Ok, here is my official shave blog. I am providing this as a public service announcement. I have some specific brands and techniques mentioned here, but these things work for me, and as they say often on shaving websites, YMMV (your mileage may vary)
There are two types of shaves, electric (dry) shaves, and wet shaves. Electric shaves can never give you as close a shave as a wet shave, and irritate the majority of users. There has been a grassroots movement of sorts towards wet shaving recently. I made that move a few months ago and will never look back. Not that I ever dry or electric shaved, but that I just wet shaved poorly, as do many of us.
So there are two basic things you can improve when “wet shaving”.
I have been wet shaving for around 17 years. That is a heck of a lot of ingrown hair, razor burn and torture. I missed the best shaves available in the world by about 50 years or so. Around that time, to the detriment of men everywhere, they created the “cartridge razor” as we know it today.
Before then, they had a product called, the double edged blade. They still have them today, but 50+ years ago that was the norm. Swap out a blade, get a shave, toss it out, put in another blade, etc. Today, the cartridge reigns king with fancy multi blades and lube strips, vibrating heads, and what not. It really doesn’t do a better job though. Especially if you use an older cartridge system, because Gillette et al use planned obsolescence on their own older products (like the mach3) by changing the angle on the head, and the blade angles in the cartridge…. They do this to make their new products seem superior and then charge more. (The going rate per fusion cartridge is 2-3 dollars a pop nowadays, disposables are going for a few bucks for 5 or six or maybe 10-12 if they are real cheap)
OK, so you want to improve your technique before spending any money… For sure, if you can’t get the hang of it, better to stop right there and not spend any money. I will break down your shave into steps. These are well known among the DE (double edge) shave crowd.
Ideally, (especially 1st timers) do this at night before bed. Ill tell you why later.
Get a tube of topical hydrocortisone ointment 1% in a tube. You may need this starting out.
The pre-shave (prep stage)
Usually, and ideally, this will be a hot shower. Warm water will go into your follicles on your face, softening up your hair. This is critical, because a human hair can be as coarse as a copper wire. Some recommend when you condition your hair on your head, you should also do your face, but make sure you are not sensitive to it. I am a little and don’t do this. If a shower is not available, use hot wet wash cloths. Just put one on your face and lean back against a wall for a minute.
Next, apply your shave cream. Massage it in as best as you can (I assume you are using canned goo.)
Now, take a new razor (any will do) and holding onto it somewhat softly, shave WTG (with the grain) using absolutely no pressure (even if it feels like the razor is skipping over your beard). Get only two strokes before you wash the blade (I have a small cup of water to wash to save water) also, do not ever touch the razor to your face without shave cream in between. Ever. Shave only WTG on this first pass which for me is N-S on the cheeks, chin and neck. Then, apply another complete coat of shave cream. Then, take a similar approach going XTG (across the grain). For me, this is sideways, or E-W, W-E on cheeks and chin and some of the stash, then diagonal on the neck area. Again, NO PRESSURE. Your razor may still be skipping, this is ok. Finally, coat again with cream and go for the ATG (against the grain pass), again using no pressure… All these passes are called “reduction passes” because you are not trying to rush the shave, and not trying to get the most out of your strokes. OK… after your shave, rinse well with warm water and pat your face dry on a clean towel. Does your face feel tight and dry? Or is it ok? If tight, use a balm. One of the best and cheapest balms out there is Nivea Extra Sensitive (all white bottle w/ white cap). If not, use whatever you like. If you are burning, use your hydrocortisone at this point. Liberally. Don’t be afraid to really put it on thick. You will heal pretty quick with this stuff…
If you suffer a lot, here is what you need to think about when you shave again. 1) The angle. Ideally, you should be as flat to your face as possible with the blade angle. In other words, you should clip the hairs off instead of scraping them off. 2) You used too much pressure 3) You used too much pressure.. Get the point? It took me 10 conscientious shaves before I could say that I understood the correct pressure and angle….. The reason I recommend the night shave is that you may suffer some razor burns akin to your first shave with your momma’s leg razor in the shower at 14 years of age. The hydrocortisone and even some Neosprin will clear you up for the next day in all but the worst cases.
Once you figure out the beauty of the multiple pass reduction shave, and have your pre shave routine down pat, you may begin to notice that ingrowns are clearing up, and neck rash is starting to fade.
Now to get fancy. Equipment upgrades. In equipment, there are 4 major paths to cross.
These are two distinctly different products that end up attempting to do the same exact thing. All of these products, when used effectively will help to make your shaves more effective and more pleasurable. They can cost very little, or they can cost a lot. Many people begin to collect different items and end up with museums of shaving. This is not necessary though, unless you are that into it.
