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Whether you’re working from home or on the frontline, there’s one thing that you can only hide with social distancing for so long: Your haircut. Barbershops and salons are slowly opening and, in states like New York, are both required to practice some safety measures (50 percent occupancy, for example), given the coronavirus pandemic, and encouraged to take things a step further (appointments-only model, for example). For some, even those precautions aren’t enough to entertain a trip to the hairdresser or barber — opting instead to attempt haircuts at home. But for those who typically only rely on a trusted barber to come near their head with clippers, a DIY haircut can feel incredibly daunting.
SKIP AHEAD Best products for DIY haircuts
Take it slow and don't over cut.
Davide Marinelli, Davide Hair Studio NYC
Just as the coronavirus has uprooted the daily lives of millions, it’s also had an impact on things as simple as men’s grooming habits. Typically, most of the hair stylist experts we interviewed for this story wouldn’t recommend going rogue on your own and always advise leaving your locks up to the pros. But considering the unusual circumstances that we’re currently living in, they’ve shared some crucial tips for stretching time between professional cuts and doing a full hair overhaul on your own. For those seriously overdue for a haircut, Davide Marinelli of Davide Hair Studio NYC recommends not diving right in and instead trying to make the most of your previous haircut. “I only advise my clients and men to clean their neck, hairline and sideburns,” said Marinelli.
But when a more aggressive approach is needed, he highlighted the importance of starting small, noting you can always cut more: “Take it slow and don't over cut.”
How to get started cutting hair
Do your research
Lee Lewis, barber for CHI Haircare, recommends that men first spend some serious time on YouTube before picking up shears or a trimmer. “Find the desired cut you are looking for and follow the instructions — but only look up self-cut videos,” said Lewis. While looking online, you want to avoid haircuts performed by a barber on a client because you hold the clippers differently when cutting your own hair versus someone else's — seems like obvious advice but overconfidence makes it easy to confuse. “A guy cutting his own hair will give you better examples on how to hold the clippers when cutting your own hair,” Lewis added. “Watch at least five different videos about the desired haircut you want. Look for common denominators. What do all of the people in the five different videos do the same?”
Remember: The only difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut? Two weeks.
Lee Lewis, Barber, CHI Haircare
Prep your work space
When you’re ready to start cutting, the first step is to think about your area. Marinelli says to place all your tools out on a towel, making sure each piece is clean and you have a neat area to work in. “The most important thing is to have a mirror where you can see the front and the back of your head,” he said.
But, if you can, Annette Moore of BoldBarber suggests equipping your station with two mirrors, one big and one smaller to see the back of your head, clippers, scissors and a comb.
Start with a clean canvas
Before the first snip, make sure you’re starting out with freshly washed and conditioned hair. Use a comb to get out any knots and dry your hair with a towel. Then take a breath and get ready to work slowly. Your hair isn’t going anywhere.
Pick your guard
Measured in millimeters, the guards begin at .5 and go all the way up to an 8, explained Sergio Boy of Defined Culture Hair Studio. The higher the number, the less hair it cuts. In between haircuts, it is crucial to ask your stylist what number they've used — the guard numbers are all universal. For first-timers at home, Boy advised you use only one guard for the entire first cut until you gain confidence. “Using one consecutive guard is essential for at-home grooming because it makes it easier to achieve a smooth and even haircut,” he said. “Using different guard lengths allows for a more custom-tapered look but is more complex and requires practice.
Be conservative as you go
Once you have your method and clean hair, start with a larger guard and take your time as you go. You can always switch to a smaller guard if you started off too big. “The best trick is to start longer than your desired length. You can always cut more and go shorter — you can’t put it back,” said Lewis. “Remember: The only difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut? Two weeks.”
Best tools for a DIY haircut
Best shears: Equinox International
“These scissors are lightweight, easy to use, suitable for home users and, most importantly, affordable,” said Moore. “Do not use any type of scissors that aren’t used exclusively for hair cutting — you want them to be as sharp and in as good of a condition as possible.”
Best comb: Rocky Mountain Barber Company
Don’t overlook the importance of having a comb on hand when giving yourself a haircut. “A comb is important because it allows for picking up more hair,” said Sparks. This handmade, anti-static wood comb can be used for hair, beards and mustaches.
Best mirror: Self-Cut System
If you’re serious about committing to the home-haircut lifestyle and are looking to invest past a simple handheld mirror, here’s your splurge. Joe Vieyra of Tricoci suggested always cutting in a bathroom for optimal lighting and might include multi-side mirrors built-in— this three-way mirror offers exceptional guidance if yours isn’t equipped that way.
Best clipper: WAHL
“The WAHL Magic Clip is a cordless professional grade clipper that allows me to work efficiently, effectively and precisely at a 90+ minute run time per charge,” Boy said. “I use this personally at my shop for all haircuts and beard trims. It comes with multiple guards and a convenient taper lever that allows barbers to smoothly cut the hair all the way down to skin, and achieve various trim lengths, fades and blending techniques.”
Best trimmer: WAHL
Lively’s go-to trimmer for home use is the Wahl Beret because, despite the higher price point, it offers him the best results outside of the salon. “You can recharge it, it is wireless and it has sharp enough edges where it makes your hair look good but it doesn’t cut you,” he said.
For a more affordable option, consider this highly-rated Philips Norelco trimmer, which boasts a 4.6-star average rating from more than 13,000 reviewers on Amazon.
Best shampoo: ArtNaturals
To give yourself the best haircut results possible, it starts with the shampoo you use. Lively said that guys should try shopping for sulfate-free shampoo because it is soft on the scalp. “Most men and people with short hair wash their hair almost every day and, if they don’t use sulfate-free shampoo, it may dry their scalp out,” he said. “It’s also their choice if they want to use a conditioner. Some people don’t use it because it feels heavier, especially with thin hair, but it is good for people with thick hair.”
Tips for a DIY haircut
As you get started, Truman Lively of Truman’s Barber Shop Style and MY SALON Suite of Las Vegas advised not to cut too much into your natural hairline. “Make sure your edges are straight on and only cut the parts of your hair that are sticking out,” he noted. “And for the neckline, just be sure to follow a straight line down.”
But as a general starting off point, focus on one side of the head first before moving on to the opposite side, hitting the back last as this will ensure a more symmetrical cut, Moore explained. Then, cut in the opposite direction of your hair growth. Keep in mind that the growth direction may change across different parts of your head. “So, run your hand through your hair and find the direction in which you feel more counterforce,” explained Moore. “This will be the best direction to cut your hair.”
If you’re feeling confident as you move from the sides to the back of your head, moving the clippers upward against the direction of hair growth, use different guards to blend the lengths into a fade. “This will create a more professionally-designed look,” said Michael Sparks of Tabb & Sparks Salon. The easiest way to achieve this fade is to “gradually transition from using no guard along the hairline to a higher guard (a 1 or 2) as you move up the sides of the head.”
Complete the cut by using a “rocking motion” to blend the transition from the sides and back to the longer top of the haircut. However, styles that have more than a few inches on top need to be finished with shears, Sparks noted. This longer hair should also be slightly damp so you can easily mold and cut it. “Part the hair into sections and cut each section in a straight line, following the previously-cut section,” he explained. “The final step would be cleaning up the hairline and facial hair using a trimmer.”