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How Safe Is Your Face From The Barber?

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A Barbershop Experience

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Kenny. I am 38 years old, born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and converted to traditional wet shaving a little over a year ago. The best grooming decision I ever made. I can’t really remember what prompted me to search YouTube for shaving, but at the top of the long list of shaving videos: Mantic59.

Who was this guy? Why would he devote a whole channel to shaving?

Let’s just say I am so thankful to Mark for all the hard work he’s put into this topic.

Obsessed? Him? Never.


On New Year’s weekend, I decided enough was enough. A new year was upon us, and I wanted to start off clean. And for Pete’s sake, if the Mayans were right about 2012, I needed to be presentable when I meet my maker!

In the recent past, I scoured Yelp for a reputable barbershop in my area. I found one called Manny’s Barbershop in Van Nuys, CA. Since my experience there (for haircuts) was quite good, I decided that I would have a revisit.

There are four barbers there: Manny, two other guys and a woman on the end. The woman on the end had done a good clipper cut on my hair before. Manny and the other guys were busy, so she was the person for the job.

The haircut went fine. Nevertheless, I decided to treat myself to my VERY FIRST barbershop shave. What’s another $15, right?


She started off with some warm lather a hot towel on the face. So far, so good. Felt wonderful and relaxing. It was nice to be able to lay back and let someone else do the prep for a change.


After prepping my beard, she proceeds to start the shave. She had what appeared to be a regular disposable safety razor, but I wasn’t sure how many blades it had. She didn’t speak much English, and I only speak un poquito Spanish. The last time I was there she shaved another guy using a straight razor. “That’s weird.”

Then, the horror began. She starts scraping my face. Hard.

At first, I didn’t know what to think. A few times I grimaced and voiced my discomfort. She said she would go slower and not press so hard. Stupidly, I let her finish the shave. I’m still not sure why I didn’t stop mid-shave. Maybe, I’m a masochist. I don’t know. The only time she broke out the straight razor was to line up my sideburns (before the shave) and to get the little area right below my nostrils.

Needless to say, I opted out of the aftershave (alcohol-based) and had her use some lotion. My face was so raw and bloody, and I had such bad razor burn, I just wanted to get out of there. So, I left.

This is what my face looked like just after. Believe me, it hurt much worse than it looks. This never… let me repeat… never happens when I give myself a shave.

Barbershop Razor Burn, This is what happens when someone with bad technique gives you a shave
Barbershop Razor Burn

When I got home, my face was burning so bad, I had to get some help. Luckily, the guys at the Original Mobile Barbershop were so helpful. They said to use a cool compress and head over to see Brian at Friend’s Beauty Supply in Valley Village, CA, for some stuff to help heal my wounds. Luckily, they are just up the street from me.

The staff was extremely helpful and friendly there. Originally, it was suggested that I use Tend Skin, but as I have a sensitivity to acetylsalicylic acid, I couldn’t use that. Instead, I got some cactus gel from The Healing Desert. This stuff is AMAZING. Within a few hours, my face felt better. I have to say that this stuff also makes an incredible aftershave and moisturizer. It’s very similar to aloe gel, but I think it works better.

After the pain subsided some, I called back to speak with Manny, but he had left early because of the holiday. Needless to say, the guy who answered got an earful. Respectfully, I told him that she has no business shaving anyone else until she gets more training, and that her technique (or lack thereof) was completely wrong. He only could offer an apology. I’m going to call back and speak with Manny soon.
So, that’s my tale of woe. Next time, I’m going to go to the OMBS or Art of Shaving to see if I can get a real shave. It’s more expensive; I hope it’s worth it.

I let a few days go by before my first shave after the “incident”. I wanted to wait until I was completely healed. What a great shave I gave MYSELF!

  • Semogue 830 boar brush
  • Erasmic cream
  • 1948 Gillette Superspeed w/Feather blade
  • Thayers Alcohol-Free Cucumber Witch Hazel with Organic Aloe Vera
  • The Healing Desert cactus gel
  • Pre de Provence aftershave balm

We would love to hear your own experiences. If you can recommend a good barber or spa for a shave in your area, let us know!

