15 Pros and cons of shaving with or against the grain

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Most shavers take shaving against the grain with a grain of salt but at the same time, people who like an ultra-smooth shave prefer to shave against the grain to get the closest shave possible. You will hear a lot of shavers say that shaving with the grain is the safest way to shave your face but at the same time, you will hear others who claim they have been shaving against the grain for years now without getting any cuts or razor bumps. You might be tempted to go against the grain yourself while shaving but before you try it make sure you know the pros and cons of shaving with or against the grain.

The biggest benefit of shaving with the grain is that it is the least irritating way to shave and chances of getting razor burns are low but at the same time the shave you get is not very close. While on the other hand shaving against the grain gives you the closest shave possible but at the cost of skin irritation and redness.

The debate about whether it is better to shave with or against the grain is as old as the act of shaving itself and while the hair on your head might not be growing in a specific direction your beard hairs do grow at an angle. So to get the best results from your shave you have to be aware of what direction your hair grows in, how you can avoid getting skin irritation if you decide to shave against the grain and in this article we will let you know about all of these points and more.

Pros and cons of shaving with the grain

Shaving with the grain is the preferred method of shaving for a majority of people because when you are shaving along the grain there is less friction. While shaving with the grain you move the blade of the razor in the direction of hair growth so naturally there is less drag between the skin and the blade because you are not pulling the hair opposite to the direction of their growth. With that being said, here are the main pros and cons of shaving with the grain:

Pros of shaving with the grain:

Minimal skin irritation: The biggest benefit of shaving with the grain is that you don’t produce unnecessary drag between your skin and blade when following the natural direction of hair growth. Because you don’t have to apply extra pressure to shave hair along the grain, you are less likely to get cuts and razor bumps. Moreover, since you are not cutting your hair below the skin you don’t have to worry about ingrown hairs.

You can use the same blade for multiple shaves: If you like to use the same blade for more than one shave (which most of us want especially the daily shavers) then shaving with the grain can allow you to achieve multiple shaves with a single blade because shaving with the grain is quite forgiving on the blade and the blade doesn’t have to work very hard to cut the hair. Even if your blade is slightly dull you can still manage to get a decent shave without getting cuts but of course, you will have to swap your blade if it is getting very dull.

Beginner-friendly: If you are new to shaving and don’t have a lot of practice with shaving yourself then shaving with the grain is going to be the best option for you. There is a certain level of care required when shaving but for someone who is just learning how to shave, going along the grain is going to be easier to learn. Moreover, the technique for shaving with the grain is very simple and easy to get used to.

Skin heals quickly after shaving: Your skin recovers from a shaving session quickly and you can shave more often making shaving with the grain ideal for people who have to shave on a daily basis.

Cons of shaving with the grain:

Less close shave: Shaving with the grain doesn’t cut the hairs very close to the skin which leaves some visible hairs after the shave and your skin also feels rougher to touch since you still have some length of hair left above your skin.

Takes a lot of effort to shave: You will have to make multiple passes of the razor to get the most hair which takes a lot of time and effort to get a proper shave.

Pros and cons of shaving against the grain

Pros of shaving against the grain

  • Very close shave: Shaving against the grain is a tested and proven way to get the closest possible shave. Because when you are shaving against the grain you are lifting your hair upwards as the blade cuts it which cuts the hairs very close to the skin and the result is a very smooth shave.
  • Shave Lasts longer: When you cut the hair closer to the skin it takes the hair longer to grow above the skin allowing you to enjoy smooth skin for a longer period of time.
  • Requires less time and effort: When moving the blade against the grain you can get all the hair in the first pass so you don’t have to make multiple passes of the blade in order to remove hairs. This reduces the time it takes for you to shave significantly.

Cons of shaving against the grain

  • Skin irritation: As we mentioned earlier shaving against the grain cuts the hair very close to the skin which eventually results in ingrown hairs since the hair can get bent backward when the blade pulls them and when the hairs start to grow back again they end up growing into the skin instead of growing outwards. Extra drag when moving against the natural flow of hairs also increases the amount of friction between the blade and the skin causing red bumps to appear on the skin which can be painful. Not to mention it is very difficult to avoid getting cuts and nicks when applying this technique of shaving.
  • Not suitable for sensitive skin: Shaving against the grain is tough on the normal skin and if you have sensitive skin it is recommended not to shave against the grain because it can cause a lot of damage to sensitive skin.
  • Painful and uncomfortable: You are bound to experience pain after a very close shave because your skin is scraped a lot deeper when you shave against the grain as compared to regular shaving.
  • Healing time is more: While your skin recovers within a day or two after a regular shave shaving against the grain can leave your skin with a lot more tiny cuts and openings to repair which increases the amount of time it needs for the skin to recover from one day to up to 3 or 4 days.
  • Blades don’t last as long: When you make the blade work against the grain it has to face a lot more resistance while cutting the hair along with pulling the hair back which takes a lot of force causing the blade to get dull a lot faster than normal.
  • Not beginner friendly: Shaving against the grain requires the use of either a straight razor or a safety razor and both of these shaving tools require practice to master.

