How to Map the Grain of Your Hair

Posted by Emily Wheeler


You have probably seen the term "grain" in reference to facial hair and may be wondering, what exactly is the grain? The grain of your hair is simply the direction in which it grows. Your hair can grow in multiple different directions across your face, chin and neck. The direction of hair growth (or grain) can also depend on your hair type. Because of this, everyone's grain is different. This is why it is beneficial to map your entire face and neck to determine which direction the hair grows in each spot. Mapping your grain and shaving based on the direction of hair growth can actually play a big role in the success of your shave. Not only can this help you get an incredibly close, smooth shave, but it can also help you avoid common problems such as ingrown hairs and razor burn.  

While it may seem like a lot of work at first, mapping the grain of your hair is actually pretty simple. Once you know which direction the hair grows in each spot, you can then determine the perfect direction to shave in based on that growth. It will take some time to test shaving in different directions to find what works best for you, but it will be worth it in the end. 

Whether you have been shaving for years or only for a short time, you have probably seen and heard the terms "with the grain", "against the grain" or "across the grain". Especially if you are new to wet shaving, you may be wondering, what exactly do these terms mean, and how do they apply to shaving? These terms refer to the direction you shave based on your grain. If you shave with the grain (WTG), you are shaving in the direction the hair is growing. If you shave against the grain (AGT), you are shaving in the opposite direction in which the hair grows. If you shave across the grain (XGT), you are shaving perpendicular to the direction of growth. While there is a lot of debate on which direction you should shave, it ultimately will depend on you and your hair specifically. 

The first step is figuring out which direction your hair grows in. The hair on your face and neck can grow in many different directions. While this may sound intimidating, once you have mapped out your hair and practiced shaving in specific directions a few times, it will become second nature. While everyone's hair is different and can grow in multiple directions, there are a few primary directions for hair growth on different areas of the face and neck. Here are some examples of common directions of hair growth:

Direction of grain   Direction of grain up

Direction of grain left  Direction of grain right

To find the direction, or grain, of your own hair, follow these simple steps: 

  1. Start with a few days of growth. It is easier to map the grain of your hair when you have a few days of growth and the hair is a little longer. Wait two or three days after you shave to try to map the grain of your hair. 
  2. Run your hands through the hair and try to feel the direction that it is growing in. You can also use a credit card or other object with a flat surface and thin edge. Place the card at the base of your hair right up against your skin, and you'll be able to clearly see which direction the hair is growing in. If the hair is smooth or in line with the edge, that is the direction of growth. If the hair is spiked up or you are pulling at it, it is growing in the opposite direction. Move the card in different directions across your face and neck to find the grain in each area. Make sure to map every area of your face and neck to fully understand the direction of growth across your entire face. You can also take a picture of yourself and print it out. Then, draw arrows on the picture for each area that the hair grows in. That way, you don't have to memorize it right away and you can use this as a guide the next few times you shave.
  3. Once you have mapped your hair, you can try shaving in different directions (with, against, or across the grain) for each area. For some, the hair grain drastically varies and they will have many different directions throughout their face and neck. If this is the case for you, don't lose hope. It may take a little extra time and practice, but you'll be able to find a direction that works best for you. 

Deciding whether to shave with, against, or across the grain will depend on your own skin and hair. While you may hear others say that you should only shave in certain directions, just remember, everyone is different. Your hair is different from others, and you should ultimately do what works best for you. You don't have to stick to the rules, but rather use them as a guide to figure out what works for you.

Shaving with the grain will be easier on your skin and hair because you are moving in the direction of growth. Shaving against the grain can take more time and practice, but usually gives you a closer shave and smoother skin because you are shaving against the direction of growth to get as close to the skin as possible. Many people will end up shaving in two directions for one patch of hair. For example, you can do your first pass with the grain and your second pass against the grain. Remember to reapply lather between every pass. 

For beginners, it may be best to start shaving with the grain. Shaving with the grain, or in the direction the hair is growing, is easier to start out with and you are less likely to experience irritation or redness. While it is more mild, it also may not give you the closest shave. When you are more advanced, try shaving against the grain. This takes more time and practice, however, shaving against the grain allows you to get closer to the base of the hair, giving you an incredibly close shave and smooth skin afterward. You are also more likely to experience irritation or razor burn when shaving against the grain, so take your time and go slow. 

When you first try shaving in different directions, make sure to be patient. When trying something new, take your time and go slow. Remember, finding the right direction for your hair will take some time and practice. Try out different directions and combinations, then see how effective your shave was and how your skin feels afterward. 

It is also important to note that your shaving products can play a role in the direction you shave. The safety razor is the best razor to use and will ultimately allow you to shave in different directions most effectively. Using cartridge razors is much more difficult and will not give you as good of a shave. The more blades going across your skin, the more chance of irritation. If you use a cartridge razor and do multiple passes, that is just more blades running over your skin and you'll have an increased chance of irritation or razor burn. The type of razor blades that you use and how sharp or mild they are can also be a big factor. You may find that after shaving in different directions, you will want to switch to a different razor blade. Make sure to take all of these factors into consideration when deciding on a shaving direction that works best for you. Once you have the direction down, you'll get a close, comfortable shave every time.