Shave as New

Presenting as a new gender often means shaving somewhere different than before. Whether it’s learning how to shave facial hair or trying for a smooth pair of legs, it can feel intimidating at first. Even cis folks often struggle to learn on their own, usually the hard way. We’ll spare you that learning curve and provide some tips to make it easier.

Meet the team

Generally, you’ll need three things to shave successfully: shaving cream, a razor, and moisturizer. While good equipment makes all the difference, the gender it’s marketed toward does not. Hair is hair. It doesn’t care what color the box is. So-called “mens” shaving products are usually cheaper and will work for anybody and any area.

Shaving Cream/Gel

A good cream or gel will stand each hair on end, making it easier to cut, while hydrating the skin to keep it healthy. Most importantly, it will lubricate the razor, cushioning and reducing friction from the razor rubbing along the skin. Prices range widely, from aerosol cans at the grocery store to artisanal creams online. They can also be made relatively inexpensively at home with coconut oil and shea butter. Hair conditioner will also work as a cheap and quick solution.

Razors

Razors come in all shapes and sizes. Disposable razors are available for cheap almost everywhere, although often not terribly sharp or high quality. Cartridge razors, like the popular Gillette Mach 3, have replaceable blade cartridges that snap onto a permanent handle. Several companies (such as Dollar Shave Club or, my favorite, Harry’s) offer subscription and/or bulk plans to get blades for a much lower price.

A cartridge razor and safety razor side by side.

Left: Harry’s Truman Cartridge Razor, Right: Edwin Jagger DE89lbl Safety Razor

If you’re feeling brave and want an extremely economical solution, consider a safety razor. These handles hold a single blade for precise shaving. These take more time and practice to use, but provide an extremely close shave with blades that literally cost a few cents each (a cartridge costs a couple bucks at best).

The next step in close shaving is a straight razor, which is more or less shaving with a sharp knife. Electric shavers are also an option, although those follow different rules and usually need to be used on dry hair. Also, note that any time you switch between razors, it may take a while for your body to adapt and for you to get used to using it.

Moisturizer

Regardless of how you cut the hair, shaving can leave behind dry, scratched, and inflamed skin. Take care of your skin by applying a moisturizer, something to your face that will hydrate, soothe, and recover the spots that you shaved. Aftershave is a popular choice, but any good moisturizer or lotion will do. Since I usually put makeup on my face afterward, I use a hydrating primer that I apply before adding foundation.

Learn the basics

We have three main goals while shaving: prepare the area, shave the hair, and kickstart the healing process.

Prep for success

The easiest way to prep for shaving is taking a hot shower immediately beforehand. Hair plumps up and softens in warm water, making it easier to shave. While showering, try to exfoliate the area being shaved. Exfoliating is a fancy word for scrubbing dead skin cells off, which can be done with a soft brush, pouf, or a good scrub. Getting those cells out of the way will make the surface smoother to shave. If you don’t have time for a shower, hold a hot, wet towel to the area for 2-3 minutes to get most of the same effect.

Next, we apply the shaving cream or gel. Rub it between your hands with warm water to get a nice lather. When spread across the skin, it should be about as thick as the hair is long. Any thicker will clog the blade and make it harder to clean. Since a good cream will hydrate, let it sit on your skin for a minute to additionally soften the skin and hair.

Cue the blade

Once your skin is ready, pick up your razor of choice and get to work. Pull the blade across the area in the direction of the handle (never push the blade or pull it sideways) in short strokes, 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) in length. Allow the blade to glide over the skin, applying little to no pressure, moving with the grain of the hair. For an even closer shave, reapply cream and shave again very lightly against the grain. Avoid reshaving an area without reapplying cream, and rinse the blade often to avoid clogs.

A razor with an arrow showing the correct direction of shaving, i.e. in the direction of the handle. There are other arrows pointing away from the handle and to either side that are labeled as the wrong directions.

The grain is what direction the hair grows at each spot. It varies from person to person, and the easiest way to learn it is by feeling your skin. Rub the area in broad circles. Just like petting a cat, one direction will feel very smooth and the opposite way will feel rough and bristly. The grain runs in the direction that feels smooth. That is the direction you should shave in, at least during the first pass, to avoid irritating the skin. You may choose to do another pass and shave against the grain, but be very gentle with short strokes and plenty of lubrication.

Arrows drawn over the face show which way the grain usually runs, which is generally down the face and chin and up the neck.

Image of which way the grain usually runs from Bevel

Rescue the skin

As promised, the third phase of shaving is repairing any damage done to the skin. Rinse off extra shaving cream with cold water. The cold will also reduce inflammation and swelling, just like putting ice on a swollen bruise. Next, pat yourself dry with a towel. Wiping or rubbing will scrape off a layer of sensitive skin, so remember to pat dry instead. Once dry, apply your moisturizer. It may sting a little, but it will help the skin bounce back and stay healthy.

