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Hey, Matt: Maybe this isn’t a question for the elves, but I’ll ask it anyway. When I shave my beard, my face has always turned red and raw and I can’t find any way to stop it. Why does this happen? Is it just scraping from the blade? Can you suggest ­something? — Anonymous, via email

Personal grooming queries? Of course we answer ’em. We’ve got Grandma Alice on our team, and she’s always up for forcing the elves to make a good impression. Look good, smell good, and people will know you are good and would never lie to them. Unquote, Grandma. You wanna see a bunch of shiny, bright faces, perfect Windsor knots, pocket-emblem blazers? The Alice family Christmas card. Almost too wonderful to look at. We’re confident we’ll have Anonymous fixed up in a ­flash.

So, you’d think we’d go immediately to Grandma for shaving tips, yeah? Or at least hop on down to interview a short Italian man with 25 years’ tonsorial expertise — one of those guys in a starched white jacket who wraps your head in scorching towels. Well, no. In our own goofy way, we’re checking in with the science guys who have done actual science-guy work on most aspects of shaving. Don’t be surprised. They’re paid by the shaving-stuff manufacturers, ­natch.

Anonymous’s red, raw face is mostly a bacteria attack, and perhaps mangled follicles. Step one to avoid that? Soften your beard hairs. Above-mentioned hot towel or a shower. Facial hair is softened and full of absorbed water, giving the razor a nice, beefy target. Heat melts the waxy sebum facial layer, which repels water. An oil-based shaving cream sticks to everything without being scraped away and adds more softening. The detergent helps the blade glide across your bubbly ­face.

And about the blade. Or blades. Today’s hot razor looks a little like Edward Scissorhands in outer space. Just another marketing trick? My razor’s bladier than your razor? Any science behind all that metal? Yes, indeed. Blade number one cuts into the hairs and pulls them up a bit from their follicles, where blade number two cuts lower into the hairs and pulls them up a bit more. Et cetera, to the end of the blades. With enough of them, by the time you get to the last blade, your hairs have been pulled up enough that the last blade cuts off the hairs below skin level. The second advantage of a bank of blades is to spread across the face of the razor the effort you use to pull the razor across your face. It’s a much smoother ride with ­multiples.

Here’s another redness alert: Don’t shave against the grain. All that does is fold the hairs back on themselves, which irritates the nerve endings in your skin and tears it. Yes, shaving against the grain gives a close shave, but you pay a price. Shave with the grain on the first pass, then shave across the grain. Much less traumatic. So, once you’re dehaired, you can grit your teeth and apply an alcohol-based aftershave, which is a good bacteria killer. Or use an oil-based salve that helps restore the bacteria-fighting skin layer removed when you shaved. And there you have it. Shaving by science. I’m sure there’s something in there that will turn your tomato skin into a healthy-looking face. If not, well, we’ll check with Grandma and see what she recommends. I’ve seen her heading into the bathroom with mayonnaise and avocados, so who knows what she has up her ­sleeve.

Malice: As a frequent user of the trolley, I’m on a quest not to be a target of the flying rats that seem to bomb the public. While dodging these dive bombers, I’ve noticed that they all seem to be of the same size. Big. I can’t believe pigeons hatch out at an adult size. How come I never see any baby/adolescent-size flyers. Just ­wonderin’. — Bird Brain in East County

Jeez! I’m letting Bird Brain’s letter represent all of the others who’ve written in recently with this exact question. I’m not sure what’s up out there, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a bagload of the same question, well, ever. And all written within a month of each other. Must be much pigeon poop on the land these days. Well, yes, come to think of it, the pigeon population would be somewhat inflated about ­now.

Baby pigeons are adorable, koochy-koo pigeons sometime before they turn into what most people love to call “flying rats.” Baby pigeons do exist, of course. Consider mother pigeon walking around waiting to lay an egg big enough to encircle a full-grown pigeon. A quick road to extinction. Listen up, everyone. Mama pigeon lays two eggs in a nest hidden away, high up on a bridge or something. She and Dad sit on the eggs for 15 to 20 days. Eggs hatch and Mom and Dad feed babies constantly for a month, during which time the babies lose their fluffy egg feathers, grow adult-like feathers, grow to near-adult size, and are ready to fly. So you have seen month-old pigeons; it’s just that they look so much like the adults, you can’t tell them apart. Please, tell all your friends. We need to stop ­this.

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Silvergate1 Aug. 18, 2010 @ 2:25 p.m.

Hi, An interesting article. I've had a beard for about 40 years and finally shaved it off. There used to be a baby face under there but not these days! My question is just what is considered "shaving against the grain"? Thanks


Evelyn Aug. 18, 2010 @ 2:40 p.m.

Shaving against the grain means shaving in the opposite direction of the hair growth, silvergate. So, if your manbeard hair's all point down, shave down first, then shave up, according the directions provided.


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