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Your best shave ever!

Shaving is no-one's favourite thing to do, but with a few simple measures you can make it a much more skin friendly-experience and get better results in the process. Here's how...

This year you'll spend an average of 60 hours in front of a mirror shaving. That's 138 days over your lifetime or over 2,000 football matches you could have watched. And, over the course of a lifetime, you'll have removed a whopping 27 feet of whiskers.

So why do we go to so much trouble to stay smooth? Well, the fact that shaving makes us feel cleaner, fresher and generally more business-like has a lot to do with it (as does the fact that if we didn't we'd all end up looking like Gandalf). Of course, the fact that 79% of women claim to prefer men who are clean shaven just might have something to do with it too!

Shaving, though, is a daily ritual fraught with difficulties not least because of the potential for nicks, cuts and razor burn. And while electric shavers might be convenient, they're often expensive and harsh on the skin, which is why wet shaving is by far the best way to get smooth results. So here are a few simple steps to guarantee you the smoothest and most comfortable shave possible, along with a few suggestions for products that can help you upgrade your existing shaving routine.

1. Give your skin time to wake up

Thanks to an accumulation of fluid, skin tends to be puffy first thing in the morning so give it time to settle down before you start shaving and you'll get better results and less nicks and cuts. By the time you've had some breakfast and a coffee you'll also be more alert - not a bad thing if you're going to be brandishing a razor!

2. Try shaving after a shower

Or in it, if you have a steam-free shaving mirror. After just two minutes, the warm water and steam will have caused the hairs on your chin to expand - making them softer and much easier to shave. It's thought that if you wet the hair adequately before shaving, the force required to slice them with the razor is reduced by up to 70%. What's more, all that steam and hot water will open your pores, releasing any dirt and grime. Try the Anthony Logistics Smooth Shave Gel, a transparent shave gel for a super-close shave or the Zirh Shave Cream Tube 100ml which is great for heavy beards and gives a fabulously close shave.

3. Soften up

Ask any grooming expert what the key to a great shave is and they'll all tell you the same thing: preparation. Rush it and you'll end up with patchy results and a face that looks like it's been attacked by Edward Scissorhands. The key to the perfect shave is softening the beard, so even before you touch your razor and begin shaving spend a few minutes preparing your skin and stubble.

For the best results, start by washing the face thoroughly using plenty of warm water and a gentle face wash. This is important because you need to remove any grease and grime that might be coating the hairs (and thus preventing water being absorbed properly). It'll also cleanse the skin of impurities, ensuring the razor glides over it smoothly. It's a simple step but one that can have a big impact on shaving.

Next, you need to choose the right shaving product. Foams, gels, creams, oils and serums all have the same objectives; to create a cushion between your skin and the razor, to prevent bristles from drying out and to ease the shaving process along, reducing the chance of nicks, cuts and irritation. But with so many products to choose from - where do you begin? Here's a little guide:

Gels. These provide a moisture-rich lubricating cushion over the skin and are quick and convenient to use. Some are transparent, allowing you to see where you're going when you're shaving. We highly recommend the Clinique Aloe Shave Gel (125ml).

Foams. Like gels, shaving foams are convenient and easy to use, but can be drying so are best avoided if you have dry or sensitive skin. Foams like Razorpit Bump Shaving Foam (150ml). are ideal for normal to oily skin.

Creams. Shaving creams tend to be the richest of all the shaving aids and, like shaving soaps, are the traditional product to use. Many, like the Trumpers Shave Cream - Rose 200gm Tub are glycerine-based to reduce the chances of the cream drying your skin and they usually offer a fantastically rich, creamy cushion for shaving. They're best used with a traditional shaving brush, but you can whip up a lather without one by placing a little in the palm of your hand, along with some warm water, and massaging into the skin. Their moisturising properties make them ideal for guys with tough stubble to contend with too.

Oils. Although they've been around for years, shaving oils have only really taken off in the last few years as more and more men have given them a go. And the ones who prefer them are usually evangelical about their benefits. The best ones use cold-pressed, cosmetic quality grapeseed oil, and the cheaper (read: inferior) oils are often based around mineral oils which can cause spots. Not good. Shaving oils are particularly good if you have a style to navigate too, as they allow you to see where you're going and allow you to use your razor to get good, clean lines around goatees, sideburns and moustaches. To use, place three or four drops of the shaving oil onto your fingertips and massage into damp skin as evenly as possible. The biggest mistake men make is using too much oil, so don't over do it. For a super-smooth shave, try the The Refinery Shave Oil (30ml).

Soaps. Not to be confused with ordinary soaps, shaving soaps are more moisturising and are designed to create a richer lather. They usually come in a bowl, like the Trumpers Violet Hard Shaving Soap In Wooden Bowl (80g) and are designed for use with a traditional shaving brush.

Serums. A relative newcomer to the shaving world; serums, like the Aesop Moroccan Neroli Shaving Serum combine the benefits of a shaving oil with a gel that's easy to rinse. They're just as effective and, like oils, are compact and ideal for travel.

