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There’s been a lot of buzz around buzz cuts lately. Last April, searches for “phrase” were at an all-time high, Google Trends tweeted out — these trends rose at the end of this April, too. Publications like Vogue and The New York Times ran their own how-tos last year while Harper’s Bazaar talked to those who mowed down their manes earlier this year. As many chose to cut their own hair at home, sales for clippers surged. Clipper company Wahl told Vanity Fair it saw a spike in sales not seen since the Great Recession in the late 2000s.
SKIP AHEAD Best clippers of 2021
While the buzz cut has become popular over the past year, it has a long history — from soldiers of the Roman Empire to Britney Spears, as Dazed traced in 2020. But there’s some significance in why it came back now. “With barbershops and salons closed for extended periods, men, women and families found a way to cope with their growing hair. A popular option was to turn to the buzz cut,” explained Patrick Butler, Floyd’s 99 Barbershop’s technical director of education. “They bought a clipper kit and found that they could maintain the look for themselves or their family or friends since options were limited.”
Beyond ease and much less maintenance, a buzz cut can represent a “‘reset’ for many people who are looking for a bold new look. It is the ultimate way to start over with a fresh look that can also be maintained at home,” Butler mentioned. Whether you’ve already buzzed off your locks or are thinking about getting a buzz cut, clippers could be worth including in your hair care routine. To help you find the right clippers, we spoke to hair professionals about what clippers can do and their recommendations are for the best clippers to use at home, along with a few other top-rated options.
What a clipper can and can’t do
Clippers are sometimes seen as synonymous with shaving tools, like razors and trimmers. But they actually aren’t meant for shaving — instead, they’re intended for shearing off hair. “A clipper is intended for handling hair that is longer and more abundant cutting on larger areas, but does not cut extremely close to the skin leaving a bit of stubble,” said Steve Waldman, the technical training director at hair salon chain Hair Cuttery.
If you’re tempted to use clippers to shave your head, you might want to think again.
“It’s not recommended to shave your hair with an average hair clipper as it may lead to skin irritation,” advised Monica Davis, a hairstylist who founded hair care blog MyStraightener. Using clippers to shave can also scratch your skin and cause follicle inflammation, she added.
Clippers are for shaving down in a sense — a head shaver can get a closer shave, especially for those sporting a bald head. You can use them to trim hair before using a trimmer or shaver — and a clipper’s blade usually does the “length-reducing job” better than the average trimmer, Davis said. Clippers were initially intended to help hairdressers cut quicker compared to a comb and scissors, Davis described.
How clippers work
A clipper uses “an electric motor that makes the blades oscillate from side to side at a high pace,” Davis described. “There are different motor types and blade configurations, but all the tools do the same job: reduce the length of your hair along the comb line.” There’s a moving blade in clippers that can be adjusted and adding attachments allows you to choose the length to cut down to, Butler said. “This blade moves back and forth, gliding against a still blade that feeds the hair through to be cut. Once the hair is between the blades, it gets cut, just like with traditional hair cutting scissors,” Waldman told us.
How clippers compare to trimmers and head shavers
As said above, clippers are meant for much longer locks unlike trimmers or head shavers.
- A trimmer is tailored to “edging, outlining, dry shaving and light shaping on smaller areas such as the back of the neck, around the ears, around sideburns,” Waldman explained.
- A head shaver “will give you the smoothest result with a design that can comfortably adjust to the natural contours of the head shape,” Waldman mentioned.
For an all-in-one, Davis recommended the WAHL 9854-600 model, a multitool that lets “you remove the clipper blade and put in a shaving blade instead.” She noted that this “compact rechargeable cutter” features “interchangeable blades” including one to use as a clipper and another to act as a trimmer, along with a “shaver nozzle for irritation-free moist shaving.”
Best clippers to buzz off hair at home
The following are expert-recommended and highly-rated clippers you could consider.
Butler recommended this popular Wahl clipper, praising its power and pointing out its color-coded combs that can make it easier “to remember when you go back to freshen your look up,” he added. Along with the attachments, Butler mentioned the model’s “dependable motor” for “consistent power every time you need it” and brushes that will “keep the blades clean and lubricated after each use.” It’s earned an average 4.6-star rating over more than 12,000 reviews on Amazon.
Davis favors these top-rated clippers from well-known hair care company Remington, calling it “amongst the best options if you want to cut your own hair really quick.” She highlighted that the included vacuum on the model helps avoid cleaning around after trimming away. The clippers are a part of a kit that features tapering combs, barber scissors and blade oil. “All the combs have length marks on them for easier navigation,” Davis added.
