Should You Shave Against the Grain? The Pros & Cons
It is fair to say that we are always in pursuit of the perfect shaving technique, and one of the greatest debates is whether you should shave with or shave against the grain. It is an age-old question that still has no definitive answer.
Shaving with the grain is frequently described as the safer option. Going with the grain is said to keep irritation and discomfort to a minimum. It is for those that want an easy shave, or those that prefer to shave quickly.
Shaving against the grain, however, is known as a specialist choice as it comes with more risk. You are more likely to irritate or cut your skin, and could even get ingrown hair as a result.
So why do people do it?
Well, shaving against the grain can get a clean shave that’s much closer to the skin. For those looking for a truly fresh shave, the extra bit of time, care and precision is thought to be completely worth it.
Some of you may be sitting there thinking ‘What does shaving against the grain mean?’ and that’s what this article is for. We will be explaining what it means, considering the pros and cons, and also looking at some of the different options for shaving different parts of your body.
Finally, we will be answering the question we posed in the title: Is it worth it?
We hope that this article will give you all of the information you need to go back to your shaving life with the confidence of getting an excellent shave every time.
What is shaving against the grain?
Shaving against the grain is the method that gets you the closest and smoothest cut. What this means is that you’re going to get that fresh look much easier by doing so.
Going against the grain is exactly how it sounds, you are looking to go against the direction of growth. If you can picture it, then you can see how going against the grain will get really close to the skin.
On the contrary, shaving with the grain means that you’re just going in the direction of travel. And again, if you try to imagine how you shave in the direction of hair growth, you’ll be shortening the hair, but not completely removing it from the follicle.
What people often worry about is getting irritation or ingrown hairs from how shaving against the grain blunts the hairs.
By wiping them out at the root, you’re running the risk of them growing back awkwardly and/or giving yourself razor burn. This is especially true if you have curly hair, and probably isn’t recommended.
Reasons why you should shave against the grain
1. You’re getting a closer shave
We’ve already mentioned this a couple of times, but the greatest argument for shaving against the grain is that you’ll be getting a closer shave.
When giving yourself a trim, you may want something that’s going to last a bit longer or look a bit fresher.
We can imagine that if you’re working in a classic office environment, you will be better off getting the closest shave you can get. That’s because you’ll be smoother, look smarter, and generally look well presented.
Another reason to be excited about a close shave is that you’ll be impressed with yourself each time you touch or look at your face. That’s worth the extra effort.
2. You’re getting a smoother shave
Getting a smooth shave is something we are all excited about, whether we admit it or not. Regardless of your shaving method, feeling a smooth face at the end of it makes us feel very happy.
The truth is, you don’t get much smoother than a successful shave against the grain.
Admittedly, you don’t get much rougher than an unsuccessful shave against the grain. So you’ll want to avoid that…
3. It’ll be long lasting
A long-lasting shave is ideal because no one likes shaving enough to do it every couple of days.
Shaving against the grain comes in handy because it can give you a longer-lasting shave thanks to how close it gets to your skin.
Rather than stopping once you’ve gone with the skin, with this method you usually turn the razor around and then finish off by going against it.
This ensures you’re getting as close and as clean as possible.
If you’re someone who wants to shave just once each week, this is a great option. Having said that, it does take much more care, so you might be taking double the time.
4. You’ll be proud of yourself if you get it right
We had to include this one in here because it is genuinely true.
The magic with shaving against the grain is that not everyone can do it right. And if you can master the art of light touch and careful strokes, you’ll be really happy with yourself.
6 Tips for shaving against the grain
If you’ve gotten this far without being petrified of the idea of shaving against the grain, then you should follow these tips to get the most out of them.
1. Examine your beard
The first tip is the most obvious one. Make sure you know which way is with and which is against the grain.
Generally, you’ll go with the grain before you go against it. So knowing the difference is vital.
The easiest thing to do is to look at your face in the mirror, and see which ways they are growing.
Usually, it is very easy to tell, and they’ll all be following in the same formation. But look out for cowlicks, spirals, and the sort, especially by your jawline or underneath your chin. In these areas, it is not uncommon to have hair that grows in all sorts of directions, and you could mess the cut up.
Another thing you can do is just to feel it with your fingers. If you’re used to brushing your beard down with your hands, then you’ll know that it is quite easy to tell which direction it is growing.
Of course, if you have a shorter stubble, then the above technique may not work as well, and you should head back to the mirror to take another look.
2. Get the best razor you can
This is without a doubt one of the most important tips we can give.
The quality of the razor really is make or break, especially when it comes to the correct way to shave.
You want a fresh and sharp blade, as you’ll be looking to make the most of shorter and more frequent motions. This ensures that you’re keeping the blade clean, keeping it sharp, and giving each hair equal attention.
As soon as you start skimping out on the razor, you’ll start to see why so many people hate shaving against the grain. You’ll begin to get razor burn, ingrown hairs and general irritation that would be so avoidable if you went with a top tier razor.
3. Prepare your skin correctly
If you’ve ever had a really beautifully executed wet shave, then you’ll know that easing the pores open with a bit of warm water is a great way to begin preparing yourself.
Getting warm water on your face will start to hydrate and open up your pores, meaning that when it’s finally time to bring the razor out, you’ll have much happier skin.
If you start shaving against the grain with dry, coarse skin, you’ll soon know about it. It’ll not only be excruciating, but you’ll have a visible reminder of it for the rest of the day as the cuts dry.
