We’ve been inside for a while. And barbershops and hair salons have been deemed nonessential in Pennsylvania and New Jersey — meaning that, by now, many of our manes may be looking downright shaggy.
Cutting your hair at home isn’t easy, but if you’re game, there is one hairstyle that could be pretty simple to achieve: The humble buzz cut. That hairdo has become popular amid quarantine, with celebs like Snatch star Stephen Graham and Rent’s Anthony Rapp rocking the short-haired look.
It may seem a little overwhelming at first, but buzzing your own head at home is doable. Here is what you need to know:
A buzz cut starts with the workhorse of the operation: Hair clippers. Barber on 24th manager Phil Leone says that “you don’t have to spend too much money” on a set, and suitable clippers can be found at your local drug or big-box store. You’ll want a kit that comes with plastic guards, which slip onto your clippers to control the length of your cut.
A handheld mirror is another good tool, especially if you are able to use it alongside a wall-mounted mirror. That way, Leone says, you can use the mirrors together to get a look at the blind spots on the sides and back of your head when cutting.
Buzzing your head is going to get hair everywhere, so choose your workspace wisely. American Mortals stylist Jessica Kramer recommends cutting somewhere with a tile or hardwood floor for easier cleanup. You might even consider sticking to your bathtub to keep the hairs contained, as Leone recommends, or taking it outdoors.
“If you have cordless trimmers, you could do it outside,” Kramer says. “Let the birds take it."
If you’ve got long hair, Leone recommends you trim down to about an inch all over your head with scissors — otherwise, the trimmers could snag your hair and make the process lengthier and a little painful.
Washing your hair before the cut isn’t necessary, says Kramer. What’s important, however, is that your hair is dry because “clippers have trouble mowing through wet hair.”
Before buzzing, Leone recommends using the little vial of oil clippers often come with to lubricate the blade. Generally, he says, you can drip two or three drops on the metal blade of the clippers, and run them for a few seconds.
Kramer says to exercise restraint. So don’t start out too short. Using a clipper guard numbered two or three — or ¼ to ⅜ of an inch — should be sufficient. Anything beyond a number four guard (about ½ an inch), she says, will make cutting more difficult.
“Don’t pull a Britney Spears circa 2007,” she says. “Less is more. You can always keep cutting, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Start on the back of your head with the longest guard length you’ll be using, Kramer says. The blade of your clippers, Leone says, should be “flat against the head,” so don’t go in at an angle. One way to know they’re working right is to listen for the sound of hair being cut, which he describes as a kind of “crunching.”
Cutting against the grain of your hair will help lop it off efficiently, but you should go over the same spot several times in slightly different directions. You can also use your non-buzzing hand to feel for tufts of hair that you missed, or stick to your mirror.
“If you start front-and-center and you realize you’ve made a huge mistake, you’re stuck with that,” she says. “If you start in the back and you get cold feet, it’s not the end of the world.”
From there, you can move on to the sides and top of your head while working against the grain as much as possible.
A full-head buzz of one length is the easiest route to go, Leone says, but you still could go for a slight fade. If you mess up, Kramer adds, the worst case scenario is just a haircut that is shorter than you may have planned.
To get a simple fade, Leone recommends using a shorter guard around the ears and neckline, and then a slightly longer guard above that line on the sides and back of your head. As you approach the crown of your head, you could increase the guard length slightly again to help blend the cut a little farther. Fading, however, is a skill that takes time to master, so don’t expect perfection your first time out.
“At the end of the day, it’s just hair,” Kramer says. “It grows a half inch a month, if that’s any solace.”
After cutting your hair, Leone recommends brushing out stray hairs from the clippers’ blades, and oiling the cutting surface again. Store the kit somewhere that is free of humidity, as moisture can rust the trimmers’ blades.
Kramer, meanwhile, recommends that any clothing items you had on for the cut should go right in the washer to keep the rest of your space tidy. And don’t forget to sweep up your hair trimmings.
Kramer notes that many barbers and stylists may be available for hair-care advice via video chat or telephone calls, so check with your usual haircutter to see if they’re available for a virtual meeting. But if you don’t need advice and still want to help, many barbershops and hair salons are accepting donations to staff via services like GoFundMe or Venmo — as is the case with Barber on 24th and American Mortals.
And remember: Hair will grow back.