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Shaving Your Head – Advice For the First-timer

Shaving your head is an art, one committed baldies perfect over years of figuring out what works for them. But for the first-time head shaver, a few simple guidelines will help your first head shave go smoothly.

Shaving your head bald, for some, is a scenario they’ve gone through mentally many times before actually taking a razor to their scalps. For others, their first head shave is an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment thing. I’d have to say my first head shave was a bit of both. I did have the benefit of some knowledge of head shaving technique, but I basically had to figure it out for myself. A good beginner’s guide to shaving your head sure would have been nice. In that spirit, here’s a fairly comprehensive outline of the basics, from somebody who has been bald by choice for 17 years.

Be careful

One of the mistakes people often make when shaving their heads for the first time is to forget that a previously unshaven scalp is very sensitive.

It’s understandable to want a perfectly smooth head right away. I know I did the first time. Bald means smooth, and you want to be bald. But this can lead the inexperienced head shaver to shave the same areas repeatedly from multiple angles, pressing too hard on the scalp and often continuing after the shaving cream has stopped offering any lubrication and started to get sticky. The result can be nicks, irritation and ingrown hairs marring your beautiful bald head the following day. Not good.

Clean your scalp, and lather well

The first thing to consider is a clean scalp, free of dirt, excess oil, etc. If you’re shaving your head for the first time and don’t happen to have a friend who is skilled with a straight razor, I’m assuming you’ve clipped your hair to the scalp and are now covered in hair clippings. Before you go any further, wash your head with soap and water. Better yet, take a shower. If this is not practical in your particular circumstances, at least wipe your head down with a warm wash cloth.

Your next concern is good lubrication. There are lots of good products out there, some specifically for shaving your head Some commercial shaving creams are better than others. I recommend if you’re going the canned shaving cream route to get a moisturizing shaving gel specifically for sensitive skin. I rather like Aveeno shave gel, with colloidal oatmeal.

Canned shaving cream should still be used with a shaving brush. Put a generous amount of gel on your head, wet your brush and work that shaving cream into your scalp with a firm circular motion, kind of like brushing your teeth. Work your way around your head, wetting the brush occasionally. Don’t be in too much of a hurry. Lathering up is an important step, and it can also be fun.

Myself, I haven’t used shaving cream in years. I find good bar soap (natural handmade soap, not your typical Irish Spring or Zest) does a great job. Some kinds of hand lotion are nice, as are sugar scrubs made with natural oils. I personally like to use a sugar scrub, which exfoliates and leaves a light coating of oil that I just lather right over top of. I’ll get into scrubs in more detail in a future post.

Use a good razor

Now that you are lathered up, get a razor with a brand new blade. Always use a new blade on virgin scalp. I can’t stress that enough. You’ll be experiencing a bald head for the first time, so don’t make it a sore, itchy, reddish one.

I’ve tried just about every popular razor, and the best one for shaving your head, in my opinion, is the Gillette Mach 3. There are cheaper razors, there are fancier ones, and there are ones made specifically for shaving your head, but of all the options, the Mach 3 is just about the best head shaving razor out there. Its design allows lather and hair to pass right through, so it requires less rinsing and unless the hair you’re shaving is longer than an eighth of an inch, it’s virtually clog-proof. And it also seems to give the greatest number of comfortable head shaves per blade than any razor I’ve tried. One blade can last me two or three weeks, and still give a good shave when its indicator strip has not only changed color, but just about worn away completely in the middle. But I’m a head shaver of almost 20 years. For a beginner, I’d recommend changing razor blades much more frequently. If the razor seems to pull or drag or feel at all uncomfortable on your scalp, change the blade. As your scalp gets tougher and you get more experience at shaving your head, you’ll figure out what works for you.

Direction of hair growth

There is some debate over shaving with the grain vs against the grain. If you want a smooth head, you have to shave against the grain. However, I don’t recommend shaving the back of your neck against the grain, at least not at first. Anything above the ears is generally fine, but being a little overzealous on the first shave can make a mess of your neck. It might not be obvious at first, but by the next day it’s going to look like a pepperoni pizza.

