A barber's tips on keeping your quarantine mane in check

Fire up those clippers, gentlemen, we're having a spa day!

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Handsome young bearded man looking at his reflection in the mirror and keeping hand in hair while sitting in chair at barbershop
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As we enter our sixth week of coronavirus quarantine, many of you guys are beginning to resemble Mr. Burns during his Spruce Moose phase. And while letting your locks flow free during this time of physical isolation can be liberating for a while, do you really want to emerge from your mandatory staycation rocking the “Grizzly Adams but hikikomori” look? No, my friend. No, you do not. Besides, you’ve got nothing but time right now, so why not spend a bit of it pampering that noggin of yours?

SPruce Moose
Simpsons - 20th Century Fox

Even if you are getting a bit shaggy, there’s no need to take immediate drastic action. “I think it's just essentially knowing right off the bat, what you're getting yourself into, and how to prepare for it,” Craig “the Barber” Whitely, founder of LA’s Grooming Concierge and Burke Avenue shaving products, told Engadget. “Just like anything else, you create a plan and then attempt the execution.”

“I think it's more knowing what your hair type is and what tools you're going to need to accomplish the goal,” he continued. “That's essentially the beginning, I don't think it's a dreadful and scary situation.”

In fact, you can keep yourself looking sharp even as your hair gets progressively longer by focusing on two key areas, Whitely noted: the back of your hairline, the bit where your barber would typically square or round off, and your sideburns. “if you can maintain those key areas, just trim those down,” he said, “that will 100 percent maintain whatever hairstyle you had, at least for a little bit longer.”  

You may also consider a different do that emphasizes your lengthening locks. Many hairstyles, Pompadours for example, actually work better the longer your hair is. “Really all you need is hair product and a blow dryer,” Whitely explained. “You just go to town, blow dry it, then brush and you literally can flick all that back into a very beautiful Pompadour.”

But if you’re hell-bent on shortening your hair on your own, the simplest and safest cut you can give yourself is a standard men’s burr cut. Whitely strongly recommends using clippers with comb guards to help maintain a uniform length. “You start long and work your way down,” Whitely said, noting that it’s far easier to take more length off than try to add it back on. “If you start long, then you will never, ever see that big mistake, that patchy situation on one side of your head and have to wear a hat for the next three weeks.”

Before you start cutting, you’re going to need some supplies. First, grab an old bed sheet or bath towel to throw over your shoulders to catch all that hair. You’ll also need some scissors such as the Javenproliu Haircutting Shears, a wide-tooth comb like the Kent R7T, a sturdy hand mirror, and some hair clips. Most importantly, you’ll need a quality set of clippers. Whitely recommends either splurging on the $170 Oster Classic 76, “that thing is a workhorse you can literally pass it on to your kid,” or picking up one from Wahl, such as the $80 Peanut. Either way, make sure it includes comb guards. “If you are interested in seeing if you can give yourself a taper, then you'll have those clipper guards to help guide with that,” he said. “You start long, then go short and then once you've kind of figured out the length that you want,” you start at the bottom with the shortest guide and work your way up, getting longer as you go.

Your hand mirror is going to prove indispensable once it comes time to clean up the back, Whitely explained. You’re going to stand in front of a stationary mirror, like the one in your bathroom, and face away from it. Hold the hand mirror in your non-dominant hand and the clippers in the other. Hold the hand mirror in front of you and use it to look into the stationary mirror behind to guide your clipper hand as you shear the back of your head. Easy peasy.

The type of hair you have will directly impact the kind of cut you can give yourself. For example, if you have curly hair never, ever cut it while wet. Curly hair shortens significantly as it dries so you run the very real risk of inadvertently taking off too much if you try to cut it while it’s damp. Whether your hair is curly, straight or wavy, get used to making point cuts. That’s when you hold the scissors vertically and make subtle snips. It’s more forgiving than cutting directly across the hair if you make a mistake and is especially useful when trimming bangs and nipping off split ends. If you’ve got thinning hair, you have two general options. 

“You can move and manipulate your hair enough to make it look like you are not thinning,” Whitely said. “The second option is, if you are thinning in the front, the more your hair grows, the more obvious that area of thinning is going to be visible so ideally what I recommend is trying your best to cut your hair to the length of the thinning part.”

Whether you run the clippers with or against the grain of the hair makes a significant difference in how much bulk you’ll remove. Clipping against the grain (ie from your forehead to the crown of your head) will take off much more hair than if you ran it with the grain (crown to forehead). “For example, my hair is wavy,” ‘Whitely said. “So if I go against the grain, I'm picking up a bunch of my hair, it’s going to be really low and you'll see my scalp. However, if I go with the grain, I'm literally just smoothing out all of the hair down to pick it maybe a 10th of an inch off.”

That quarantine beard you’re growing needs a bit of TLC too. “The most important thing to be mindful of during this period is that we're locked up in our houses, we don't necessarily get the opportunity to get the natural sweat that helps moisturize our skin,” Whitely points out. “You want to maintain your skin underneath the beard.” That includes exfoliating at least once a week and washing your face regularly, though you won’t need to scrub as compulsively as with your hands. 

Even though we’re not exposed to the sun’s harmful radiation as much these days, it’s still important to moisturize both your beard and the skin underneath it. “Give it [20 - 30 seconds] an opportunity for the beard and the skin to absorb underneath, and then do your finishing move with your pomade or beard wax or whatever it may be.” 

Setting boundaries for your beard is also important. Whitely recommends starting an edge a quarter-inch above your Adam’s apple and extending that across and up to the bottoms of your ears. This allows your beard to more seamlessly fade into your neck line. The farther above your Adam's apple the beard starts, the more pronounced the delineation between your head and neck will be -- and that’s not a good thing.

If you are still unsure as to the ins and outs of home haircutting, there’s an entire internet’s worth of walkthroughs and tutorials such as Tips for Clips, Beardbrand, or Regal Gentleman for you to explore. What’s more a number of barbers and stylists who have been sidelined in the quarantine have started offering remote tutorials, walking their clients through the steps of a cut via video chat. If your barber isn’t offering this service, You Probably Need a Haircut can help connect you with a stylist who does. And if all else fails, there’s always the Flowbee.

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