[UPDATE 8/5/2014: All this below is well and good. However, since I wrote this blog, I now use cold tap water, not hot, because I believe that warm/hot water removes more natural oils from the skin, thus encouraging irritation and dryness -- and the cold water in no way compromises the comfort or quality of the shave. I no longer use a pre-shave oil because I use a good shave soap (my own formula and manufacture). I often use a slant-bar razor, which allows me to get a close shave in two passes. Finally, the combination of fewer passes and better lather allows me to finish the ritual with a cool-water rinse, an alum-block rub, and a final cool water rinse; no balms, lotions, or moisturizers are necessary. That said, below is what I recommended in April:]
Pre-shave Preparation:Pre-shave preparation is always important. This ensures that your whiskers are as soft as possible and well lubricated for a pleasant shave. This usually involves using warmth and water. A pre-shave shower and leaving the face wet as you go to shave is one possibility. A warm, wet towel against the face is another. Washing your face with a moisturizing soap prior to shaving is often part of the process. A pre-shave oil is often helpful as well.
My pre-shave routine is as follows:
I will gently apply warm water to my beard (which includes face and neck). I don't rub too much, because this can be irritating. Sometimes I will use a small, warm, wet towel as part of this warming and softening process. Then I will gently wash my face and neck with a moisturizing soap, which is currently Dove for sensitive skin. (It is the most gentle bath soap we have in the house.) Then I will splash on more warm water and leave my face wet.
I then make my shaving lather. Because I'm frugal, I buy the least expensive shaving soap, which is Williams brand, often available at local drug stores for 99 cents, but some stores charge more. I always pay 99 cents.
Williams is readily available, inexpensive, and lathers well even with our local hard water. However, like most soaps in general, it tends to have a drying effect on my skin. So I am experimenting with different additives to make the lather richer and more moisturizing. I add a few drops of glycerin, about a half teaspoon of my shaving oil, and a pinch of oatmeal that has been ground to a powder in a coffee-bean grinder. Then with the right amount of warm water, I use my shaving brush to whip up a rich, creamy lather in my five-inch-diameter shaving bowl that also serves to hold the puck of shaving soap. I have both boar and badger brushes, and although the boar works as well in terms of lathering, the badger is a bit softer and more gentle as I work the lather into my beard, so I've come to prefer the badger.