How To Shave Like A Barber

Tips and tricks from the best

You’re trying to upgrade your shaving game, but you don’t know where to start? Perhaps you’re tired of 15-blade razors always wanted to wield a good old-fashioned straight razor. Or maybe you just like to live on the edge. Either way, we had a chat with our Master Barber, Brandon Barney, to collect his advice on how to shave like a pro. Here’s what he had to say.

Select a straight razor for a close shave.

An indispensable piece of kit for anyone who’s serious about shaving, the straight razor will add a touch of old-school class to your shaving routine. The main decision here is whether to go traditional or disposable.

“Disposable blades are the best way to learn how to shave yourself with a straight razor,” Brandon told us. “That way, you can make your early mistakes with a blade that isn’t surgical grade.”

Even professional barbers use them nowadays, to limit cross-contamination between clients. You should be able to get a pack of 100 blades for less than $20 easily.

If you do want to go traditional, you’ll need to learn how to take care of your razor. To sharpen your blade, a water hone is your best option, as it less harsh on the blade’s edge than a stone. Run your blade along a leather strop for finishing touches. Whatever you do, remember to sharpen the blade to your personal preference based on your skin sensitivity, no need to go overboard and turn your blade into a killing machine. Final words of wisdom: avoid leaving your blade in water or even having water droplets on your blade too long as it could rust.

Choose a cream that works for you.

Maybe you’re shaving for that special someone, to look professional for work, or because your parents have been berating you for “looking like a hobo,” but the shaving process is all about you. So, picking a cream is all about your personal taste. The scent should not be so overpowering as to replace cologne; just pick a cream that’s relaxing and smells good to you. Shaving cream that come in a can aren’t the devil: they are cheap and get the job done, even if they might leave your skin feeling dry due to their high alcohol content. If you have sensitive skin, you’ll want to pay attention to ingredients: low-alcohol content, aloe vera, glycerin and natural oils are your friends here. Ultimately, this is a matter of personal preference, and it might require some trial and error before you can find a perfect fit.

Work the cream in with a brush.

Why use a brush when you’ve got two perfectly good hands, you say? Well, while your hands will do their best to coat the hair with cream, the brush’s main role is to lift the hairs up and spread the cream across the skin underneath. Lifting the hair up will automatically give you a smoother shave, as the blade will have a much easier time cutting through the lifted hair rather than pulling it out. Trust us, once you try it, you’ll wonder how you survived without a brush all this time.

When it comes to the shaving brush, you’ve got three options: black (or plain) badger hair, silvertip badger hair, and synthetic. Black is the roughest and holds the most water. Again, not for the sensitive-skinned. Silvertip and synthetic are both softer than black, and hold less water. Anyone with reservations about animal-based products (e.g. vegans) should go for a synthetic brush. Shaving brushes can cost anywhere between $10 and $700, but if you’re a first-timer, don’t need to go all in on this, as you won’t be able to appreciate the difference in quality.

“Storing the shaving brush wet and vertical causes bacteria to build up at the base of the bristles, and this ruins it,” Brandon said.

Make sure to give it a thorough, warm rinse, and leave it to dry upside down on a brush stand/holder.

“In the kitchen, great ingredients and careful preparation can make a world of difference,” said Barney. “The same applies to the bathroom.”

Take a hot shower to open the pores.

Splash hot water on your face, to provide a nice water layer on your skin.

Apply pre-shave to your face. This provides a layer of protection to your skin as well as a smooth surface to shave on. If you don’t want to have to reapply it mid-shave (your face can absorb some pre-shaves pretty quickly), invest in a silicon-based pre-shave.

Lather up your brush. Circular motions will lift up your hair and massage your skin to prepare it for a sharp blade to run over it momentarily.

Shave. Slow, steady, long movements. Do not make small, jagged movements. Angle-wise, you’ll have to experiment. Too steep, and you’ll feel the blade cut into your skin. Trial and error is the way to go here. Take your time and shave confidently, like the daredevil you are.

Reapply lather and shave again until happy.

Splash hot water on your face to remove any excess lather and reopen pores.

Apply a post-shave balm. The fewer chemicals, the better. This is when your face is most vulnerable since it has open pores, no hair to shield it and just had a sharp blade run over it. You want a balm that is able to put the nutrients you just took out back into your skin. Apply generously but not wastefully – your skin can only absorb so much.

Pat dry your face. Again, pat dry. Do not wipe your face after you just applied your $400 an ounce imported balm. Wiping it takes all of the nutrients out of the skin you just put back into it. Pat drying it only takes off the excess that sits on top of your skin that your body can’t absorb.

Go to the freezer and glide an ice cube over your face. This sounds extreme, and it is. It will shock your senses, allow your pores to close quicker than you can regret your decision and guard your face from dirt.

Pat dry your face again and go conquer the world.

Take care of any cuts with an alum block.

If you have sensitive skin, chances are you’ll pick up a few scars on your shaving adventures. Not to worry, alum blocks to the rescue! When you cut yourself, rinse the area with cold water to close the pores. Then just touch the alum block to the cut and once the initial sting (and any expletive that might accompany it) recedes, the bleeding will stop. Don’t share your block with someone else as it would be unhygienic – it is a stone stained with your blood, after all. Once it gets too bloody, just chip away a small piece and behold, underneath will be clean stone for you to bleed on. A styptic pencil or powder do the same thing, but the powder can be messy and the pencil won’t last as long. An alum block should last for years and it shouldn’t be more than $25 or so. If you don’t currently have one and cut yourself anyway, stick a small piece of toilet paper onto the cut until it clots – just remember to take it off before you go out.

Brandon’s recommended products

Irving razor for a straight razor: the razor holds the blade securely

Merkur razor for the safety: good, solid construction

Simpson shave brush: construction and quality of bristles are top shelf

Triumph and Disaster pre-shave, cream and aftershave  

Victor Allard is a writer, teacher, and proud owner of a well-trimmed beard. When he’s not writing about shaving and meditation, he likes to play any instrument he can find at https://www.facebook.com/thehedgehogmusic