Shaving against the grain: how to

To go against the grain or not – that is the question. It’s one of the oldest shaving debates there is, and there are a couple of different approaches. 

Some say shaving with the grain – ie, in the same direction that your hair grows – is better for your skin, reducing the likelihood of irritation, razor burn and ingrown hairs. This is particularly true for those with coarse or curly hair, who are likely to find shaving against the grain more uncomfortable. 

On the other hand, some experts maintain that shaving against the grain is worth the extra time and care you need to take because you’ll end up with a much closer and smoother shave.

It is of course up to you what route you go down, but if you’re here chances are you want to know how to shave against the grain without wrecking your skin. So it’s a good thing we’ve compiled this handy list of tips…

Step one: establish the direction of hair growth

First thing’s first: to shave against the grain, you need to know the direction of the grain. And how do you do that? The hair on your face grows differently depending on the area, but it’s easy enough to find the various directions of hair growth. Rub your hand (or a debit or credit card) back and forth across the shaving areas of your face, and whenever you feel resistance, that’s going against the grain. 

So, if you rub your hand upwards and feel the hairs bristling up rather than smoothing down, you’ll know to shave upwards in that particular area.

Step two: identify your method – and your razor

For those that like a closer finish, the preferred method is often to shave with the grain first, before shaving in the opposite direction. Going over the same area more than once  is one way in which shaving against the grain is said to cause more skin irritation, but as long as you reapply shaving foam and use light strokes, it shouldn’t be a problem. In any case, because the hair on your face grows in different directions, chances are you’re already shaving back and forth in certain areas anyway. However, if your skin is particularly sensitive or you’re worried about irritation, it’s a good idea to use a razor formulated for sensitive skin, such as the Hydro 5 Sensitive Razor.

Step three: prepare your skin

The best thing you can do to prepare your skin is to make sure the hair is well hydrated and soft. Shaving immediately after a warm shower is the best way to achieve this, or you could hold a warm towel or flannel over your face for a few minutes. This is helpful for any shaving experience, but if you’re planning to go against the grain you want the hairs to be as soft as possible. The very least you should do is to exfoliate and wash your face thoroughly before starting, and to soak the shaving area with warm water. 

Step four: the shave

No doubt you’ve already established a shaving technique, but if you want to go against the grain and achieve a really close result, here are a few additional things to keep in mind.

Barbers that advocate shaving against the grain will often use a three-pass method, starting by shaving with the grain, then lathering up and going for a second pass across the grain (i.e, sideways) and then finally applying a final layer of foam or gel before they actually shave against the grain. 

Go at a steady pace as you work with the different grain directions, regularly top up with gel or foam, and remember to rinse your blades often. Keep checking the result, and if your skin does start to feel irritated you can always stop. When you’ve finished and are satisfied, apply an after-shave moisturiser. This will keep your skin soft and finish off that clean-shave look.