I've thick, dark facial hair. How can I get a closer shave?
June 17, 2011 12:32 AM   Subscribe

I've thick, dark facial hair. How can I get a closer shave?

Whenever I shave my face -- even with a new razor -- I end up having visible stubble on my face. See for yourselves. I just shaved my face a few hours ago, but even immediately after shaving there is visible stubble like that on my face.

I currently use a Gillette Fusion razor which, I believe, is one of the most highly regarded razors on the market. As for gel/cream: All I ever use are various Gillette shaving gels/creams.

Should I use a different razor and/or shaving cream/gel? Would a straight razor solve my problem?

I've heard from various sources that straight razors allow you to get a much closer shave than a standard razor, but I've yet to use one to see what they're like.

Hopefully someone here can help me get rid of this damn stubble.

posted by GlassHeart to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The cleanest shaves I've ever had were from barbers in Turkey; their process involved:

Lathering the face briskly with a stiff brush, shaving cream (not gel or foam) and very, very hot water for at least two or three minutes.

Shave with a straight razor - this was a cut-throat style plastic handle into which one half of a standard disposable straight razor blade was inserted (they snipped the blade in half with scissors). A new half of a blade was used for every individual.

This process would then be repeated. The first shave would be with the grain of the beard, and relatively quick, the second would against the grain and done slower, with the skin of the face being tightly stretched (I imagine this is where the super hot water helps) along the line of the grain where needed to expose more of each hair above the skin.

To finish, ear and nose hair would be burnt back with a tiny application of lemon-scented cologne and a lit wooden taper, as would any downy hair round the back of the neckline. A quick slapping motion was used to extinguish the lit cologne in a fraction of a second; not a technique I'd fancy experimenting with on myself...
posted by protorp at 12:51 AM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have thick dark facial hair too; perhaps even thicker than yours. I use a single blade safety razor, but I shave three times: once with the grain (i.e., the direction of the hair's growth), once across it, and once against it. Until I started doing this, I had a five o'clock shadow pretty much all the time and no shave with a Gilette Sensor could remedy it. Multiple blade razors might make the against-the-grain swipe too harsh, but you can do it with a safety razor. Give that a try, and I betcha you'll get a closer shave.
posted by holterbarbour at 1:21 AM on June 17, 2011

I have hair that has actually dulled barber's shears before, so I know all about thick hair. I can't even think about using electrics, and the commercial multi-blade safety razors leave me with a five-o-clock shadow, but what does work for me is a double-sided single-blade safety razor (Merkur makes great ones). It takes some practice and patience (you need to go gently and make multiple passes to avoid cutting yourself), but it gets me a closer shave than anything. I second holterbarbour's multiple angles technique, as well.
posted by Punkey at 1:24 AM on June 17, 2011

My boyfriend has thick, dark facial hair. I always joke that he's got a 9 o'clock shadow because even right after he shaves it looks like it's growing back. His problem (and I suspect this is a large part of your problem as well) isn't the closeness of the shave. His face is smooth. His problem is that his hair is so dark and thick you can see it through his skin. As far as we know, there is no way to combat that. I've got the same issue, to a certain extent, with my pasty white legs: you can see the stubble long before you can feel it. The trick is just not to care.

If it makes you feel better, you can always tell yourself that you have so much testosterone coursing through your veins that the sexy manliness is always on the verge of bursting out. Rawr. (This mantra works less well with hairy lady legs, but you've gotta do what you can.)
posted by phunniemee at 1:27 AM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Safety (or straight) razor, multiple passes in varying directions. I to with the grain, across the grain both ways, and against the grain. Baby's ass smooth.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:51 AM on June 17, 2011

For more shaving advice than anyone would ever need: Badger&Blade
posted by sleepy boy at 2:24 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have the exact same problem as you. Sometimes after I shave, I think, fuck. Why even bother?

I switched to a DE safety razor and shave soap/brush a while back, and that DID make a big difference. I'd never use a cartridge razor again. I still have the homer simpson grey jaw though.

You can get a straight razor that takes disposable blades. I have the Dovo Shavette. I like it; it's kind of fun to shave like that when I feel like it. It does as good as the DE. As you use it, your face toughens up, plus you get better at it, so within a month or so I was up to speed on using it without any significant cuts or anything.

To be honest, though, that's not going to really solve your problem if your face is indeed like mine. Some days I'm surprised when I get what for me is a fantastic shave, some days there is nothing I can do to get a good shave, no matter how many times, directions, methods, etc. Sorry.

