There’s something about a straight razor blade that inspires murderous thoughts and visions of Sweeney Todd. Yet it’s that very prospect of danger, mixed with a dash of nostalgia, that adds to the allure of what is possibly the closest shave you’ll ever achieve. There’s a reason professional barbers often wield the straight razor as their weapon of choice.
“We don’t often recommend men shave with a straight razor as the learning curve is steep and the possibilities for user error (nicks and cuts and even worse) are much greater than with using a cartridge or even a double-edge safety razor,” says Grooming Lounge’s Michael Gilman.
The advantages of a straight razor shave, Gilman notes, are many.
What Are the Benefits of a Straight-Razor Shave?
- A more precise and controlled shave compared to traditional safety razors.
- Reduced risk of ingrown hairs, nicks, and infection.
- Less money spent on supplies since you’re not buying expensive cartridges again and again.
- More environmentally friendly for the same reasons its less expensive – fewer disposable items means less pollution and resource consumption.
What Is a “Shavette” and How Do You Load One?
While some straight razors are a true blade, just like your favorite kitchen knife, others feature an easily changeable razor blade — used in a “Shavettes” — for minimal maintenance.
Murdock London offers the following step-by-step directions to loading a disposable blade:
- Lift the metal catch at the end of the razor and separate the two metal sections.
- Set the fresh blade with the edges facing to and away from you. Hold it from underneath with both thumbs and middle fingers in the middle.
- Bend the edges upwards until they snap clean in half.
- Fit a half-blade over the two raised bumps on the lower metal section and then place the higher metal section on top and squeeze together.
- Close the catch over the two metal sections. Your straight razor is now ready for use.
How to Prep to Shave with a Straight Razor
While many barbers don’t suggest you use a straight razor on yourself at home, what do they know (aside from, like, everything about shaving). Pft, we say. Here’s how to shave with a straight razor (without slitting your own throat).
- Much like any shaving procedure, you have to start with the basics: Start with a clean, washed face. You can even prep after washing by applying a hot towel (just microwave a wet one for 30-seconds) and resting a few minutes while the heat and steam do its work of softening facial hair and follicles.
- Follow that with a pre-shave oil to lube up your whiskers and skin.
- Apply shaving cream in whatever manner you see fit, though we suggest using a badger hair brush to really work it in and lift the hair away from the skin to allow for a closer shave once you touch a razor to skin.
- Use the directions in the above section to load a new blade into your shavette.
Now you can finally begin shaving.
How to Shave with a Straight Razor
After you’ve followed all the above steps, you’re finally ready to put that blade to your face. Follow these steps and you’ll wind up with the closest shave you’ve ever experienced at home.
- Place the straight razor in your hand with this basic grip: index, middle, and ring finger on the top of the blade, with the thumb in the center at the back, and your pinky resting on the blade’s handle/tang. More importantly for whatever grip you choose, however, is dexterity and comfort. If this method doesn’t feel comfortable to you and leaves you feeling shaky, feel free to switch it up.
- Begin shaving by starting with the right side of your face where your sideburns meet your hairline. Hold the razor at an angle almost parallel to your skin and with your opposite hand, pull the skin away from the blade and keep taut.
- Shave downward with the grain using small, smooth strokes. Rinse away excess hair after every stroke.
- Continue in that manner for your right cheek, and then proceed down and over your jaw jawline to your neck.
- Be extra careful when shaving your neck – the skin in that area is extremely thin and most prone to nicks and cuts.
- Repeat the above steps with the left side of your face.
- Once both sides of your face and finished, proceed to your upper lip and, using your opposite hand to pull the skin downward and as taut as possible, shave downward from the nose with small, quick strokes.
- Next is the chin, so this time, pull your lower lip up as far as possible and again shave downward from the lip to your chin and down your neck.
- Give yourself a rinse and a wipe down and follow up with an aftershave and great moisturizer and you’re all set for the day.
