Here's What You Need to Know Before You Shave Your Head

Esquire Editors
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From Esquire

So you've had enough, huh? You've run out of increasingly elaborate ways to hide your long, untamed hair and now, in a fit of rage, scoured the cluttered drawer underneath the bathroom sink, found a pair of only somewhat-rusty scissors, and are threatening to chop it all off for good. Listen, man, I applaud the spirit. These are trying times for us all, and if the temptation to shave your lustrous locks down to a mere stubble has never felt stronger, you're definitely not alone.

But hold up there, bud. Ease off the gas a bit. Deciding to shave your head isn't a call you should be making on a whim, and before you commit to going fully buzzed or bald, you might want to stop for a second and think through what you're doing, especially if it's your first time shaving the old noggin. Sure, we might all go into the experience thinking we'll end up looking like [insert personally influential cultural figure of your choice here] but if I'm the first to tell you a buzzcut might not be the only thing stopping you from looking like Brad Pitt in Fight Club (it's always Brad Pitt in Fight Club) you're in for a nasty shock.

Photo credit: Mark Mainz - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Mainz - Getty Images

Chances are, if you're already thinking about taking the plunge, it's too late to talk you out of it either way. So we're here with some advice, some tuned specifically to the realities of social distancing and some more timeless. (The latter is courtesy of the master hairstylists at NYC's Bumble and Bumble, who we spoke to before the pandemic.) Here's what to expect, and, most important, how to do it right.

Get to know your head shape.

Your head shape has a lot to do with how solid a bald head will look, which only seems obvious once the hair is gone. Minimize any surprises by taking stock of your skull before buzzing your hair off.

"A nice round head shape is best," says Mackenzey Forrey, a stylist at Bumble and Bumble. "Check for bumps, divots, ridges, and flatness. Face shape is not that important; any man can shave his head if he wants." If you don't have a perfectly round head, you can still go fully bald; you just have to get comfortable with your head's natural shape.

Photo credit: Justin Goff - Getty Images
Photo credit: Justin Goff - Getty Images

But, if you're not sure about going fully bald yet, these details can help inform your choice. As a middle ground, you can start with a close buzz. It'll leave you with enough hair to balance any divots or bumps.

There is no wrong time to do it.

There's no wrong time to go bald, but there are some more common times guys usually get it done: when hair is thinning, falling out, receding, etc. Or, you know, when you simply cannot go to the barbershop, and you've reached your wit's end. In the before times, you could go to a barber or hairstylist for a consultation. They'd take a professional look at your hair type, scalp, and head shape, and make a recommendation that might ease your mind. But that's not how it goes right now. So, if you're nervous (understandable!), remember that it's also just a haircut; buzzing it off doesn't have any follicle-level effect, so you don't have to worry about its permanence.

Do it once and do it right.

You might be tempted to just take any old razor to your head, but not all shaved heads are the same. Most barbers and stylists will implore you to reach for new product (or a hat) before taking drastic steps on your own, and it's good advice. "Start by going to a professional," says Andrew McCormick, a stylist at Bumble and Bumble. "The professional can cut the hair you still have to balance out what you’re lacking. This requires as much, if not more skill as any other haircut."

Photo credit: Sean Gallup - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sean Gallup - Getty Images

This, of course, depends on having access to a professional. And right now, you probably don't. McCormick has some advice on the self-administered route, if you're inclined to take it. When it comes to an at-home buzz or shave, "go slowly," says McCormick. "Don’t go straight for the scalp level buzz. If you are brave enough to experiment, start with a one-inch guard and work down from there."

It's low upkeep, not no upkeep.

The best way to ensure the best cut is to start with a barber and keep it up with a barber. Forrey recommends going every three to four weeks, depending on how fast your hair grows. Hopefully, that'll be doable soon. But good news for right now: Once the initial cut is done, it's a bit easier to maintain it yourself.

"If the cut is as simple as a 1-inch guard all over and you are the DIY type, you may want to invest in a decent clipper and maintain it at home," says McCormick. If you want to go lower, go ahead. Just make sure to start longer than you think you want and work down from there. If you want to fade, working from—say, a 5 guard to a 3—you can try. But know that it's not easy.

Basically you want to establish the longer length up top. Go back and forth, front to back, then go a little crazy and take the clippers in all directions to make sure you don't miss any patches. Then you'll start fading down. If you landed on a 5 up top, switch to a 4 and start buzzing up, against the grain of the hair (which will probably grow downward here), and giving a little flicked-out flourish to ease the transition from shorter to longer. Then switch to a 3 and do it again, starting at your sideburns and a stopping a little lower on the head. For the back of your head, you'll need a hand mirror, or a partner in crime who's willing to play barber. Sound confusing? Yep! YouTube tutorials? Necessary viewing before you go in with the clippers.

Speaking of clippers, they're mostly sold out right now, but "the Wahl Senior is a solid, affordable option," says McCormick. It's also, handily, available to order (though you'll wait a bit for it to ship). If you're shaving that dome bald, "there are [also] many ergonomic razors that fit on the hand or fingers. They allow you to shave safely and efficiently in the shower." Just make sure to keep a moisturizer on hand and slather on SPF before you head outside.


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