Though it may be hard to picture, there may come a day when you will have to shave your hairy, manly legs. Maybe you want to see if you can cut some time off your 200m breaststroke. Maybe all your serious cycling buddies are doing it. Maybe you want to look especially fabulous for your company's annual drag cabaret. We're not here to judge; we're just here to help.
Who am I to advise you? I'm a hairy dude who was recently forced to go through it. And it sucked. Learn from my pain.
A couple of months ago, having royally screwed up my left knee in a myriad of stupid ways, I was prescribed twice-a-week physical therapy at one of the Bay Area's best sports-medicine clinics. I'd been to this clinic for an arm injury years ago, and they did such a good job of fixing me up that these were the only guys I wanted to see. I remembered them being extremely tough and inflicting some serious physical pain on my road to recovery, so I was prepared for that.
What I wasn't prepared for was when, at the end of my first session, I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to shave my legs. My physical therapist wanted to try using kinesiology tape on my knee to help stabilize it, and not only would hairy legs be a worse surface for adhesion, but it would be incredibly painful to pull off. "You could just use clippers and give yourself a buzz," she said. "But honestly, it will work a lot better if you use a razor." Shit.
She also wanted to do some serious deep-tissue work on my IT bands, and she wouldn't be able to dig in deep enough without ripping my leg hair out. Sometimes they use this thing called the Graston Technique, which is, essentially, digging into your muscle tissue with a series of dull steel blades. It's as horrible as it sounds.
Being that I had come ready for physical pain, I was surprised at just how unnerved I was by the leg-shaving bit. I stalled for a couple sessions, until my physical therapist literally yelled at me for not having shaved. It was jarring, but she was right. I was delaying my own recovery, and why?
[Before: pretty damn hairy.]
The Head Trip
You may or may not experience these issues, but being told I had to shave my legs caused some sort of mild existential crisis. It wasn't because I was caught up in some "men do this, women do that" definition of masculinity. I truly and deeply do not give a shit about that. If anything, I thought it would prove to be a funny conversation-starter. No, my reasons for freaking out were more practical: I had no idea what to do.
Generally speaking, leg-shaving for men is different from leg-shaving for women. Why? Because typically, we have a lot more hair down there. Not only is it usually thicker, but women's leg hair generally tapers off to nothing around the upper thighs. In contrast, men may have hair that starts at the ankle and continues, more or less uninterrupted, until forever. A mobius strip of fuzz. Obviously, some women are very hairy, and some men are very hairless, but I think we're safely talking majorities, here. Personally, I fall on the hairier side of the spectrum, but am not quite to the "goat walking on two legs" level.
My first question was, How much should I shave? I was told that, at the bare minimum, I'd need to shave from mid-thigh to a few inches below my left knee, and that they were going to work on my right knee, too, so I had to do both. Obviously, I couldn't just do that patch, ("Why is that guy wearing wool socks at the beach?"), so everything below the knees had to go. Fine. But it's heading northerly that things get tricky.
The biggest question I had, which nobody could answer for me, was Where do I stop? My friends told me a story about some friend who decided to shave his balls, but he couldn't find a place to stop that looked natural. So his bald patch spread to his pubes, then his thighs, then the rest of his legs, then his stomach and chest, and before he knew it, he'd chased that hairline until he was bare from the eyebrows down. I vowed this would not happen to me, but I could already see how such madness could germinate.
Sometimes, I wear shorts. Obviously, a ring of hair sticking out below my shorts is no good, so I'd have to go higher than my shorts line. But wait: What if someone were to see me in boxers or boxer briefs? Okay, so I've got to go pretty much to the very top of my thighs. But hang on! What if I'm lucky enough to have someone see me naked? I can't just have smooth legs and then suddenly, everything from the crotch-line up is hairy. It would look like I'm wearing furry Daisy Dukes.
