Should you shave with or against the grain of the hair on your face? It’s one of the most fundamental issues when it comes to shaving and one that not everyone is sure about.
Or maybe you aren’t sure what it even means to shave with the grain or against it. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. That’s why we put together this guide to compare the two methods of shaving.
To be sure there are pros and cons to each method. Yes, one way will give you a shave that feels closer, but the other way can possibly lead to less irritation. And to be honest, you’ll often shave both with and against the grain no matter what you try to do.
But for the ins and outs of each method, we’ve included everything you need to know below.
What Is The Grain of Your Facial Hair?
Let’s start first with what exactly it means when we talk about “the grain.”
While you might think of your facial hair as growing straight out of your face, that’s not the case at all. Very few hairs actually grow this way. Instead, most hair has a direction of growth.
For an example, take your index finger and run it from the side of your nose down to your upper lip. You’ll notice that it moves fairly smoothly over the hair where a mustache would grow.
Now do the same thing but this time start with your finger at your lip and run it up instead of down. Notice the difference? Running your finger from low to high feels much more rough.
That’s because the grain of the hair on your lip runs downward. So as you move your finger from high to low, you are going with the grain, which feels smooth. When going from low to high, it’s against the growth of the hair (against the grain), making it feel stiff and rougher.
But hair doesn’t just grow on your upper lip… and it doesn’t just grow in one direction.
For instance, the “grain” of the mustache area may grow downward, but at the base of your neck the hair usually grows upward. Under your chin grows with the grain aiming down. Other spots may actually see “swirls” in the hair direction, such as just below the jawline, high up on the neck.
For that reason, it’s actually impossible to completely shave with or against the grain for every single hair you grow. You can, however, make a decision on which way to shave for large areas.
Why Shaving With the Grain Is Better
Now that you know what it means to shave with the grain, what are the benefits of going that direction? In a word: comfort.
Shaving with the grain is usually more comfortable and means less irritation.
Just like when you run your finger with the grain, shaving with the growth of hair leads to a much more comfortable shave. There is likely to be less pulling and less irritation against your skin.
Going with the grain means that the hair isn’t first pulled in an unnatural direction before it’s cut. Instead, it is cut in the same direction as it naturally grows. Cutting this way simply produces less stress on your sensitive facial skin and will generally be a shave that’s free of irritation, bumps, and other discomforts.
Why Shaving Against the Grain Is Better
It seems obvious that you should shave with the grain, right? Not so fast. Some people actually prefer to shave against the natural way their hair grows. The reason is that shaving against the grain can usually cut closer compared to shaving with the hair growth.
Shaving against the grain can give you a closer shave.
You may not realize it, but razors don’t just simply cut when they pass over your face. They actually lift first and then cut. This is the principle behind multi-bladed razors. The first blade cuts, but as it does, it lifts the hair, letting the next blade cut lower.
When going against the hair growth, that “lift and pull” technique is amplified. First the hair is pulled the opposite direction, helping to pull it out more. This is one reason that shaving against the grain can cause irritation and discomfort, but it also can help give you a closer shave.
So Which Way Should You Shave?
With the pros and cons of both methods — closer shave versus more comfort — which way should you shave?
The answer is whichever way that you like best. For some people, the irritation of going against the hair growth is too much and leads to lots of discomfort, bumps, and razor burn. For others, it’s no big deal and they like having the closer shave.
For us personally, we shave predominately with the grain, except the lower part of the neck. Shaving against the growth in most places is simply too uncomfortable for us.
What’s most important, however, is that you follow a routine that softens your hair before shaving. Facial hair is notoriously thick and shaving without softening it first can cause irritation no matter how you shave (try shaving with just a dry razor if you don’t believe us).
That’s why if you’re looking for the smoothest and most comfortable shave, you’ll likely find that your preparation has just as big a part to play as which direction you cut. One suggestion — try shaving at the end of a shower. The warm water will help to soften the hair, making it much easier to shave.