Oh by the way, if you don't use a styptic pencil, try it. I didn't discover those until I was nearly 40, and they sure do take most of the "fucking hell I have to shave and I hate it" away. At least for me. Beats dabbing at blood spots forever by a long shot.
posted by ctmf at 4:29 AM on June 17, 2011

Some good advice here. Another thing that always helps, for me, is to shave right after stepping out of a good long soak in a very hot tub. Opens the pores, I believe. Then splash your face with cold water afterwards to close 'em up again.
posted by Decani at 5:00 AM on June 17, 2011

to shave right after stepping out of a good long soak in a very hot tub. Opens the pores, I believe

Perhaps, but it also softens up the stubble, which is good.

I use a straight razor and when I shave, it's always right after I get out of the shower. The difference really is like night and day. I started using it less because I couldn't get a close shave than because safety razors, particularly the multi-blade ones, give me wicked razor burn. Shaving with a straight razor actually makes my face feel awesome. I just use a simple shaving soap for lather and a brush to apply it, then get to work. Been doing it for over four years now, and cut myself maybe that many times, which is actually fewer than when I was using safety razors. Saved a butt-load of money too.

Still, shaving with a straight razor is definitely a skill, and I'm still perfecting my technique. Head over to Badger and Blade, which is one of the best wet-shaving forums on the net. It's currently down for maintenance, but it'll be back up presently.
posted by valkyryn at 5:18 AM on June 17, 2011

If you do buy a DE safety razor (or straight razor), boar or badger brush, and real shaving cream, make sure you take some time to re-learn shaving. When I made the transition from multi-blade to a single edge, I was cutting myself like crazy because I didn't understand how to hold the razor, or the correct pressure. Mantic59's instructional videos on YouTube are a bit long-winded, but very informative. Also if there is a Trader Joe's near you, they sell a Mango Honey shaving cream that is the same price as the Gillette Gels, but much more effective especially when used with a brush.
posted by 2ghouls at 5:29 AM on June 17, 2011

Nthing the safety razor (I use a Merkur Futur). And the brush/cream combo as well.

I've got thick, course, dark facial hair. I shave in the shower- once down, once up. Three times seems excessive. I'm baby smooth for a couple days, and the shadow's not really noticeable until the evening of the second day. I almost never nick myself anymore.
posted by mkultra at 5:37 AM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get some C.O Bigelow shaving cream. (It is actually a cream in a tube, old school style.) It's the best I've found.

One thing I found on my own was that the hot water + soften beard game made things worse. The hot water made my skin puffier and more suceptible to razor burn, and the softer hair made it easier for the razor to slide over the hair rather than cutting into it. I call it the Irishman's dillema. Thick, wiry beard + pale, sensitive skin.

My solution was to use cool water, and to shave before washing my face. Not so cold as to make goosebumps, but not too much warmer. Keeps the blade sharper, longer as well.

Another trick I learned was to experiment with different blade angles. What works best for me is to set the razor so that the blade is as parallel as possible to the plane of the face. That makes the blade less likely to want to dig in and scrape the skin, and act more like a carpenter's plane.

When stretching the skin, if that works for you, stretch from below the grain. It seems to cause the hair to project out, where stretching up seems to make the hair retract in a bit.

The old fashioned safety razors worked for shit for me. They are sharp as hell, but after trying a couple of different well-recommended tools, none of them did as good of a job as the cheapest disposables at Target. The blade angle was just never right- there was no sweet spot of being adjusted enough to get a good bite on the hair, and to also NOT take off a quarter inch of skin.
posted by gjc at 6:05 AM on June 17, 2011

His problem is that his hair is so dark and thick you can see it through his skin. As far as we know, there is no way to combat that. I've got the same issue, to a certain extent, with my pasty white legs: you can see the stubble long before you can feel it. The trick is just not to care.

Another option is to get a tan. Might not be the best long term solution, but it looks good.
posted by gjc at 6:06 AM on June 17, 2011

Another option is to get a tan.

He is a genetically light brown person. He's as tan as he gets. He's just got some crazy-impressive beardage. And I'm down with my pasty legs.

posted by phunniemee at 6:14 AM on June 17, 2011

Agreed with protorp re Turkey.
posted by dfriedman at 6:15 AM on June 17, 2011

Get a merkur safety razor and some blades. You will save tons of money and love shaving moving forward. I promise you.
posted by OuttaHere at 6:20 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I bought my husband a Clarisonic brush for this very reason. When he preps with the brush, his shaves are substantially less painful and last longer. I could see the difference from the very first time he tried it. The idea is that the brush dislodges the hairs from under the skin and allows you to shave more off.

It's also fantastic for blackheads and general skin gunk.
posted by Dragonness at 7:01 AM on June 17, 2011

Get the merkur safety razor.

I use the fusion to shave. Why? Because while it is NOT a close shave, I find it near impossible to cut myself. The opposite is true with the merkur. I cut myself all the time with it (especially the first few weeks), but it gave me an extremely close shave. For me, it wasn't worth the tradeoff.

