How to deal with perma-stubble?
July 1, 2006 6:15 PM   Subscribe

I have perma-stubble and I'm sick of it.

I am in my twenties and have been putting up with my perma-stubble for almost ten years now. It seems to continue getting worse. I have black hair and fair-ish skin. I typically have a five 'o clock shadow about fifteen to thirty minutes after I shave, and scratchy stubble a few hours later.

I use an electric razor because I discovered in the beginning that blades would either make me look sloppy and unshaven (going with the grain) or turn my face into a bloody wasteland (going sideways or against the grain). I have sensitive skin and found that electrics gave me the closest shave with the least amount of irritation. Still, however, it's not perfect because in hot weather any kind of sweat on my face will cause the whole thing to be a most painful experience.

I have used most every kind of commercial shaving aid product, both for before and after the event, and I am religious in my maintence of my electric razor's blades. I use a back and forth electric rather than the three circles ones, because again, the shave is closer and less irritating.

I need a solution. Has anyone here had to deal with this or know anyone who has? It's really a pain because, true or not, I feel like I always look dirty and it bugs me that I can't really do anything about it. I had a crazy idea that I don't even know is feasible in which I can use laser hair removal on my beard, but only randomly on like 1/3 to 1/2 of my hairs and thereby remove the shadow by lowering the density. I don't want to remove all the hair because my goal is not be a cherub. I also don't want to have patches of hair in some places and none in others - so I would only consider this is if was done right. Are there any other solutions? I have searched the net and not found much. I figured Metafites would have an answer.
posted by Stryke11 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a dude, but I saw this article on digg recently and it had some great links in it.

Hey, face, legs, what's the difference? :)
posted by bim at 6:31 PM on July 1, 2006

Is growing a beard an option (or alternatively, a goatee)? Granted, it's not for everyone. But it sure beats hell out of shaving.

Just thought I'd ask.
posted by YamwotIam at 6:33 PM on July 1, 2006

Why don't you go to a reputable laser hair removal place for a consultation? Surely they've seen this before and can tell you if they can remedy your situation at all.
posted by orange swan at 6:38 PM on July 1, 2006

I have exactly the same problem, and, I'm sorry to say, I don't think there's a solution. I use a blade razor, because I'm able to get a close shave from one without cutting up my face. But even with that, I still have five o'clock shadow within an hour.

The fact is that some men simply have heavy beards. There are enough of us that I don't think many people think we "look dirty." I wouldn't advise laser hair removal--it's just more trouble than it's worth.

The problem is that, when you shave, you're also stimulating the follicles, so your beard will grow a little faster. And if you shave too close, you risk ingrown whiskers, which I've had, and trust me when I tell you you don't want them.

My advice is to learn to live with it. Think of it as looking manly, not dirty; maybe that'll help.
posted by cerebus19 at 6:39 PM on July 1, 2006

Electrics do nothing for me - instead I go against the grain with a Mach 3 and liberal amounts of gel. My modus operandi: Do it immediately after a shower. Even a five minute delay can drastically increase your chances of a blood fountain. I have to do the chin area about three times. I feel your pain, literally.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:45 PM on July 1, 2006

Also, get some Nivea shave balm. Really good stuff and can help with the after-burn.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:46 PM on July 1, 2006

Other than growing a beard, a straight razor may be your best bet for a close shave. My beard grows like a weed, is very coarse and I ran into serious problems when shaving against the grain. I developed a serious problem with ingrown whiskers that grow under my skin and abcess, leaving permanent pits in their wake. I finally gave up the fight about 30 years ago and grew a beard. It was definitely the right way to go for me. Every 5 years or so, I'll shave it off for kicks and use a straight razor until I grow it back.
posted by buggzzee23 at 6:50 PM on July 1, 2006

Is growing a beard an option (or alternatively, a goatee)? Granted, it's not for everyone. But it sure beats hell out of shaving.

