In spite of the beard's current modishness, learning to shave correctly is still a rite of passage for young men. But many never quite get it right, says Jon Kelly.
The razor trembling in an adolescent hand. The face dotted with scraps of blood-soaked tissue paper. Some take longer than others to master their grooming technique. Take Times columnist Matthew Parris (age 64), who wrote that a nurse had advised him that "a reddened patch on my cheek was 'burn' from shaving against the grain", and he should start shaving with the lie of his facial hair instead, reversing his practice of 50 years.
It's advice that skincare experts endorse. Shaving against the grain usually produces a closer shave and faster results - but is also more likely to cause irritation than shaving with the grain, says Matthew Gass from the British Association of Dermatologists. The speedier method can also lead to razor burn, ingrown hairs and even scarring, he adds. Around the neck in particular, the direction of the hair is not always obvious, so it's important to take one's time. However, "anecdotally it's clear that Matthew Parris isn't alone in not knowing the ins and outs of shaving", Gass says.
This kind of skill might ideally be passed down from father to son, but Parris - who says that shaving was "one of the more mentionable subjects that Dad never discussed with me" - is not alone in missing out on this kind of instruction. In December an Essex school said it would be teaching shaving and other life skills that boys were not learning at home during regular "man days". TV hairdresser Lee Stafford says his father never showed him to shave properly either, and he regularly gives advice to clients whose luminescent neck rashes betray the fact they missed out too. "I'm sure there are a lot of fellas who've been going against the grain wondering why they are getting all these spots," he says. Or scraps of tissue paper.