And yet, for the love of god, I did not want to get into the logistics of shaving my ass. How would I see what the hell I'm doing? Would I have to do the crack, too? No good can come of this. I figured I'd shave that bridge when I came to it.
But even with a vague semblance of a plan, I had no idea how to execute it. Did I need special razors? Special shaving cream? Is it really better to shave up the leg, or should I shave downward, with the grain, like I do with my face? What am I just not even thinking of? I decided to consult the pros.
The day before I had to shave my legs, I decided to pop into the chatroom of our leg-shavingest sister site,
Jalopnik Jezebel. What did I need to know? After a few minutes of laughing at me, they got down to it. [The following has been heavily edited for clarity and sanity.]
Don't spend money on that raspberry ladies shaving lotion shit.
Just use whatever you use for your face
Also you're going to need like 10 razors.
I use the conditioner that washes off my hair tbh
Do use shaving cream because it stays on your legs better if you have to shave standing up.
You can use bananas.
You "can" use anything! Mayonnaise…
You're right. Ketchup too.
I would use honey.
Just get one of those honey bears from the kitchen and go nuts
You can smash 'em until they're kind of smooth and use those, but you have to wash your razor a bunch because it gets clogged
Is that a thing that people actually do??
These are all real things you should do
The bananas thing is like if you're kind of a hippie. The kind of hippie who shaves.
AS A FORMER SWIMMER don't listen to these idiots.
Don't use bananas.
And yea don't wax. It's not worth it just once and it'll hurt.
Always use men's face razors. They're just better than anything they make for women. Or maybe I'm just imagining they're better and this is more subconscious sexism.
Yeah, someone told me I should use men's Mach 3 razor heads, but that I should use the women's Gillette Venus handle because it's easier to hold and they're compatible.
Oh yea I think women's razors have better handles
Shaving one's leg is really nbd, just block out six and a half hours for it.
Am I supposed to shave toward the foot or away from it? Or both?
This is amazing.
Worried about this.
The razor is going to clog.
Rinse your razor after every swipe.
If you're super nervous, Brent, take a bath and do it in the bath so your leg hairs are softened.
And lotion afterwards, yes?
Yes unless you wanna feel like you're gonna shed your skin like a lizard lotion it up.
Any lotion in particular?
None of that scented shit.
Something for sensitive skin.
Yea or unscented Lubriderm.
Water-based lube also decent.
Jia's suggestion is always lube.
I feel like exfoliator might be good? Haven't tried it as a pre-shave but it's good afterward.
What's an exfoliator? Like a pummus stone?
Like an exfoliating scrub.
God no don't rub your legs with a pumice stone.
I actually think it's better to shave with the grain/towards the foot. It'll be a closer shave because you're cutting at the root, as opposed to above.
I learned this from an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Okay, enough preamble. Here's how to do it.
First, set aside, like, three hours. Then slip into some running shorts and go into your backyard. Your neighbors will judge you. Let them judge. It's better than finding strands of shorn body hair on your bathroom floor for the next three years.
Use a beard-trimmer to pre-shave you legs. I promise you, if you go directly after those long hairs with a razor, you will be very unhappy, very quickly. I used a battery-powered Norelco and I completely removed the guard to get down as close to the skin as possible. Careful not to nick yourself. Got Hobbit feet? Do those, too. I was actually amazed at just how much of the work the beard-trimmer did, but don't get cocky, kid: This is the easy part.
Once you get back into the bathroom, it's naked time. Yeah, you thought you were looking good when you had shorts on, but suddenly that hairy cut-off line isn't so awesome, is it? Put a big towel down on the floor, add the adjustable guard back to the beard trimmer, and see if you can give yourself an early-'90s fade down there. If you can. For those of you with hairier asses—asses that look like the faces of Ewoks—you're going to have to do something about it. And yes, it involves giving yourself a butt-buzz. I'd recommend leaving the guard on, but keeping it at its lowest setting, because you don't want to nick the soft skin back there. Nobody needs multiple buttholes. (Much.)
