Achieving a smooth shave is all about gear and technique. Both go hand in hand and, as you might know, you can’t substitute one with the other.
There’s a wide selection of shaving paraphernalia out there; but how to make sense of it all? Well, there’s a purpose behind every step of the shaving process. Once you get to understand each of those steps, the product and equipment selection will follow naturally.
Let’s get down to it.
The Objective: To Prepare The Terrain
To start on the right foot, we need a clean surface. Dirt, pollution, and oil set into your skin and contribute to blackheads, acne and other skin problems. Remember that when you shave, your skin becomes vulnerable to these polluting agents, so at least use some soap and water to wash away the impurities. You can improve on this by using an exfoliating scrub. Want to take it a step further? Follow with a hot towel to open the pores and soften the beard.
Then comes the conditioning. This is a must if your beard is particularly tough. What we are trying to do here is to soften the hair for an easier, closer shave, and to coat the skin in order to protect it from the blade. A pre-shave lotion or oil should do the trick.
- Face Cleansing: Baxter of California E-D-A Cleansing Bars, Musgo Real Glyce Lime Oil Pre-shave Soap.
- Exfoliation: Baxter of California Facial Scrub, Clubman Exfoliating Face Scrub.
- Conditioning: eShave Professional Shaving Towel , Alt-Innsbruck Pre-shave Emulsion, The Gentlemens Refinery Pre-shave Oil.
The Objective: To Cut Down The Stubble
If you are a man in search of shaving nirvana, you might want to leave the foam can and plastic cutlery aside and try a traditional wet-shave. The trinity at the core of wet-shaving is composed of a shaving brush (natural or synthetic), a shaving cream or soap, and a razor (double-edge or straight).
The nature of these instruments will depend on your skin and beard type, skill level (wet-shaving does involve a learning curve) and personal preferences. If you haven’t tried wet-shaving before, you can always incorporate these elements one at a time, in the order listed above, and get used to them gradually.
Shaving brush and shaving soap or cream should work together seamlessly to produce a nourishing lather, so they should be chosen to compliment each other. Using the brush with circular motions to apply the shaving cream/soap to your face will lift the hair and provide the perfect medium for the blade to glide effortlessly.
Now, moving in for the cut.
A straight razor is the ultimate wet-shaving tool. It is also the one shaving instrument that demands the most expertise and maintenance of all. I recommend some straights below, but I will not delve here into the maintenance gear associated to it, as that would be a lengthy article in itself.
For wet-shaving beginners I recommend a double-edge razor. These are gentler on your skin than multi-blade, disposable razors and produce fewer ingrown hairs as they do not pull and cut the hair under the skin surface, like the multi-bladers do. When giving a double-edge razor a try, remember not to push it against your skin like you would a plastic razor. Classic razors use their own weight to assist the shaving process and don’t need the extra push.
Great shaving brush and soap or cream combinations:
- For the richest shaving experience, combine a high-quality shaving cream with a badger-hair shaving brush. Try Cyril R Salter Sublime Citrus Shaving Cream, Taylor of Old Bond Street Avocado Shaving Cream. Vulfix 660 Super Badger Shaving Brush, Edwin Jagger Best Badger Shaving Brush.
- For a more invigorating shave, with a bit of exfoliation built into it, try a shaving soap paired with a boar-hair shaving brush. My picks are Geo F Trumper Rose Shaving Soap, Kent/Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap. Semogue 1305 Superior Boar Bristle Shaving Brush, Vulfix No. 28 Natural Boar Bristle Shaving Brush.
- If you prefer a vegan option: Omega Soft-As-Badger Synthetic Shaving Brush, Omega Syntex Shaving Brush.
My straight razor picks:
- Best quality in a commercially produced straight: Dovo Prima Klang Extra Hollow Ground Singing Razor.
- Best deal: Timor Blue Steel Straight Razor.
- For a high-end, traditionally manufactured straight, look into the German-made collection by Wacker.
Great start-up double-edge razors: Merkur HD (34C), Merkur 38C, Edwin Jagger Classic Razor.
The Objective: To Seal and Repair
Now that the shave is completed it is important to repair the skin and moisturize it. If you have cuts or nicks, seal them with a styptic pencil or alum block. Then move on to the aftershave. Some men prefer the old-style, alcohol-based aftershaves that double as a cologne. You can follow this with a moisturizer to prevent dryness and minimize oil production. Alternatively you can use an aftershave cream or lotion. These are usually alcohol-free and have moisturizing properties.
- For nicks and cuts: Laboratories Osma Alum Block, Clubman Pinaud Styptic Pencil.
- Old-style aftershave/colognes: Alt-Innsbruck Eau de Cologne/Aftershave, D.R. Harris Sandalwood Aftershave.
- Face moisturizers: Geo F Trumper Fragrance-Free Moisturizing Lotion, eShave Lavender Aftershave Soother.
- Aftershave creams/lotions: The Gentlemens Refinery Aftershave Balm, eShave Cucumber Aftershave Cream.
I hope this serves as a starting point to help you find a more pleasurable shave. As I mentioned before, you can always incorporate one element at a time. As you notice the improvement, you will gain the confidence to complete the switch. A good shave to you!
Alfred M. writes about all things shaving in his blog Perfect Shave Dispatch and dispenses grooming supplies and advice at the Fendrihan Shaving Shop. He also administrates Fendrihan’s page on Facebook.