Can You Shave against the Grain with a Straight Razor?
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When you think of using a straight razor, the first image that comes to mind is that of men in the early 1900s – possibly your grand/ great grandfather.
Over the years, new technology shaving devices have been made, with most yielding great results shaving against the grain. Since straight razors are making a comeback in the wet shaving space, you cannot help but wonder, can you shave against the grain with a straight razor, and are there risks of doing so?
Let’s take a deep dive into understanding ‘the grain’ and any risks (if any) of shaving against it.
Determining the Grain Direction on Different Spots on Your Face
If you are new to shaving, the first thing to note is that hair grows in different directions on different parts of the face. Knowing the grain on each spot will save you from razor burns and getting hurt. The simplest method of knowing the grain is to run your fingers over the spot you wish to shave. If your fingers glide smoothly over the hair, then that’s the grain’s direction. However, if the fingers raise hairs and the movement isn’t as smooth, they are moving against the grain.
When doing this test, use one or two fingers. Using your palm might get you different results since grain direction shifts suddenly.
Can You Shave against the Grain with a Straight Razor?
Yes, you can.
Regarding safety, shaving against the grain doesn’t lead to health complications, but it comes with some risks. Also, shaving against the grain isn’t as easy as shaving with the grain. The most common risks involved are developing ingrown hair or serious razor burns, albeit getting the closest shave possible.
Because of these risks, wet shaving experts and popular brands in the shaving industry like Gillette recommend that you shave with the grain.
We should mention that straight razors are great for getting a close and smooth shave. However, they need technique and skill lest you are left nursing cuts, nicks, and ingrown hair.
Some wet shavers master using a straight razor in ten shaves, while others require fifty shaves or more. As a beginner, we recommend taking your time shaving with the grain and mastering the art of wet shaving with a straight razor before going against the grain.
With that said, let’s dive into the pros and cons of shaving against the grain.
Pros and Cons of Shaving against the Grain
Get the Closest Shave
This is a huge benefit for most wet shavers. Shaving with straight razors helps you get a baby-bottom smooth shave. Shaving against the grain allows you to cut more hair, meaning that hair will take a little more time to grow back.
Enter the Badass
Using a straight razor is a flex. Mastering the art of shaving with the grain and getting a close shave is impressive. However, shaving against the grain with a straight razor and getting a close shave without nicks and cuts makes you a gangster.
Properly wielding a straight razor and successfully shaving against the grain is difficult. So, when you learn how to do it, there are a few techniques that’ll give you a hard time.
The Shave Lasts Longer
We’ve already alluded to this.
Shaving against the grain allows you to shave hair shorter. With shorter hair, you get to enjoy smooth skin for a prolonged time since it’ll require more time to grow.
Hair Grows Back Thicker
If you long to have a thicker beard, proper beard care will help. Moreover, shaving against the grain might help trigger the growth of a thicker beard.
Higher Chances of Ingrown Hair
Yes, shaving against the grain will get you a close and smooth shave that lasts longer. But this comes with a downside. Often, shaving against the grain results in cutting the hair below the skin’s surface, burying the hair follicles. As hair grows back, it’s bent back into the skin, forming ingrown hair.
Although ingrown hairs aren’t dangerous, they are painful, form unsightly bumps, and are more likely to get infected. Getting rid of ingrown hair is a tasking process that requires tweezers.
Easier to Get Cuts
Using a straight razor looks more dangerous than using a safety razor or a cartridge razor. With straight razors, you’ve got to maintain the correct angle. Thirty degrees is usually the sweet spot for an aggressive and smooth shave. A higher angle might result in cuts and nicks.
Might Be Bad for Sensitive Skin
If you have sensitive skin, you are prone to irritations and razor burns. Shaving against the grain can worsen your situation. Only those with tough or normal skin should attempt shaving against the grain.
Increased Chances of an Infection
Shaving too close with a straight edge razor might get the skin pores infected. Some pus might accumulate inside the pores after a close shave when not done right.
Aside from this, you are more likely to get infections when you cut your skin. With nicks and cuts and mediocre skin cleanliness, it’s easier to develop irritations or infections.
Serious Razor Burns
In comparison to other types of razors, straight razors can give you the worst razor burns, especially when used by beginners. This is made worse when a beginner attempts to shave against the grain.
More Healing Time
When you shave against the grain, you may get more nicks or curs. As a result, your skin will require more time to heal, and this may be a couple of days before the skin feels normal again.
How to Shave with a Straight Razor
Step 1: Prepare Your Skin for the Shave
To prepare the skin for wet shaving, wash your face with tepid water. Warm water opens the skin pores making shaving more straightforward, and it also prepares the skin to absorb nutrients from the shaving products you’ll use for better skin health.
Speaking of shaving products, you should apply some shave oil before shaving. This will make your skin smoother and gentler as the straight razor glides across it. You can also lather a good men’s shaving cream, a straight razor shaving cream, or straight razor shaving soap and apply it to your face.
Shaving cream prevents the skin from getting too dry during a shave and counteracts the harsh effects of wet shaving. We have written an article about if you can use regular shaving cream with a straight razor.
Step 2: Shave against the Grain
First, you’ll need to hold the razor well. Hold your straight razor with the dominant hand for a solid grip. Next, place the ring, middle and index finger at the base of the blade’s spine and the pink on the tang. The thumb should be on the blade’s side such that it’s closer to the index finger. Learn more about how to shave with a straight razor.
Once you have a solid grip, you should determine the direction of the grain and shave against it on a small area. This trial is important as it’ll help you adjust accordingly. If the shaving hurts, adjust the blade’s angle slightly.
Step 3: Moisturize the Shaved Spot
Once you are done shaving, you should apply some lotion or a good aftershave to soothe the skin. Don’t forget to wash the razor and store it in a cool, dry place. If the razor has a carbon blade, you can cover it with petroleum hello or camellia oil to prevent rusting.
How to Avoid Getting Cuts and Nicks
Shaving against the grain increases your chances of getting cuts and nicks. But with the tips below, you can avoid them.
Use Sharp Razors
Dull razors don’t make things better. If anything, they make you use more force when shaving. Also, instead of making clean cuts, they pull and tug hair increasing skin irritation and making shaving a painful affair. Therefore, unless you are using a shavette, make sure that you are using a good straight razor hone and straight razor strop.
Even though using a sharp blade sounds risky, using it carefully requires less effort and time than dull straight razors.
Shave Carefully and Slowly
It’s never wise to shave with a straight razor when you and in a hurry. Take your time and avoid shaving before an important event so that you’re not rushed.
Hold the Straight Razor Properly
To prevent nicks and cuts, you need to hold the razor properly to prevent cuts and nicks. If you don’t hold it well or position it at the wrong angle, you might cut your skin when shaving.
Shaving against the grain using a straight razor has numerous benefits; it’s understandable why many want to do it. But before you go down that route, you should beware of the risks and take necessary precautions to avoid skin problems.
Ruiru Kibet is passionate about beard care and male grooming. He believes it’s an art form and is happy to share his insight with men across the globe. He’s into wet shaving and evidence-based grooming, a passion that helps him analyze men’s grooming brands, products, and wet shaving practices presenting you with the best recommendations and advice.