[Note from Mantic59: In the coming weeks several professional barbers will be discussing what to expect in a barber shave, how to get the best shave experience at a barbershop, and what the barber’s attitude towards shaving is!  If you are a barber and would like to contribute please leave a comment.]

Kenny Haberman

Kenny Haberman

34 thoughts on “How Safe Is Your Face From The Barber?”

  1. This is hilarious to read all this bellyaching about these less than perfect shaves. Let me give you a little history. Barbers at one time did more shaves in the course of a day than haircuts, but then came Mr. Gillette with his safety razor invention. This as we know nearly ended shaving in the barber shop. So the customers abandonded the barbers and left them with half their income. Now that this idea is becoming somewhat trendy again everyone seems to be so shocked that the poor barbers who were abandoned by the public for their shaving services are now suddenly expected to put out this fabulous, luxourious baby smoth shave! When they may not have done one for many months, sometimes years. This is why many barbers have just discontinued face shaving altogether. It’s impossable to stay in practice when so few desire the service. Now that there is some renewed interest in this service by the public where is the barber to get the practice? The only way sorry to say is on their customers. How do you think they learned to shave 75 – 100 yrs ago before trade schools?
    First they started as lather boys, just entrusted to lather the faces of the barbers customers, then gradually allowed to start shaving customers themselves. Probably some fairly rough shaves at first. It’s similar to going to a barber for a haircut fresh out of barber school compared to one who has been practicing for 40 yrs. Same price, same license, same training, but usually a better job from the 40 yr. man because of EXPERIENCE!
    Experience means everything and the public has taken the barbers “experience” away with the much cheaper and more convenient safety razor used at home.
    As for the complaint about the use of the disposable safety razors instead of straights this is partly due to a desire on the part of barbers to be safer (again due to lack of practice) Although sometimes this is because a beautician is really shaving you instead of a barber. In most states comotolegists are not allowed to use a straight razor (only safety) It used to be that beauticians were not allowed to work in barber shops and vice versa. But now the public is being duped. When a guy walks into a barber shop with a barber pole by the door and a dead animal head on the wall he is going to assume the people behind the chairs are barbers. But due to our regulatory agencys trying to blur the distictions between these two trades one can’t be sure of anything anymore.
    Buy a Mach 3 go home and shave yourself! And this is coming from a barber!

    1. Joe ,
      Your a star, thank you for pointing out that VERY fact … We as Barbers are out of practice. I have been a Barber for 25/26 years now and up until 10 years ago did open razor shaves on a regular basis . The Barber shops I have worked in however over the past 10 years did not offer this service to their gents so over the years I have been out of practice . I have just opened my own wee Barber shop recently and seriously want to get back into the swing of shaving my gents again . I won’t however go out there and just start shaving as over these lost years I’ve had working in “pretend” Barber shops things have changed .. Rules and regulations, even shaving techniques have changed. Instead I will bide my time, practice practice practice and gain experience again and hopefully a good name for myself and others in the same situation in the Barbering trade.
      I’m tired of people asking me if I’m a hairdresser just working as a Barber etc because I’m female . NO IM A BARBER, I had an apprenticeship straight from school! I got sent for buckets of steam and bubbles for spirit levels . I’m proud of my trade and now I have my own place I’m so excited at the prospect of passing on my years of experience to an apprentice .
      GENTS … Put down your mac 3s etc and come and give us forgotten about Barbers a chance , it’s the right thing to do. Use your common sense and if the Barber shop you go to looks dud then you can always walk out again .

  2. I was wondering if my experience was normal, or if I should get a new barber. I too just had my first wet shave but I got my goatee lined up as well. My barber did use a straight razor, however, while he was shaving me it was fairly uncomfortable, and gave caused a burning sensation across my entire neck and cheeks. It also felt like several time he cut me and, I would notice him stop and rub disinfectant on the area. When I was done I was nervous, to look at my face in the mirror. When I did, I realized that my fears were correct. I had several cuts on my face and there was razor burn all over my cheeks and neck. The line up, was very good however. I have coarse beard hair and was wondering if it just might be my beard or if I should get a new barber?

