional wet shaving involves those three passes, in that order, to get as close a shave as possible.
By the way, if you’re not sure which way your whiskers grow in, run your fingers over your stubble, and let your sense of touch instruct you. Keep in mind, too, that whiskers on different areas of your face may grow in odd directions, and it’s not uncommon for certain whiskers to grow in circular patterns. If that’s the case, a three-pass shaving session (with, across, and against) is a great way to get a close shave.
5. Using Too Much Pressure
This is common amongst newer shavers: being way too forceful.
If you find yourself applying too much pressure, check for the usual suspects: your blade may be dull, or you may be holding it at the wrong angle, or the shaver itself may not be heavy enough (and that’s another reason why safety razors are so wonderful: they’re usually pretty dense, and they do a lot of the work for you).
Here, again, is where a sharp blade saves you a lot of time and aggravation: with an appropriately sharp blade, you can put very little effort into your shave, and get a nice, close shave.
6. Altitude Issues on the Sideburns
Many men make the mistake of shaving way too high on their face on their sideburns. The result is an odd, cartoon-y look, and one you may want to look out for.
Ideally, you’re shooting for that “Goldilocks” zone—not too high, not too low—and it’s best to have a plan when you start shaving: put a little shaving cream on your index finger, and dab the sideburn area right in front of your earlobe. That’s the highest most men choose to go, and it’s low enough to look masculine without being so high that it looks odd.
If you do choose to go low with your sideburns, make sure they match on both sides—a high sideburn on one side and a low one on the other will make you look like a lunatic—and make sure they’re trimmed. Sideburns aren’t really meant to be three-dimensional, and it usually makes sense to style them so that they’re relatively flat on your face.
7. Not Shaving Below the Chin
This one is particularly for men with beards. If you’ve got a beard, it’s usually best to shave in a beard line.
A beard line gives a beard some form, and if you look closely at a guy who hasn’t shaved in a beard line, you’ll usually see that the whiskers south of his Adam’s Apple are patchy and disorganized. That’s true even for guys who have thick, bushy beards—on human males, the hairs below the Adam’s Apple just seem to come in curly and crazy.
So a beard line can be a good idea. The “generally agreed-upon” location for a beard line is one finger’s width above your Adam’s Apple. Any higher than that, and you end up getting rid of whiskers that cover your neck, and that looks a little weird. We’ve written a post about it here, and you can check that out if you’d like to learn more.
It’s quick, it’s easy, and when done right, it can make your beard look tame and sophisticated.
8. Using the Same Razor for Too Long
This may be tied for the #1 mistake men make while shaving: using the same razor over and over and over again.
And—we get it, honestly! You’re busy with classes, work, family, or just busy enjoying your free time. Sometimes you run out of things and you forget to replace them. It happens.
The thing is, an old razor is going to give you a razor burn that will look and feel terrible. Instead of slicing through whiskers, a dull blade will butt up against them, tug on them, and then basically break them instead of slicing them—and that tug (and the fractured hair follicle left behind) irritates the skin.
So—use as sharp a blade as possible. This entire website, pretty much, has a single message, and that’s “the key to a close and smooth shave is a sharp blade.”
So how long should you go between shaves? Most blades are only going to last somewhere between three and five shaves, and if you have a very thick beard, your razor may not even make it that long.
There are a few tricks you can do to make your razors last longer, though, and the most effective thing you can do is get your whiskers nice and soft, either through a shower or a good face-washing with hot water.
Keep in mind—and here’s our latest in a never-ending stream of plugs for safety razors—if you’re using a double edge or straight razor, you’ll most likely spend less money in the long term. After buying the safety razor itself, you need only to replace the individual razor blades, which only cost a couple of cents each, and you can buy hundreds at a time—meaning, you’re a lot less likely to run out of them, and less likely to end up shaving with a dull blade.
9. Forgetting to Check for Mistakes
You may think that once you’ve finished shaving and rinsed away your shaving cream that you’re good to go. But just because you’ve rinsed your face doesn’t mean you’re finished yet, and you need to consider your post-shave routine.
Once you’ve rinsed your face, inspect the entire area to make sure you didn’t miss a spot. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to overlook an area of your face, and let’s be honest—if you’ve done a great job shaving but you’ve missed a big patch of dark hair on one side of your neck, you’ll look pretty messy, and it’s almost worse than not shaving at all.
So, when you’re done, give a quick scan and see if you’ve missed anything. The most commonly-forgotten spots are below the chin, near the sideburns, and along the edge of the bottom lip.
10. Using the Wrong Aftershave
We’re big fans of aftershave, and it can be a great way to finish your shave. There are aftershave splashes available for guys with oily skin, aftershave balms available for guys with dry skin, and plenty of options available for guys with sensitive skin. It’s a fantastic product, and there are a lot of really fantastic scents available.
There is, however, one type of aftershave that irritates the heck out of a lot of men, and that’s alcohol-based splashes.
If you’ve got sensitive skin, or if you’ve used a dull blade and your face is nicked up and cut, you may have experienced the torture of alcohol-based splashes: they sting like a bee, and they keep stinging, long after you’d think they’d stop.
It’s really unpleasant.
So, if you used splash and it’s irritating you—at all—mix it up. There are an incredible number of options available to you, from lotions to balms to alcohol-free splashes that smell great and feel invigorating. We’ve written an entire post about aftershaves, how to choose them, and the scents available, including our favorite picks, so check that out if you want to learn more.
11. Shaving Too Often
Last but not least: over-doing it.
While you may love the clean-shaven look, shaving is inherently rough on your skin. If you shave every day or even every few days, your skin needs a break every now and then.
So vary it up, if you can. If you have to shave every day for work, then try to skip shaving over the weekend. If you have some time off work or some time when you don’t have to be clean-shaven, then try to go several days without shaving. The more you can rest your skin, the healthier it will be.
What Did We Miss?
Probably a few things. This is a good place to start, though—if you’re shave is resulting in bumps and irritation, check if you’re making any of the mistakes above, and don’t be afraid to mix things up! Try new things, you’re more likely to find what works for you. Good luck!
Michael Morris is the head writer here at Rough and Tumble Gentleman. He's got a ducktail beard and loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He's married to the woman of his dreams and lives in Brooklyn, NY.