Problems shaving the neck has historically been a “pain point” with both shavers in general and Sharpologist readers in particular. Here are six strategies to get a better shave on your neck.
Shaving The Neck – A Plethora Of Problems
Shaving the neck can be a…well…pain in the neck. 🙂 There are a number of issues that can plague the shaver, including ingrown hairs, irritation and razor burn, and just not getting a good, smooth, consistent shave. Let’s tackle the problem with these six strategies.
Neck Strategy #1 – The Razor And Blade
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Many shavers with neck trouble report improvement by using the combination of a razor with a relatively small blade exposure (“gentle” or “mild,” though some use the term “comfortable“) along with a high performance blade.
Cartridge razors have more interactive variables given their design but generally speaking cartridge razors with a head pivot, fewer blades, and lower blade angles are easier on the neck. Blades and angles are specified by their manufacturer so it is worthwhile considering alternatives. It may take some experimentation to see which razor design works for you, but it will probably be worth the effort. The modern cartridge razor’s head pivot may help you get a more consistent shave on the neck but remember the neck is a notoriously sensitive area and every additional blade is another chance for irritation and/or ingrown hairs. Consider going AWOL from the razor blade wars by trying a razor with fewer blades in the cartridge, or an old-school safety razor with a single blade.
There is a learning curve to shaving with old-school kit but after you get the hang of it you can get really good shaves. And double edge razor blades cost a fraction of that of modern multi-blade cartridges.
Single blade razors like the classic double edge (“DE”) razor require more attention to detail while shaving but offer more flexibility: there are a number mild (“gentle”or “comfortable”) razor head designs and a variety of blade specifications (double edge razor blades may all “look” the same but there are many different ways the blades may be sharpened and coated). Some high-performance blades include Polsilver, Kai, and Feather.
Others have had good results by changing to a slant bar DE razor because they don’t cut hair head-on but at an angle. Getting the hang of a slant bar razor can be a little intimidating for some though.
Adjustable DE razors like the Merkur Progress, Parker Variant, or Rex Ambassador are another option: their blade exposure can be “dialed up” or “dialed down” as necessary depending on where you are shaving. However, using an adjustable razor is a little controversial because there can be a tendency with newcomers to over-experiment with the settings.
Finally, there is the relatively recent development of single blade razors that have pivots like a cartridge razor. These include the OneBlade, Focus Dynamic, and Gillette Guard. These may offer the “best of both worlds” with the shave consistency of a pivot razor plus a lower chance of neck irritation and ingrown hair with the use of only one blade.
Neck Strategy #2 – Shave Prep
Shaving with the grain initially is one of the basic concepts in shaving, and particularly important if you are using a multi-blade cartridge razor. It’s a bit less important with a double-edged razor (you MAY be able to “cheat” a little and follow the predominant direction without worrying about every twist and turn), but it is still necessary to keep in mind. Reducing the beard in stages is the key take-away here.
The “grain” of the beard–the direction(s) the hairs grow in–can be completely counter-intuitive when it comes to the neck. They can even sometimes grow in a circular pattern. Understanding how the hair grows on your neck is the first step in overcoming shaving problems there. To accomplish this, create a map of your beard with a mapping aid like this one. Let your stubble grow out for a day or so, then using a mirror and light circular motions of the fingers, determine the direction(s) your beard is growing in and sketch that onto the face map. Writing arrows in the direction of growth in each box will help you understand how to best shave those areas.
Properly preparing the skin of the neck is often overlooked: copious amounts of warm water and gently cleaning the skin on the neck with a cleanser specifically made for the face may be important here, particularly if you are troubled by ingrown hairs on the neck. Try a good, thorough cleansing of the area before putting razor to skin. Two widely available products in particular that get good reviews as a pre-shave cleanser are Neutrogena Razor Defense Face Scrub and Noxzema’s “Classic Clean” face cleanser cream from the jar. Some shavers “up their game” and find face soaps and washes from ACH, Lucky Tiger, Grooming Lounge, or Proraso Sensitive Pre-Shave Cream work well.
Some have found that applying pre-shave oil on the neck (after a proper prep!) helps reduce irritation, too. After cleansing keep the skin wet, apply the oil, and then apply your shaving lather. Some good ones include Pacific Shaving Oil, Village Barber Shave Oil, (PSO and VB are actually “stand alone” shave oils but work exceptionally well underneath lather), The Art of Shaving Pre-Shave Oil, and Taconic Pre-shave Oil, among others.
Neck Strategy #3 – Lather
If you’re using a shaving product that comes out of a pressurized can you should seriously consider another product. All things being equal, anything out of a pressurized can tends to dry out the skin because of the can’s propellant. Then they have to try to make up for the drying effect with chemical lubricants. Besides, have you read the ingredient list? Every additional ingredient is just one more thing that your skin might react to. So at least use a product out of a squeeze tube.
For the best experience I think you should use a good lathering shave cream applied with a shaving brush (combining cream and shave soap–sometimes called “superlather”–can be exceptionally effective with providing an incredibly slick, cushioning layer for shaving the neck!). Using a shaving brush is a great way to keep water next to the skin, gently remove tiny bits of debris and surround every little hair with lather. It may take a little more time but your efforts will be rewarded.
Consider trying a cold water shave. A fair number of people have reported noticeable improvement of neck shaving problems by using cold water instead of hot. It may be because warm water brings corpuscles closer to the surface of the skin, making redness and nicks more likely. First try a warm water prep followed by a cold water shave. Then try a complete cold water routine (prep and shave) to see if there is a difference.
