Thursday, August 28, 2014

Challenging Cherished Beliefs: Arko Soap with No Brush

As I suggested yesterday, today is the third use of my new Arko shave stick, but with a twist. Today I'll simulate an ultra-minimalist travel shave by not using a shave brush.

When one applies shave soap directly to face and massages it with wet fingers instead of brush, the appearance of the lather -- or, more accurately, the soap layer -- is quite different. It is not really lather at all; it is a lubricating soap layer.

Today's experiment actually challenges two cherished wet-shaving beliefs:
  • A brush is needed with shave soap
  • Shave soap must be whipped up into a tall lather to be effective
As for the first bullet, many wet shavers (not the aficionados, of course) simply use bath soap as shaving soap. They rub it on as though washing their face, then shave it off. This is pretty much what I did today. I wet my beard, rubbed on the Arko like yesterday. With wet hands, I rubbed the soap layer all over my entire beard, which created, not a lather, but rather a wet, soapy, slick layer. Then I shaved it off.

For years, I used common bath soap, and a double-bladed cartridge, in a similar way to shave satisfactorily. So much for the myth of the brush (any brush) being necessary.

The second cherished belief that I have enjoyed questioning is the tall, whipped-lather requirement. It really rubs me the wrong way (pun intended) when wet shavers orgasmically write about and discuss tall, whipped lather -- they even photograph it as though it's this month's pin-up girl -- like it's the criterion by which a shave soap is to be judged.

It's not.

They discuss the (imaginary) characteristic of cushion  as though their razor is doing a Fosbury Flop over the high-jump bar and needs padding to dampen the deceleration into the pit; it's like their face is a stadium bleacher seat and the razor must be padded for the duration of the spectacle to give a comfortable shave; it's like.... well, you get the idea. You could put shaving lather into your high-jump pit, or onto your stadium-bleacher seat, and all you would get for your trouble is wet and messy -- no cushion to be had.

News flash: the concept of cushion as applied to shave lather is non-existent and silly.

News flash #2: the key factors of a shave soap are how well it 1) lubricates the shave and 2) leaves your face feeling hydrated, not dry.

The fact is, one can get a satisfactory shave in the shower with just water streaming over the beard. And even more generally true, one can get a satisfactory shave using a thin, not-whipped, wet layer of shave soap on the face.

Now I am hedging a bit with my language. Do I prefer using a brush (any brush, not just one that costs $40 or more and is made from the hair of an animal fed only free-range organic food)? Yes. Using a brush allows me to keep my fingers less slippery, and allows me to hold lather in it for subsequent passes or to squeeze out, drain and dry overnight, and save for another shave. 

Do I prefer even a mediocre lather to a thin, wet layer made with wet hands on face? Yes, but only because a slightly taller layer seems to keep the shave soap from drying too quickly on the face, which allow an entire pass without having to re-hydrate the shave soap on my beard.

However, I got a close shave this morning using the Frankenrazor, although I did tend to rush a bit more than usual, leaving a few weepers in my wake. If I did this brush-free shave routinely, I would probably become more expert at the process and learn to adjust my practice to allow for the quicker drying layer of lubrication.

Will I do this again unless absolutely necessary? No, probably not. I enjoy the process of brush and bowl, and there's something to be said for a little extra pleasure in one's day. I also think that the brush-and-bowl process is less wasteful, allowing clean soap lather to be re-used rather than washed down the drain.

What do you think?

Happy shaving!

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