Except that unless you go for a full-on Moses-style beard, you've still gotta shave your neck. And for me anyhow, it's the neck where I can cut myself with an electric.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:07 PM on July 1, 2006

Same problem here. As ROU_X points out, it's the neck where most of the blood and gore occurs. If you're in the same boat, you might want to consider getting laser treatment on just your neck hairs. Neck-beards will never, ever be in style (well, I sure hope to hell not). Neck hair is always ugly. Just blaze the damn fuckers out of their folicles and declare victory over your neck.

In leiu of laser-neck-hair-treatment, my advice would be to learn how to shave in the shower. I never get as close a shave sans gore as I do when I shower-shave. Also, don't shave every day. For me, if I shave every day I'll irritate the hell out of my skin, which means nasty red bumps, cuts, gore, ingrown hairs... the works. At least this method gives my face a day of recovery.

I've tried electrics, and I hate them. I've also tried "miracle" cures like Tend-Skin (doesn't do shit for me). And I'd like to give a pre-emptive "YOU DON'T GET IT" to any future posters who suggest that all the OP needs is to scrub his face with a loofa or some apricot facial-scrub each night. It won't work.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:22 PM on July 1, 2006

Try a wet/dry electric razor (Panasonic?) used near the end of your shower.
posted by NortonDC at 7:29 PM on July 1, 2006

We share a problem. The answer I've found, as noted above, is to deal with it. You can't change your skin tone, and you can't change the colour of your beard.

The closest I've come is simply by babying myself when I shave. Seriously.

Buy a decent razor, some really, really good shaving cream, and take your time. Personally, I use a Gillette Sensor 3 (no hinge!) or an old fashioned single-bladed razor. Aveda makes some kick-ass shaving products to help make the whole thing a comfortable, and less bloody experince.

(Seriously, Aveda Shave Cream changed the way I shave. I can't recommend it enough.)

Follow it all up with some decent moisturizer. Body Shop for men is nice stuff. That's the best you can do. Keep your skin as healthy as possible.

Other than that, guys like us are doomed to have that slightly gritty look. (Which might be stylish to some...)

Oh, and take days off from shaving, if it's an option for you. Your face can recover on weekends.
posted by generichuman at 7:56 PM on July 1, 2006

I used "seriously" twice in the same post. Awesome.

I forgot to mention that good moisturizer, like Body Shop Face Protector, will help make the stubble that does grow in a little less scratchy.
posted by generichuman at 7:59 PM on July 1, 2006

One of the things that will help men with heavy beards immensely is to shave not only very wet, but very slowly, especially if working with a modern multi-blade razor like the Gillette Sensor or Mach 3. The famous PDF paper by Charles Roberts on the subject of wet shaving discusses the idea of hysteresis effect. While I don't know that I totally buy Gillette's claims about hysteresis effect for multi-blade razors, I do know from mechanical engineering that if there is any hysteresis happening, it is bound to be velocity related, and that going too fast is going to keep it from happening, and instead exacerbate blade bounce on the skin, and therefore razor burn.

In my experience, a close wet shave is the result of
  • Lots of warm to medium hot water and gentle soap all over the face, to initially clean it
  • Sufficient time, at least 5 to 7 minutes, for the beard to soften fully, especially into the follicles, below the skin's top surface
  • Copious amounts of suitably lubricative and moisture retaining shaving soap [personally, I prefer the old Williams mug soap worked up feverishly, on the face, with a boar bristle brush, and yes, I've tried the English lavender stuff with the badger brush] Working the soap on the face with the brush seems to vastly reduce razor burn later, I suppose (or want to believe) because of better lubrication
  • A really sharp (fresh) razor blade or cartridge
  • Slow, slow, strokes with only enough drag pressure to maintain skin contact while cutting
For me a good shave starts in the shower, for the 5 to 7 minute beard softening phase, then I finish in front of the mirror, after fully lathering my face with mug soap. Takes me another 5 to 6 minutes to shave, and I go very, very slow, and with a light touch. Personally, I like the Gillette SensorExcel twin blade "system."

Typically, doing this, I won't have stubble until a little after 3:00 p.m. if I shave at 7:00 a.m. With an electric, I'm so stubbled by lunch, I can pop balloons by dragging across my cheek.
posted by paulsc at 8:15 PM on July 1, 2006

Not a guy, but uh... I recently had to learn about shaving my chin so that I could have laser hair removal.

