Saturday, May 17, 2014

Potential Causes of a Poor Shave, Part Three: poor prep, lather, blade sharpness, and hoeing

Rounding the last corner toward the home stretch of razor design, today's article briefly focuses on points eight through ten below, volume of daily shaving strokes, beard preparation, lather, and blade sharpness:
  1. Razor-blade edge that is not straight due to razor defect
  2. Rough surfaces on the razor due to defect/damage
  3. Incorrect blade position in razor head
  4. Excess pressure of razor on skin
  5. Excess speed of shaving strokes
  6. Shaving multiple planes of the face in single strokes
  7. Shaving in the wrong direction in sensitive-skin areas
  8. Too many strokes in the same area
  9. Insufficient prep and lather
  10. Dull blade
  11. Mismatched razor design (blade angle, exposure, and gap) to skin sensitivity and hair toughness
  12. Hey! When you shave, you're not
    clearing unwanted grass!
  13. Mismatched combination of blade, razor, and skin
Your skin isn't tanned leather, so no matter whether yours is tough or sensitive, if you run a sharp edge across it enough times, it's going to get irritated. Therefore, shaving isn't like using a hoe in the garden; the more strokes you take is not necessarily better. For those like me, with sensitive skin, it doesn't take but a few passes before the skin shows red irritation splotches and may feel injured, burning. So my daily shave goals include making each stroke count by using light pressure and the proper angle of razor against face to mazimize the cutting efficiency of the blade.

This minimal-stroke, high-efficiency approach led to me to try the Merkur slant-bar razor, about which I have been posting accounts of my daily exploits for the first week of use.

Regarding skin preparation, hot water is the normal recommendation. Yet there is the contrarian perspective that hot water rinses more of the valuable natural oils from the skin than does cold water -- thus making the skin more sensitive, susceptible to razor burn, and post-shave dry skin. And cold water may cause the hair follicles to stand up more for better cutting. I personally am in the cold-water camp. That said, to each his own.

Preparation also usually involves washing the face. Because my daily schedule typically involves showering later in the day, my morning shave sometimes includes a face washing, sometimes not. If I do wash, I use cold water. If not, I just splash and massage cold water into my whiskers. Then some recommend a shave oil prior to lathering. I do use oil, but not every day. If I'm using an aggressive razor like the Merkur slant or my face feels dry or otherwise irritated, then I'll massage in some shave oil. I have both store-bought and home-blended shave oil. If I'm not using the slant or my Gillette adjustable set above five, my use of oil or not may vary according to my whim and the general condition of my skin that morning.

After that it's time for a rich, creamy shave butter or creamy, durable lather from a shave soap or cream. Again, most will lather with warm water; I use cold.

If you use a blade not sufficiently sharp, there are several possible bad outcomes. One, you may compensate for the dull blade and press too hard, causing skin irritation. The blade may pull at your whiskers, which can be uncomfortable, rather than cutting them cleanly and efficiently. Lastly, a dull blade may snag and jump whiskers, causing cuts. The trick is to use a blade adequately sharp with an edge or coating that isn't too irritating as it passes along your skin.

And that it for these three points. The next installment of this series is, to me, the most interesting. In that, I will discuss the aspects of razor design. This discussion should explain, among other things, why some (like me) seem to generally prefer two- and three-piece-design razors instead of TTO* designs.

*TTO = twist to open

Happy shaving!

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