How to Achieve a Military Shave

Few characteristics are more emblematic of military men than clean-shaven faces. Only some can sport a look without stubble, so should you do the military shave?

What Is the Military Shave?

The military shave is a quick way to remove facial hair to look clean, presentable and sharp, particularly when you can’t grow a proper beard and mustache. Do this grooming method every morning to go out without a five o’clock shadow.

Clean-shaven mugs are synonymous with modern military men for various reasons. After the introduction of gas-based weaponry in WWI, enlisted male personnel have not worn beards and mustaches to wear gas masks properly and better protect themselves. Having no facial hair is also advantageous in close-quarters combat, giving the enemy one less thing to grab.

Clean face shaving is a way to remove the sense of individuality, promote uniformity and instill the group mentality needed in the military. These tenets are so enduring that the male members of the U.S. Army must still maintain a clean-shaven look after the branch changed its grooming standards in 2021.

However, service members can grow neatly tapered and trimmed and tidy mustaches while on duty and may receive the green light to wear a beard for medical or religious reasons.

Adopting the military shave can be practical even if you don’t have to. No facial hair makes you look professional. It also helps reduce painful bumps and prevent skin irritation when the air is dry.

How to Do the Military Shave

The military shave can be done in about five minutes and a few steps. Your grooming kit must include a safety or straight razor — with a permanent or replaceable blade — a shaving soap, cream or gel, and an aftershave splash or balm.

If you have long, thick facial hair, you may need to use an electric razor first to cut it to a shorter length. Using a hair clipper, trimmer or shaver requires dry shaving, so avoid dampening your face.

Once your beard or mustache is short enough for a traditional razor, follow these steps to do the military shave correctly, cleanly and safely.

Clean Your Face

Regular skincare and moisturization should already be a part of your daily hygiene routine. Wash your face with warm water to clear your pores and remove dirt, oil, and dead skin cells from your mustache or beard. These substances can build up on your razor and increase irritation if you nick yourself.

Use a cleanser of your choice. Facial scrubs exfoliate the skin better because of their gritty texture, but washes may suit you more if you’re prone to breakouts.

After rinsing your face, consider applying a moisturizer. Washing your face removes natural oils your skin needs to stay nourished. Moisturizing helps keep it looking healthy after shaving. Moist skin particularly matters if you have a clean-shaven face, so it’s worth considering.

Build a Lather

Generating the perfect consistency of lather is an art. You can do it in multiple ways but may find only some suitable. Building a lather in a bowl with a brush is optional, but many prefer it to applying a product by hand or directly to the face.

Whipping up a lather in a bowl with a brush can help you achieve your desired consistency without getting messy. Working it with your hand is faster because you skip parts where you warm up the bowl with hot water and drain it. However, this method’s tactile nature can make it difficult to determine whether you have enough lather on your face.

Whichever route you take, applying a creamy lather on the areas you want to shave in a circular motion will exfoliate your skin and prime your face for shaving. Massaging the lather against the grain — the direction your hair grows — is a solid technique to cover as much area as possible.

The lather’s generation speed and consistency depend on the brush, shaving product and water hardness.

Natural hair brushes are either badger or boar and absorb a ton of water, so soaking them before shaving is necessary. Badger hair brushes are the most popular because they’re full and soft. They can create a thick lather easily. On the other hand, boar hair can generate lather quickly but cause skin discomfort.

Synthetic hair brushes absorb no water and are gaining steam because high-quality ones can perform as well as badger hair brushes.

Regarding shaving products, soaps produce a thick, creamy lather but are less moisturizing. Creams promise the richest texture, while gels are less foamy and more lubricating.

Hard water minimizes lather generation because of how magnesium and calcium react with shaving products.

Shave Until You Are Clean

Lather your face and shave with the grain — not against it — using your straight or safety razor. Shaving against the grain causes the razor to tug on your hair and irritate the skin. The shaved skin may develop a temporary rash or razor burn because of this technique, making your face look less pleasant and painful to the touch.

Rinse your face to see how clean of a shave you have. Go back over your neck, cheeks, nose and mouth multiple times to achieve a closer shave. Apply high-quality shaving cream lather on these areas again and shave with the grain with light strokes.

Rinse Your Face

Once satisfied with your shave, wash your face with warm water to completely clean any product off your face.

Then, use cold water to close your pores and calm your skin post-shaving. It also causes your blood vessels to contract, lessening swelling and reducing bleeding from cuts.

Dry yourself with a clean towel. Pat your shaved areas instead of rubbing them to avoid irritation.

Lastly, apply aftershave to your skin. An aftershave splash is an antiseptic that kills germs — like the bacterium Staph aureus — that may infect any nicks and a toner that tightens the skin. It also has a noticeable fragrance.

In contrast, an aftershave balm doesn’t burn because it contains no alcohol. It hydrates, which can be relieving if you have razor bumps or dry skin. Its fragrance is too subtle to overpower your cologne’s scent.

Is the Military Look for You?

Having a clean-shaven face has merits and drawbacks. Sporting a beard or mustache can improve your appearance and offer protection from the sun’s ultraviolet light. Do the military shave only if you look better without stubble.