In recent years, there has been a resurgence of traditional barber shops catering to men. As some may have previously felt emasculated by the atmosphere of salons, men can now reach for a newspaper or look up at a big screen television while having their regular trim. In keeping with the traditional barber shop services, some even offer a straight razor shave.
Once considered as the most common way to shave a man’s face, some men now go through life having never shaved with a straight razor – myself included. Is this old-timey method of shaving just for show? Is it just another ironic practice for a hipster to pick-up? Or are there real benefits to shaving with a straight razor?
“It’s a closer shave” said Markus Tran, a barber at Mojo Barbershop here in Honolulu. He has been giving straight razor shaves at the downtown location for the past four years.
Besides baby-soft skin, it’s good for you. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests shaving with a sharp blade to minimize skin irritation. A close shave also exfoliates the skin and helps prevent pores from clogging.
Straight razors can last for decades if properly cared for, even handed down through generations. While the initial investment of a razor seems costly, one can save money in the long run on money that would otherwise be spent on disposable blades.
Razor bumps are just one of the skin conditions listed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine that can result from improper shaving technique. Take some time to recognize the direction of your hair growth as you’ll want to avoid shaving against the grain.
Once that is determined, some items to consider are pre-shaving cream and lathering product to soften the hair cuticle. A brush can be used to apply the lather. Tran suggests using cooling or toning moisturizer for the skin’s pores after the shave.
Last but not least, there’s the straight razor. Whether new or a family heirloom, a straight razor should be honed and sharpened before every shave. Tran explained that a stone is used to hone while a leather strap is used to smooth out the blade.
Under the Razor
After all this shave talk, I was ready to give it a try myself. I sat back in one of Mojo Barbershop’s chairs and waited for Tran to bring a very sharp blade to my face. As he wrapped my face with a steaming towel, he informed me that he would be shaving with a disposable straight blade, which is in accordance with Hawaii State law. That news put my inner germophobe at ease, knowing I wouldn’t be sharing skin cells with anyone else.
Prior to massaging the lather into my skin, we also briefly discussed my facial hair growth pattern and some areas where I may be sensitive. It turns out my sensitive areas are where the hair grows in a different direction, causing me to shave against the grain. Tran advised that he will not be shaving as close to the skin in those areas.
For the most part, he commented that I actually have pretty tough skin. Wait … that’s a compliment, right? I asked him how he could tell and he said because my skin wasn’t inflamed.
I felt some slight discomfort when it was time to get those hairs around my upper lip. However Tran was quick to recognize that and applied another steaming towel to loosen up my pores. After a quick lather, shaving the area was no longer a problem.
After 20 minutes in Tran’s chair, I sat up completely refreshed. Ending with a cold towel wrap and some cooling moisturizer, I could honestly say that I’ve never felt as minty fresh as I was right then.
Our morning routines can be hectic but if you have the time, a straight razor might be ideal for you. Once you’ve gained enough experience, Tran said you can do a full straight razor shave in about 10 minutes. If you have a mustache or goatee, expect to spend around five minutes.
Before you invest in product, have a shave done by a professional to determine whether or not your skin is sensitive to such a close shave. Whether you choose straight, single or multi-blade razors, the moral of the story is when in doubt, always shave with the grain. Tran described how when a hair cuticle is cut at an opposite direction in a 45 degree angle, it can grow inward rather than outward. Just hearing that made my pores hurt.
At this point in my life with toddlers bumping into me every morning, I’ll visit professionals like Tran for my straight razor shaves. But one thing I will do at home more is take more time in preparing my skin with hot water and then cold water with moisturizers for my post shave ritual.
A few extra minutes seems like a reasonable investment for our faces. Skin is your largest organ, take care of it.
Photography by Jamie Nakasone