First the creams. Can give you a nice “cushioned and rich” shave. Characteristics of good shave soap or shave cream are richness of lather, moisturizing, lubrication for close shaving, and smelling good. What will strike you when comparing these to the “goo in a can” products is the great smell and great moisturizing effect of them. Creams essentially fall into classic types (English traditional scents like lavender, rose, citrus, etc) to exotic smells like white tea, vetvier, sandalwood, cucumber, cologne smells, etc. Classic brands of English creams are …Trumpers, Taylor’s or Trueffit and Hill( called the 3T’s), Salter, and a Art of Shaving …. There are also Italian shave creams like Proraso available at Target and some drug stores, Palmolive makes a cream (used to), Tom’s of Maine, Kiss my Face, and there are some others…. Many of these types are hit and miss with many. The English creams appear to be the standard to which all others are judged, but “to each his own”.
There are gentlemen who have gone to great lengths to make different kinds of creams available to shavers wanting to try out particular scents and styles. I ordered a sample pack from this guy, and everything was in order. He gives 6 X “5-10 shave each” samples of the best and most sought after creams for about 20 USD + shipping. You can then pick your favorite scent and product without making an ill informed decision. Shave creams are typically $8-12 for a tube and $20-30 for a tub. This stuff will last a long time, though probably less cost effective than soaps.
The Soaps are a bit more involved. There are two basic types of soaps…Classic triple milled hard soaps(and traditionally scented, similarly to creams), and glycerin based, which are newer and are often found with traditional and everything in between for scents, and often with aloe vera, vitamin E and shea butter….. Either way, the shave is thought to be “closer”, typically, with soaps, as opposed to creams. Soaps may also be more difficult to lather initially for the newly initiated. There are many different soap manufacturers. Besides the English cream companies, there are a lot of smaller “Soap houses”. A favorite of mine is Momma Bear Soaps. These are among the cheapest, and have every scent under the sun. A “puck” of soap will run you about 7-13 bucks and should last you 6 months. The scents again run from a classic rose or lavender to flavors like “Turkish coffee” or “Bay rum and Tangerine”.
It should be noted that many can have allergies to ingredients in soaps and creams. Try to “test” this fact out before plunging in on an investment. Essential oil based products (natural) will “typically” (YMMV) be less harsh than fragrance oil (synthetic) products, though they also typically cost more. Don’t let that scare you from trying though. Most don’t have any reaction.
A brush is necessary to create the lather, and to apply to your face. Very inexpensive and decent boar hair brushes can be had from drugstores or Target et al for $10…. For boar, it is almost a lifetime investment, so you need not fret over the cost. You will be making it up on the rest of your products. Later on, you may want to upgrade your brush to a badger, better lather performance, softer, more “luxurious” etc… That boar should do OK for a long time though.
Razors may seem like a huge part of the equation, but are not really. You could find an old style Gillette on ebay for 5-100 bucks, or a parker, feather, or Merkur, generally regarded as the “go to” razor for new purchases for razors. Made in
Next are blades. The issue and tricky part here falls under a very complex judgment call on the part of the user. What works for me, will unlikely work for you, unfortunately. Of the dozen or so Double edged (DE from here on) blade makers still around today, each has its own degree of sharpness and smoothness and depending on the person, may work out fine. Some people cannot tolerate an aggressively angled blade, it could take off more skin than hair.. Some cannot tolerate a “duller” blade, they might be scraping instead of shaving. Either way, there are standards that seem to include all skin types. The 5 best known and well regarded DE blades are as follows, in order of relative sharpness or aggressiveness.
1) Feather (Japanese made, fairly expensive, really, really sharp)
2) Gillette Swedish Made (Really really expensive, real sharp)
3) Derby Extra (real cheap, pretty darn Sharp)
4) Israeli made Personnas (sharp, somewhat inexpensive)
5) Merkur (neither particularly cheap, nor particularly sharp)
There are some very kind gentlemen that have gone to the trouble of making large purchases of these blades, and then repackaging and selling them in sample packs of 5 blades of each kind. Typically, you should work your way from dullest to sharpest, until you find your Nirvana, then stock up on your favorite blade. To make a point, I list the Swede’s as “expensive”, but that is only in comparison. If you bulk buy, you can get a Swede for about .50 USD each, and that is about ¼ or less the cost of a fusion cartridge.
Either way the blade sampler pack can be found here. I personally recommend this guy. He set me up quite well and does this for the love of shaving it would seem, as the cost is reasonable. Don’t make the mistake of buying cheap blades that you have not tried yet, nor “good ones” that you haven’t tried yet. The result could very well be the same.
Keep in mind, that for your first attempts at DE shaving, I would go with a drugstore pack of personnas to get your fundamental technique down, or else when you try the premium blades, the degree of effectiveness may be lost in your “learning curve”
I don’t mention aftershave, but as I mentioned, a tube of hydrocortisone, some Neosporin and an alcohol based or balm like Nivea Extra Sensitive (white cap) is all you need to start.
To sum it up.
1) Practice until you find your “Zen”.
2) Get a cheap brush, then get some soap or cream
3) Get a razor, then get some blades
4) Enjoy doing something that you will do almost every day for the rest of your life