I’ve always been pretty terrible with grooming. Never wanted to spend any time on it, certainly didn’t want to spend any money on it. But in the same way that I have gradually accepted I need to be better at looking after my clothes, I realise now I need to be better at grooming.

Shaving is the biggie. Though I wear a beard, I shave a portion of my cheeks and a good couple of inches of my neck every other day. Although it wasn’t uncomfortable, shaving always seemed to produce redness and little lumps on the skin. It would calm down after a few hours and wasn’t that noticeable, but it wasn’t exactly chic either. I’m not about to start cleansing, but I recognise that I should look neat.

In order to try and learn something, I arranged an appointment with Murdock’s. It always looked like a very pleasant place to be – proper old reclining chairs, steaming towels and an army of unguents – but I had never been in. Probably due to the urge not to spend money, as mentioned.

Alex Glover, my barber, was very tolerant: I asked a lot of questions. (Not necessarily a sensible thing to do when someone is shaving you with a cutthroat razor.) It turns out that most of my preoccupations about shaving well, probably gleaned from skimming but never actually reading GQ articles on the subject, were all wrong.

I assumed the redness on my neck was because my skin was too cold, creating goose bumps that were being cut by the razor. Sometimes I would put a hot flannel on my neck to try and warm it up. Then I’d feel guilty when I was in a rush and couldn’t be bothered. No need to worry, according to Alex. As I usually shave after a shower, the skin should be warm enough.

I assumed that I should only use a blade two or three times before changing it. And again I felt guilty when, through cheapness, I didn’t. Wrong again. Alex says modern razors should be good for a few weeks, certainly with my usage. “The industry is set up to encourage you to change it all the time. Think through the marketing.”

So what should I do? Well, my hair swirls a little at the neck and has a few ingrown hairs. Both make it hard to shave cleanly. But the job is made harder by using modern, multi-blade razors. These press the skin down and, though they shave close, can cut the follicle or even press hairs into the skin. If your hair is arranged nice and neatly, it’s not a problem. If you have my swirly pattern, it will create more ingrowing and more inflammation. Use a plain two-blade razor instead.

The other thing that can damage the follicles is shaving against the grain. Although doing this does get a smoother finish, it’s hard to do consistently if your hair isn’t perfectly aligned. At the most, pick and choose wear you go against the grain. Your neck is likely to be the hardest part and therefore least suited to it.

Clean your shaving soap off with cold water rather than hot, so the pores close up again before you moisturise (I knew that one). Avoid using hard soap in an area with hard water as it’s hard to get a decent lather (that one I didn’t); use cream instead. The badger brush should be made use of to work into the skin and lift any recalcitrant ingrowers away from the skin.

Finally, if your neck is inflamed, try a moisturiser or repair product that contains some Salicylic Acid. Alex recommended Clubman’s Bump Repair Gel.

I don’t know which of those tips made the difference, but my neck is looking a lot better this week. Thank you Alex and thank you Brendan.

Photography: Andy Barnham
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Peter Orosz

Corey Greenberg’s 2006 article, very properly titled “The Perfect Shave”, is just the way to get started:

http://shaveblog.com/?p=185

To learn all you need, in fact.

Eugene Freedman

I wore a beard for a while and when I shaved it I had a lot of bumps and purple/red spots. I went to a dermatologist who recommended switching to a single blade as well and and switching to non-scented cream for lather. It worked wonders.

Similar advice, from different ends of the professional spectrum.

adm

Here’s how I cleared up my razor bumps, in-grown hairs, etc., in a few weeks (some years ago).

– Agreed: Use a two-bladed razor (like Sensor Excel), not 3 or 5. As my dermatologist said, the fancy razors are “too good” and they pull the hair up, cut it, and let it go back under your skin, where it causes problems.

– Use Aveeno shaving cream, not the brands with alcohol, etc.

– Shave “with” the grain (i.e., in the direction the hair is growing.) Resist the urge to get a closer shave by going against it.

– When you do get an ingrown hair, pluck it out with some good tweezers. Be careful not to get obsessive and cut your skin in the effort.

That’s it! All these tips came from my derm and they worked great.

Arctic Penguin

That cursed shaving industry – they perfect the safety razor in the early 20th century and realize they’ve designed themselves into obsolescence! After reading a post about it on The Trad’s blog (thetrad.blogspot.com) I was sufficiently moved to purchase a Merkur HD travel-ready razor and a matching anodized badger brush, both of which break down and fit into a rather small dopp kit with lots of room to spare. My skin has never been better and with practice I can complete the entire process in less than five minutes. It’s not the razor that will cut you, as many fear, it’s the use of improper technique. With quality blades going to $5.95(-ish, depending on the maker, some are substantially more with debatable improvements on quality) for a pack of 30, that’s the better part of a year even with full-face shaving every day. I sure know I’ll never look back. I second minding the hot water – overdoing it will dry all of the natural oils in your skin out and make additional products necessary, which defeats the whole long-term economical motivation.

Fredrik

A slightly surprising (but good) source for tips on shaving is, if I remember correctly, the first chapter of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho.

initials CG

Simon, I’ve had the same problem as yourself, and I’d expect the vast majority of men have: an irregular growth pattern beard (i just made that up). And if you have to shave every day, your neck will look like hell. Perhaps it my mediterranean heritage that condemns me, but shaving has to be done with the exacting care of getting a tailored suit. There’s a reason Italians have perfected the beard stubble look. It’s gentics.

Your beard has to grow out of the skin and the skin needs a rest. I can only add my piece of advice to comments already made above.

Olive oil. Yes, I find it’s the best aftershave lotion on the market. Go back to Herodotus or Homer, and you’ll see men and women were using olive oil for everything. They were always rubbing it in. Before battle. After strenuos work. During prayers. A bit fanatical, no? Not being a mineral based oil (i.e. petroleum) it blends into the skin more naturally.

Following the sound advice above, I’d suggest to rub a few drops into the skin against the grain after the shave, thereby lifting the hairs out of the skin. Rinse well in the shower, and rub some talcum powder around the neck so as to not ruin your shirt collar. Resluts vary, but I found it completely solved the problem, though every now and then tweezers are needed to yank out a few ingrown hairs. Dermotoligists swear by the stuff.

Anonymous

There’s one of those online community/website thingys that will tell you far, far more than you ever wanted to know about “grooming”..

http://badgerandblade.com/

In particular, their “tutorial”threads are very good for the beginner.

Steven

When you say a plain 2 blade razor are you talking about the “old fashioned” ones that have one cutting surface on each side? They can be used on either side?

Hart

I have had the very same problem as many above, the best suggestion I have recieved from anyone (including a dermatoligist) is using the sensor excel. Thank you all and Thank you Simon.

Anonymous

I never had the chance to try Murdock’s products. Terrible customer service. Several emails sent to their multiple contact addresses with no replies. As a potential customer from North America, this sends up several red flags for me.