In today’s post, we’ll talk about GRAIN. What is it? Is it important? How do you find it?
And, more importantly—
Should you shave with it? (the answer: yes).
Should you shave against it? (the answer: most of the time, no, with one specific exception).
And, finally, how do you shave with the grain, and make sure you’re shaving correctly?
All great questions!
So, let’s start at the beginning, go deep, and tell you everything you need to know.
Is Shaving with the Grain Recommended?
Yes, it is, and there’s one main reason why shaving with the grain is the way to go: it’s less likely to result in skin irritation and rashes.
If you’ve ever taken a shower, stepped up to the mirror, and started shaving against the grain, it’s very likely that you experienced some irritation after you finished.
There’s a reason for that—when you drag a razor against the direction of your whiskers, you’re pushing them backwards at the base, and in effect, pushing them into the skin.
Your skin doesn’t like that, and it can result in irritation—and a bunch of other nasty things—and you should avoid it if possible.
That’s why shaving along the grain should be your go-to approach—it’s usually the most pain-free way to remove your facial hair, and you can clean yourself up without some of the nasty side-effects you get from shaving against the grain.
Those Nasty Things We Mentioned…
Before we move on, we should provide a quick run-down of those “nasty things” that can occur when you shave against the direction of your whisker grain:
Razor burn. This is kind of a “catch-all” term when it comes to irritation from shaving, and it’s basically an inflammatory reaction. It can be itchiness, dryness, flakiness, or red bumps. Whatever form it takes, it’s unpleasant.
Razor bumps. Razor bumps are like razor burn, but worse—they occur when you slice a whisker off at the root, and instead of that whisker growing outward, away from the face, it grows back into the skin. It’s very common with guys who have curly facial hair, and it can be really, really painful. The worst part is, it can be tough to get rid of, as more and more whiskers grown into the skin.
Pimples. Some guys experience “post-shave acne,” even though they might not be susceptible to acne otherwise. Post-shave acne is exactly what it sounds like—acne that pops up after a shave. It tends to be very personal—it can vary in intensity and duration.
General rashes. Shaving is kind of an unnatural process, really, and some guys experience general redness or itchiness every time they shave. That irritation can come from many sources—it could be a shaving cream that doesn’t agree with your skin, it could be shaving with cheap/dull razors, or it could simply be your skin getting used to the shaving process.
So, while shaving against the grain may be fine for a lot of guys, for other men, it may not be the best idea. With that in mind, let’s look at…
How to Shave with the Grain: Tips and Directions
Going with the grain might sound intuitive, but there are some things you’ll need to keep in mind, and the first task is something you do before you start shaving:
First Things First: Find the Grain
You might think the grain on your face is intuitive—mustache whiskers go down, neck whiskers go up—but that’s actually not the case. The whisker growth on every man’s face is unique—kind of like a finger print—and you’ll actually need to take a closer look and see how your whiskers are actually growing in.
So, let your whiskers grow out for a few days, and look at the area where whiskers usually grow in…
At the mustache and on your chin. These areas are usually the same on most men, and whiskers usually grow downwards.
At the sideburns. Most of the time, these whiskers grow downward, but on some guys, they grow every-which-way. Some men even find that whiskers here grow in a “swirl” formation, and grow in a circular pattern.
Near the Adam’s Apple. This is another area that tends to be unique to each guy, and it’s another area where that “swirl” pattern may occur. Take a close and see what’s going on—this is usually one of those areas that vary greatly from guy to guy.
On the cheeks. These whiskers usually grow downwards, but some guys actually find that these whiskers grow “backwards,” toward a spot below the ears.
The goal is here is to really stop and LOOK at your whiskers. Very often, we shave without really thinking about it, so really slow down and look closely.
Once you’ve done that…
Make a “Stubble Map” of Your Face
Once you’ve found the different directions that your facial whiskers grow, you’ll want to memorize it and make a “stubble map” so that you’ll able to quickly shave and know how to shave along the grain.
Over the next couple of days, see if you can recall the different areas of your stubble map, and see if your whiskers are growing in as you expected.
If this is all a little bit overwhelming, and it seems like a lot of effort for a simple shave, that’s fine. It gets easier. It’s a lot to think about the first couple of times you do it, but after a while, you’ll know the stubble map of your face as if it were the neighborhood you grew up in. You’ll be able to navigate all the direction changes, swirls, etc. without any extra thought.
Now that you know how your whiskers grow in and you know your grain map, you can shave with the grain—but make sure that you…
Shave (But Avoid Some Common Mistakes)
It’s weird: shaving is something that millions—if not billions—of men do every day, and because most men do it alone, they make a TON of mistakes!
With that in mind, here are some “best practices” to make sure you’re getting a close and effective shave:
Make sure your skin is clean. This is so incredibly important—if you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: your skin must be clean when you shave it.
Even if your skin looks clean, it’s usually covered in all sorts of gross stuff—bacteria and assorted microorganisms, airborne pollution that sticks your epidermis throughout the day, and various types of grime that are so small they’re invisible to the naked eye.
When you’re shaving, you make microscopic nicks in your skin, and all that grody stuff can enter those nicks and cause inflammation and infection.
If you’re going to shave, you need to make sure your skin is clean, and the best way to make sure you’ve got a clean face is to…
Shower with warm water. Not only will a warm shower get the dirt, sweat, and dead skin cells off your face, it’ll prepare your skin and your whiskers for that blade. Warm water makes your skin a little bit looser—and that makes it less likely to get nicked while you’re shaving—and it will also soften up the shaft of your whiskers and make them easy to slice.
