I sometimes post on forums that are not related to shaving but have a shaving-related topic going on. I recently wrote this as a reply to one such topic (the original poster was wondering why he was getting “redness and these little white bumps” after shaving) and I think I may just keep it as my “stock” answer to a lot of shaving gripes:
Repeat after me: preparation and reduction, preparation and reduction.
Most people don’t prepare for a shave adequately; they splash on some water for a couple seconds and then slap on some goo from a can and expect to get a decent shave out of it. Some people can…most can’t. The fact is that it can take up to three minutes to fully hydrate the face before a shave. Shave after showering if you can. If not, wash your face with a gentle facial soap (not a freakin’ body bar or deodorant soap!) and lots and lots of the hottest water you’re comfortable with.
And for gods sake, use a decent lather. Just about anything out of pressurized can won’t cut it. The propellent causes little pockets of air in the cream or gel which will dry out the skin. Then they have to put in artificial lubricants to try to make up for it (more chemicals on your face, meh). Use something from a squeeze tube or better yet a traditional shave cream or soap that you use a shaving brush with. You’ll be *amazed* at the difference.
OK so you’ve got a decent lather going. Now you’re going to reduce the beard in stages instead of trying to get everything all at once. Shave–using as little pressure as possible on the razor–in the direction your hair grows in (with the “grain”). Don’t try to get every last hair at this point, the idea is to comfortably knock down the worst of it. Take your time and use relatively short strokes–maybe an inch or so at a time. Rinse with hot water and relather. Now shave *across* the grain (90 degree angle) to knock down a little more beard. Rinse with hot water and relather. This time shave across the grain from the opposite direction. Rinse with hot water and relather. Now shave against the grain. After getting the hang of this technique you can start working on short-cuts: maybe you don’t need that second cross-grain pass or you don’t need that last against-grain pass after all, for example.
OK you’re done shaving. Rinse again with hot water, thoroughly. You want to get off any gel or cream residue that still might be on the face (some gels stick to your face like grim death and will clog your pores and give you ingrown hairs or shaving bumps if you’re not careful). Now go ahead and splash on some cool water to start sealing the pores. Finish with an aftershave that doesn’t have alcohol as the 1st ingredient.