Please help soothe my aching face
June 23, 2005 6:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm 28 years old and still have difficulty getting a good shave. Does anyone with similar faces have any tips for me?

My facial hair is weird. Where most guys I see get a "shadow", mine actually grows out as obviously individual hairs. (Clicky - I'm the one on the right.) It grows relatively slowly, and if I try to shave it before it has reached a certain length, my face protests for the next 48 hours with red blotchiness and shaving bumps. Typically, the magic number is 2 1/2 days, but by the end of the second day, I'm starting to look pretty unkempt and unprofessional. If I have an interview or a date (well, recently separated - so I'm assuming I'll one day have dates again) or a meeting or something else that I'd like to be clean-shaven for, I have to plan up to a week in advance to ensure I'll be able to shave the day of the event. Even then, it's hit or miss whether I'll be "clean" shaven at all.

I have tried all types of razors. Rotary, foil, dry, wet, disposable, replaceable blades. Currently I'm using a Mach 3 Power (in the shower with Gillette sensitive skin foam), but that is expensive because I can only use the blades 3 or 4 times before they really start to irritate me. I've tried electrics and always push through the extrememly rough first few weeks while my face acclimates itself, but then I find that I'm never satisfied with the closeness. The closest I've come to a good shave with an electric was with a rotary wet razor that I used with a thin layer of shaving cream. No irritation after the first few weeks but I never had a close shave with it.

When I shave with any bladed razor, I have to shave with the grain first, then go back against the grain, very slowly and carefully, and with as new a blade as possible, to make sure I don't cut or irritate my skin. The soft parts of my neck on either side of the adam's apple are the worst; I have to go over them 3-4 times at different angles to get satisfyingly smooth, which only adds to the irritation.

Just last night I shaved with a blade that had only been used once. Three cuts and big red splotches on my neck.

I am satisfied with about one in ten shaves. I'd like to be able to shave before that 2 1/2 day mark, when necessary, and also have a smooth shave without irritation. What can I try?
posted by mike9322 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have very similar growth as you (my brother calls it a "neck beard"). Normally I shave every other day with a regular Mach 3 blade (3 to 4 shaves before tossing the blade) and regular Gillette foaming shaving cream. Last week, however, I picked up a tube of non-foaming shave gel (I think it's Gillette, but I can't recall for sure).

This stuff is awesome. It lets the blade get that much closer and reduces the need for me to do the back and forth over the same spots (just like you, the depressions on either side of my Adam's apple). I still get nicked occasionally, but I get a much smoother shave now with much less aggravation irritation.
posted by friezer at 6:42 AM on June 23, 2005

How to get that perfect shave
posted by glibhamdreck at 6:42 AM on June 23, 2005

I have very similar facial hair and have had many of the same problems over the years. I think the important part is really preparation - once I got that taken care of my shaves were much better, although not quite perfect.

A quick google search found this link:

Its a pretty concise article with some excellent recommendations that doesn't recommend buying a $900 shaving kit.
posted by TommyH at 6:50 AM on June 23, 2005

This sounds very similar to my own shaving experience too- the hairs are really dark and very thick which doesn't help any either.

As freizer said, gel (or even a handmade soap) is better than cream. Sticky is better than foamy. Anything that foams up all airy-like is going to be crap. Discovering this a couple years ago made my shaving better - closer shave and less irritation, but I still have problems if I shave more frequently than every other day :(
posted by p3t3 at 6:52 AM on June 23, 2005

glib and tommy - that link is good, good stuff. Thanks.
posted by mike9322 at 7:06 AM on June 23, 2005

Good article glibhamdreck.
I have very similar facial hair as you Mike, and I also get the post-shave bumps / redness often. Here's what works best for me:

- Shave immediately after a hot shower, and only then. This will make your skin soft enough to allow you to shave against the grain.

- You're right, the more passes you make, the more your skin takes a beating. I've learned (through trial and irritating error) which direction to point my razor for just about every hair on my face so that I only have to make one pass. (including that weird patch to the left of my addams apple that grows upwards)

- Do not, under any circumstances, move sideways with the blade, and don't stop and start during a stroke. Move slowly, lightly, and purposefully. This requires a steady hand.

