Stan Ismoilov has been shaving men’s faces for nearly 20 years. His dad, a Russian immigrant who perfected the art of shaving at his Long Island barbershop, taught him everything he knows.
Ismoilov now shaves dozens of fellas each week at Astor Place Hairstylists, a throwback barbershop located near New York University in downtown Manhattan. To him, there’s only one way to be shaved—with a straight-edge razor—which he recommends doing every 10 days to two weeks. And don’t fear: If you can’t travel to the Big Apple, you can still try Ismoilov’s technique for a healthier shave in the comfort of your own home.
Step 1: Apply a cold moisturizer to your face.
First, Ismoilov advises spreading on a chilled face cream (a “beard buster,” as he calls it) to open up your follicles and get a much cleaner shave. You can opt to refrigerate it first, but it may work fine at room temperature, too (depending on how warm it is in your bathroom). “Cold breaks up the beard,” Ismoilov says. “It brings up ingrown hairs and softens up the hair itself. It allows for better contact with the razor.” Leave the cream on your face for the next step.
Step 2: Place a hot towel over the cold cream.
“The hot towel opens up the pores, relaxes the skin and results in a much closer shave,” explains Ismoilov. Dampen a small towel and microwave it for a few seconds at a time until it releases visible steam. How hot the towel is depends on what feels comfortable for your skin—but make sure it’s steaming and not scalding. Short on time (or no clean towels)? Shaving in the shower works just as effectively (leave the cold cream on, and after the steam has settled in, rinse after a few minutes). Whether the heat comes by towel or showerhead, the idea is to warm up the facial hairs so that they literally stand up, thereby loosening and releasing ingrown hairs along the way. Rinse (or wipe) off the cold cream before the next step.
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Step 3: Mix the ultimate shaving cream.
Listen carefully, fellas. According to Ismoilov, you should make your own shaving cream concoction. Start by mixing seven parts shaving cream and three parts aftershave. “Shaving cream breaks up the hair, which everyone knows, but what they don’t know is that if you add aftershave, then the blade glides so much better,” says Ismoilov. But it doesn’t end there. He says you should then add two parts water to make the blade glide even more smoothly. “Keep in mind that if you add too much water, then the cream is too watery and slides right off. But if you don’t add the water, then the cream is too thick. So guys, you have to mix the cream just right.” Practice makes perfect.
There’s one more thing when it comes to Ismoilov’s secret shaving cream: Add a squeeze of lemon. “Lemon tightens the skin,” he explains. “And best of all, it has a great smell.” If lemon isn’t your thing, he’s OK with a little cocoa butter. As for menthol, which is often found in store-bought shaving creams, stay away, says Ismoilov. “Why would you want to ever smell like you just came from a hospital?”
Step 4: Now master the shave itself.
Once your amazing DIY shaving cream is on your face, it’s time for the actual shave. “I hold my index finger on the blade, my middle finger on the hinge and my other finger on the back of the blade,” Ismoilov says. “This is the proper and only way to shave. It’s like cutting hay.” When Ismoilov shaved my face, it didn’t feel like he was cutting hay. Instead, it felt like he was very, very gingerly chipping away at a scratch lottery ticket, with the lottery ticket being my face—an incredibly relaxing experience.
If you’re facing your own razor blade alone, then listen carefully to what Ismoilov says to do next: “Shave from the top down on your face, very slowly, keeping the blade flush against your skin by pulling the skin as tightly as possible away from the blade with your fingers.” The trick is to keep the skin stretched, he adds. “The pressure that you apply on the blade to your face depends on the type of skin you have—the more sensitive the skin, the lighter the touch. But always pull your skin really tight.”
Step 5: Rinse and apply aftershave.
After you finish shaving, Ismoilov says to rinse your face with water and apply an aftershave, which cools the skin and closes the pores. “If you shaved properly, your face should then feel as soft and smooth as a baby’s behind.”
Step 6: Add the witch hazel.
Ismoilov says you want to make sure everything is all nice and antiseptic before heading out the door, so give your face a healthy splash of witch hazel “to stop any burn from the shave and further tighten your skin.” Witch hazel, which you can find over the counter at any pharmacy, is great for soothing inflammation and skin irritations caused by shaving.
Step 7: Air-dry your skin.
When you’re sitting in Ismoilov’s chair, he’ll dry your skin with a towel that he flaps in front of you like a giant seagull. If you don’t have Ismoilov, well, maybe you can ask your significant other to be his towel-flapping stand-in. The other option (a much more practical way to preserve your relationship with your spouse) is to grab a hair dryer, set it on cool and blow your face away, mister.