Of course of course buy a shaving brush and apply your shaving creme with that. I like the Taylor of old Bond street stuff, but get whatever makes you happy.

My preference is to shave in the shower (more moister means more better). The $5 "shower" mirror from BB&B fogs up all the time, but just a little soap on it keeps it clear.
posted by Phredward at 7:03 AM on June 17, 2011

Pre-shave and post-shave treatments make a big difference for many men in the quality of their shaves. For me, even though I generally shave in the shower, with shaving soap and a Gillette 2 blade Sensor Excel, a bit of Williams 'Lectric Shave pre-shave treatment applied a few minutes before first washing my face seems to set up my beard a lot better than just washing my face without the product does. Most shaving products companies make some kind of pre-shave product these days, and it may be worth experimenting a bit to find one that works for you.

After shaving, a moisturizing aftershave like Aramis Classic Aftershave Lotion is a big help in getting my face to feel smooth, especially in areas where my beard is especially tough and thick. I think it holds in a bit of moisture from the shave process, and provides a little lubrication to let the cut hair follicles retract back into the skin. Yet it also seems to vastly reduce the number and severity of ingrown hairs I seem to get with hairs at my upward growing, collar irritated neck line.

Finally, some men with heavy beards ditch razors altogether, and find shaving powders their best answer. Shaving powders are caustic, however, and generally work as depilatories; your skin may or may not adapt to the use of shaving powder, but if it does, you'll only be using the product once or twice a week.
posted by paulsc at 7:08 AM on June 17, 2011

Shaving oil and cream from Grooming Lounge, Merkur safety razor, shave twice, once with, once against the grain. Plus, I do it all in the shower.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:42 AM on June 17, 2011

Nth-ing the suggestions for a good safety razor. I use a Merkur, and I get the cleanest shave ever with it.

One pass is about equivalent to your average cartridge razor, but if I re-lather and make two or three passes around my face, I'm as smooth as a baby's ass.

Like others, I shave right after the shower. I use a badger brush from Art of Shaving, and the CADE shave soap from L'Occitane. It did take me a bit to learn to shave with the new razor, but yeah... I seldom get nicked anymore. Afterward, I rinse with cold water and apply a good aftershave lotion.

The blade makes more of a difference than the razor. Currently, I'm using Dovo blades and enjoying them, but I intend to try Feather blades next.
posted by kaseijin at 8:10 AM on June 17, 2011

Put This On has a great episode about shaving with a classic safety razor among other grooming things a man should know. Watch it. Learn stuff.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:45 AM on June 17, 2011

Lots of good comments here, but I couldn't let a shaving question go by without giving my 2 cents.

Badger and Blade is the bomb. An incredibly friendly and informative community, product reviews, tips on where to buy, etc.

Mantic59's instructional videos are fantastic. (Corny, buy super.)

No matter what kind of razor or soap you use, use a brush. It helps lather get between your face and your beard, making it easier to cut.

One of the things that I've learned on my shaving journey is that, for me, success lies in fewer blades, more passes. I switched to a DE safety razor (a Merkur HD for me) for home use, but when I travel I use the cheapest disposables I can find and make multiple passes across my face.
posted by bluejayway at 8:59 AM on June 17, 2011

For me, the only thing that has worked consistently is going to a barber and getting a straight razor shave.

Which is really nice, and lasts about a day before I have wicked stubble again.

Safety razors and straight razors in my hands just end up slashing my face pretty wickedly, and I can't seem to get the angles right (I've got whorls on my neck).

So I have a beard usually and occasionally get my neck shaved by a barber. Otherwise, I've got the five o'clock shadow by noon.
posted by klangklangston at 1:16 PM on June 17, 2011

To take this in a completely different direction, you might want to consider laser hair removal treatment. It hurts, and is f-ing expensive, but it will make whatever hair grows back in finer and easier to manage. I guess it would leave you with a patchier beard in the future... but if you absolutely want to be smooth, or have serious trouble with ingrown hairs, maybe you should check it out, at least for your worst trouble spots. I'm a 45 yo pasty-white legged woman. I joke that I'm half-Italian, and it's my lower half. I've now finished getting treatment on my inner thighs/bikini line and am delighted. No more razor burn or ingrown hairs! Dark coarse hair + pale skin = great results.

Like I said, it may be a weird suggestion, but what the heck.
posted by Thistlemouse at 6:51 PM on June 17, 2011

safety razors, particularly the multi-blade ones, give me wicked razor burn

You must be thinking of cartridge razors. Safety razors take only one blade.

And showering before shaving is good because it softens the whiskers--pores are incapable of opening and closing.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:40 PM on June 17, 2011

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