I didn't want bumps, etc. so I did some research. I have been very pleased with a modified version of a wet shave. This article details it.

I'm able to go against the grain with this method and haven't had any problems. I use a Gilette Fusion and their shave gel. YMMV, but I'd at least try it.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:24 PM on July 1, 2006

Gillette invests $2 billion a year in men's razor R&D. Although it costs me nearly $0.60 per shave to use their Gillette Fusion system with an aloe-based shave gel (in the shower, with a non-fog shaving mirror), it fixed the problem you're referring to: I get a perfect shave every time without ever cutting myself. I get a 5 o'clock shadow around 5 o'clock; I don't think this is avoidable.

I've also tried every razor in the Mach 3 line (including the Venus); they all gave good results. I've used the Schick Quattro with less good results. Then there are the things I tried on the way to the expensive stuff: all sorts of Bic and disposable razors, an old-fashioned cartridge razor with Platinum Plus blades, a couple of different straight razors (verdict: dangerous and labor-intensive), and various models of Norelco and Remington electrics. The electrics are particularly bad; they gave me perma-stubble.

I shave 6 days a week and try never to shave more often than once every 24 hours (usually in the AM). Shaving when the hairs haven't grown in yet causes irritation and makes your next shave suboptimal.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:28 PM on July 1, 2006

"The problem is that, when you shave, you're also stimulating the follicles, so your beard will grow a little faster."

This is not true.
posted by borkingchikapa at 9:24 PM on July 1, 2006

I'm curious about this:
cerebus19: "The problem is that, when you shave, you're also stimulating the follicles, so your beard will grow a little faster. "

borkingchikapa: "This is not true."
Would at least one of you provide some supporting references?
posted by Songdog at 9:51 PM on July 1, 2006

Each session of laser hair removal is incremental, meaning that people need several sessions for pemanent hair removal, but perhaps you could only have a few sessions, so you get to keep facial hair, but it grows finer and thinner and needs to be shaved less often.

They sell the treatment by the session, so you wouldn't need to pay for a full course, just the sessions that you use. But look into the effects of a few sessions - I'm told it results in finer hairs, needing shaving less often, but I'm not speaking firsthand, so I don't know how accurate a description that is. (eg maybe they meant sparse instead of fine?)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:54 PM on July 1, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you all for the quick comments! It appears that blade razors are a common theme on these suggestions. My bloody past using them and of course the expense of completely changing systems (I have to buy the razor, the cream, anything supplemental, and then train myself on a whole new routine) has me a bit skittish to the idea, but I think I'd be ready to go there once I've exhausted other options.

Harlequin's comment is interesting, as a dermatologist suggested the same thing to me, although he said he had no advanced knowledge of the concept and suggested I see a more specialized derm. However, this got me thinking about the patchy issue. That is, if I have a couple of sessions, I don't want them to work great on some sections of my face and not well on others, leaving patches of smooth skin and patches of hair.

Also, whatever I do, shaving every day is going to be a necessity. I'm in a very casual job environment right now so shaving every two to three days is ok (and as one poster above noted, it does result in a better shave when you space them out). I intend to go corporate eventually though and I don't know if they'll be as cool to the scruff. A beard, while recognized as a valid option, is not a lifestyle choice I want to make, for purely aesthetic reasons (no offense of course to bearded folks, I just don't think it would look good on me).

Thanks to everyone again, and if anyone of you has experience with the laser removal, let me know how it went.
posted by Stryke11 at 10:44 PM on July 1, 2006

Since you're thinking of returning to blades, I might as well weigh in, since I have pretty tough stubble too.

I use an electric if I'm hungover. They're OK, but I don't see how they can ever be as close as a blade: all the ones I've seen have some kind of foil/grating between the blade and the skin, and the stubble is never going to be shorter than that thickness.

Regarding moving to a blade: the classic test for barbers was to inflate a balloon, put shaving foam on it, and shave the foam off the balloon without bursting it. Pretty messy if you make a mistake, but you might want to try that to start.

