The straight razor is an enigma: How could something so basic yield such effective, dare we say luxurious results? Especially in light of the wild circus of gadgets today’s razor industry has become. With models that vibrate and heat up—and with so many blades you go cross-eyed counting them—it’s a wonder the good old-fashioned straight razor is even still around. In fact, it’s making quite a comeback (although there are legions of barbers who would argue it hasn’t gone anywhere), and the reason is simple: Nothing cuts quite like a straight razor. The precision of a straight razor provides the closest, smoothest shave possible, and makes the skin less prone to ingrown hairs.
Of course, this begs the question: If straight razors are so great, why aren’t more guys using them? And the answer is because they take some time and skill to use correctly. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll suddenly find yourself with a lot more room in the medicine cabinet as your collection of battery-powered thingamajigs gets tossed out.
To learn the basics of how to shave with a straight razor, we enlisted the help of two of the industry’s top names in all things grooming (and die-hard fans of the straight razor): Robert-Jan Rietveld, grooming expert and co-founder of Reuzel, and Casey Geren, celebrity men’s groomer. Keep reading for straight razor shaving 101.
What Are the Benefits of Shaving With a Straight Razor?
Aside from its nostalgic charm, redolent of an early twentieth-century Wall Street barbershop, straight razor shaving allows for a much closer, more meticulous shave. “The angle and pressure get deep into the hair follicles with each stroke for that ultra-smooth feeling,” Rietveld explains. Geren is adamant that the pros of straight razor shaving outweigh the cons, especially when it comes to long-term skincare benefits. “For starters, it can act as exfoliation for your face by removing dirt and dead skin cells with each stroke. Using a straight razor can also reduce the number of ingrown hairs and amount of irritation since you are using a single blade versus multiple blades going over your skin.”
Additionally, both experts agree that straight razor shaving is more economical. The closeness of the shave means you won’t have to shave every day, and switching to a long-life straight razor cuts down on the environmental waste (and expense) associated with disposable razors, which are only good for a few quality shaves.
How to Prepare
Before we go into how to shave with a straight razor, there’s something you should know: If you’ve never used one before, ready yourself for an education, because mastering the straight razor takes time and practice. Without the guard and lubricated strip of conventional razors, a straight razor can cut skin a lot easier, and it’s definitely more difficult to get the hang of.
“The main thing to know when shaving with a straight razor is that there is definitely a learning curve that will take time to overcome,” Rietveld says. “If you like shaving to be quick and easy, this method is not for you.” However, he says that once you’re a pro, you’ll never want to go back to conventional razors.
How to Shave With a Straight Razor
Step 1: Cleanse and oil
Like all forms of shaving, proper prep is crucial. After cleansing with your go-to face wash (a steamy shower is even better if you have the time), Geren recommends applying pre-shave oil to soften the hair. “Make sure you are using an oil specifically for shaving, as not all are created for shaving and you don’t want to clog the pores,” he says.
Step 2: Lather up
Using a shaving brush, apply shaving cream with warm water and work into a thick, frothy lather with circular motions. “A good quality shaving brush will retain the warmth from the lather when applying to help soften the hair and lift it from the skin,” Geren says. The brush also provides gentle exfoliation for an even smoother shave. You definitely don’t want to skimp on this stage, as making sure your skin is properly lubricated will help to prevent razor burn and ingrown hairs.
Step 3: Learn to hold the blade
Start by holding the blade at a 30-degree angle from the surface of your skin. Maintain a firm grip on the blade, adjusting as necessary as you move along the contours of your face. Take note of how the blade feels against your skin. “If your razor is too steep, it will rip your skin and if it is too flat, it will tear the stubble,” Rietveld says. So, take your time and feel this step out.
Step 4: Shave
Pull your skin taut with your other hand and apply light pressure with the blade to avoid cutting your face or fingers. You can start on whichever side of your face feels most comfortable, beginning at your sideburn and moving downwards. “Your first stroke should be from the top of the cheek near the ear at a downward slant, and it should be short and even with no choppy movements or jerks,” Rietveld says. Never pull or drag the razor, and always follow the grain of the hair (the direction in which it naturally grows). This is especially important for sensitive areas such as the neck, where hair can grow in several different directions. After each stroke, rinse the blade under hot water.
Rietveld recommends using the middle of the blade for the chin and other prominently curved areas of the face and raising it slightly to accommodate the curves. Never start a new stroke for these areas; rather, work a little bit away from them and inch closer with gentle strokes, keeping skin taut.
Step 5: Repeat (optional)
If you notice you’ve missed an area here and there, you can go back in with your straight razor. However, make sure you also repeat every prep step we’ve mentioned. One of the fundamental rules of shaving with a straight razor is to never do it on bare, unprepared skin.
Aftercare and Maintenance
When you’re happy with your smoothly-shaven face, rinse it thoroughly with cool water and pat dry with a towel (do not rub). Then apply a post-shave balm with gentle patting motions (again, do not rub, as this can upset sensitive skin). Geren recommends products containing witch hazel or aloe, as opposed to alcohol, for their skin-soothing properties. As we mentioned, the closeness of a straight razor shave means you most likely won’t have to shave every day, and both experts agree that shaving more than once every other day may be too much for your skin to handle.
The Best Straight Razors
There are so many straight razor options available nowadays, in a wide range of styles and prices. However, Geren says the choice should come down to comfort. “You want to choose a straight razor that feels good in your hand. It’s all about being comfortable with the weight and being able to control when shaving.” To that end, he advises first-timers to ask their barber to see, touch, and feel the weight of the ones they use to get an idea of what you need in a straight razor.
Below are three of our favorite straight razors.
This entry-level straight razor is ideal for absolute newbies, giving you quality construction at an affordable price.
A stylish step up, this straight razor features a handle made from lightweight yet sturdy algum wood and a blade crafted from Japanese steel.
Blending equal parts technology and style, this sleek straight razor from grooming authority The Art of Shaving is handcrafted by a French razor maker that’s been in business since 1884.