The fine art of traditional wet shaving is often regarded as a private club by the uninitiated. Things are actually much simpler in reality and this article will set the record straight once and for all. Without further ado, let’s see what are the single most important things you can do in order to up your wet shaving game.
1. Ditch your multi-blade cartridge razor.
Chances are you’re already using a safety razor since you’re reading this article. If not, then this is definitely the right time to make one of the best moves towards improving your shaving experience. The advantages of a double edge over a cartridge razor are plentiful: you’ll be saving (lots of) money in the long run as disposable blades are dirt cheap, you’ll have healthier skin, you’ll improve the comfort and closeness of your shaves and you’ll end-up thoroughly enjoying shaving again.
As for the downsides, there is a slightly steeper learning curve when first starting to use a safety razor, but your technique will quickly improve.
2. Prep work is vital for a close and comfortable wet shave.
A proper pre-shave routine is one of the most underrated and often overlooked aspects; it really can make a world of difference between a mediocre shave and an exceptional one.
Take a hot shower and use lots of warm water prior to shaving (it’s called wet shaving for a reason) or wrap your face in a moist, warm towel; you can also use a pre-shave oil if you have dry, sensitive skin.
3. Use a quality shaving cream or soap.
Part of the prep work mentioned above is allowing your shaving cream a few minutes to soften the hair; the outermost part of the hair, called the cuticle, is a very tough layer that gives the hair its mechanical strength. Hot water, along with an alkaline substance found in a shaving cream will soften the hair as it absorbs water, making it easy for the blade to cut it. I’ll even go ahead and say that shaving cream is the most effective pre-shave product you can use.
A quality shaving cream will stay properly hydrated while also providing the lubrication needed for the razor to glide. Make sure to check out our shaving cream and shaving soap reviews to help you find a products that works best for you.
4. Use a blade that best suits your skin and shaving technique. Same goes for your razor.
Disposable blades are different; some of them are very sharp, while others are more forgiving. Also, their cutting edges differ greatly at a microscopic level. That’s the reason for the polarizing reviews most of them receive; while a particular blade can work great for someone, it can be an absolute pain for someone else. Finding a suitable blade is a matter of trial and error, so be sure to try as many as you can. Luckily, disposable double edge blades are very cheap and you can buy sample packs of various brands for very little money.
Safety razors are also different in terms of aggressiveness, weight or comb style to name just a few. If you’re just starting out, your best bet is going for a basic, less aggressive razor like the excellent and very popular Edwin Jagger DE89 or the Merkur HD.
5. Do not shave against the grain.
While some men are blessed with a skin that can take pretty much anything you throw at it, including shaving with canned goo and going against the grain, not all of us are this lucky. In fact, most of us are not. Therefore, it is highly recommended not to shave against the grain; a first pass with the grain and a second one across the grain are better in terms of comfort. You can always do some touch ups and clean the remaining rough patches afterwards.
Shaving against the grain is a surefire way for razor burn, ingrown hairs and irritations; the minor gains in terms of closeness are simply not worth it for most of us. If however you’re one of the lucky few, then by all means go ahead and finish your shave with a third pass against the grain.
Also, make sure the angle of the blade against your face is not too steep and maintain it during the stroke.
6. Rinse your razor and do it often.
While a double edge razor doesn’t clog with hair as much as a multi-blade cartridge does, it’s still a very good idea to rinse it after every stroke. Also, many men tend to use just one side of the blade, completely ignoring the other one. It’s probably an old habit from the days of the multi-blade cartridge. You should always flip your razor and use both edges; it will reduce shaving time and it will wear the blade evenly.
7. Do not apply pressure when using a safety or straight razor.
If you’re switching from a multi-blade cartridge razor to a safety razor, you will be tempted to apply pressure. Do not, under any circumstances, apply pressure; double edge razors work with no pressure at all and failing to use one in this manner will result in painful nicks and irritation.
8. Master your lathering skills.
Runny, airy, foamy, watery lather is definitely not ideal; at the same time, you don’t want to use a lather that is too dry. Finding the right balance is key and practice makes perfect. A few useful tips:
- use the right amount of product;
- load your brush sufficiently, especially if you’re lathering a hard, triple milled soap;
- add just a few drops of water as you progress with your lathering and always start with a drier brush. Also, remember that shaving creams generally require less water than soaps;
- if your lather is too runny, add more product; if it’s too dry, add more water.
9. Use a quality shaving brush.
Dense, slick lather is a key component of a close and comfortable shave. Along with mastering the use of a double edge or straight razor, lathering a cream or soap is a process that requires a bit of practice. Regardless if you prefer face, palm or bowl lathering, a good shaving brush is your best ally.
While the initial purchase price is a bit high, it will last for years and will significantly improve your lathering process. Speaking of costs, you don’t have to spend loads of money on a brush; a basic, best badger brush like this one from Edwin Jagger will work great for most men, especially if you’re just getting started with wet shaving.
10. Keep your shaving gear in top shape.
Taking the time to care for your shaving tools is time well spent. Make sure to keep your razors, blades and brushes clean, dry and stored properly. It’s also good practice to rub some alcohol on the blade as the skin is vulnerable and very susceptible to bacterial infection during shaving.
11. Use a soothing, hydrating post-shave treatment.
Shaving takes away a very thin layer of skin cells, leaving your face vulnerable and prone to irritation. A quality post-shave balm will nourish, moisturize and hydrate your skin. Avoid the ones containing alcohol as they just sting and dry your skin.
12. Take your time and enjoy the fine art of traditional wet shaving.
This ritual is an integral part of every man’s life and we should strive to make it as enjoyable as possible. Hopefully this checklist will be another small step towards that.