Public Domain image of man shaving against the grain with a straight razor

Shaving against the grain

I don’t remember the source, but somewhere, about the time I began shaving in the mid to late 1960s, I read you should always shave “with the grain” of your beard for the first pass with a safety razor. If you want to get a closer shave, then you can shave across the grain on a second pass and against the grain on a third pass. I’ve done three shaving passes over my face since I started, even when I switched to multi-blade cartridge razors.

All this time, I’ve assumed I knew the direction my beard grew. My beard hairs grew down, didn’t they? Vertical along my cheeks and vertical down my neck. This was obvious. So I thought.

The above arrows show the direction I thought my beard grew (a mistake I have made for fifty years).

Now that I’ve returned to a safety razor and have been immersing myself in shaving blogs and youtube videos, I have found many references to mapping the direction your facial hair grows. I ignored such advice at first, smugly assuming I’d known my beard’s direction for fifty years.

Then, one recent evening, I brushed my fingers across the stubble of my face on a day when I hadn’t shaved in the morning. I could clearly feel the bristle-like stubble on my fingers as they traveled against the grain. My fingers glided over the beard grown when they moved with the grain. Across the grain, felt in between the two, but with no clear direction. The only problem and a big surprise was my beard hairs did not grow in the directions I had assumed for fifty years. Yikes.

Arrows show the actual direction of my beard’s growth.

Thankfully, for me, this wasn’t a terrible problem. I don’t have a thick, fast-growing, tough beard. I don’t have sensitive skin. I never get ingrown hairs or other problems some men suffer when shaving. Fifty years of shaving in the wrong direction did not cause me problems, except occasionally not getting as close a shave as I could have. But many men have beards or skin that can give them problems if they shave against or across the grain of their beard’s growth on the first pass. Even I, with my easy-to-shave mild beard, have noticed I get a closer, smoother shave now that I’ve mapped the directions it grows.

There are a number of ways to determine the direction of your beard’s growth. Studying your beard in the mirror is one, or the modern equivalent, taking a selfie of your face. However, I prefer the method I described earlier. I waited until I had stubble coming in, for me about a day and a half after my last shave, and then used my fingers to feel the direction that gave the most resistance.

My new three-pass routine is as follows:

Pass 1 is in the direction of my beard’s growth (i.e., with the grain). The approximate direction is from the inside corner of my eye to somewhere just below my earlobe. My neck hairs grow horizontally away from the center (my Adam’s apple).

Pass 2 is at right angles to pass 1, or as close as is reasonable. This is either from the center of my ear to my chin or in the opposite direction. My neck can be shaved vertically, down or up.

Pass 3 is in the opposite direction of the first pass.

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