- Replace the blade frequently (I push it a little longer than friezer, but rarely longer than a dozen shaves). I use "Schick Extreme 3" disposable razors because they are much cheaper than gillettes in the long run.

On the other hand, you can avoid a lot of the irritation by just shaving with the grain, and dealing with the longer stubble. Unfortunately I can't suggest you just grow a beard since your hair, like mine, is too sparse to look any better than a 16 year old's first try. I am so jealous of these guys.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:06 AM on June 23, 2005

Clicky - I'm the one on the right.

For this question, I would certainly hope so!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:09 AM on June 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

You could benefit from a shave oil, which both softens your skin/stubble and smooths the travel of your razor. Not to shill too hard for my employer, but Clarins Shave Ease is a good product to try. And, of course, shave while your face--and the bathroom--is at its most damp, while in or immediately following a shower.
posted by werty at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2005

All good advice, but some people still have big problems even when they take care with their shave.

There are products around that claim to deal with razor rash. This is one and this is another, and Google can find you even more. King of Shaves has a very large range and you might find something helpful at a store that stocks it. Personally I rather like the 'Clinique for Men Post-Shave Healer', although I don't really have all that much trouble with my own shaving.
posted by edd at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2005

I, too, would prefer to shave every three days if I could. I HATE it when I need to shave two days in a row.

I used an electric razor for 15 years and had terrible razor bumps and irritated skin almost every time I shaved. I never liked using a blade because the irritation was worse than with the electric... but that's because I was doing it wrong.

About 4 years ago I was planning a 4 week trip to Italy and I wanted to pack as light as possible, which meant no electronics. (So no electric razor.) I made the decision about a month before I left to finally learn how to shave with a blade... the right way.

Here's what I learned:

1. Get your beard as wet as possible with the warmest water you can stand. (I like to shave BEFORE I shower, so I use the sink to wet my face.) Really massage the water into your beard repeatedly, don't just splash a couple handfuls on. ALSO, do NOT wash your face with soap before shaving... you'll remove all the oils from your skin and make the shave more irritating. Just RINSE your face with the water, NO SOAP! Get your face as wet as possible.

2. While your face is still dripping wet, apply shave gel. Not too much, but don't skimp, either. Take time and massage it into your face at as many angles as possible. If you have time, let it sit on your face for a minute or so to soften up your beard.

3. Get a clean blade (I use a Gilette Sensor XL) and begin to shave WITH THE GRAIN!!! That's the key. ONLY with the grain. No matter how much you want to go against the grain to get the 'TV-commercial-smooth' shave, it's NOT WORTH IT. Resist the urge. Just use slow, slightly firm strokes. Don't go over the same area more than once (maybe twice, if you're gentle.) And don't pull your skin taught for a closer shave either. With a properly lubricated face and a clean blade, you can get a remarkably close shave without all the facial contortions and skin pulling.

4. Rinse the blade with hot water after every pass. (I keep one hand on the faucet and use the other to shave. This ensures I don't use my free hand to pull the skin tight while shaving AND let's me shave/rinse/shave without having to leave the hot water running.)

5. Once you're finished, go over your face with your hand and make sure you didn't miss a spot. Again, RESIST THE URGE to go back over areas against the grain.

6. Rinse again with warm water and then hop in the shower and continue your daily routine.

Some things to think about:

Make shaving a ritual. ONLY think about shaving while you do it.

Focus on smooth, gentle strokes.

Never shave when you're in a hurry. MAKE time to shave. It's not worth rushing and destroying your face.

I use a blade about 3-4 times before replacing it.

99% of the time, ONLY YOU will know the difference between that 'against the grain' close shave and 'with the grain' close shave. Most people won't be able to SEE the difference and even fewer will care. (But they will see the razor bumps and cuts!)

Pick one system (type of blade, type of gel) and stick with it.

While you're shaving, think HOT and WET.
posted by evoo at 7:26 AM on June 23, 2005

I switched from gel to Trader Joe's Mango (non-foaming) shaving cream a couple of years ago and it has really, really improved things.
posted by googly at 7:58 AM on June 23, 2005

I too struggle with this. The Mach3 is good, but not perfect. The chin area never gets as close as it should be. And despite evoo's protestations, shaving with the grain for me is tantamount to not shaving at all. It's against or nothing.