Waldman recommended Wahl’s Lithium Pro Complete Cordless Clippers and this kit includes the model along with a detail trimmer and 12 guide combs that are designed for a smoother haircut. The clippers have a two-hour run time on a full charge and feature an indicator light so you know when to plug it in for a charge. The trimmer is meant for cleaning necklines, sideburns and around the ears, the company says. It comes with a storage case as well.
Another one of Butler’s picks, this 16-piece kit is similar to the Remington model that Davis recommended. It features what the brand describes as a vacuum system, which captures cut hair, and a removable hair chamber to clean out strands. “This is an affordable option that gives you everything you need in a simple kit,” Butler said. It could be useful for an undercut as it comes with “a pair of scissors if you need to maintain a longer look on top of your head,” Butler added. It has an average 4.4-star rating over more than 5,000 reviews on Amazon.
While Waldman didn’t specifically recommend this clipper, he did say that Wahl, Oster and Conair are among those that “make effective and dependable clippers.” This Conair clipper is a popular pick on Amazon, earning an average 4.4-star rating over more than 1,700 reviews. It’s part of a 22-piece kit that includes 10 comb attachments for different lengths, barber scissors, cleaning brush and even a cape. As for the clippers themselves, they come in chrome finish, have an hour-long run time and can be used with (through a rechargeable battery) or without a cord.
With Waldman’s suggestions for clipper brands, we found this clipper that’s highly rated among Amazon shoppers. Notably, the clipper features what the company calls a Whisper Quiet pivot motor to keep the noise down while in use. It comes with guide combs attachments, a cleaning brush and 8-foot long cord. You can choose between colors like Burgundy and Purple for this model. The clipper boasts an average 4.5-star rating over more than 5,200 reviews on Amazon.
Features to look out for in a clipper
“When looking at the various choices for clippers, you have many options,” Butler said. So, to make your search easier, we asked the experts what useful features to look out for before buying a clipper.
- Adjustable lever for your blade: “This allows you to move the lever in or out which can extend the blade length or shorten it,” Butler said.
- Guards and comb attachments: Along with an adjustable blade, removable combs are among a must-have feature, Waldman argued. Guards are plastic comb attachments to remove length gradually and combs can offer “more control and comfort when removing longer hair,” he added.
- Cord over cordless: Butler prefers a corded clipper over one that’s cordless. “I know a lot of people like a cordless option, but a cord guarantees consistent power and takes the worry of constantly charging off your plate,” he told us. Waldman recommended looking out for a model with a long battery life, too.
- Oil and brushes included: These can “help you keep the blades clean and lubricated after each use,” Butler explained.
Home haircuts with clippers
The following are among the easiest cuts you can carry out at home with clippers, according to experts.
- A buzz cut features “a consistent length over the entire head,” Butler explained. “You will end up with a smooth finish that requires no maintenance as far as styling. This is a classic and bold look.” Davis called it “probably the easiest clipper haircut.”
- A close cut is similar to a buzz cut in that it generally includes “one length all-over” but is “extremely short” as well, Waldman said. Still, you can change the length on top of your head for a longer look you can style around, Butler added. It involves “trimming hair to the minimal length possible for clippers,” according to Davis.
- An undercut involves two parts — one includes “buzzing the back and sides of your head very shortly” while the other involves keeping the hair on top of your head long so it can be parted on the center or sides, Davis told us. “The hair sweeps back and lays over the shorter length, which is where you get the name ‘undercut,’ Butler explained. Having a pair of scissors on hand could be helpful to do this cut, he said.
Expert advice for buzzing off your hair
Butler suggested a quick shampoo and towel drying your hair before cutting with a clipper — to get rid of any product, dirt or oil that has been building up — making sure that your hair is completely dry so it can feed into the clipper’s blade easily. Similarly, Waldman recommended saturating a towel with warm water — like how a barber uses a steam cloth before a facial shave — wringing it out, placing it over hair for about 90 seconds and using a dry towel to pull out any moisture left before cutting. “The moist heat will soften the hair making it easier to cut,” he added. But Butler also mentioned that wet hair can clump together and contribute to “inconsistent lengths when cutting” while dry hair leaves a smoother finish. You could also consider adding an oil to your hair before using a clipper. “A weightless oil smoothed over the hair will add lubrication and allow the clipper to effortlessly and comfortably glide through the hair as well,” according to Waldman.
When cutting hair that’s more than 3 inches, Butler favors chopping the length down in stages since a clipper can be “a powerful tool that cuts quickly” and “works best when the hair is able to glide into the blade easily.” So a longer length can bunch up and make it more difficult to know where you need to cut, he added. “If your length is longer, you can ‘precut’ to remove some of the bulk by attaching a longer attachment on the end of your clipper first,” Butler explained. “After you have taken a pass over the entire head, I would then use a shorter attachment to take your length lower.”