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Skin Fade Vs Taper: Differences And How To Choose

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There are plenty of great hairstyles available for men to flaunt nowadays, but a simple picture may not be enough for your stylist to work with if you are in the market for something new. So, in short, what’s the difference between a skin fade and a taper? 

Although both tapers and skin fades feature a transition from long hair to short hair at the sides and back, they differ in both length and how sharp the transition is.

Tapers are generally longer all around, with the transition being more gradual than with skin fades. A skin fade can feature a very sharp and sudden transition from long hair to shaved skin. 

It isn’t fun when the barber asks what you have in mind and you have to resort to estimating with your hands. The best way to communicate with your barber and get the hairstyle you want is to learn the terms for these styles. 

Skin fades and tapers are two styles that are currently quite popular for men, either on their own or within other styles. Perhaps you have heard these terms, but some people tend to mistakenly use them interchangeably.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between a skin fade and a taper, as well as how to decide which style might be better for you. 

What Is a Taper? 

Tapers are a very gradual change in length that tends to start short at the bottom of the sides and back before getting longer towards the top of your head. This change in length is most obvious in the neckline and sideburns. Some degree of tapering is present in most modern male haircuts, where it is usually used at the neckline and at the sideburns.

trimming mustache with a scissor
A taper – notice the very gradual reduction in length as you reach the sideburns [Image From 123rf]

For an entirely tapered haircut, all of the hair is gradually shortened from the level of the temples down to the bottom of the sides and back. 

What Is a Skin Fade? 

Skin fades eventually blend right into the skin, as the name of this style implies. As with a taper, the hair on top of a man’s head is kept the longest. The hair becomes shorter and shorter until it fades into the skin and obscures the natural hairline.

Usually, the fade is done well before reaching the hairline, so a lot of skin ends up being on display. A high skin fade may even nearly reach the crown of a man’s head (near the temples on the sides). There are also medium and low fades for men who like the look but do not want something so intense. 

pompadour with a low fade
A pompadour with a low skin fade

[From Shutterstock]

Low fades usually start around an inch above the top of the ear, while medium fades are in between where you’d expect a low fade and a high fade to start. 

A messy quiff with a medium skin fade

[From Pexels]

To achieve a skin fade, you will need to use a razor or an electric shaver to actually reach the level of the skin. 

Skin Fade Vs Taper: The Key Differences 

While the two styles are very similar, and the confusion surrounding what distinguishes a skin fade from a taper is understandable, there are a few notable differences. These distinctions matter and your barber will know them. Here are the differences between a skin fade and a taper. 

1. Length 

Although both tapers and skin fades are a gradient from long to short hair with the longest hair on top, tapers are longer all around than skin fades. This tapering could be very subtle at times, only really affecting the sideburns, for instance. 

Additionally, unlike tapered styles, a skin fade is not always even. There could be a very sudden transition between long hair and very short hair at the sides and back, as opposed to a very gradual decrease in length as you’d expect with a taper. 

When we’re talking about skin fades, the shortest hair at the sides and back is shaved all the way down to skin. 

2. Blend

Another key difference between tapers and skin fades is the way they blend. A tapered haircut gets shorter from the top to the bottom. The taper leads to the bottom and stops before the skin is reached. In contrast, a skin fade starts getting drastically shorter until the hair is blended to show the skin. High fades start near the temples and low fades start about an inch above a man’s ear. 

How to Choose Between Skin Fades And Tapers

Now that you know what tapers and skin fades are, as well as what qualities make them distinct styles, you may already have an idea of which style you are leaning towards. However, it is important to note that these styles do not have to be worn on their own. Both tapers and skin fades can be incorporated into other styles. Here are the factors that will ultimately help you choose between a tapered or skin-fade hairstyle. 

1. Boldness

Tapered hairstyles are a bit more traditional and less bold than a skin fade. If the concept of having a lot of—or any— skin showing on your head unnerves you, a hairstyle that includes a taper is probably more for you. Many men sport a tapered look as it gives them a classic and modest appearance. 

On the other hand, skin fades are much bolder than tapered styles. While a skin fade can be done minutely and modestly, and low fades are the most similar to a taper in this regard, these fades still show off more skin and more angles of the face.

Fades also often serve as the base for hairstyles like mohawks. If you want to accentuate your bold personality, a fade may be for you. However, a fade that somewhat resembles a taper, depending on the shape of your face, may be more fitting. 

2. Face Shape 

There are a variety of face shapes, and different hairstyles flatter or incorrectly accentuate each type. If you regularly see the same barber, they probably already know your face shape and whether a taper or a skin fade hairstyle would be more flattering.

The easiest way to determine your face shape for yourself is to compare your face in the mirror with a chart of each type. You may need to comb your hair back in order to see all of the angles of your face clearly. 

In terms of skin fades, a medium fade tends to suit men with oval-shaped faces, although an oval face can generally pull off most hairstyles. A high fade with well-blended sideburns is a great look for a square face, as it highlights how symmetrical this face shape is. Round faces may benefit from a medium fade for the back and sides of most hairstyles, as it balances the roundness of the head. 

Meanwhile, a tapered style complements a triangle-shaped face by balancing out the top and bottom. The taper widens the region of the temples. Tapers also tend to suit diamond-shaped faces, as it preserves hair volume and softens the sharp angles.

At the end of the day, it’s something to experiment with. There are no hard-and-fast rules, regardless of what face shape you may have. 

Test them both out if you aren’t sure and see for yourself which one you prefer. 

Do Tapers And Skin Fades Go With Any Style?

Essentially, yes. 

The terms “taper” and “skin fade” simply describe the nature in which the length changes as you go up the sides and back. 

You can do whatever you like with the hair on top. 

For example, you could flop it forward Caesar style, sweep it up into a pompadour, or tussle the forelock into a messy quiff. 

It doesn’t matter. 

Both skin fades and tapers work very well with a wide range of hairstyles and this is yet another way you can experiment with the assistance of a trusted barber. 

Conclusion

Although you may not need to know the ins-and-outs of a barber’s terminology, understanding the basics will make communication so much easier. 

Good communication will make mistakes much less likely to happen and will increase the likelihood of you getting exactly what you want out of your haircuts. 

Hope you found this helpful. As I mentioned earlier, there’s really no harm in experimenting. 

If you find that a skin fade is a little too adventurous and bold, try a 1 fade or a 2 fade instead. 

You may find that you love the look and end up wanting to go shorter and shorter. You may well end up with a skin fade, but at least you haven’t rushed into the decision. 

Alternatively, you can always keep things subtle with a nice, simple taper. 

Each to their own. Whatever you do, have fun with it.

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