Only after a shower (no more than 5 min later). Anything else and there's a nice blood fountain.

Nivea aftershave (in the square white bottle) is really good stuff and helps the irritation.

All electrics suck. I'll gladly buy stock in a company that can prove otherwise.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:59 AM on June 23, 2005

Not sure if this helps. I get a pretty good shave with Neutrogena shave gel and the razor with 4 blades. But, when I am at my girlfriend's place and I shave with her girl razor and bikini area shaving cream (skintimates?), I get a shave smoother than any shave I've ever had. I am seriously close to buying bikini shaving cream and women's razors for now on.
posted by bDiddy at 9:25 AM on June 23, 2005

I used an electric for years (various Norelco models) since I always had problems with blades especially on my neck. The problem of course is the electrics never did a very good job. So after reading that MSNBC article I took the plunge and got some stuff it recommended. I had lots of (mostly closeness) problems with the safety razor and blades so I use a disposable blade (Schick Extreme 3 after trying a few), but using the brush and high quality cream has made a huge difference. I'm using Taylor of Old Bond Street and it works very well. I also use Neutrogena Razer Defense soap which seems to help too, though it has kind of a funky smell.

I'll second evoo's (and the article's) advice to go with the grain. though I've found I can go back (re-apply the cream!) and carefully go against the grain to get closer if I want too.
posted by sevenless at 10:08 AM on June 23, 2005

Popular Ethics writes "Shave immediately after a hot shower, and only then. This will make your skin soft enough to allow you to shave against the grain. "

I've got similiar problems (including a patch under my chin with grain running right to left) though not as bad. I find shaving while showering, leave it as the last thing, to be the best.
posted by Mitheral at 10:10 AM on June 23, 2005

I have the exact same facial hair pattern/thickness/rashiness, and I actually discovered that I get less rash when I shave immediately after a shower with my Mach 3 WITHOUT any gel or cream. This will cause cries of dismay, but it works for me. I just keep the blade really wet and rinse after each stroke, and I don't go over any patch more than once.
posted by goatdog at 10:13 AM on June 23, 2005

Any users of double-edged safety razors here? I am thinking of trying one out. I have heard they are better than Mach 3 type razors, because the extra blades clog too quickly.
posted by SNACKeR at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2005

You could try Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel. It's proven very effective for me, whether I was shaving my whole head or just my face.
posted by clevershark at 10:21 AM on June 23, 2005

My skin is pretty crap, through trial and error over the years i find it to be less bad if I shave in the shower, no gel, making sure to wash my face properly before hand with a facial cream wash. I find both soap and foaming face washes to be too drying. The washing means the stubble has a chance to get properly soaked through.
I really don't see how people get a shave by only going with the grain, if I do that then it leaves hard fuzz all over my face. Under my chin, the grain isn't so much a grain as a field of corn in a tornado effect, how do you sort that out? You should probably moisturise after shaving as well.
posted by biffa at 10:29 AM on June 23, 2005

Ditto what evoo said. Especially point #1. I used to slap about fifty splashes of hot water on my face before starting to shave. I can now do about 30 and be fine, although I rarely shave two days in a row.

You may want to try a steam-free shower mirror.

When you're done shaving, wash your face with soap and hot water, and when you're done rinsing, splash your face with cold water. I found that immediately after starting this practice, my occasional chin-area zit and ingrown neck hairs almost completely stopped happening. I still keep an Xacto knife blade and tweezers for when the ingrown hairs do happen, though.

I don't know about the Clarins product line, but I've been using similar products, "King of Shaves," from I use a shaving oil and a shaving gel along with the Mach 3 others have mentioned, and I'm getting the best shaves of my life, although I almost want to say my beard has gotten easier to shave on its own in the past decade (I'm nearly ten years older than you). is a UK site, but you might be able to find these products at a place like Target, or, if you order them from the site, I think they end up shipping from a US warehouse, so you shouldn't have to wait too long for the order, assuming you're in the US. I'll try the Clarins if I find it since werty seems cool and all....
posted by kimota at 10:48 AM on June 23, 2005

Try Kiehl's Ulimate Brushless Shave Cream. It's not cheap, but a little goes a very, very long way. I have a similar type of beard and the container I bought for $17 will probably last me 8 months or so. I shave about as often as you.

