How to Achieve a Clean Face and a Clean Scalp?
August 15, 2007 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I could use some shaving tips, with regards to two specific questions: (i) how to achieve a much closer facial shave; and (ii) tips, anecdotes, etc. on headshaving.

First, whenever I shave my face and neck, I always seem to leave a slight stubble behind: enough so that the skin is slightly rough to the touch, and is not colored the same as "normal" skin, but not enough that we're talking outgrown hair. In the area of where a mustache would grow, there sometimes seems to be to be stubble "coloration" without any feeling of stubble. I would instead like to have an utterly clean shave -- in other words, the shaved face resembling the coloration and texture of skin where hair does not grow. How do I go about that?

Second, I have decided I really don't care for where male pattern baldness is taking my hair, and am planning to shave my head clean at some point in the next month. I am wondering if anyone has any advice on this, or any anecdotes. Did you make the same decision? Did you regret it, or did you enjoy it? Good change in your life, or bad? If you decided to "go back," how long did it take you to regrow? How did people react? Minor or major changes in your daily routine? Etc., etc., etc. ... just looking for a primer on the experience, basically.

I'm using a Gillette Mach 3 sport razor and Barbasol aloe shaving cream.
posted by WCityMike to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The only way I've found of getting a really close shave is to shave once, in the direction of the hair, and then shave again, going in the opposite direction.

Apparently this really messes some people's skin up, though, so YMMV. And it only keeps the skin very smooth for a few hours, because after that the hairs start to grow.

Also, using a really sharp razor helps. I like the Gillette Mach3 also, but it seems to lose its edge fairly quickly (before that indicator strip says it does). I toss mine almost weekly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:20 PM on August 15, 2007

I can't help you with the stubble coloration -- I expect that's from the hair end still in the follicle. Maybe you could wax, but that probably hurts like a m*therf*ker.

However, I occasionally shave my head (just for the hell of it) and found the Headblade to be a handy tool. It's a gadget that holds a disposable razor cartridge in the right position to shave your head easily. Works well, and you can get one at various drug stores for $10 or $15, I think.

Going bald is a reasonable response to MPB (IMHO) but it's a bit of extra work (vs. just shaving the lower half of your head). Also, watch out for sunburn -- you really don't want that.
posted by spacewrench at 2:22 PM on August 15, 2007

When you shave, you only cut off the part of each hair that is above the skin surface. So although your skin may feel smooth, you are leaving a lot of the hair behind, which causes the resulting "coloration".

The only way to get rid of this is to remove the hair completely, via waxing or similar hair removal procedure.

You can get a slightly closer shave (and reduce the "coloration" effect) by shaving against the grain, but this increases the likelihood of ingrown hairs.
posted by Gojira at 2:23 PM on August 15, 2007

Regarding head shaving: I am not subject to male-pattern-baldness but I keep my hair very short (ie #2, or 1/4" on the clippers) and shave my head smooth with some frequency during the summer months. You might try picking up a pair and just using them at the shortest length (#2 or just leave the guards off) before you decide to go the bald route, to see if you like that.

Personally I find the razor-on-the-head experience really fun, but I can tell you that if you're a first-timer, you WILL bleed, unless you get it done by a professional. It can be a little alarming. There's a nifty little shaving tool you can buy at almost any supermarket or drug store (I forget the brand) but it's designed to shave scalps. It definately works better than a standard razor.

On preview, what spacewrench suggested
posted by elendil71 at 2:24 PM on August 15, 2007

Read Corey Greenberg's msnbc article cited previously.
posted by about_time at 2:25 PM on August 15, 2007

I get much better shaves since I switched to an old-fashioned safety razor, and save money on blades too.