First aid (just in case)

Minor cuts happen to even the best of us, and they can be treated a couple ways. Cold water will often help, and ice is the next step after that. Cuts can also be sealed by a dab of vasoline, lip balm, or antiperspirant (for the last two, rub your finger along the surface and then transfer to to the cut, rather than directly applying it, to avoid making the entire tube unsanitary). You may also apply mouth wash as an antiseptic, although I promise it will sting.

For larger cuts, rinse under cold water, apply pressure above and below the cut with a clean tissue for a few minutes, and elevate the cut above your heart. Clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide before covering it with an antibiotic ointment and bandage. If it doesn’t stop bleeding or begins to get infected, get it checked out by a doctor right away.

Become an expert

The basics above will work almost anywhere on the body, but here are a few tricks for specific areas.

Long hair (longer than 1/4-inch)

To shave an area with very long hair (for example, a beard), first trim the area with an electric trimmer. Do this by drying the hair and combing it all in the same direction. Then, in successive stages, trim the hair with shorter and shorter combs until you reach the shortest setting (less than 1/4-inch or 6mm). At this point, you can shave as discussed above.

Face

The key to a close shave is keeping the skin tight where the razor is. This might mean making some funny faces to tighten up a specific area. If you have long hair, make sure to put it up before shaving, both to avoid getting it caught in the razor and to avoid getting shaving cream all over your lovely locks.

Legs

In any shaving commercial, women tend to shave against the grain with long strokes in the shower. As sexy as that may be, that’s a good way to hurt yourself. Remember, use short strokes, with the grain, and keep the area lubricated. If you have water running down your legs rinsing off the shaving cream, that defeats the entire purpose. If you’re a stickler for smooth legs, shave very gently a second time against the grain. Also, bending your knees will tighten the skin around that joint, making it easier to shave there.

Armpit

Tighten the skin by lifting your arm above your head and placing your hand on the back of your head or neck. If necessary, stretch the skin down while shaving downward (with the grain). You may shave upward (against the grain) afterward for a close shave, but remember to stay lubricated and avoid applying pressure.

Back

The easiest way to shave the back is to ask someone you trust to help you. If you need to do it on your own, there are extenders for razors, equipment made specifically for shaving the back, and electric trimmers that may be able to help.

Penis/Scrotum

This can be scary for someone with these parts. Break out a brand new blade for this. Begin by trimming the hair down to less than a 1/4-inch (6 mm). While an electric trimmer may work above the penis, scissors are highly recommended for anything below the penis. Putting your leg up on a counter, sink, or side of the shower may help provide better access and angles. Shave gently with plenty of lubrication and rinsing the blade often, pulling the penis away from the area to stretch the skin tight.

If you insist on shaving the scrotum, lie down, spread your legs, and pull the penis back towards you. Skip the shaving cream and gently cut each hair individually. Do not use any pressure. Let the blade do all the work.

While you are shaving, consider doing it over a trash can to speed cleanup. It’s also wise to have first aid nearby. Finally, make sure to rinse with cold water, exfoliate, and moisturize.

Vulva

Start with a brand new blade and a pair of scissors. Use the scissors to clip the hair to less than 1/4-inch (6 mm) in length. The name of the game is minimizing the contact around the sensitive skin. Skip moisturizing this time around, but still warm the area with a hot shower. Use a quality shaving gel to reduce friction and use long, gentle strokes, rinsing the blade in warm water each time. Do not apply any pressure. Let the blade do its thing.

You may need to prop your leg up on a counter, chair, or side of a shower to reach certain areas. A mirror may be helpful to inspect tricky areas, and plucking may be easier for individual hairs. As usual, make sure to rinse with cool water and moisturize to start the healing process.

Take care of your razor

The cleaner and sharper your razor, the happier you’ll be. Most recommend changing a blade after shaving your face 5-7 times. Shaving a larger area may wear it out quicker. If it hurts, throw it out. Your body will thank you for it.

However, there are ways to make blades last much longer. Before and after each shave, sharpen the blade on a pair of jeans. Push it across the jeans 10-20 times in both directions (up and down the pant leg). This will both sharpen and clean the blades. Before putting it away, rinse it off and dry it with a towel.

Alternatively, you may choose to dip the blade in olive oil or rubbing alcohol to get off any water. If you can, try to store the razor vertically, using a stand or by standing it on the inside of a cup. Keep it in a dry place to prevent warping or rusting. With these steps, blades can last much longer and feel much better to use.

Personalize your strategy

Not everyone wants to shave their facial or body hair, and it can be just as empowering to decide not to, if you’re able. For others, it may be essential. Ultimately, self-care is always the most important component.

In many cases, splurging on good equipment is an excellent investment, both financially and for your well-being. Each person’s body will react differently to varying methods, and it may take some experimentation to find what works best for you. That could be waxing, plucking, chemical delapitories, or permanent hair removal. Whatever you do, it should be a net gain for you overall. If not, it may be time to try something new.

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