Another thing you can do is apply shave gel. We all forget sometimes, but it’s something you should make the effort to do. It’ll help to prevent cuts and will give you a smoother shave.
4. Perfect the shaving technique
We can’t guarantee that you’re going to get this perfectly right on your first try, but you should always aim to do so.
Going against the grain can be a pretty painful encounter, especially if you go straight in with it. This is something you can do though, and if you’re well prepared, then you’ll be getting a nice clean shave out of it.
Something that barbers tend to recommend is the pass method, and it involves the following things:
- Shaving with the grain
- Shaving across the grain
- Shaving against the grain
Think about what you do: Do you shave up or down? The standard way of shaving is just to follow 1. Or, if you really have no idea what you’re doing, then maybe a mixture of all 3.
Following 1 and 2 definitely suffices for the majority of men, but if the idea of a truly smooth and close-cut excites you, then shaving against the grain is the perfect way to finish it off.
The Pass method is usually the best option because you’re doing most of the work with the first two steps. This means that you’re less likely to really irritate your hair by destroying it all at once.
5. Get the post-shave routine locked down
The post-shave routine is just as important as the pre or intra-shave routine. You’re not just going to finish the shave and walk away from the bathroom. This gives your skin time to irritate, dry up and just cause a lot of problems.
What you want to do is rinse your face with a bit of cold water. This will help to close the pores and lock your hard work into place. Another thing you can do is use a bit of post-shave balm as this not only soothes but also moisturizes your skin.
6. Follow tutorials and articles
We all know that Gillette self-proclaims itself to be the best a man can get. Well, we’re holding them to that.
They’ve uploaded a YouTube video that helps us see how to shave against the grain. In video format, you can see how the man goes against the grain, leaving himself with a smooth and clean shave.
Reasons why you shouldn’t shave against the grain
1. You’re more susceptible to cuts
There are not many worse feelings than nicking your face with a razor. Sharp pain is followed by an agonizing wait as the blood starts to come. Once you’ve sorted out the initial bleeding, you’ve got the embarrassing 48 hours before it completely goes away.
You’ll hate to hear it but going against the grain increases the chances of cutting yourself quite drastically.
If you’re afraid of that happening, you shouldn’t be trying to shave against the grain.
2. You’re increasing your chances of having ingrown hairs
If you’re susceptible to ingrown hairs anyway, then this is only going to proliferate the issue. Going against the grain is going to cause infections and irritation in skin that is prone to that sort of thing.
If you have particularly sensitive skin, or very curly hair, then you don’t want to try this out. The last thing you need is curly hair growing out in weird directions and becoming infected under the skin.
3. It is unnecessary for most people
Like we mentioned earlier, to get proper against the grain shave, you should go with the grain first.
The correct way to shave is with the grain. By correct, we mean the safest and least problematic.
For the majority of people, this will completely suffice, and they will not notice any difference between this and going against the grain. It is still close, it is still clean, and it is still going to be fairly long-lasting.
Unless you have a very specific reason for wanting to go against the grain, such as an occasion or a job, then just go with it.
But if you’re just a brave man going for something clean, then why not? As long as you’re aware of the reasons why you shouldn’t…
The safest way to shave and avoid ingrown hairs
You should always shave in the direction of hair growth, or with the grain. That’s because you’re going to get a close enough cut without putting yourself at too much risk of irritation or cuts.
One of the greatest signs of irritation is ingrown hair.
What is ingrown hair?
An ingrown hair is hair that grows back into the skin after being shaved or tweezed. In turn, you’ll suffer from inflammation, swelling and sometimes infection.
Those that have had ingrown hairs before will know that they’re worth avoiding because they stick around for quite a while.
Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do when shaving to avoid ingrown hairs. And they all include actively avoiding going against the grain.
Firstly, go in the direction of hair growth. You will massively benefit from keeping your hairs happy, especially if you’re prone to ingrowns.
Secondly, you want to keep rinsing your razor off. After one stroke, you’ve just collected enough dead skin and hair to potentially infect another part of your face. Keep your razor clean and warm throughout the whole process.
Lastly, you should get yourself some cooling, soothing and hydrating products for when you finish. If you haven’t got any, then you can just hold a cold towel to your face, and that works just as effectively.
Should you treat your body the same as your face?
Regardless of whether it is your face or your chest or your crotch, you should follow the same processes we have already described in this article.
The hair on your body could be a bit safer, especially when going against the grain, but it’s still something you’re going to have to try out yourself.
It is important to make sure you are going with the grain, to begin with, and to follow some sort of preparation routine.
The trouble with your body is that you’re probably going to put clothes right over them, and this can really increase the risk of inflammation. Make sure that you are being just as careful, and then you’ll be much happier.
In summary, you should treat your body with as much care as your face, and we would recommend that you follow the same processes.
In conclusion, we would say that shaving against the grain is worth it, but only to a certain extent. It is worth it if you are a professional man wanting to look impeccably smart for either work or a certain occasion.
Otherwise, from our research, it appears that the majority of men can sleep well knowing that going with the grain is all they need to do.
You’ll still be getting a close shave, and you won’t be running the risk of damaging your skin every time you’re in the bathroom.
But we’d love to ask you to let us know what you think in the comments, what’s your go-to shaving method? Do you go against the grain, or are you a man that prefers to play it safe?
We look forward to hearing from you.