Neck Strategy #4 – Technique
It may seem counter-intuitive but shaving more often may reduce neck problems: the longer the stubble is, the more difficult the cutting may be. Try shaving daily, or at least every-other-day. And consider shaving at least 20 minutes after you rise in the morning but before eating breakfast, or just before you go to bed for the day. The reasoning for this may be a little ambiguous but it makes a difference for some.
If you lather your neck first and shave it last you will give the stubble there the longest possible time to hydrate and soften, which should improve your chances of a good shave. Your initial shave strokes need to be with the grain, with no pressure on the razor and without repeating strokes. Don’t worry about getting every bit of hair at first. Just concentrate on light strokes that overlap slightly.
Resist the urge to shave the same spot over and over again!
If the grain is in a circular pattern on a section, you may find that a single predominant direction will work adequately for part of the pattern. The only way to know for sure it to try it.
Modern cartridge razors have are engineered to help compensate for too much pressure on the skin but they can only go so far. If you’re using an old school razor you’re going to have to remember to use little to no pressure on the razor. No matter what kind of razor you use, holding the razor at the very bottom of the handle will usually help reduce the pressure of the blade on the skin. Alternately you can try holding the razor by its center-of-gravity (balance point) but this may not work well with every razor.
Modern blade cartridges set the blades at a specific angle determined by the designers, who engineer it to an angle they think is best for most people. So there’s not much you can do about it short of trying a different model of razor. But shavers who use old school safety razors have the ability to change the angle of blade as it meets the skin. And in the case of the neck you will want to try to keep a shallower angle on the razor. Try holding the top of the razor to your neck then slowly rock the razor down until the blade just makes contact with the skin. Try to maintain that shallow angle as you’re shaving the neck. Admittedly that can be a problem, since the neck is a pretty curvy place. But there are a couple things you can do to help flatten the skin of the neck, depending on where you’re trying to shave.
Most people think they need to stretch the skin to get a smooth shave. But what you really need to do is flatten the skin. It may sound like the same thing but it’s really easy to over-stretch the skin and that’s a prescription for ingrown hairs and razor burn.
One way to flatten the skin on most of the neck without over-stretching is to lean forward from the waist and tilt your head up slightly. You may need to steady yourself with your other hand while you’re doing this but it works really well for me.
Another way to flatten the areas just under the jaw is to tilt your head down and back, and flatten the jowl area. You’ll look like a bullfrog but some people find it useful to catch those areas.
What about the Adam’s Apple? There are a couple things you can do to shave that area too. One is to swallow and try to hold the swallow. You won’t be able to hold it for more than a second or so but that should be long enough to make a shaving stroke on the area. Another alternative is to carefully slide the skin over the Adam’s Apple to one side. Be careful not to over-stretch it though.
OK, you’ve finished that first shave with the grain. Does it look good enough to you but you’ve missed a few spots? That’s OK, re-lather and shave with the grain one more time.
On the other hand, if you want a closer shave go ahead and re-lather but this time shave across the grain–the direction 90 degrees away from the direction of growth. Again, be very aware of blade pressure and take very efficient strokes that overlap only slightly.
When you’re finished examine yourself again. Still not good enough? Try re-lathering and shaving across the grain again, but from the opposite direction. You might try an against-the-grain pass but if you’re reading this article that “baby’s butt smooth” feel just might not be possible….
However if there are small areas of stubble left that you need to get after your grain shaving you can try a couple other things. First is the “J-Hook” which involves a curving or hooking motion with the razor. J-Hooking is particularly effective on the sides of the neck just below the jaw line. Then there is “blade buffing” which is a very short, quick strokes in a small area. This is good for the area under the chin. Both J-Hooking and Blade Buffing should be done very carefully and lightly, with lather (though some rub a thick layer of wet but otherwise unlathered shaving soap onto the area), and done once. If you still have stubble or roughness after trying it, just let it go man (at least for that shave)….
Neck Strategy #5 – Finishing
A thorough post-shave rinsing is a good idea, and essential if you are experiencing those little pimple-looking white-head things: it may be caused by lather residue clogging pores. Rinse with lots of warm water, followed by cool water. For extra insurance consider soaking a cotton make-up pad with a good skin toner, hydrosol, or Witch Hazel and wiping down the area between the warm water and cool water rinses. Some suggest using an alum block as well, followed by another cool water rinse, but there’s some disagreement about that….
Neck Strategy #6 – Aftershave
In any case, if you have trouble with irritation or razor burn be sure to finish with a small amount of a good aftershave balm (something without alcohol as a major ingredient). Balms are heavier-feeling on the skin and typically provide more irritation relief and more moisturization to the skin, particularly in cold or dry climates.
Consider a low-alcohol toner instead of a heavy aftershave balm or a high-alcohol aftershave splash if you are trouble with ingrown hairs. Something like Lucky Tiger Face Tonic or even some Witch Hazel. If that does not resolve the problem consider adding an ingrown treatment such as Tend Skin.
If you are troubled with ingrown hairs or white-heads, some people have gotten excellent results by rubbing the bristles of a soft (dry) toothbrush on the area for 30 seconds just before going to bed: it exfoliates the skin just enough to expose the inflamed follicle through the skin so it grows back out.
Over to you. Do you have a strategy for the neck not mentioned here? Leave a comment below!
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