Prepare to be shocked (SHOCKED!) at just how much hair you had on your legs. I found it to be both mesmerizing and completely disgusting. What you see below is from clippers only, and just up to my shorts line. It's ... really something.
Pre-shave done, it's time to jump in the shower and EXFOLIATE. No, seriously, you have to do this. I'll explain later, but for now, just know that I ignored Jezebel's advice and skipped this step the first time, and I was deeply, truly sorry. You want your shower water to be hot, and you want to use a loofa sponge (or shower gloves with loofa on the palms). If you've got an exfoliating scrub, bully for you, but your normal body soap or body wash will do fine, as long as it's not overly drying. To exfoliate, rub the sponge over the skin in gentle-ish circles. You need to do every part of you that's going to be shaved, but spend extra time on your thighs. Please don't be stupid and just trust me.
Okay, time to lather up. Direct the shower head away from you and use a foaming shaving cream. Normally, for my face, I use a barely visible cream (the orange tube from Trader Joe's), but for legs you want the thick, highly visible stuff. Not only does it provide good lubrication, but it helps you see what you have/haven't covered yet. It's easier to lose track than you'd think. There's just so much more terrain to cover than there is on your face.
Moment of truth. Using a brand-fucking-new razor head (ideally, a Mach 3 head on a Venus body, if you ask me), you're going to start shaving your legs. You're going to take long, deliberate strokes. Try not to go back over ground that you've already covered (there's always next time). Use as little pressure as you can possibly get away with.
- Movies have lied to you. Don't start down at your ankle and work your way up like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie or Julia Roberts in [any Julia Roberts movie]. Start above the knee, and go up first. Why? Because I can't overstate how important it is that the razor be as sharp and clean as humanly possible when you're going over the soft, sensitive skin of your thighs. In fact, if you can afford it, I'd use a new razor head for each thigh, and then reuse them for your shins, calves, and knees afterwards. It's worth it. At least for your first time.
- I've tried shaving both with and against the grain, and I have to say, the Againsts have it. While going with definitely produced less irritation, it also didn't cut the hair nearly as well. I found myself going over spots again and again, and it took forever. So go against the grain (i.e. shaving upwards, away from your foot), just do so gently.
- You're probably going to want to use a mirror, if at all possible. The backs of your thighs are going to be extremely difficult to deal with. It's very easy to accidentally leave furry racing stripes, which probably isn't the look you're going for. Using thick shaving cream will help, but you're going to be doing some weird yoga-like poses in the name of thoroughness. The mirror will be especially useful if you decide that you do indeed want to take the razor to Asstown in the name of a more cohesive lower body. Good luck with that.
- Don't pull your skin overly tight, but you also don't want it to be bunching up, either. This is tricky when you're bending over trying to reach parts of your body you've never seen. You want the skin to be just tight enough so that it doesn't provide resistance to the razor. The hair will do that, but your skin shouldn't. It's a tricky balancing act.
Okay! The hard part is over, but you're not done yet. It's time to EXFOLIATE AGAIN. Yes, fucking again. Goop up that loofa and get to scrubbing! You would expect it to be extremely painful after a fresh shave, but it basically feels the same as the first time. But really, this is an absolutely critical step that I skipped the first time and paid for it dearly. Scrubba dub dub.
Rinse all the soap off your legs and then step out of the shower. Use a clean, dry, towel to pat your legs dry. Don't rub, pat. I know you're thinking you're tough and you don't need to pamper your manly legs. Whatever: Don't say I didn't warn you.
Once your legs are dry, it's time to lotion up. You want something mild and unscented. I've tried a few at this point, and Cetaphil gets my highest recommendation. I'd tried an unscented Lubriderm analog (CVS version) and 100-percent-pure shea butter, and a couple others. Most left my legs feeling sticky and/or clogged my pores. Cetaphil for the win.