For most people, a slightly less close shave is not a big deal compared to the bundle of problems that come with shaving against the grain. Besides it is better to walk around with a less smooth shave rather than showing up with razor bumps especially for men. So unless you know what you are doing, shaving with the grain is the better option which is also shown in the pros and cons we have mentioned above. The amount of irritation and discomfort caused by shaving against the grain is a huge price to pay for a smoother shave.

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Man Shaving

What exactly is the grain of your hair?

The grain of hair is the direction in which your hairs grow in. The direction of hair growth is different for everyone, in fact, the direction of hair growth for different body parts varies. For example, the majority of men have the hair on the side of their face growing downwards while others might have the hair in that same area growing in circles. Therefore it is really important to know in which direction your hairs grow in or the grain of your hair if you are planning on shaving any area of your body.  We are going to show you the method to easily find out the grain of your hair in detail later on in this article. But first, it is important to mention some common hair growth directions for different body parts other than the face because the direction of hair growth on the face can vary from person to person. With that being said here is the direction of hair growth for different parts of the body:

  • Legs: The hairs on your lower legs below the knees usually grows downwards.  On the front part of the calves and on the backside of the calves the hairs grow in a pattern that resembles the English letter “J”. Similarly hairs on the front of the thigh usually grow downwards towards the knee and the hairs on the back of the thigh grow in a circular pattern.
  • Arms: Hairs on your upper arm close to the shoulders usually grow towards the shoulders (in the upward direction) and the upper arm hairs that are closer to the elbow grow towards the elbow (in the downward direction). Similarly, forearm hairs that are close to the hands grow ether towards the hand (in the downward direction) or they wrap around the forearm and forearm hairs that are closer to the elbow grow towards the elbow but at an angle (angled upward direction).
  • Chest: Chest hairs appear to be growing into multiple directions but still there is a pattern that they usually follow. Hairs on your upper chest grow towards the neck and the chest hair near the nipples grow towards the nipples and even grow in circles right around the nipples.
  • Stomach: Hairs on both sides of the upper abdomen area tend to grow towards the middle of the abdomen and hairs on the lower abdomen around the belly button area usually grow towards the belly button itself. While the hair right below the belly button also grows towards it.
  • Back: Hairs on the back grow towards the middle for most people but the angle of the hair growth is different for different areas of the back. The hairs on the upper part of the back usually grow upwards pointing towards the back of the neck at an angle. Hairs in the middle region of the back grow straight towards the middle of the back. Similarly, hair of the lower back grows towards the ending of your spine at a downward pointing direction.  
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How to determine the grain of your facial hair?

Knowing the grain of your hair comes in handy whether you plan to shave against or with the grain. Like we mentioned earlier the direction of hair growth is different from person to person especially for the facial hair so here are a few simple techniques that will allow you to correctly assess the grain of your hair:

Mapping your grain: Let your hairs grow out for a few days before mapping your grain because it can be difficult to judge the grain of your facial hairs if the hairs are too short.

Step 1: Take a photo of your face after you have let the facial hairs grow for at least 4 days. You have to take the picture in such a way that you are able to see your neck, chin, and cheeks area. A good way to take a picture for mapping your grain is by lifting your face upwards slightly so you can get the full front view of your facial hair.

Step 2: Now that you have the photo of your face, look closely in order to figure out in what direction your hairs seem to be growing. Move your hand on your facial hair to double-check if the grain you found out from the picture is right or not.  If you don’t feel any resistance from the hairs when moving your hand across your face then that is the grain of your hair.

Step 3: You can now use either an app inside your phone or you can print out the photo and use a pen to make a map that shows the grain of your hair. First of all, you have to separate all the areas of your face that have different hair growth patterns. Normally the grain of hair is identical for both sides of your face but in some rare cases, the direction of hair growth for both sides of the face can be different so it is important to repeat the process on both sides of your face. Now that you have separated each area with different hair growth directions, draw arrows in the direction of the grain so that it is easier to see the grain of your hair.

Now that you know the grain of your hair simply keep this map of the grain of your hair with you in printed form or inside your Smartphone to easily know in which direction you are supposed to shave in.

