Can I Shave Against the Grain with a Safety Razor?

You might think that shaving with a safety razor is a mystery best left to the past. But that would be crazy talk. More and more men are discovering the art of a great shave by going back to the basics of blade, brush, and razor. In fact, a traditional, wet shave was a way to get a fabulous shave decades ago that still holds true today. If you are wondering if a safety razor is as versatile as your cartridge, we think you will be pleasantly surprised. 

What is Against the Grain?

Shaving like any new hobby or skill comes with a fun new vocabulary. From shorthand acronyms to phrases to techniques, there is so much to explore. So, maybe you are wondering what all this talk is of “grain” and “WTG, XTG, ATG”.  Let’s break it down a bit and get to the questions at hand. 

  • Grain: the direction the hair grows
  • WTG: With The Grain, most men shave with the grain in their first pass. This means gliding the razor in the same direction that the hair grow.
  • XTG: Across The Grain, a XTG pass might come after the WTG pass. This pass has the razor approach the hair perpendicular to its direction of growth. 
  • ATG: Against The Grain, women tend to use this quite a bit. This pass of the razor has you shaving in the opposite direction that the hair grows. 

Why shave ATG (and why not)?

Often wet shavers will use an ATG pass at the end of their shave to ensure that all the hairs are cut and they have the cleanest, smoothest shave possible. Sometimes the WTG and XTG pass allows some hairs to lay flat and get missed or it just isn’t as close to the skin. The ATG pass usually takes care of this as it lifts the hair and cuts it close to the skin. 

Some wet shavers find an ATG pass simply too aggressive. If you are prone to irritation, redness, bumps, and rash, you will want to proceed with caution. This “against the grain” pass raises the hair and cuts it short which can sometimes cause bumps/redness. In addition, it is often one of multiple passes which can start to irritate the skin. 

Who should shave ATG?

You might want to consider an ATG pass if you aren’t getting a close, smooth shave or frequently have a 5 o’clock shadow by noon. An ATG pass can result in a longer-lasting shave so if you have a special event or want to cut down on the hours between shaves this could be a good option.

However, if you are prone to in-grown hair or have particularly curly facial hair, you might want to avoid the ATG pass.    


Tips for an against-the-grain pass

All hair doesn’t lay flat in the same direction, so the first step of shaving, and particularly against-the-grain shaving, is to have an idea how your hair grows. A simple way to do this is to wait 12-24 hours until a bit of stubble starts then rub lightly over your skin with your finger (or even a cotton ball) and feel for where it “catches”. If you feel a smooth pass, that is WITH the grain. If you feel a scrap or catch, that direction is AGAINST the grain. 

Because this pass is more “aggressive” and likely to irritate your skin, make sure that you take the time to prep your skin appropriately. Use a pre-shave and whip up a rich, dense, protective lather. Reapply your lather after each pass of the blade. Choose a double edge safety razor or another single blade razor. (Cartridge heads with multiple blades may cause more irritation.) 

When shaving against the grain, it is recommended that you use short, gentle strokes. Slow down and take your time. Let the weight of the razor do the work and don’t use undue pressure. An ATG pass should be used have the bulk of the hair has been removed with previous passes so you are doing finishing work. Slow and steady wins the race. 

After an against-the-grain pass, it is important to care of your skin. Rinse your skin with warm water to remove all soap residue. Apply witch hazel or toner. Rinse with cool water. Lastly, choose an aftershave splash or balm with a light consistency that won’t clog your pores but will still nourish and calm your skin.


Bottom Line: can I shave against the grain with a safety razor?

Yes! Many, many wet shavers use an against-the-grain pass to get their smoothest shave. However, that doesn’t always mean you SHOULD use an ATG pass. Those with sensitive skin or those just getting started might want to be cautious about this pass until they know how their skin responds.

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