Everything I've seen recommends to shave once *with* the grain of the hair, and then its "safe" to go against the grain. That's what I do, and it seems to work fine.
posted by mrbill at 2:25 PM on August 15, 2007

To your request for anecdotes (though perhaps not exactly what you had in mind): a famous letter to the editor of the Times of London, some decades ago, read, in its entirety: "This morning while shaving, I broke 100. What's par?" This apparently released a flood of responses. In any event, shaving in under 100 strokes sounds easy, but it's not. About the only way to do it is to follow the standard advice to shave "with the grain" only, and not to turn around and go the other way.
posted by beagle at 2:30 PM on August 15, 2007

I am no pro shaver, but I have shaved my head. Expect pale skin and possibly acne to be under there (it'll clear up quick without hair keeping your scalp oily), and get ready for the surprising amount of sensations you will experience. Direct sunlight will burn. Cool breezes will feel better than ever before. The pillow you sleep on, headrests, the backs of couches... you will touch them all in a whole new way. People may be surprised, and they will make conversation about it, but it's pretty much a normal and acceptable haircut for guys, so it won't be that big a deal. The thing you'll hear most is, "So why did you decide to go bald?" And if you don't like it, you will grow it all back in no time.

I prefer having hair, but I did enjoy the experience, and I might think about doing it again sometime.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 2:33 PM on August 15, 2007

Once shaven, you can use a depilatory glove whenever you want that "cue ball" shine.
posted by chudder at 2:34 PM on August 15, 2007

The first few times you shave your head, expect to get razor burn, especially on the soft skin at the base of your skull/top of your neck. It itches like the dickens but you'll either toughen up the skin or work out a better technique pretty quickly.

As pointed out above, you will bleed a little, but don't be alarmed. Once again, this will end when you get more comfortable shaving your head.

All this may sound harrowing, but a freshly-shaven skull is a wonder. If I was still shaving my head I'd look into the headshaver mentioned previously.
posted by lekvar at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2007

Seconding a better blade. I have been wanting to drop the damn 17-blade battery-powered vibrating Mach 5 "women will drop at your feet" $15-per-goddamn-replacement-head razors for a while now.

Disposable safety blades are made of better metal, are sharper, and are amazingly cheaper than anything else you'll buy. The hard part is finding a handle: Nearly every drug store, Target, etc. I visit sells the replacement blades but nobody has the handles. I have no idea why. I've also been told that you will definitely cut yourself the first few times you use one, as disposable razors allow you to use too much pressure when shaving.

I really don't like shelling out $15 for three razor heads, especially when they change the handle design so frequently that you can't ever use one for more than a year or so before you need to buy another. The whole battery-powered vibration thing... gah. The marketing execs must laugh their asses off at people who buy into that.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2007

Oh, and if you dont keep up with a shaven noggin, your head stubble will seem like sandpaper. Not very snuggly after a few days. FYI. A previous GF used to throw my cotton socks at me and laugh hysterically when they stuck like velcro on my head. And pulling t-shirts over your stubbly head can get equally annoying for a few days. Just a warning.
posted by elendil71 at 3:07 PM on August 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Give this a try: instead of shaving cream or soap, shave in the shower, keeping the razor & skin being shaved under the hot water spray at all times for constant lubrication. Works much better than shaving cream for me. (Though, still you can see that the hair is there, just waiting to regrow.) If you're not styling a beard, you don't really need to shave in front of the mirror - do it by feel and then, in front of the mirror, with your skin and razor still wet, you should be able to fix up the sideburns in two or three strokes each.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:08 PM on August 15, 2007

Wet shaving tips:

1) When about to leave the wet, steamy shower, apply a layer of hair conditioner over the area to be shaved. Don't rinse it off, and if you'd like, add some shaving cream as well; I use a shaving lotion from Trader Joe's that smells like a tropical bakery and is pretty cheap.
2) Immediately post-shower, without drying off, start shaving. With the grain once, and then if you feel certain areas need some against the grain work, go for it gently, with small strokes. I shave daily, but I go against the grain maybe a few times a week.
3) Cool water to rinse, followed by some cheap aloe vera anti-sunburn gel. Let air dry.

At night, I wash my face with a bit of shampoo or body wash just to get whatever gunk is going to meld with my growing facial hair overnight off my face and to keep my pillow cleaner, which means less acne.
posted by mdonley at 3:09 PM on August 15, 2007

Nearly every drug store, Target, etc. I visit sells the replacement blades but nobody has the handles. I have no idea why.

