We weren’t two weeks into social distancing at home when LeBron James took to Instagram to complain that without his barber, he was already looking “like Tom Hanks in Castaway” (or, possibly, just Tom Hanks in quarantine, given the actor is still self-isolating after a positive diagnosis for COVID-19). James is likely not not alone: As more and more cities and states call for barber shops (and nail salons, waxing salons, and other personal services) to temporarily close in order to limit the virus’s spread, you too may be worried about upkeep, whether you’re working remotely (with Zoom calls to dial into) or required to continue business as usual. If a professional cut is not an option, to help you avoid becoming a version of post-retirement David Letterman, we spoke to four barbers to get their tips on how to cut, maintain, and style men’s hair at home between appointments.
According to Rodney Cutler, the owner of New York City’s Cutler Salons, any home hair maintenance is more about “cutting the branches, not re-rooting the tree.” In other words: Instead of taking clippers directly to your scalp, our barbers say to focus on areas that typically appear unkempt the soonest, like around the ears or on the back of the head, because keeping these spots maintained can extend the life of a haircut by “a few weeks,” as Cutler puts it. “Just work on the perimeter of the haircut — anything that’s longer than the outline, nip it off,” he explains. “That’ll keep you neat and tidy.” Below, he and our three other barbers share the products you’ll need and and how to use them when cutting at home.
But before we get to the tools and instructions, some general best practices from our barbers for trimming hair at home: First, do it over a floor that you can sweep (so avoid carpets or rugs). If you’re just cutting around your ears, you just need to be in front of a mirror (they say one in the bathroom is best); but if you’re looking to tidy the back of your head or hairline, you should be seated on a chair in a spot with good lighting (you’ll also need a partner, more on that below). And when it comes to what to wear, while they may drape a cape over you at the shop, our barbers say that, at home, you really don’t need that level of protection, and that an old T-shirt or tank top you don’t mind getting dirty is fine (avoid collared shirts, though, as hair can collect inside collars).
A pair of hairdressing scissors
“The first thing that starts to bother people when they can’t get a cut is the way hair starts to grow down over the ears,” says Mark Miguez, co-owner and barber at New York City’s Friend of a Barber. To keep hair around the ears at a tolerable length, the most affordable tool, according to our barbers, is a pair of scissors specifically designed for trimming hair. “Household scissors would be too hard,” says Cutler, because “their blade is so thick that the hair will literally bend in the blade,” resulting in a sloppier cut. Proper hairdressing shears, however, are “a lot like knives,” he explains, noting that an inexpensive pair will suffice as long as they’re “designed for the purpose of cutting hair.” Miguez recommends this pair from Conair, which he says are “easy to handle, so they can cut hair around the ears, as well on a beard or mustache.”
A hair comb
Before you do anything with those scissors, though, all of our experts say you’ll also need a comb in order to ensure you’re creating an even line across the hair when you start to cut. “The width of the comb should be based upon your hair type,” says Karac Ruleau, a barber at Mott NYC (the shop is temporarily closed, but directing any patrons who’d like to support it to stock up on products from its online store). According to him, combs with thin teeth work best for guys with thin hair, while combs with wide teeth work best for guys with thicker hair. But this medium-width comb is a fail-safe options that suits most types of hair, according to Miguez, who recommended it. It also “lives forever,” he promises, adding that it’s the most effective comb he’s ever used.
To tidy up around your ears with a scissor and comb, Miguez says to fully wet your hair in the shower and then comb straight down from the area above your ear, until the hair is hanging over your ears. Then, use the comb to line up the amount of hair you need to cut, and start to trim with the scissors, cutting along the shape of the ear. He notes that when hair is wet, “it’s stretching,” and when it dries, “it bunches up,” so first-timers should err on the conservative side and cut less, because you can always cut more.
After trimming around the ears, the back of your head and hair around your neckline become the most noticeably unkempt, according to barbers, who add that those places are also the hardest to tame. In order to do so properly, they say you will need someone else to do the cutting for you, as these are parts of the head that you can’t comfortably look at yourself while cutting. If you do have someone willing and able to help, Mike Martinez, another barber at Cutler, says to first wet your hair fully, then “slick the hair straight back” with the comb until there’s about half an inch left poking out of it. Then, use the scissors and cut across the comb in alternating diagonal lines to allow for texture.
An electric trimmer
A couple of our experts told us that if you don’t feel confident using scissors around your ears (or having someone else use them around your neckline), a handheld hair trimmer is an alternative option for neatening up those areas. Miguez says you can use an electric trimmer like the Andis Slimline Pro (which took the title of best trimmer for neatening in our list of the best expert-recommended beard trimmers). But if you’re wary about an amateur putting a blade with professional-level power so close to your ears, Ruleau says you can also use the Philips Norelco OneBlade (another trimmer that made our list of the best beard trimmers), which he says won’t “cut your skin, even if you go in too deep” and can still “cut a nice line.”
Note that if you do go the trimmer route, our experts say you should not use it on the back of your head, nor with a comb. Stick to the shorter guards, according to Miguez and Ruleau, who both say to simply follow the shape of your ear (or the curve of your neckline), like you would with scissors. Also, an electric trimmer should be used on dry hair, not wet.
A brush for getting hairs off of your body
When it comes to cleaning up the space you cut your hair in, all of the experts say the only tool you really need is something to sweep up trimmed bits. But for cleaning up your person, you might consider a brush to sweep itchy hairs off of your neck or body, like this one that Martinez says he uses on his clients.
A styling product to use instead of cutting
If you’ve noticed your mane is starting to get out of control in the back, but don’t have (or want) someone else to help, all of our barbers say you can use a styling product to sculpt and camouflage hair as it grows in, instead of cutting it. To do that, they all recommend using a paste over a “super sticky, crunchy” gel or “heavy” pomade. As Miguez puts it, “You want a paste that has both a beautiful hold, but one that you can also run your hands through.” His favorite is this paste from R+Co: “It’s the one everyone at our shop uses for styling longer hair with just the right amount of hold,” he says, instructing users to rub it between their fingers, then “start on top or at the sides” of the head and run those fingers through (lightly damp) hair to style and control it.
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