There’s a long-standing debate over whether you should shave with or against the grain.
The argument for shaving against the grain is that you get the closest shave, but some people say you’re in for a world of pain — or at least some irritation and razor burn — if you do it.
So, who’s right?
The only thing that happens to the hair when you shave against the grain is that the razor tugs on it, but the hair is not really the problem, according to Salehi.
“Nothing really happens to the hair if you shave against the grain. It is the skin that gets the irritation and, in some cases, razor burn,” Salehi says.
“The best way to avoid that is not to shave against the grain. Having said that, some faces may allow you to do that without any difficulty and irritation,” he says.
If you’re not prone to ingrown hairs or don’t have skin that’s easily irritated, then you’re one of the lucky “some faces” Salehi is referring to.
If shaving another part of the body — say, your legs — shaving against the grain might not be quite as irritating either. Everyone’s skin is different, though.
Well, it won’t kill you, so in that sense, it’s totally safe. But unless you have tough skin or take all the necessary precautions to protect your skin (more on that in a sec), shaving against the grain can make your skin raw and painful to the touch.
Probably not, according to most experts, including Salehi.
“Overall I would say no. I would strongly advise shaving with the grain, not against,” Salehi says.
“This answer is a pretty generalized one. In my 34 years of barbering, I will tell you there are some faces that allow you to shave against the grain, and that is up to a few things, like the nature of the pores on the face, and the other thing I would say is how often that face is being shaved,” he says.
Shaving properly makes a difference, too. Salehi says that prepping the skin for a shave (see below for instructions) using a fresh blade and shaving every day can help.
If you partake in a proper shave on the daily, your skin is less likely to get irritated if you decide to venture against the grain on occasion.
Ready to throw caution to the wind and risk some redness and razor burn?
Salehi recommends a multistep approach — which a good shave involves whether you’re shaving against the grain or not, he says.
Your skin should be prepped for shaving. This means it should be warmed, moisturized, and massaged before you apply shaving cream, says Salehi.
To prep your skin for shaving:
- Shower or wash your face with warm water, massaging in a circular motion to open pores and make the hair stand up and away from the skin.
- Apply shaving soap or cream. Ideally this should be warm, since applying cold cream to the face can close pores.
To shave against the grain safely, Salehi recommends the following steps:
- Start by shaving *with* the grain first, using a sharp, fresh blade.
- Rinse the blade thoroughly after each pass.
- Before going against the grain, shave sideways first. It may get you a close shave you’re happy with.
- To get an even closer shave, gently pull the skin taut with one hand, and shave against the grain using minimal pressure.
- Be extra careful around the neck and any areas with acne, or that are prone to irritation and bumps.
- When finished, wash your face with cold water to close the pores.
If you want a close shave, you shouldn’t need to go against the grain if you prep your skin, use a fresh blade, and take your time.
If you’d still rather risk a few nicks and bumps, it’s your skin and your choice. Good prep and a gentle hand can make it a tad safer.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.