Friday, May 25, 2007

Does Shaving Against The Grain Cause Thicker Hair Growth?

Shaving has always carried with it some interesting misconceptions. And for years, people have believed that shaving against the grain would cause the hair to grow back thicker and denser.

Well, your hair follicles are preprogrammed before birth to do what they’re going to do for your lifetime. Men prone to baldness are genetically programmed for it before they even have a hair on their heads and people prone to excess body hair are built that way from the womb. Shaving doesn’t wake up dormant hair follicles to produce hair. And so far as shaving against the grain versus shaving with the grain, it doesn’t make a difference to the hair. It continues its happy life cycle of growth.

Study after study dating back to the 1920’s has shown and confirmed that shaving has no effect on hair growth rates or density. Shaving does, however, change the appearance of the hair. Whether with the grain or against the grain, shaving results in a blunt, squared off end to the hair. Whereas the naturally growing hair had a smooth taper to it, the shaved hair, as it grows, maintains its square end, giving it the appearance of a thicker hair when, in reality, it’s the same diameter as it always was at the base, just minus the tapered end.

And of course most hair is lighter at the end than it is at the root – both from genetic programming and from the lightening effects of exposure to sun and skincare products. So when you shave off that lighter end, you are left with the darker coloration that was always there at the root, giving that hair a darker look as it grows out.

The reality is that the hair is the same diameter and same natural color as it always was at the root.

Now shaving against the grain versus with the grain makes absolutely no difference as far as your hair is concerned. You’re still cutting it off below the skin and it’s still growing back.

There are, however, some other effects of shaving against the grain that warrant some discussion. For instance, shaving against the grain can cut the hair off at an angle, leaving a sharp point that can be more prone to lodging in the skin and becoming an ingrown hair. This condition, called pseudofolliculitis barbae or "razor bumps," is much more common in men’s beards than on women’s legs, but can still be an issue in the underarm and bikini areas.

Shaving against the grain can also cause more skin irritations since you usually pull the skin taut to shave in that direction. Pulling the skin can help to get a closer shave, but it also causes your razor – even the most lubricated of blades – to act as a sharp metal exfoliant, literally scraping the top layer of skin off your body.

So even though shaving against the grain won’t cause your hair to grow thicker or denser, the act of shaving in that direction can cause inflammation and irritation. So if you simply have to shave against the grain to get the smoothness you’re looking for, be sure to use a clean blade and lots of shaving lubricant.

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