Okay, so once you've decided on which shaving product to use (and it's worth experimenting with a few to see which type suits you best) you can get on with the shave. Begin by applying your shaving product to warm, damp skin and gently massaging it in with your fingers, using gentle circular motions to ensure good coverage and lifted hairs. You can do this with your fingers, but you'll get even better results if you use a shaving brush like the Men-U Blue Premier Shaving Brush & Stand. Use back and forth movements rather than circular ones to avoid causing damage to the hairs of the brush. Apart from helping to lift hairs in preparation for shaving and feeling great against your skin, a shaving brush has another function - it's a great exfoliator and helps to gently rid the skin of dead skin cells and keep it bright and healthy-looking. If you're not using a shaving brush, exfoliate the skin two or three times a week with a facial scrub and don't be afraid to use it on the neck where many ingrown hairs occur.

4. Get shaving

You probably didn't think we'd ever get to this step did you? Well, that just goes to show you how important preparation is to shaving! So, now that your stubble is soft, wet and cushioned, you're finally ready to pick up your razor and start shaving. Though nobody really teaches us how to use razors properly, getting the most out of them is pretty simple. Key to their effectiveness is proper handling, and it's very important not to press too hard as you are shaving. For best results, use light, short and gentle strokes and let the razor do all the work. Also, don't forget to rinse the blades regularly to prevent clogging. Always use hot water for this, especially if you're using a shaving oil as it's better at dissolving grease.

When it comes to choosing a razor, it's good to invest in something you're actually going to take pleasure in using. This might sound strange, but think about it for a moment; what would you rather drive: a beaten up old banger or a brand new Aston Martin? Exactly. So go for something like the Merkur Vision 2000 Brushed Steel Razor and you'll have a piece of equipment that's actually a joy to use. Like many traditional-style razors, it uses a 'butterfly' design head which allows the top to be opened and standard double-edged blades to be safely inserted. It also allows for the razor blades to be continuously adjusted, ensuing you have total control as you're shaving. But whatever style of razor you opt for, try to go for one with a decent weight to it as this will ensure good handling. Okay, so now you're ready to actually start shaving!

Begin by tackling the less tough areas of beard around the cheeks and jowls and leave the toughest bits (usually found around the chin and mouth) until last - that way they'll have had more time to soften and will be much easier to slice with the razor. Also crucial is the direction in which you shave. It's tempting to try shaving against the direction of hair growth in the hope that this will achieve smoother results, but in reality you just risk pulling the hairs back on themselves and, as a result, cause unnecessary irritation. So, if you don't fancy a nasty shaving rash, always go with the grain and not against it.

If you haven't shaved for a while and have more of a beard than just a touch of designer stubble, it's much better to trim hairs back first with a beard trimmer or a hair clipper since razors are designed to tackle short stubble. This will greatly reduce the chances of painful snagging and irritation and will make shaving much easier.

Looking after your equipment can also improve the quality of your shave too. Blunt blades are one of the biggest causes of razor burn, so make sure yours are in tip-top condition. Never wipe them after use with flannels, towels or try to clean them with toothbrushes as you will just damage the fine shaving edge. Instead, rinse the razor thoroughly after each shave with hot water, shake dry and store it upright (a toothbrush rack is good for this!)

Make sure you look after your shaving brush too if you're using one. The best ones, made of badger hair, represent a considerable investment (particularly if you go for a top end brush) so need to be properly cared for. To ensure the bristles don't rot at their base, always rinse your brush out after use, shake off any excess water and place with the bristles facing downwards on a shaving brush holder. Some brushes, like the Men-U Blue Premier Shaving Brush & Stand even come with a stand to make things easier.

5. Rinse

One you've finished shaving and your face is still wet, use your fingers to check for any bits you may have missed - it'll be much easier to spot them at this stage. Then, rinse your face thoroughly with cool running water to close pores and remove any shaving residues. This is crucial, because if remnants of foams, gels or shaving creams are left on the skin they can cause irritation and drying of the skin. Then pat dry with a clean towel. If you want to make absolutely sure no residues are left at this point, then it may be worth applying a toner to cleanse and close the pores and refresh the skin. Try the Men-U Matt Skin Refresh Gel (100ml) which won't irritate or dry out freshly shaven skin.

6. Protect and survive

If you're tempted to apply some bracing aftershave to your freshly shaven skin, don't. Yes, men have been applying aftershave for years, but we now know that they have a drying effect on skin thanks to their high alcohol content. By all means, splash some over your chest or on your neck for the scent, but don't put it on your face where the skin will still be raw and sensitive from shaving. Shaving, as a process, is akin to exfoliation in that it removes the top layers of skin cells. But since the surface of the skin isn't completely smooth, it also leaves tiny 'microabrasions' on the surface as the razor passes over microscopic ridges in the skin. These tiny shaving cuts can cause irritation so protecting the skin is essential. Aftershave balms are designed to soothe any razor burn caused by shaving and to moisturise the skin at the same time. Many, like the Lab Series Razor Burn Relief Ultra (100ml), also contain ingredients to activate the skin's natural repair process. Simply apply to your fingertips and gently massage into the area you've just shaved.

And that's it - the shaving process made simple, comfortable and hopefully enjoyable to boot!

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