In a world of YouTube tutorials and DIY projects, some guys might be tempted to take the clippers into their own hands and attempt a fade haircut at home. While we applaud the adventurous spirit that leads one to snag the clippers and do a DIY fade, there are some things that should be left to the professionals. However, because we know those tempting moments to DIY do arise, we’ll lay out the step-by-step plan for you.
Barber Eric Becker of Blind Barber Philadelphia shares in our “you should let a barber do that” sentiment, but he still willingly agreed to provide some best advice for those who want to try it themselves. However, he emphasizes that fading hair is an art that barbers train for years to master. “It’s harder than it looks, but maybe everyone should have a really bad haircut from a friend to realize that,” he jokes. “At least you’ll have a good story.”
With that, he recommends phoning a friend to help you execute the parts of your head that you can’t see (the back, to help with the back). Your full guide ahead.
What to Avoid
Let’s start with what not to do—just because so many things could go wrong here.
1. Don’t make haste
“It’s common for novices to feed too much hair into the clipper too fast,” Becker says. “We have tons and tons of experience and muscle memory to how we move and cut. Go slow; you shouldn’t be rushing.” This will also ensure that you second-guess every slight motion before you make it, significantly lowering your margin of error.
2. Don’t emulate barbers
Don’t try to get all fancy here. Stay humble. “People at home try to ‘flick their wrist’ [at the end of a clipping stroke] and act like they are a professional,” says Becker. It’s an extra embellishment that could shear off more hair than you intend to.
3. Don’t naively use your beard trimmer
While some beard trimmers are designated for dual hair and beard use, most are not powerful enough to mow through the thicker density of hair up top. Designated hair clippers have a lot more muscle (even the lower-cost ones). Make sure your device promises that it cuts head hair—even if it is foremost a beard trimmer. Becker recommends investing in a professional-grade trimmer if this is something you plan to do often and says you’ll need guards one through eight, which begin at 1/8″ and increase by the same amount to 1″.
4. Don’t get fancy
Stick to buzz cut fades, says Becker. They are much more forgiving than stylized haircuts, so you can easily hide mistakes, often by just buzzing down to the next highest clip.
How to Fade Hair at Home
Alright, here’s what to do if you are still convinced that you’d rather not visit the barber.
1. Section the hair in a horseshoe shape
Imagine there’s a horseshoe that wraps the top of your head, separating the sides from the crown. (Kind of like if you went bald up top and just had the sides leftover.) The horseshoe guide helps to act as a visual guide of where you’ll be fading “to.” Start it from recession, back to the crown. “Check for balance and that the hair you are choosing for the top likes to ‘live’ there,” Becker explains. “Don’t force where the top and sides go. Find where they part easily.”
2. Decide on length
Have a length in mind, and even consider starting longer than you might otherwise like since you want to leave room for error. Becker advises that “a number four is 1/2″ and will usually keep most people at full coverage, no transparency fade.” But if you want an even closer fade (where you can see the skin), then try a number two (1/4″). “This will usually give a slight ‘fade’ with some transparency.” You can even fade all the way down to a #1 at the base of the cut, which leaves behind 1/8” stubble.
More importantly, you want to buzz everything on the longest length first—even if you are eventually fading down to a shorter one. So think of this process as a series of buzzing that ultimately gets you to the shortest length.
3. Tilt the head away from the clippers
Wherever it is that you’re cutting—sides or back—tilt the head away from you (or tilt your head away from the clippers that someone is using). “Work in vertical sections or panels, and go around the head in a slow pace letting the clipper guards feed the hair into the cutting blade,” Becker says.
4. Make an upward “C” motion
“Start on the head with the clipper, and try to work in an upward “C” shape motion to the sky,” Becker advises. Again, make sure the head is tilted slightly away from the clippers.
5. Follow through the horseshoe section
Continue this motion all the way around the sides and back, through to the horseshoe section.
6. Repeat with lower guards
Now you can step down incrementally to the next guard length; make it extremely subtle, like just one size down on the one to eight guard attachments you have. This way, it will be just a 1/8″ grade and will blend cleanly with the section above it.
It’s up to you how many grades you want to achieve over the course of the fade. The more you do, the more complexity you’re inviting and the higher the degree of error in things looking seamless. Consider just doing one or two and stay consistent with the new imaginary horseshoe line that you have to draw around the dome. Repeat the above few steps as you go.
7. Clean up the ears and neckline
Next, clean up around the ears and neckline. You’ll probably go down to a guardless clip for this.
8. Blend the top
How you do this depends on the length you’re blending in up top. Again, it should really just be a buzzcut’s length and not much longer than the fade length you used at the top of the horseshoe. So, you have to really eyeball things here and decide if you’re blending it using the clippers (like if it’s going to fade into the top just as easily as the sides faded—or if you need to whip out the comb and scissors to lightly trim around the perimeter and round things out.
Look, nobody said this was easy, nor that it’s a good idea. But you came this far, and now the devil is in the details. Good luck.