  3. I have read all your comments with great interest. I am in fact an Holistic Therapist based in the west coast of Scotland. I had always wanted to learn how to hot towel shave being female we wax, tan, manicure etc, and I thought this would be great to add to my qualifications and an additional income as there are always weddings within my area. I have found this has taken a lot of trial and error and find being female really out of my comfort zone. My first gentleman very kindly offered his beard to me as I knew I would require a lot of practice, my heart went out to him and I felt traumatised.(not a paying customer) I pride myself on being very thorough and good at what I do. I got back on the driving seat and have since completed many shaves, I am thorough and take my time being the only hot towel shave in the area, my reputation depends on it. I even found assistance from a barber in Paisley who gave me great advise. My treatment consists of hot towel steamed in lime essential oil, exfoliator, hot towel, pre shave oil warmed with chamomile and lime, I have taylors of bond street shaving cream or alternatively gillette gel this actually gives the gentlemen a more comfortable shave warmed in shaving brush & mug, thereafter prep the beard, 1st pass shave is carried out with an open razor, again hot towel, 2nd pass shave is then carried out with a pro fusion power blade (disposable) then completed with both open razor and disposable, to allow as much comfort to the gentleman as possible. Finally a hot towel then an ice cold towel dipped in cham and lav to soothe the skin. Air dried and moisturised with a small amount of shea butter and chamomile and completing the treatment a five minute indian head massage. I know I am not in any way as experienced as many others, however, the results and feedback have been positive, and with more experience I aim to only use the disposable blade if necessary. Obviously making a profit is the object of the excersise, however, as all women who have any kind of beauty treatment know, if it is not good we don,t go back.

    1. Read your comment , glad your adding some mens pampering to the world. we are at a time where men need to take care of themselves more. I like your scented towel idea and will add that to our shops hot towels. We opened up only three months ago and we are youtube and trial and error educated. Many friends family and freebies have been used to add shaving to our list. Keep it up , its a great addition and always keep it sharp.

  4. Just out of curiosity, anybody know of a reputable barber in or around the San Fernando Valley, CA (like, ohmigod… fer suuuure!)?
    How about AoS in Glendale, CA at the Americana shopping center? Has anyone gotten a shave from the Original Mobile Barbershop?

  5. Did you use pre-shave oil before shaving? I know I used to just shave with soap/water in the shower and I would get razor burn but just assumed it was part of shaving (young and silly).
    I got an eshave shaving set which is the same products they use in their NYC barber shops. The luxury razor, silvertip badger hair brush and the pre shave oil, shaving cream, and after shave lotion. Everytime I shave with that, its crazy the difference. Closer shave, I never get razor burn, no ingrown hairs, and I truly am addicted to the orange sandalwood and white tea scents.
    I would never get a shave from a store that doesn’t use the highest quality products. If they aren’t using a straight razor (freshly sharpened!) or a brand new 5 blade Gillette, and they don’t have a line of those same products for sale, then I wouldn’t take the chance.

  6. I got a nightmare straight razor shave last November. The prep was great (hot towel), but the shave was scary. I had about four days of growth on my face and didn’t think much when she asked me if I wanted to have an against-the-grain shave. I thought that it would mean that she would give me an against-the-grain pass to finish off the shave. Nope, she started right away against the grain. Trying to brave the pain, I didn’t say much as that dovo shavette ripped across my face. After shaving a cheek, she saw the nicks and said my face was just ‘sensitive’ and did the rest with the grain, which was still quite uncomfortable. After that pass, she said it was done. She asked if I wanted aftershave. I am used to using an alum block and aftershave balm after my normal shaves with my Merkur HD, so I welcomed it. It cost me 25 bucks for the shave, and my face felt a lot rougher than before (had over 30 nicks on my face). Never paying for one again unless the barber is really reputable.