The assumption is that if you're one of the people buying bare blades, you already have the razor, and have probably done so for the past [x] years. Not so true now, with the rise of the shavegeek. You don't have to spend too much time on eBay seeking out vintage razors, or develop a lust for Thiers-Issard straight blades. Just learn the techniques that date back to the days of those old safety razors.

Get a cheap safety razor. Get good blades. Throw away the foam can. Slow down.
posted by holgate at 3:10 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I loved having a shaved head.
I'd still do it if my wife didn't like hair so much.

Always shave in the shower.
Before you shave, burr it down and spend a lot of time touching it. Get to know the big lumps because they will determine the pattern you will shave. More importantly get to know the little skin imperfections, such as moles, that are going to be your bloody points. If you know them first, you will be able to take it slow around them and save some pain.

Once you shave, you will look weird. Your skin hasn't seen sun in a while. Pile on the sunscreen.
Always keep a hat handy.
Expect the scalp to flake for a few days afterwards.

Double the input on new sensations. i enjoyed letting people touch it. You may not. People will want to.

If you are young, expect people to treat you like shit because they think you are a skinhead.
If they do, use it as a chance to teach them a fucking lesson.

No, not with your boots. Be nice and let them touch your head. If you have a gut, it will increase the number of people who want to rub your belly. This is weird and tangential.

Regrowing it will take a while. It works best if you power through the Mun-Chee-Chee stage until you have enough hair to get a real haircut. If you try to regrow it while getting the occasional trim to keep it looking neat, you will have to wait twice as long for hair of any substantial length.
posted by Seamus at 3:11 PM on August 15, 2007

Lots of previous questions on this and similar topics..

FWIW I started 'old-school' shaving with a safety razor, brush and high-end shaving soap, and, hoo boy, lemme tell you, it's the only way to go. Takes a little longer in the mornings, and some getting used to, but it's a better shave by a mile, especially if you have sensitive skin.

The fine folks over at Badger and Blade are very helpful, as are Youtube user Mantic59's intro to wetshaving videos.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2007

My (face) shaving tips, which are the opposite of most things I have read:

Get one of the vibrating razors.
In the shower, put hair conditioner on your face.
Lightly rub the razor over the area to be shaved, against the grain, multiple times.
After two or three uses, replace the blade.

I am very susceptible to razor burn, but with this technique I can actually shave two days in a row. I used to max out at three times a week.

I thought the vibrating razor was a gimmick, but it works surprisingly well if you do everything wrong.

Alternatively, use a straight razor.
posted by bh at 3:53 PM on August 15, 2007

Oh, and don't try Nair on your face. Really.
posted by bh at 3:54 PM on August 15, 2007

Here's a bit of input that you didn't exactly ask for, but you ought to hear - guys with shaved heads are *hot*.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:26 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I shave my head, and have experimented quite a bit. For me, it turns out that the Mach 3 (non-vibratory) is the optimal solution, along with whatever 'sensitive skin' gel you can get.

Contrary to other reports, I don't think I've ever cut myself with the Mach 3. As long as you know the contours of your head and go slow, you'll be fine.

Also contrary to other reports, I find that shaving with the razor slightly dulled (i.e., after 1-2 weeks of use) is superior to the fresh-out-of-the-box sharpness. The 'new' razor seems to take a layer of oil with it which causes my head to get a little drier/more irritated than the 'old'.

Definitely get your head wet in the shower and spend some time in the water, and then shave in the shower. Use your hands instead of a mirror to determine what needs to be shaved.
posted by felix at 4:38 PM on August 15, 2007

I started using the Headblade a few months ago. Bled like crazy at first, now it's a breeze, and you can use it for your face/neck as well, though it's a little unwieldy for that.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:36 PM on August 15, 2007

As a member of California's longhair contingent, I can't help you with the headshaving tips.

But, I do know lather. Let's talk about rich lubricating, exfoliating lather.

