A Barber’s Guide to Cutting Your Own Hair at Home

Man cutting his own hair in bathroom
Rido / Shutterstock

Whether you’re bored at home or strapped for cash, cutting your own hair can be tempting. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? But put those Fiskars scissors down, sir, and take pause. Unless you’re going for a full, uniform buzz cut, then we highly advise against cutting your own hair into something stylish. Remember bowl cuts? That’s exactly what happens when people are left to their own devices.

Yes, you can strategically snip it here and there to keep everything trim—and we’re going to offer you tips for exactly that—but please don’t undermine the professionals. They went to school for years and have shaped up tens of thousands of domes. Plus, how can anyone expect to fade the back of their own head, much less draw clean lines using a handheld mirror? The degree of difficulty is far too much.

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Instead, follow these tips for taming your mop to the best of your abilities. The advice below comes from Raquel Fajardo, barber manager and education lead at Fellow Barber in NYC.

And, by the way: If you love your barber or stylist, you should consider reaching out and sending them a digital cash tip right now. Most of them are hurting for gigs while this quarantine keeps everyone sidelined. Many shops have barber relief funds too—like Fellow Barber’s GoFundMe, where Fajardo, our expert source in this article, is employed.

1. Stock Your Hair-Trimming Toolbox

You’ll need specific products for any and all DIY hair trimmings. First of all, a dedicated hair clipper (not a beard trimmer). Fajardo likes Wahl’s cordless hair clipper best.

Secondly, hair-specific scissors, plus a comb, and handheld mirror. (A three-way mirror in your medicine cabinet works great for the same reasons—seeing the back of your head.) Lastly, longer styles will require a hair brush, too.

2. If You’re Gonna Buzz, Keep It Uniform—and Ditch the Beard Trimmer

Again, no fading, no blending, no tricks here. Just pick the length of hair you want, and buzz it to a uniform clip all around. What’s a good length though? That’s up to you to decide, and Fajardo suggests starting at a higher clip on your first attempt, and working your way down until you’re satisfied. “It will save you from having to cut off hair you actually like in order to save a dramatic mistake.

She says most of the buzzes that work will end up in the 1.5-2 range on the hair clipper guard. (1.5 on thicker, darker hair, and 2 on finer, light colored hair.) She says to do it once a week. “If the sides still feel a little bulky with your level 2 on the top, use your 1.5 on the sides, first with the clipper lever open.” This generates slightly longer hair. If it’s still too bulky, then close the lever to get an accurate 1.5. You should find a desired result between these steps.

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Most of us have beard trimmers at home, but you’re going to need to upgrade to a regular hair clipper, says Farjardo. They’re stronger, and can cut through your hair easily, whereas beard trimmers typically employ less power. “A beard trimmer will give you a choppy, uneven effect,” she adds. “It’s made for smaller areas and will take forever to get an even look.”

3. How to Avoid Bulk on Short Styles as They Grow

If you’re starting with a short style and growing things from there, then Fajardo says you can still stick with a full clipper buzz on this one—just pick a size 1 full level higher than usual. (A 1.5 becomes a 2.5, for example.) This should take out the bulk and roundedness, she says. But here’s another variation from the buzz cut: “Instead of going up the head shape (against the grain), go down with the clipper to take off minimal length,” she says. “It will take the least amount of hair while changing the shape from round to square. This will help keep any mushroom-ing at bay.”

Because your entire hair line is exposed with a short style (we’re talking the entire perimeter, not just what’s at the brow), you need to keep the edges cleaned up. Don’t draw any hard lines with the bare trimmer, she advises (unless you’ve got a roommate or partner with a steady hand). Otherwise, shave anything bare (particularly on the back of the neck) but be careful as you approach the place where the neckline would be. You can switch over to whichever length the rest of the hair is, and buzz it just the same here. It’ll avoid any hard contrasts, and shouldn’t look jarring as everything grows out.

4. How to Avoid Bulk on Medium Styles as They Grow

Once your hair starts growing, it’s really easy to understand the barber’s importance: It’s their job to artfully texturize and layer the hair so it sits properly and continues to grow in a flattering manner. Without this, you get a moppy, floppy mess. It poofs, it frizzes, it has no flow. But if you’re averse to buzzing it, what can you do to make things more—tolerable?

Here are Farjardo’s tips for snipping away at the mass:

  1. To start, employ a little comb-and-shear action around the sideburns to help you feel more in control.
  2. Comb all of your hair forward, outside your hairline, toward the face. Then lightly trim the hairs that fall over the others.
  3. Next, direct the side hair over the sideburns, toward the ears. Clean around lightly with scissors there, in the same fashion—only what sticks out over the hairline. This will define the facial/ear area, allowing longer hairs to flow back and eventually sit tight behind the ear, tucked away and organized. With a super conservative eye, clean up the outside of the hairline on the neck, too. This will help things feel tidy as well.

For this length, she suggests pairing a styling cream and paste together (to form a “super paste”). “A more malleable product like paste can help achieve some weight to keep hair together and flexible, then adding cream to it makes the hair just relax and chill back with controlled moisture.”

We like: Fellow’s paste and cream.

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5. How to Clean Up Longer Styles—or How Not To

Let’s say your hair is already long enough to tuck behind the ears. If you can, avoid trimming it altogether for now, says Fajardo. Unless cleaning up the sideburn area will help feel more put-together. It’s often best to keep this sideburn hair trimmed low, especially if it grows out like a curly beard.

Instead of trimming, turn your focus to maintenance: “It’s super important to be brushing hair and exfoliating your scalp (with a brush), especially when hair is thick and hiding the scalp,” she says. “Brushing on dry hair prior to getting in the shower is optimal. This disrupts the layer of sebum, dirt, and other oils, and allows you to do a thorough hot-water rinse.” Altogether, this exfoliation and ritual stimulates follicles and promotes a healthy scalp, which both yield to thicker, fuller hair growth.

You can also spot-check the ends of your hairs for any splitting or fraying. Ideally, if you’ve been conditioning and brushing it regularly, you won’t be faced with this issue. If you do have split ends, though, you can neatly snip them (just above the split) with your hair scissors. Don’t snip any hairs that don’t require it. Follow with a conditioning, for good measure—even a leave-in conditioner or a hair oil would suffice.

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