The art of a close shave has a long tradition, The Pogonotomy was one of the original books written on the subject (loosely translates to the “Art of Shaving”) that was written in the late 1700. Part of the question they sought to answer was: "Are you meant to shave up or down?" Against the grain or with the grain? I'll answer this and more below...
When considering the history of wetshaving and the art of shaving, many still struggle with it. If you have wondered or decided to try out traditional wet shaving, the experience you are about to engage with will be a lasting one. Not only will you get a good shave without having some of the side effects from dry cartridge shaving, you will also avoid the disposable multi-blade razors which can promote ingrown hair growth, shaving irritation and razor burn.
Shaving too close can lead to trapped hair, razor bumps, and irritation. Critical to this process is a good shaving cream or soap that will help calm the skin down. Having dry skin can be a challenge too, but with wet shaving the moisture and lubrication helps the razor glide and allows a sharp, single blade to do the job without being overly aggressive on your skin. Shaving with sensitive skin is also a challenge, for you, we would recommend a mild base plate….we give some other tips below.
This is a guide on approaching your wet shaving experience - preparation is required and key, but in the end you will enjoy this ritual much more, including every satisfying stroke of your safety razor.
1) Prepare your razor - This might take time but pick a blade that you like, blade choice in a safety razor will swing the experience. Based on my customer feedback ,these are some good blades that pair well with Carbon razors and other safety razors: Gillette Nacet double edge blades, Gillette Silver Blue blades, Astra and Kai razor blades. You don’t need to be experienced to notice the different feel these blades have, everyone has a preference. Use a newer sharp blade. I change every 3 shaves and don’t skimp they are inexpensive! This point is important, we are not shaving with multiple blade cartridges that dull easy and are expensive. If you haven’t shaved in a few days, use a more aggressive plate and/or the Japanese made Kai double edge blade. If you have sensitive skin you might enjoy the Nacet blades.
2) Pre-shave oil (Optional) - This is good for beginners and it does reduce irritation, while you get to know your razor and the direction your hair grows. Pre-shave oil can be aloe, olive or baby oil and if you don't have something specific, use a few drops of hair conditioner before you apply shaving cream - it makes a good pre-shave oil... I will use a pre-shave oil when I am trying a blade for the first time.
3) Soak your brush in warm water before frothing and whipping up your shave soap or shaving cream. What this does is help to get the bristles wet and warm. For badger hair or horse hair shaving brushes, this will moisten the hairs. For synthetic brushes, it will warm them up and help retain moisture in the knot. Soaking your brush is really important if you are using a brush with natural hair.
4) Prepare your skin - Warm water is important to help clean and loosen the dirt and oil on the skin. It also helps to open the pores and soften the hair. Shaving right after a shower or in the shower is a good practice. Some people like a cold water shave...experiment, enjoy your shaving journey!
5) Prepare your lather - There are 2 schools of thought...do you lather directly on the face or should I use a bowl to lather? Your call, but you want to whip it enough to be thick and the right consistency. A good test is put some on the shower wall, if it slides down you need to whip it more. The right amount of water is important but not too much. Soap choice makes a huge difference. There are many soap makers in the market. You can choose from vegan ingredients to classic tallow bases. Preparing a lather is an art of its own. The right amount of water, blooming your soap (adding water to the soap to let it soak in), and a shaving bowl might be the path you go down over time. But don’t worry, whipping up a good lather on your face straight from the shaving cream tub with a good brush works great. Your scent preference plays into this as aromatherapy. You can use a can of shaving cream but I find they dry out my skin.
6) Apply lather to face - The purpose of this exercise is to soften the hair, lift the hairs from the skin, clean, exfoliate to remove dead skin and lubricate the skin. Before each pass, lather your face for a smooth irritation free shave with each frictionless stroke of your razor.
7) Lets shave! Pick your shave of the day:
My first pass when wet shaving with the grain
Option #1) Work Day Shave / 1 pass shave – Result: Quick and clean. With this shave, shave with the grain in which your hair grows. If you are new to wet shaving, it will take you a few times to learn how your hair grows and where you are sensitive. If you feel sensitivity in a certain area, after your first pass, you likely shaved against the grain. Try shaving in a different direction in that sensitive area next time and see if that helps…
Option #2) Important Meeting Shave / 2 pass shave – Result: Closer shave but takes a few extra minutes. Do your normal first pass shave with the grain, however after that first pass, rinse with warm fresh water and reapply shaving cream (you should still have plenty on your brush) but with this pass go in the opposite direction to your first pass. If you have sensitive skin you might consider taking your second pass across the grain in which your hair grows. Against the grain is the most sensitive and biggest cause for post shave skin irritation.
Option #3) Date Night Shave / 3 pass shave – Closest shave but takes a few more minutes, you may experience irritation. For this final pass (make sure to again lather and rinse with warm fresh water again) go against the grain or across the grain depending on which way you shaved in step 2. Regardless, each of your passes should go with the grain(First pass) then across the grain and/or against the grain…
For me, I find myself mostly doing a 2 pass shave with touch ups on my chin and neck (what I call trouble shaving areas). I try to shave with and across the grain...I will sometimes experience irritation when I shave against the grain.
8) Rinse your face with cold fresh water. Avoid using the water you rinsed your razor with. The debris from your shavings can get caught in your pores and create irritation and pimples. This final step is critical as it closes the pores and rinses the face.
9) Damage repair (Optional) - Every so often you’ll knick yourself. Alum block is a good antiseptic and helps to stop bleeding from shaving nicks and cuts. It also works as a good deodorant.
10) Pat dry your face with a fresh soft towel...don’t rub.
11) Apply your post-shave balm or after shave (Optional). For some, this may be your final step...this will generally tell you how good of a shave you had. If you run screaming for the hills you might want to change something. This step will help moisturize your skin, close the pores and provide a scent of the day for you! I still remember my grandfathers smell well! The scent will be your signature....
12) Rate your shave - Do you have irritation? Did you shave against the grain on your first pass? How did the soap do? Slick enough? Did you lather enough? A good gauge is after you have applied the after shave or alum block. Did it sting? Where did it sting? If you have irritation in some areas, consider the following a) Change the direction on your first pass b) Did you shave too many times in the same spot with no cream? c) Is the blade sharp? Try a different blade manufacturer... d) Consider a different shaving soap or cream? Take your time and be patient...enjoy the journey, it will take a few times and a few combinations but you'll find your perfect shave!
If you have any questions or need help...reach out to us! We are happy to help or just talk about shaving…