What I recommend for a first-time shaver is a simple front-to-back shaving motion. Start at the forehead, and shave toward the back of your neck in nice smooth strokes, trying not to go over the same spot more than a couple of times. You’ll get the top and sides nice and smooth. The back will feel rough if you stroke upward with your hand, but it will still be pretty smooth in the other direction. Do it this way for a week or two, and then you can try angling your strokes slightly across the grain. After a while, your scalp will get used to the shaving and you can go against the grain at the back.

Never forget that if your head starts to get dry or sticky while shaving, put some more lather on, or at least wet it a little, to keep that razor gliding smoothly. This is also a good time to wet a couple of fingers and move them in little circles on your scalp. You’ll feel any spot that you didn’t get smooth, and you’ll know which direction that hair is growing in. There will be areas that require shaving in more than one direction. The crown is particularly tricky, but you also have to be careful around the hairline, behind the ears, and where the sides meet the top of your head. Feel while you shave. It will make the job easier, and it will keep your lather from drying out. For the sake of neatness and maintaining moisture, you might want to try shaving your head in the shower.

Care and maintenance

As for caring for your shaved head, I’ve never been one for creams or lotions, but you will want to keep from getting a dry scalp. An oily scalp is more likely to be a concern, as your bald scalp continues to produce oil for a head of hair that isn’t there. An occasional wipe with a washcloth or a cleansing pad in addition to your daily shower is all you need.

Time of day makes a difference. The most convenient time to shave your head is most likely in the morning, but it does come at a small price. Your scalp swells ever so slighly while you sleep horizontally, and then shrinks again after you get up. That means your smooth morning head shave will not stay smooth for long. If you’re up for a little while before you shave, the swelling will have a chance to come down and you can get a closer shave. Evening is a great time to shave, as you get a very close shave, and it actually feels great to go to bed with a freshly shaved head. But evening is not usually the time for a daily shave, since it won’t be fresh for the following day.

However, it is sometimes a good idea to have a second shave in the evening if you’re going out, just to freshen up your head and get rid of that five o’clock shadow.

As for how often to shave your head, that’s entirely up to you. Personally, I’m so accustomed to being bald, I don’t feel clean if I get any stubble up there, so I like to shave my head every day. Some people go a few days because their scalp gets irritated. I used to, but it’s been my experience that daily head shaving actually conditions the scalp better in the long run, and keeps it cleaner, thus avoiding break-outs. Skipping days actually seems to increase my chances of skin irritation, razor burn or acne.

Try it for a while

The other deciding factor for me is that I see myself as a bald man, and that’s how I want to be seen. To me, occasional stubble detracts from my baldness. It’s a reminder that there is still the potential for hair there.

In the end, you can ask ten head shavers for advice and get ten different answers. Shaving your head is a very personal thing, and if you’re committed to maintaining a bald head, you’ll do a fair bit of experimenting, which is really the only way to determine what works for you. But I hope I’ve given you a place to start.

And to stray for just a moment from the nuts and bolts of being bald by choice, there is a psychological and emotional aspect that should not be ignored. Emotionally, that first shave and the knowledge that you really are bald is an intense rush, but it can also be accompanied by initial doubt or regret, as well as a significant amount of self-consciousness. You might feel just fine, but you might also feel like everybody is staring at you. For the most part, they’re not, and that feeling will pass in time. If you do decide to shave your head, commit to keeping your head bald for at least a month. You’ll be much more comfortable with your baldness by that time, your scalp will be used to shaving, and that pale, never-shaved skin tone will have evened out to match your face. And although you might be tempted, do not cover your head up with hats unless you need protection from the sun (and you will). Constantly wearing hats will just trap dirt and oil next to the most acne-prone parts of your scalp. And besides, what’s the point of being bald if people can’t see your bald head?

By the way, after 17 years, baldness might feel more comfortable and natural to me, but reaching up at any hour of the day and feeling my smoothly shaved scalp is still a rush.

Happy head shaving.

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