  7. The Problem is… once you know how to shave yourself properly (you know your growth map, you know how to prep, you find the razor and blade that best suit you), you will be hard-pressed to find someone else that can shave you better. Getting to know the skin-type and terrain takes a little while and it’s a huge part of getting a great shave. What I don’t understand is why more barbers don’t use a facial steamer instead of hot towel. In my opinion, how towels are not very effective.

  8. Delurking here and after seeing the Chicago Tribune article about Sharpologist a big thank you to Mantic59 for that final nudge to push my wet shaving to the next (and much better level).
    Sounds like I lucked into a great barber just by chance as I found a fellow here in Chicago’s northwest burbs that just opened an old school barber shop last spring and decided to treat myself to a haircut and shave.
    The barber knew his way around a straight razor pretty good and my only real “complaint” was that It wasn’t a BBS shave but as another poster noted no one will know your beard as well as yourself.

    1. Gary,
      Could you tell me the name of the Barber Shop. I’m looking for a good place in the NW Suburbs as well.

  9. Since stumbling upon Mantic59’s videos this past summer, I’ve had two barbershop shaves.
    The first was at Roosters in Parker, CO (just outside Denver). They only have one barber on staff and her schedule is growing more and more full with regulars. All in all, the shave was pretty good, though I was a little disappointed by the use of a Fusion cartridge blade. The whole experience was geared toward my total comfort and relaxation. The prep was a nice dose of some kind of pre-shave oil or lather (I didn’t ask) and one hot towel for my face and another for my forehead (which obscured my vision and was replaced repeatedly throughout the shave). As the shave progressed, it was very comfortable and her technique was pretty good. Once the shave was over, she applied some kind of astringent which stung a little (more woke me up from the almost nap I was taking than actually hurt), applied a cold towel to my entire face, then a nice aftershave balm followed by a very light dusting of some kind of powder. I left feeling refreshed and my face was very smooth.
    My other shave was at the Art of Shaving at the Park Meadows mall on the south end of metro Denver. I was really looking forward to a straight razor shave from a guy who’d been doing it for a while. After talking a bit before hand about my techniques and getting a little advice, he started the shave. AoS’s pre-shave oil and a coat of lather went on before applying a hot towel to my face. Another application of the lather and he started shaving. He commented that my beard was very coarse and that the left to right growth of hair across my entire neck area prevented a decent against grain pass over my neck. His technique used a little more pressure than I was expecting but there was no irritation. Once he was done (two passes), a quick rinse to get rid of the lather that was left and a cold lemon-scented towel for my face, a little of AoS’s aftershave balm and I was out the door. Overall, an extremely comfortable shave, but not a close as I was expecting.
    What I’ve found is that as I dial in my prep, lathering, shaving, and aftershave routine, I am learning my face to a level no barber can be expected to possess. I am at the point where I’m thinking a barbershop shave might just be a more relaxing experience and not necessarily something I’ll indulge in expecting a better quality of shave. I’d certainly go back to either (though AoS is a little pricey) for another shave. However, I’m getting to the point where I can do a better job at home so a barbershop shave might just become a luxury I enjoy a couple times a year.
    I too am curious about the use of cartridge razors for professional barbers. Would seem to me that cartridge razors wouldn’t be an effective way to keep costs down unless the skill require to wield a DE or straight razor commands a higher salary.

    1. You make some interesting points Jon.
      Firstly, any professional barber who uses a cartridge razor on a customer is NOT trying to save money. In fact, it would cost the barber an awful lot more money given the extortionate price of the cartridge blades!
      Secondly, your correct in your assumption that the appropriate skill and experience needed to correctly use an ‘open razor’ does mean that you have to pay more. Indeed, what you are paying for has less to do with the implements used and more to do with the skill and expertise of the one “wielding” the straight razor!
      As with most things in life Jon, you get what you pay for!!

