So you really want to cut your own hair. Well, here’s how

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The UK has now been in lockdown for 20 days. Given that human hair grows on average by 0.44mm a day, this means your locks (assuming you are lucky enough to have any) have increased in length by just over 8mm since you last tasted freedom.

You’ve tidied all the kitchen cupboards. You’ve organised your wardrobe. All your books are now arranged alphabetically. What’s left to do? You might as well cut your own hair. It’s quickly become a trending search on Google, but decent advice is hard to come by. Unlike sorting the spice rack, giving yourself a fancy new hairdo isn’t something you should rush into.

To get some expert guidance we asked Tim Pateman, director of the Lion & The Fox salon and celebrity stylist, for his sage advice on how to cut your own hair and what you should use to do it with. (Spoiler: no, you should not be using your beard trimmer.)

Let’s start with some perspective. How long do hairdressers train for?

Two and a half, three years learning the basic rules. You start with one length, so you literally learn just how to create a line in the hair. You do not start to go into graduations and the like until the second year.

What’s the first rule about cutting your own hair?

The first rule about cutting your own hair is this: don’t do it. It’s so difficult. It’s a question that we’re always asked as hairdressers by clients: “Does this mean you cut your own hair?” And our answer has always been the same. You just don’t go there. We know the things that can go wrong. We know where the lumps and the bumps are going to be with the haircut. So we instantly know that we are going to have to negotiate some dodgy area at the back of your head. You won’t.

If you had to, what advice would you give to someone about to cut their own hair?

What I’m seeing at the moment is people are tending to go really short. They are clipper cutting it very tight, one length all over. This is the most basic and simplest system, because when you first do it, it looks quite uniform. And, until you inspect it, you don’t see anything majorly wrong. But within a week, it’s going to start growing out and looking bad. That said, if you’re gonna do this at home, a clipper cut is pretty much one of the only way. But only go there if you really want that look.

The clipper cut is most formulaic way of cutting hair. You’ve got your guards that come with the clippers [try Wahl’s Cordless Super Taper Pro (£78)]. Start high. A clipper set has numbers that go all the way down to number one [the shortest]. Then you just want to do one length all over. And then, to shape, you literally follow the shape of the hair in every direction, because the hair moves in multiple directions. So you have to go against those multiple directions, making sure that that clipper guard is firmly on the clippers.

What’s the most problematic area if you’re attempting this? The sides or the back?

The back. You just can’t naturally get to that area. Even if you set up a 360-mirror scenario, everything gets reversed. So you’re doing this really strange movement with your hands where down feels like up. Left feels like right. What your natural hand movement is like and what it visually looks like are two different things. And then you just start shaving chunks. It quickly becomes like when your cat has an operation.

I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. You end up having to get somebody to help you out.

Would you recommend that people try to trim their existing cut?

It’s just as difficult with the trim because trying to take a small amount only works when you can be quite random with it. This works much better with long hair, because you can take bits off here bits off there to trim.

But when you’re trimming short hair it isn’t the same – you’re going to be taking hair off the side and back, but you need to do this by cutting onto the fingers. So it becomes a nightmare to get around to the back and to the side, without even considering the correct angles to cut with a pair of scissors in your hands. That’s why you see everybody going for clippers.

So go for a buzz cut all over is the only safe option, right?

Yeah, you can go up on the numbers from one to two to three, but if you do this means that you’re not going to be able to blend towards the bottom and the sides. If somebody’s doing it themselves, they should only really ever be doing one length or a fringe trim with some scissors. You’re going to have to familiarise yourself with a set of clippers. You you can have fun with these things but you’ve got to be alright with the fact that there’s a 90 per cent chance it’s going to go wrong.

You really can’t do a graduated cut on your own?

You can’t blend without using two forms of tool. So you can’t blend from the clipper cut to the top if your top is not longer than the sides and back. So the minute you take off the sides and back, that’s got to get connected to the top.

And that’s where the problem comes in. Because that’s not easy to do. You’re going to have a mohawk before you know it with just the clippers. Trying to get a style besides a mullet or a one-length all over, that’s when it gets really really difficult.

What about gear? What should people be using?

We have professional scissors that are sharp. They’re not like your nail or kitchen scissors. They cost hundreds of pounds. Don’t go trying it with nail scissors as you are going to mess your hair up. You’re going to get split ends and cause more hassle than it’s worth. [Try ULG’s Hair Cutting Scissors]. Clipper wise, these have been readily available for years. Look for the best quality and you usually get the kit with the clippers with all the guards. This is pretty much all you need.

How about using beard trimmers to cut your hair?

You need a certain quality of clipper. If they’re not good enough quality you are going to just do ruin hair. Clippers have to have a small quantity of hair to deal with. This isn’t shearing a sheep. This is delicate. This is trying to get a finish that doesn’t chew the ends of your hair, and a lot of beard trimmers are just not equipped to deal with that.

What’s your most important piece of advice?

My biggest tip would be less is more. With the clippers you always start on the higher numbers and work down. With the scissors you just take the minimum off. You do not go flying in there. Do not go in for the kill straight off.

But remember, if you do shave your head, you’ve probably got a month or two to get it back. Hair grows. That’s the beauty. But if you really are determined, by all means, have a laugh trying it, and you don’t like the consequences, we will always be here when we come out of this to repair what you’ve done.

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