Every guy needs to trim or shave his neck. Whether you rock beard or not, neck hair is a universal “no.” First of all, a neckbeard detracts from the shape of the beard itself and shaving it provides flattering geometry to your facial hair. Secondly, guys who shave their face will obviously be shearing their neck hair, too, so there’s really no reason for you to forgo grooming.
It’s totally fair if you prefer a trim over a shave. You’ll have to trim more often, yes, since the hair won’t ever be cut below a stubble, but you can buy yourself a few days with each trim. If you want a totally clean, smooth neck, on the other hand, then you must rely on a shave.
In some ways, shaving the neck follows the same rules as shaving your face, but there are other rules reserved simply for the neck itself. For all pertinent tips, we sought the neck-shaving expertise of some of our favorite barbers. They include Vicky Pena, head barber and lead training specialist at Boardroom Salon for Men, as well as Justin Virgil Gramelspacher and Stephen Gennello, barbers at Blind Barber in New York and Philadelphia. Here’s what they had to say.
Cartridge Razor vs. Safety Razor
The first thing to consider is which type of razor you want to use for the neck shave. There are two obvious choices: First, the multiblade cartridge razor (the standard one you see in shaving commercials), and the more vintage, single-blade (and often double-sided) safety razor. Here are the pros and cons of both.
Cartridge Razor Pros and Cons
Pros: All those blades can be a good thing. If it’s a good razor and a fresh blade (and if you prepared the skin properly for the shave), then it should yield baby-smooth results with a single pass of the cartridge blade.
“A cartridge razor has built-in protections that make it harder to cut yourself—especially when performing detail work like your neckline,” says Virgil Gramelspacher. “Many cartridge razors have moisture strips that offer additional protection.”
Cons: The cartridge razor isn’t perfect for everyone: “The blades of a cartridge razor are close together, allowing for moisture and debris to catch between the blades,” says Pena. “This causes the blades to rust and become dull, which can result in nicks and cuts during shaving.” You can remedy this by replacing the cartridge every six to eight shaves, or every two to three weeks, whichever interval arises faster, and by properly rinsing and storing it between shaves. Do so by drying the razor upright (in a razor stand or even a cup) in a cool, dry space. Once dried, store it away from moisture and dust.
You might dislike cartridge razors if your skin is especially sensitive. Having multiple blades isn’t always a benefit, as it leads to extra drag and redness. These individuals who experience redness from a slow, proper cartridge shave may consider the switch to safety blades.
We recommend: Gillette Fusion5 cartridge razor, $17
Safety Razor Pros and Cons
Pros: “A safety razor gives a closer shave (than cartridge blades),” says Pena. But that’s not all: The blades are extremely cheap, often only 5–10 cents per blade, so they don’t turn your routine shaving habit into an expensive one.
Guys with ingrown hairs and sensitive skin will especially love safety razors: “A safety razor can also help with ingrown hairs, as well as eliminate skin irritation,” says Pena. This is largely due to the fact it has fewer blades dragging across the skin—but also because the blade cuts the hair more cleanly, and lower, than cartridge blades.
Cons: You may not see a safety razor as an affordable option upfront, though. “The initial cost of the safety razor is high,” says Pena. You can buy cheap options for $20 or so, but this is a device that deserves an investment. You want one with a properly weighted handle, a steady grip, and high-quality steel. (It makes a perfect gift, by the way.)
The learning curve of safety razors is also a factor: “Safety razor shaves are more time consuming and may take some time to learn how to properly shave.” It requires holding the blade at a 30-degree angle from the face, applying the proper (light) amount of pressure, and gliding that sharp blade down your precious mug. But luckily, it’s easier than it looks.
We recommend: The Art of Shaving cross knurl safety razor, $65
Where to “Draw” the Neckline
A lot of guys miss the mark, quite literally, when it comes to shaving their neckline. They either shave it too high (up on the underside of their chin) or too low (across the Adam’s apple). One compromises the stature of the beard and the other negates the process of shaving altogether.
Here’s how to get it right, according to all three of our experts. Pena says: “While looking slightly up in a mirror, place your middle finger on your Adam’s apple, and then your index finger above that.” Imagine a “U”-shaped line that connects this point to the back of your ears. “From there, you will shave everything below that line.”
This is how Gennello recites it: “When shaving a neckline, I use a 1-2-3 system. 1.) Just below the jawline. 2.) Bottom of the ear to top of the throat. 3.) Clean up the lower, natural beard line on the front of the neck.”
And Virgil Gramelspacher’s take: “If you bend your chin into your neck while looking into the mirror, several creases will form in a smile shape. Generally the line that creases along your Adam’s apple will be perfectly positioned and symmetrical.”
What Type of Shaving Agent to Use on Necks
Because you’re trying to shave a clean neckline, you’ll want to use a somewhat translucent shaving agent on your neck, says Virgil Gramelspacher. This rules out many foams, and gives favor to creams, gels, or even oils. His preference is shave cream, though: “You can see through it but it’s still offering a layer of protection between your skin and the blade.”
We recommend: Blind Barber shave cream, $18
Other Neck-Shaving Tips
Here are a few other pointers from our experts.
Extend your skincare regimen: “Make sure your daily facial routine includes the neck too, in order to condition the skin,” says Pena. “For example, your facial cleanser, exfoliator, and moisturizer should extend all the way down the neck.”
Shave with your hair grain: “Shave with the grain of your hair to avoid irritation,” says Gennello.
Keep skin taut: “Pull your skin the opposite direction of where you are shaving,” Pena adds. This keeps the skin even and gives you an easy, seamless surface upon which to shave.
Exfoliate if you’re ingrown-prone: “Exfoliating the skin will help to remove the top layer of dead skin that can clog the pores and in turn prevent hair from growing up and out through the skin’s surface,” says Pena.
We recommend: Clinique for Men face scrub, $21
Or ditch the blade altogether: “If you’re constantly fighting razor bumps, it may be wise to ditch the razor and opt for a beard-detailing trimmer instead,” says Virgil Gramelspacher. “You can trim daily and be clean-groomed with much less opportunity for discomfort.”
We recommend: Wahl beard trimmer and detail set, $20
Reapply before a second pass: “If you do need to shave closer after the first pass with the razor, add more shave cream before additional passes,” says Virgil Gramelspacher.
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