  10. I’m pushed for time right now so can’t offer a long reply now but would love to contribute to a future post interviewing barbers about shaving.
    – BE

  11. Kenny I feel your pain. I had a similar experience about 15 years ago and I am still (emotionally) scarred. By the end of my straight razor shave I was bleeding from numerous lacerations to the neck. This was from a very experienced barber. The barber then blamed me for having “sensitive skin”. I now suspect his blade was blunt.
    At the time I was considering buying a straight razor and thought I would have a shave to see if I liked it. It took me ten years to have the courage to buy that straight and I have never looked back. Every shave is a joy.
    To be a little fair, barbers don’t seem to get the practice they used to with shaving. The only time I see barbers shaving now is when somebody is having their beard removed or, the male side of a wedding party think it would be a fun idea.
    I have been surprised at the readiness to blame the victim here on communication. After the words “shave please” have been established there really isn’t much more to be said.

  12. I had almost the exact same experience last month. For my birthday, I went to a barber that A) did speak English and B) advertised straight shaves. It was horrible. Although they advertise it, they don’t do it a whole lot anymore. At one point, the man told me beard was too stout and pulled out a Gillette Fusion. I had a terrible shave (I was scruffy all over, but to different degrees in different patches) and my skin was extremely irritated. Worst $30 of my life.

  13. I received my second hot towel shave from a barbershop in Clearwater, FL. I was optimistic about this experience because the barbershop’s website had a separate page just about their hot towel shave services, and the barber that performs the shaving had his own website, promoting his shaving abilities; he calls himself “The Razor.”
    Due to my hectic work schedule, I walked-in without an appointment, but only had to wait behind 1 customer; I had about a 3 day beard. Before I was seated, I made sure no electric razor would be used. Overall, this shave would be more enjoyable than my first experience.
    I tried to chat with “The Razor” (I’m withholding the barber’s name, he was a nice guy–just inexperienced) about wet shaving, as he began prepping my face with Lucky
    Tiger mentholated cream and Campbells lather, but he had no idea what I was talking about. I was treated to 3 hot towels before the shave, then he lathered me up with fresh Campbells lather and started to perform the shave with a shavette. He had a light touch with the razor and was very thorough.
    Another hot towel followed, then more campbells, and he did a second pass against the grain with a disposable cartridge razor. I explained wet shaving while he shaved my face and asked about his background and inquired about the demand for shaving services. “The Razor” explained that they rarely got clients requesting a shave and that the website was his boss’s idea. The state of FL doesn’t allow barbers to use a shaving brush. The shave finished with a cool towel and a short facial massage and AS balm.
    Overall a much better experience–still not the experience I was hoping for, but no nicks and only a minor patch of redness on my neck. I was adequately smooth leaving the shop and didn’t need to further shave afterward. My whiskers did itch as they grew back over the next several days; I attribute this to the cartridge razor.
    An Art of Shaving store has opened in Tampa and I’m considering a shave there. I might get sent to Las Vegas this summer for job training, in which case I will definitely get a hot towel shave at one of the resorts.

      1. Its because a brush can not be adequately sanitized and to use it on several customers a day could theoretically spread bacteria etc… As of today, MANY states in the US prohibit the use of one piece straight razors.. you have to use the ones with replaceable blades.

    1. I wouldnt attribute your itchy whiskers to the cartridge razor, but the fact that the barber went against the grain. We are taught (when learning the 14 stroke shave) to NEVER go against the grain… across, but NOT against. Not too many barbers even bother with learning to shave (in my experience).. its a widely forgotten art…like cursive!

  14. From my own (very limited) experience, I think most modern barbers aren’t experienced at giving shaves. I live in Clearwater, FL and I’ve received a hot towel shave from two different barbershops that advertised their shaving services, and both were very poor.
    My first hot towel shave experience was at a modern barbershop in north Tampa, FL; a few months prior to my visit the shop had a write-up in one of the local papers and their hot towel shave was prominently mention.
    My barber was the manager and co-owner of the shop. The shave prep started off nicely, with pre-shave oil and two hot towels, but then abruptly was ruined when the barber used an electric shaver for the first pass–I nearly jumped out of the chair! I decided to stick it out.
    After this, a layer of $2 gel was spread across my face and then some Campbell’s hot lather was applied on top of that. The barber did a second pass with a shavette (disposable straight razor that uses 1/2 a DE blade). The shave finished with a cool towel and then a splash of aftershave.
    I had one very minor nick and a patch of slight razor burn on my neck and upper lip, but I escaped relatively unscathed. My face appeared to have have a 5 0’clock shadow and there were several stray, unshaved whiskers on my upper lip, chin, and cheeks. I went home, showered, and then performed a 3 pass shave.