Best Straight Razors to Own at Home
This lovely classic style features an ebony handle, carbon steel, and it’s made in Germany. Perfect for your straight razor shave or for close, careful trimming around mustaches and beards. See below for care and maintenance of your new grooming sidearm.
Murdock offers all-steel construction in its signature tool. As a point of reference, the “Shavette” refers to any disposable blade straight razor, and was once a brand name, much like Kleenex, Band-Aid, or Dopp kit, that has passed into common parlance.
The choice of professionals the world over, this shavette is weighted for just the right balance and, at a great opening price point, is an excellent beginner’s choice to start exploring the world of straight razor shaving.
Best Pre-Shave Treatments
The skin—and/or hair—on your face is different from that anywhere else on your body, so be sure to keep them both clean with a specifically designed product. During or after a warm shower, use Stubble & ’stache’s wash to open pores, soften hair, and make it easier for the razor to do its job. We also like its fragrant blend of aloe, ginseng, menthol, eucalyptus, rosemary, sage and black pepper oil.
18.21 is a pre-shave, shave, and post-shave product all in one and can even be used for a waterless shave in a pinch. Apply the product and allow some time for the beard to soften. Add another coat to lubricate for the shave itself. After shaving, give a rinse and then add a light layer of 18.21 to calm and regenerate the skin.
Before you apply any blade to your tender face skin, make sure it’s properly lubricated to take the blade. Grooming Lounge’s oil provides a nice glide and helps eliminate razor burn and rashes (which is one of the reason you want to try straight razor shaving in the first place). It “stands the whiskers at attention,” readying them to be chopped down.
Best Shaving Creams
Truly a cream formulation, Rockwell whips up into a nice foamy leather, providing maximum skin protection while lifting and softening hairs. It’s made in Canada with a pile of natural ingredients including green tea, aloe, mangosteen, acai, and even coffee. It’s like a smoothie for your straight razor shave.
From the Jermyn Street barbering tradition, Taylor’s shaving cream offers a citrusy, masculine fragrance with a warm base of patchouli. And talk about old school … this product was developed to celebrate Taylor’s opening of a barber shop at the United Kingdom’s historic Eton School (alma mater of the Princes William and Harry).
Nashville-based Olivina’s tradition of natural products and essential oils reaches a peak with this shave gel featuring Vitamin B5, organic elderberry extract, and—get those gourds ready—Yerba Mate for it’s naturally caffeinated properties. Add a perfectly redolent blend of bourbon, rich red cedar, and smoky vanilla fragrance, and this gel is the perfect complement to your close shave experience.
Best Post-Shave Treatments
After such a sharp shaving event, treat your face nicely with Every Man Jack’s moisturizing lotion, with menthol and chamomile to soothe, shea butter to hydrate, and Vitamin E to help protect your kisser from the elements.
Grooming Lounge said it, we didn’t, but “Every shave should have a happy ending.” Ahem. Well, calming the skin after a close shave is paramount for comfort and to avoid razor burn and irritation, so try this blend featuring almond oil and lavender.
Doubling as a pre- or post-shave product, Trumper features soothing rose water, glycerin, and menthol, with a fresh West Indian lime fragrance for cooling post-shave relief. Toast your advanced shaving abilities with an expertly prepared mojito.
Best Straight Razor Care
Remember to remove disposable blades after shaving (or rinse if you are going to re-use it). Dry the razor down and store in a dry environment. If you are using a reusable straight edge, you may want to check out a video or two to check out “stropping” technique, so you can maintain that sharp edge throughout the life of the razor.
While you’ll still need to have your blade professionally sharpened from time-to-time, between honings, use this paste stick, with aluminum oxide and diamond particles, to keep your straight-edge ready. Apply it with a strop (below) for a keen finish to the blade.
Extend the life of your blade and its sharpness by running a few strokes on Duluth’s leather strop between every use. The suede side sharpens, while the smooth side polishes…and it can sharpen your knives and scissors, too!