The most important tip if you tend to cut yourself: you should be applying no pressure whatsoever. It's totally different to an electric where you need to press down: with a blade you just slide the blade across your skin as gently as possible.

Regarding foam/gel/cream. The main purpose of that is not to "soften the beard" as some people think: it's to hold the hairs in place so the razor can slice them. So up to a point, the gunkier the better: gel is better then foam, cream or shaving-soap is better than gel. However, if you're using a multi-blade razor, cream or shaving soap is so thick that it clogs the space between the blades. Gel works fine for me.

Regarding with/against the grain: if I have time, I do it both ways. I can't ever start out going against the grain, as that painfully rips out the hairs. So, I start out with the grain, which quickly gets rid of most of the hair. Then I re-lather and go against the grain, which gets the shave closer. Even so, I find it quicker to use a blade than an electric, as with an electric I have to spend ages trying to get rid of the last stubborn roots.

Razor: I use a 15 year old two-bladed Gillette Contour Plus, though it's getting harder to find the blades. I also have a safety razor for special occasions which gets the shave even closer, but I find that too fiddly to use on a regular basis. With that, you have to keep the angle right to not cut yourself, and you can't let your hand shake at all.

Good luck!
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:35 AM on July 2, 2006

I have found that old-school wet shaving gives me a closer, less-bloody shave than any other blade system. Electrics leave me with stubble and Gilette disposable cartridge systems do not give me nearly as close a shave.

I'm using a click-adjustable Merkur handle, cheapo double-edge blades (Wilkinson Sword, until I can find better ones), a The Body Shop shaving cream (until I can find a good European traditional cream), and a cheap bristle brush.

I expect my shaving experience to be even better once I upgrade these components. But even this cheap setup is doing far better than the cartridge disposables.

posted by five fresh fish at 9:03 AM on July 2, 2006

I too am a swarthy man, and strongly recommend you switch to blade shaving. The tips above are generally on target. If you really want to delve into the world of wet shaving, check out Shaveblog.

I also recommend you pick one day of the week -- probably Sunday -- to not shave. I find I get a much better run of shaves for a few days after skipping a day. It seems to help me avoid the irritation others have mentioned occurs when you don't allow your beard to grow out enough before you shave.

Better still, grow a beard for a few weeks. I did this, and after I began shaving again my stubble was much easier to deal with. Seemed stiffer, so the blade did a better job.

Oh, and Nancy Boy shave cream and aftershave gel are very nice.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:09 AM on July 2, 2006

Another hirsute guy chiming in. You can consider a combination of methods. I shave the first work day of the week with a blade and gel (Fusion and the Aveeno gel linked above). I find both of these significantly better than other products for a minimum of bumps. Then, for the rest of the work week, I use an electric shaver. I then don't shave on the weekend. This system has been the most efficient in terms of the closeness/irritation trade-off. as always, YMMV.
posted by birdsquared at 2:41 PM on July 2, 2006

Electric razors do tend to stick to the skin when sweaty/moist. Use cornstarch. It's sold in powder dispensers for this purpose but food-grade cornstrarch from your kitchen would be the exact same thing.
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:41 PM on July 2, 2006

I have found that old-school wet shaving gives me a closer, less-bloody shave than any other blade system.

I agree. I've been using the Merkur double edged razor, a Vulfix shaving brush, and the Poraso shaving cream recommended in the MSNBC article linked in the first comment, and it's been much better than anything I've used in the past. I go with the grain, then re-lather and go against the grain.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:51 PM on July 2, 2006

Saucy Intruder writes "I go against the grain with a Mach 3 and liberal amounts of gel. My modus operandi: Do it immediately after a shower. Even a five minute delay can drastically increase your chances of a blood fountain."

I shave in the shower because even the 30 seconds it takes to grab the rasor and apply gel seems to allow for my skin to become a sharp edge magnet.

generichuman writes "Oh, and take days off from shaving, if it's an option for you. Your face can recover on weekends."

The first shave after a long weekend is pure bliss. I've been known to skip shaving on Friday before an event like a wedding.
posted by Mitheral at 12:21 PM on July 4, 2006

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