  15. The simple rule of shaving is: if your face becomes red, sore or irritated at anytime during a shave – you’re doing something wrong!
    To hear of any ‘professional’ barber using a cartridge razor on his/her customers is deeply sad but alas getting more and more popular as the need to “make a quick buck” supercedes the professional ethics of the ‘noble art’ of barbershop shaving.
    My advice: check BEFORE you book a shave as to exactly what type of razor will be used or, if like Kenny, you decide when actually at the barber’s to get a shave, simply refuse to go ahead with it if you discover that a cartridge razor will be used.
    Trust me, no self-respecting barber would even think to use a cartridge razor on his customers!

    1. VB UK, I agree. Next time, when I go to a barber, I’ll find out what they use *first*. It was also my fault for not stopping the shave. I guess I kept hoping she was going to do what I saw her do in the past, but geez…

    2. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a barber using a cartidge razor to shave someone. A ‘barber shop’ (and I use this term very loosely) opened up in the upscale mall close to my house. The decor gave it a real, traditional barbershop feel. Fed up with having a selection of only salons to choose from I decided to give it a go and was rather impressed with the trim I got. I told a number of friends, including my neighbour about this new ‘barber shop’ and in a couple weeks time I returned myself for a full haircut. I knew I had made a huge mistake when I asked the ‘barber’ what experience she had barbering and what kind of hair cuts she did most; her reply was “I just went to beauty school” and “Mostly just kids that want their hair to look like Beiber”. The same week my neighbour decided to go in for the full treatment: a haircut and shave. Later he told me that it was not a straight razor shave they offer for a premium but a shave from a cartidge razor. His throat and neck looked much like the authors; and again my best friend went in for a cut and shave with similar results. He came for a night on the town, but his face was spotty and red. He revealed to me imediately that this ‘barbershop’ was nothing of the sort. The lesson: ensure that the barber is infact a barber and that they are skilled at using a straight razor.

      1. This is the classic case of a ‘hairdresser’ masquerading as a barber. It is exactly cowboys (or cowgirls) like this that get barbering a bad name. Boycott it. Tell your friends to boycott it. Simply don’t go back!

        1. I’ve read of several high-end barber spa’s that use cartridge razors. I’m trying to get one to try a short post from their perspective.

          1. I don’t believe a cart shave would be bad as long as the prep is good–hot towel. But no way with a disposable. (Income, not razors, should be disposable). A few years ago, I had a strait shave at AOS. I am a fan of AOS, especially the shave cream.
            The barber did everything right and was quite skilled with a strait razor. However, for my sensitive skin, this was too much of a good thing. I had to apply balm every minute for a day. The barber said that he would use a cart razor if I preferred. I think I would have been better off, but I have sworn off barber shaves and will continue to do what I like most, shaving myself in the comfort of my own bathroom with the toilet nearby.

  16. Pingback: Shaving Can Hurt | Barbarism

  17. I think the issue you have here is communication. You said she couldn’t speak english and you only speak a little spanish so why did you go to her if you couldn’t communicate with her? If you made an appointment with Manny maybe he could of given you a better experience? Aside from the raw skills, I believe the most important aspect of a haircut is the communication between client and barber haha

    1. James, that is a good observation. Communication was one factor in the experience. The reason I went to her was that not only did she cut my hair before, I also watched her give what *appeared* to be a satisfactory shave… with a straight razor… to someone else the last time I visited the barbershop. He didn’t seem to be writhing in his seat like I was. Hindsight is 20/20.
      All that aside, you just wouldn’t have believed the lack of skills this woman had. Really. I hope she doesn’t shave her legs or armpits like that!

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