If you don’t have time for a shower, a thorough cleaning with a washcloth is a good alternative. Just make sure you use warm water so you can loosen up your skin and whiskers, and use a soap that doesn’t dry you out.
Use a sharp blade. Have you ever heard the phrase, “A dull blade is more dangerous than a sharp one?” Most of the time, people use that phrase when they’re talking about kitchen knives, but it’s absolutely true when it comes to shaving.
When you drag a dull blade across your skin, you’re more likely to use too much pressure, and that can result in nicks and irritation. Not only that, though—it doesn’t do as good a job of removing whiskers, so you may end up doing a second or third pass, and that can cause irritation.
So, use as sharp a blade as possible. And, if you can…
Avoid disposable razors. There are two reasons disposable razors aren’t fantastic:
1) Many of them use multiple blades in the head of razor, and that can irritate the heck out of some guys; and
2) Many are made from “meh” steel that doesn’t last too long. It may be sharp for the first couple of shaves, but it gets dull not long after that.
Disposable razors work great for a lot of guys, and if you use them and don’t experience irritation—by all means, keep doing your thing! Disposables are easy to attain and easy to use and easy to travel with. There’s a reason they’re so popular.
That said, if you find that you experience any of those nasty things we talk about above—razor burn, razor bumps, acne, and/or general irritation—it’s very likely your razor is the culprit.
Many men who experience irritation when using disposables have a lot of luck when they make the switch to wet shaving and using safety razors.
Use the right shaving cream. Again, there are a lot of guys who use regular shaving cream and they’re fine—but there are a lot of weird ingredients in store-bought shaving creams, and they can do a number on your skin.
Over the last couple of years, there are a number of all-natural shaving creams made specifically for guys with sensitive skin. If that describes your situation, don’t be afraid to make the switch—many are reasonable priced, and a lot of them smell fantastic.
Grab the aftershave balm. In years past, aftershave was a liquid, and it STUNG—and a lot of guys avoided it.
In recent years, though, aftershave balms have become tremendously popular. They’re great for your post-shave routine, because they provide moisturizing properties and a little bit of comfort if you get nicked. They’re not a necessity—plenty of guys skip aftershave balms—but they can be a nice addition, especially if you’ve got sensitive skin.
And there you have it! Most of the shaving mistakes men make stem from the things we just discussed, so follow those tips, shave with your grain, and you may see a more positive outcome from your shaves!
Now that we’ve given you all the info you need to shave with the grain, we should probably answer a question you may have had from the start:
Does Shaving with the Grain Result in the Closest Shave Possible?
Nope! It doesn’t. Not even close. Shaving against the grain does.
We just talked about how awful it was to shave against the grain. What’s the deal?
Shaving against the grain—the practice that can cause so many problems for your skin—is how you get the closest, smoothest shave. No two ways about it. You can shave with the grain, and that’s usually enough for most guys, but if you want a truly close shave, you’ll need to go against the grain.
So before we wrap up, we should talk about…
The Only Way You Can Safely Go Against the Grain
…is to wet shave. It’s not perfect, and some guys still experience irritation, but a wet shave is much more likely to result in a close, against-the-grain shave.
So, what is it? Wet shaving is shaving with traditional shaving tools—a shaving brush, shaving cream made from only a few natural ingredients, and a safety razor or straight razor that uses a single blade (as opposed to the multiple blades you’ll see in a disposable razor)—and making three passes: a with-the-grain pass, an across-the-grain pass, and—finally—an against-the-grain pass.
Those three passes are important, and they provide an extremely close shave. There’s some logic behind it, too: when you complete a with-the-grain pass, you take off the majority of the whiskers on your face; when you complete an across-the-grain pass, you remove some of the whiskers’ bases; when those two passes are complete, there’s not much left on each whiskers, so shaving against them—that is, shaving against the grain of those whiskers—is much easier, and razor doesn’t irritate your skin. Remember earlier, when we mentioned that shaving against a full whisker pushes it backwards into the skin? The with-the-grain pass and the across-the-grain pass remove so much of the whisker, that shaving against it becomes less traumatic.
Let’s Phrase That Another Way…
The only time we can recommend shaving against the grain is if you’re wet-shaving using a safety razor, because:
1) The razor blade in a safety razor is super-sharp, and it’s usually made from very strong steel—stronger and sharper than what you’d find in a disposable razor, so it’ll cut whiskers more effectively, and
2) Safety razors only feature ONE blade, which means that on a single pass, there’s only one blade gliding over your skin. If you make three passes, that means the razor will have crossed over your skin three times. If you use a three-bladed disposable, however, and make three passes, it’s actually like making nine passes—three blades on each pass, multiplied by three passes. All those passes can irritate the heck out of your skin.
Wet shaving is a topic all by itself and it’s a little outside the scope of this post, but we’ve written at length about it, and you can read our intro post here.
Summing Up Our Discussion on Grains
We hope that provides some clarity for you—to sum things up:
1) For most guys, shaving with your grain is the way to go;
2) If you want to shave with the grain, find the direction of your grain and make a mental “stubble map” to use when shaving;
3) Make sure your face is clean when you shave, and use a sharp razor—and ditch the disposables if they’re tearing your face up; and
4) If you want the closest shave possible, you can shave against the grain—but the safest way to shave against the grain is to wet shave, and use a safety razor and complete a with-the-grain, across-the-grain, and then an against-the-grain pass.
And there you have it! Any questions, please feel free to leave them below or jump over to our “Contact” page.
Good luck, have fun, and happy shaving!
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.