People kept telling me to try it, and I kept saying Edge and a Mach 3 were all I needed. Then I tried it. Now I preach it. Every guy I know who has tried it is converted and swears he'll never go back.
posted by jewishbuddha at 11:14 AM on June 23, 2005

I shave my head and use Mach3 blades with Edge gel. This has been the least irritating solution for me. Typically I get 8-12 shaves with one blade. Always right after a shower. I fill the sink with hot water to rinse after EVERY stroke. I usually go every other day but might shave my face on the off day for something important but that can irritate.

Try a shave oil. I never have but HeadShaver recommends them. For the the most sensitive areas, go with the grain and then perpendicular to the grain. You can get pretty close this way.

Try getting a shave from a barber. That's the closest shave I've ever had. You might find out if he has techniques that are more or less irritating for you.

If none of this is working, you might consider electrolysis. The non-laser kind is apparently quite effective although expensive and time-consuming and needs multiple treatments. You would also probably need repeat treatments every few years as you get older and hairier.
posted by 6550 at 11:52 AM on June 23, 2005

I have a sparse beard with very thick and coarse individual hairs. They're tough, with a texture approaching that of iron filings. When I've tried to use an electric shaver in the past, it sounded like individual logs being thrown into a wood chipper.

I use to have constant red bumps and whiteheads from ingrown hairs after shaving. Not any more.

This stuff:

Apricot Facial Scrub

has been my salvation.

My routine is:

- Jump in the shower

- Douse head/face with water

- Apply scrub and scrub all areas to be shaved.

- Rinse off Scrub

- Apply Shaving Cream (Neutrogena Shave Defense is my current favorite, but I've found that the shaving cream doesn't matter anywhere near as much as the scrub beforehand).

- Shave in the shower with Gillette sensor excel. The old two blade model. I've tried the 3-and up blades and never noticed any improvement. I can typically use the same excel blade for ~2 weeks.

- Rinse face of shaving cream. Done.
posted by de void at 12:35 PM on June 23, 2005

[removed werty's accidental double]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:05 PM on June 23, 2005

What JewishBuddha said!! Kiehls white eagle shave cream will change your life. I forgot to reorder last month and tried the mach 3 gel with my m3 power razor and could not believe the difference. White eagle is so good I really don't have to shave in the shower any more, although I still do occasionally. It is a little pricey, but lasts way longer than foam. I by the 8oz tub for $15 or so and it lasts for 4-6 months - but even if it was twice that price I would gladly pay. Everyone I know who has tried it has become converted.
I may sound a little preachy but I tried every combination of shave cream and razors for years and the M3 + white eagle just works.

Also - kiehls is a pretty great company and is very liberal with their samples - ask for a bunch.
posted by vronsky at 2:10 PM on June 23, 2005

Olive oil is actually wonderful for your skin in general and, when used in place of shaving cream, can provide you with a much closer shave.

Also, keeping your razor, blade-down, in a little cup of olive oil between uses keeps the blades from oxidizing and retains sharpness longer.
posted by roundrock at 2:13 PM on June 23, 2005

I have similar skin/whiskers/issues with shaving. I know much of what is below has already been said, but here is what I agree with:

1. Only shave immediately post-shower, without even drying the face a bit. I literally WILL NOT shave without a shower because of the damage I do to my face.

2. The razor doesn't seem to matter too much, but I can't stand the kind that have the hinge at the bottom of the blade (Mach 3 style) instead of behind it (Sensor style) - I feel like I can't get enough control/pressure.

3. Foamy shave cream is for suckers, also as THIN a layer as possible. Believe it or not, regular hair conditioner works incredibly well, and is much less expensive that shave gel.

4. I find that switching brands of shave gel/cream/conditioner gives me a better shave for some time until my beard "gets used to" whatever I'm using.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:27 PM on June 23, 2005

Holy cow, I never expected this type of response - thanks much to everyone! This is why bringing a question like this here rather than Google is sometimes worth it - all the varying tips and opinions end up all in one convenient place.

Again, thanks, everyone, and I look forward to comfortable shaves in my near future.

posted by mike9322 at 3:33 AM on June 24, 2005

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