  • The credit card method: This method involves running a credit card through your facial hair in order to find out which direction the hairs are growing in. Hold the credit card against the skin and move it back and forth on each part of your face. The areas where you notice that your skin is getting pulled is against the grain and the direction in which you don’t feel any resistance will be the grain of your hair.
  • The cotton ball method: You can use either a cotton pad or take some cotton and move it across your skin to find out in which direction the cotton gets stuck in your hair. The direction in which the cotton ball gets stuck in is the direction against your grain. And when the cotton ball moves smoothly against the skin that is the grain of your hair.

Generally, facial hairs grow downward above the chin area and upwards below the chin but there are still some angles to hair growth direction that you can easily find out with the help of the methods mentioned above- to get the most precise and irritation-free shave.

How to avoid skin irritation when shaving against the grain?

Shaving with the grain is straight forward and you have to do the usual preparations for a with the grain shave. But as soon as you decide to shave against the grain the stakes go higher and you have to take some extra precautions and special tools for this purpose to keep the shaving safe and free from any cuts. Here are some things that can help you avoid skin irritation when shaving against the grain:

  • Use a straight razor or a safety razor: Safety razors are not a thing of the past, in fact, the precision and accuracy of a straight razor is superior to cartilage or safety razors. And since you will be going against the grain, you are already creating a lot of friction, in this case, multi-blade razors just add extra friction and irritate the skin further.  So a straight razor or a safety razor with a single sharp blade gives better results when shaving against the grain. Moreover, you can control the angles of shaving a lot better when using either a straight razor or a safety razor which gives you more control over how much pressure you exert on your skin with the blade. Of course, it requires some practice in order to master a straight razor but it is worth it considering the results it produces when it comes to an ultra-close shave.
  • Conditioning your skin: You should always shave after a shower but if you can’t shower before you shave against the grain take a towel soaked in warm water and hold it against your skin for a few minutes in order to make the hair softer especially when you are shaving your face because men tend to have very hard facial hair. Use a pre-shave oil to hydrate your skin and make it less loose since dry skin is rigid and it can get cut easily.
  • Don’t go against the grain for the first pass: When you want to shave against the grain it is very important that you don’t go against the grain straight away. Instead, you should shave with the grain first in order to reduce the length of the hair and after making the first pass of the razor along the grain you can make the second pass against the grain. The benefit of this method is that since the hairs are shorter after the first pass of the blade along the grain you don’t have to use a lot of pressure to cut away the remaining hair when shaving against the grain.
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Can you shave against the grain with an electric razor?

While it is really difficult to shave against the grain using a safety razor or a straight razor the only way to get a good shave with an electric razor is by going against the grain whether you are using a foil electric razor or the rotary one. Because you have to lift your hair in order to allow the moving blade to cut it, therefore, it is recommended to go against the grain when using an electric razor for a close and even shave. With a foil electric razor, it is recommended to move the razor head in an up and down motion going with and against the grain to get the best results. While a rotary electric razor is a little different and in order to use it against the grain, you will have to move it in circles on your skin so that it can go both with and against the grain.

Shaving across the grain

Shaving across the grain is when you move your razor perpendicular or at a 90-degree angle with the grain of your hair to shave your hair. An across the grain pass is used as a second pass in between shaving with the grain and against the grain. The main idea behind an across the grain pass is to get the hair cut down in every direction. Usually, an across the grain pass is used by men when shaving their facial hair. To do an across the grain shave correctly, it is recommended to use the “cheek to chin” method. When using the cheek to chin method you are moving the razor from your cheek to the chin to move the blade across the grain of your hair. Another method that requires a little more pressure is when you move your razor from your chin up towards the cheeks at an angle. An across the grain shaving method is recommended to be used only for the sides of your face and the chin and not for the area under the chin or the neck. Because the grain of the hair in the neck area is not always in the same direction and it is very easy to cut yourself by moving the blade from left to right or vice versa in that area.

Note: You are only supposed to apply light pressure when shaving across the grain and just let the blade glide on your skin for an across the grain pass.

Conclusion:

Shaving against the grain is not entirely bad once you have had enough practice and know what you are doing. But if you have very sensitive skin, going against the grain can leave you in a world of hurt. For people with normal skin, shaving against the grain should only be used as a second pass once you have gotten most of the hair off with an along the grain pass of the razor. Most people who get razor burns from across the grain shaving get them because they try to save time and go against the grain for the first pass in order to get a quick shave but end up irritating the skin in the process. But irrespective of if you are using with the grain or against the grain method you should always condition your skin before you start shaving, use a sharp razor and use an aftershave balm to get the most comfortable shaving experience possible.