Throw away the can. The pressurized stuff is good for convenience, but not so good for your face (and over a lifetime, you'll throw a lot of cans in the landfill).

There's a reason that the gold standard is a good basic badger brush, and a solid shaving soap in a old coffee mug (or enamel over steel, if you're clumsy in the morning). These will improve the quality of your shaves significantly -- even if you don't make the jump to an old-style safety razor.

But, moving from squirting can foam to brush and bowl doesn't have to be done in one great leap... there are intermediate steps.

Just as convenient as the foam, much better for your face, and in a recyclable package, this stuff or this stuff is a great first step towards shaving bliss. Neither of these need a brush, but they will lube up your beard so you'll be able to get a closer shave without taking off unnecessary skin, and leave it moisturized and soft. With either of these, you can lather up, shave north to south, then re-lather and shave south-to-north with virtually no razor burn. Try that with a can of Barbasol.

If you do nothing else, try that for a week. you can usually get one of those at your local health-foods store (including whole foods) for a few bucks. Realize that it won't foam up, but it will get slippery... that's OK, any part of your shaving cream that isn't touching your face, isn't doing you any good.

Also, if you live with a woman, she will swipe it to shave her legs with it, and then rave about it. Your manhood will recover.

The next step up the ladder in lubrication is to a shaving soap in a tube, that's generally designed to be used with a brush (Like these: Proraso, L'occitane, or Kiehl's). You don't have to use a brush with these, but it does make it for even thicker, richer, more slippery lather, and a closer, more comfortable shave.
posted by toxic at 6:41 PM on August 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'll agree with the commenter who suggested that the vibrating razors really do add something. I have a very tough beard, and it used to be that I just could not shave unless I took a hot shower beforehand. With the vibrator I can shave with just a quick soak.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:59 PM on August 15, 2007

Shave in the shower. Nuff said.
posted by neuron at 9:15 PM on August 15, 2007

I've been shaving my head for over three years now. I do it once or twice a week with a Mach 3 and in between use an electric razor to keep it clean. I find it easier to shave my head now if I don't use shaving cream - shaving immediately after I get out of the shower while my scalp is still wet seems to be good enough. I cut myself a lot in the beginning, especially behind my ears, but now that's a rare occurence.

I shaved my head originally because of male pattern baldness and I don't regret it a bit - I expect I'll keep shaving it for the rest of my life. I can second the comments above about the range of sensations - the first couple days after I shaved it for the first time, my head felt like it was wet. I also worry a lot more now about wearing a hat when I go out. I also find I bump my head more now - I think hair is an early-warning system for impending head collisions.
posted by pombe at 10:25 PM on August 15, 2007

I have experiemented a lot with shaving (face), and here is my routine...
1) At the end of the shower, get the water as hot as you can stand it, and soak your face for a minute or two.
2) Get out of the shower, and immediately lather up your brush with HOT water, and a good quality, clay-containing shave soap (Williams is available in CVS, Walgreens, etc. Good basic soap. My current favorite is Honeybee's, available at ebay store). Using a brush works the soap into your beard (I got a set from shavemac, which I love - good set, decent price). BTW, the clay in the soap is a must - helps the razor glide smoothly.
3) I use a Gillette Mach 3. Tried the vibrating razor, but haven't noticed a big difference. Some like the single blade. YMMV.
4) Shave with the grain first. I then do "touch-ups" against the grain. If I want a really close shave, I lather up a second time and shave again, against the grain.
5) Rinse with COLD water. This will help close the pores. Then dry off and use an astringent. I prefer a witch hazel gel (Em's Place has a good one - scroll down to "Facial & Body Toner". She also has brush/mug sets. But don't use her glycerin soap - it has no clay.). The next best aftershave is Nivea balm.
6) Get a styptic pencil for cuts. You can find them (the pencils, not the cuts) in most drugstores.

Good luck!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:22 AM on August 16, 2007

Response by poster: Well, guys, I have now entered the ranks of the clean-shaven scalps ...
posted by WCityMike at 5:50 AM on August 18, 2007

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