Beauty

How to cut men’s hair at home without ruining it

Read before you pick up the kitchen scissors.

A photo of a man touching his hair. Credit: Getty Images / diego_cervo

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Now that salon haircut appointments are indefinitely postponed due to the coronavirus, your hair may look fluffier, shaggier, or feel heavier than you prefer. Without knowing when you can next plop into a barber’s chair, you need the right tools and tips to get your hair looking sharper, even if the only people who’ll see you are over Facetime video. We spoke with Marina Melnikova, hair stylist and owner of Boston-based salon Zenarose, to bring you expert at-home haircutting advice to have you looking tidy (and reduce the risk you’ll give up and just buzz your whole head).

Step 1: Invest in the right tools

Tools
Credit: Getty Images / Alexander_Volkov

You'll need a trusty trimmer and a sturdy pair of thinning shears.

You don’t need trained hands to clean up your hair at home, but you do need the proper tools if you want to achieve the best results possible. “I find that whenever people attempt to cut their own hair, they grab regular scissors and that would be your number one mistake,” Melnikova says. Instead of scissors, Melnikova recommends using a buzzer or trimmer and a pair of thinning shears.

Thinning shears resemble regular scissors at first glance, but the top blade looks like a comb, with sharp blades at the point of each tine. You can cut into your hair with them, but instead of making a blunt cut, they will only remove some of the hair—the strands that go between the comb tines will be spared. In this way, you can remove "mass" from your hair without snipping it all off in one fell swoop. For a quality pair of shears you can use for years to come, Melnikova suggests that you’ll spend between $30 and $90—a large range, but reflective of what reputable places like Sally Beauty Supply sells. To be a little less spendy, the ULG Hair Thinning Scissors have over 1,000 rave reviews on Amazon, are stainless steel, and thin the hair with a “sharp razor edge that won’t damage or cause split ends.”

If you don’t already have an electric trimmer, we recommend the Wahl Lithium Ion+ Stainless Steel Grooming Kit, which has a cordless 1.5-inch wide trimmer and 12 blade guards—or plastic attachments that prevent the hair from getting as close to the cutting blades—for clipping hair to a variety of lengths. While it’s designed for beards, this is sufficient for what you’re about to do. A more beginner-friendly option is the Philips Norelco Bodygroom 7000, a personal favorite of Reviewed’s editor-in-chief Dave Kender. The trimmer comes with five adjustable lengths—less overwhelming than the Wahl’s 12—and can be used cordless for 80 minutes.

Step 2: Clean up the hairline and sideburns

Trimmer
Credit: Getty Images / Marccophoto

Use your trimmer along the hairline and sideburns.

The key to cutting your hair without snipper’s remorse is focusing on the shape of your original haircut and only getting rid of extraneous hair that has grown outside the lines since you last saw your barber. “The whole point with the men’s haircuts is, ‘don’t actually try to give yourself a haircut,’” Melnikova says. “Just clean up what’s there.”

If your hair is getting long around your sideburns, around the ears, and along the neckline, take your trimmer to dry hair—never wet, as even straight hair shrinks up and will look shorter once it dries. A quick tutorial on how trimmers work, for the uninitiated: The device is designed to be used somewhat like a razor—you approach cutting hair by placing the flat side of the trimmer head flush to the skin, and moving the blades toward and through the hair. Without a guard in place, you will also get a very close-to-the-skin effect, meaning you’re basically shaving hair off. Start with one of the larger attachments, and even maybe give it a run on your leg or arm hair, until you understand the mechanics.

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You can even cut the hair over the course of a couple of days, washing and styling it in between to see if you’ve trimmed enough.

Once you get the knack and can see the effects, go at your sideburns first, with an attachment that’s only slightly shorter than the hair length that’s there. Go slowly, because you don’t want to take off too much and create a visual “step” from sideburn to the rest of your hair. You can also use the trimmer blade with no attachment to shorten sideburns that have grown too far down your face (you may find that flipping the trimmer over, so the flat side is facing away from your face, will give you a cleaner line at the bottom of a sideburn, or along the neckline)—just remember, no guard means you’re effectively shaving hair off at the skin.

Take your time with this process and lean on the side of keeping the hair long to avoid changing the shape and hairline your stylist has created for you. Only trim what you can see—if you don’t have someone in your household willing to tackle your neck for you, you may prefer to leave it be (cutting your own hair at the back of your head using a mirror is a whole ‘nother level).

Step 3: Shape the top and sides of the hair

Thinning Shears
Credit: ULG

Use thinning shears for the bulk of your hair on the top and sides.

Once you’ve cleaned up the hairline, you can move onto thinning out parts of your hair that look poofy or feel heavy. The thinning shears will do just that—thin out rather than lop off hair—because as you scissor the strands between the two blades, some will fall between the tines of the comb blade and therefore not be cut. You can go at a section with multiple “snips” to remove more hair, and even shorten the overall length of your hair—but doing this with thinning shears rather than regular scissors will make for a softer effect, because with each closing of the shears, the individual hairs are cut at slightly different lengths.

To start, hold dry hair perpendicularly out from the side of your head with the fingers of your nondominant hand (but do not pull it taut), and snip with the shears in your dominant hand, close to the ends of the hair. Take off a little at a time, and experiment with the angle at which you hold the hair you plan to cut. Go slowly, and let the hair fall down after each snip or two, so you can regard the effects of your work. (You can even cut the hair over the course of a couple of days, washing and styling it in between to see if you’ve trimmed enough.) Depending on your hair length, you may opt to use the shears without the second hand guiding you, especially as you get the hang of it. “Again, using the shape that’s already there and just kind of cleaning it up and making it more manageable should give you an extra couple of weeks,” Melnikova says. “That’s going to prepare your haircut for your hair stylist.”

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