Congratulations, you just shaved your legs, dude. You're basically finished, but there's some maintenance that needs to be done. From here on out, as long as you're shaving, you're exfoliating your legs at a minimum of every other shower (do every shower if you can take it), and you're using lotion on your legs every chance you get, but especially after showers.
[One week after my first shave. Mistakes were made.]
Okay, so why all this endless harping on exfoliating your thighs and using lotion? Lemme tell ya a little story. I'd finished shaving my legs for the first time. I was looking sleek and aerodynamic. I'd lotioned up, but I'd failed to heed Jezebel's advice on exfoliation, and a day and a half later, I found out why this was such a big, stupid mistake.
Two words: razor bumps.
The soft, wussy skin on my thighs was suddenly covered in these horrible red bumps. Hundreds of them. They looked like zits, but they itched and burned like insect bites. They were absolutely miserable, especially walking around in jeans, which feel like they're made of sandpaper when you have razor bumps.
Razor bumps are essentially ingrown hairs. Basically, when the hair tries to go back, it gets stuck under your healing skin, and it tries to force it way through. It also often gets infected. It sucks very much. Or, as Jezebel's Emma Carmichael told me, "It's basically your skin being like, 'The hair is there for a reason, dick!'"
And this, my friends, is why you exfoliate and use lotion, especially after shaving. Exfoliating removes dead skin cells from the top layer of your epidermis, which is where these hairs are most likely to get caught. By scrubbing that away, and keeping your skin soft and pliable with lotion, you're essentially giving the hair a clear path to reemerge, thus saving you from a bunch of itchy, ugly awfulness. Also, once you have them, they make take weeks to go away. Weeks!
Exfoliating and moisturizing is by far the best way to get them to go away. There are a bunch of different razor-burn tonics and balms, but I didn't find that they helped much. Your mileage may vary. Using a fresh, clean razor and not pulling your skin too tight will also help prevent you from getting them in the first place.
For an exfoliating scrub, Jezebel's Kate Dries recommends St. Ives Sea Salt Body Wash. For soothing razor bumps, Jez's Mark Shrayber likes some goop called Egyptian Magic, which apparently you can get at Costco for cheap. I was unable to test either of these personally.
If you're thinking that all of this blows, you're right. It blows. Before this, I was a three-minute-shower type dude. I prided myself on my efficiency, especially during California's water shortage. Standing there scrubbing my legs with a fucking loofa is not my idea of a good time, and neither is applying moisturizer, which makes me feel like I have a film of slime on my legs 24 hours a day. But such is my lot in life.
Shaving my legs has proven to be a very strange and somewhat enlightening experience. Over the years, you get used to the way your legs look. Now, when I see myself without pants, it's like I have someone else's legs attached to my body. It's truly and deeply strange. One of my friends asked: If I didn't know they were my legs, would I think they were hot? The answer is no. Just because they're shaved doesn't mean they suddenly become sexy-lady legs. They still look like dude legs—they're just angel-soft dude legs.
Shaving did, however, reveal something I didn't expect. My legs (and especially my shins) are all covered in scars. They're light and faded, and some of them are ancient, but because of my leg hair, I had no idea I still had them. There's a huge but subtle one on the side of my right calf from when I was 10 years old and I fell into an island of fire and ash, resulting in second-degree burns (a story for another time). My right hip and thigh have a series of slashes from where I crashed a mountain bike into a very sharp gravel pit. It was weird to see these again, and yet it gave me a sense of my personal history that I found oddly comforting.
I'm still in physical therapy for another few weeks at least, which means I'll continue shaving my legs once a week for the time being. As soon as I'm done with PT, though, I am most definitely done with shaving. I am not a convert. I am, however, a man who now knows how to properly shave his legs, and who has much more empathy for what our female counterparts regularly endure. Semper fi, ladies. And gentlemen.
Adequate Man is Deadspin's new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.