Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Most Important Factors for a Good Shave

I'm a thrifty guy, and initially got interested in old-school shaving because it was economical as well as earth friendly. I quickly discovered it's also interesting, with the myriad razors, blades, and skin products to try. Most importantly, I've continued to find it fun -- looking forward every day to my next shave, which in the past I considered a necessary chore.

As I've written in previous posts, I have very sensitive, delicate skin and a rather tough beard, so getting a good and still comfortable shave is something of a challenge.

Three free shave-cream samples and one of my thrifty shave bowls
purchased at Target, two bowls for 99 cents.
In the double-edge (DE) safety-razor universe, much is made about choice of razor and blade. It is true that this is very important. If you buy a poorly-made razor, with inappropriately excessive, uneven, or curved blade exposure, it's difficult to get a rewarding shave. My combination of skin and beard has taught me a few things about equipment (though your preferences may differ): I want a sharp blade that cuts hair easily. I also want a coated blade, which will reduce the harshness of the shave. Finally, I want a razor with a mild blade exposure, which when paired with a sharp blade will give me a close shave, but not one that will easily nick and cut my pathetically-delicate (in some areas) skin. So I like adustable razors (I have a 1963 Gillette Slim Adjustable, my dad's old razor), and I keep the setting mild. I also like mild non-adjustable razors such as the Merkur 33c Classic, the Lord L6, the Wilkinson Sword Classic, and, probably, the Weishi 9306, which has a reputation for being mild, and which will arrive at my doorstep soon. [Update: the 9306-f arrived, and I like it a lot. Review coming soon.] I'll post a review of this razor in the near future, so keep checking this blog site if you're interested.  (I also do lengthy reviews on using my initials, DNH, and these reviews are intended to be thorough and, ultimately, helpful.)

Paired with the right equipment for your face is the proper technique. If I were using a multi-bladed disposable razor, I would do a two-pass shave. That is, lather and shave with the grain of my beard (WTG), then re-lather and shave across the grain (XTG). Pressure and speed of the shaving stroke are less of an issue with these expensive, high-waste-generating shaving systems. With my DE razor, I use the required light pressure and a variation on the traditional three-pass shave. This traditional approach is WTG, XTG, and a final pass against the grain (ATG).  My deviation eliminates the AGT pass for the impossibly-sensitive areas of my face (lower neck, chin below the corners of the mouth, and upper lip). In these areas, my final two passes are XTG from different directions and also just slightly ATG. In my opinion, technique trumps equipment.

That said, it seems to me that perhaps the most important factor for a comfortable shave is shave preparation. This includes proper wetting of the beard with water, using a pre-shave oil if necessary (in my case, definitely necessary), and choosing the right shaving soap or cream. Post-shave choices are also important, but I consistently find that if my shave itself is irritating, there is no amount of post-shave oil and balm that will undo the damage of a harsh shave.

In another post, I have written about doctoring Williams shaving soap (see that by clicking here) to make it more sensitive-skin friendly. If you don't want to take the time and trouble to doctor generic shaving soaps, consider using a good cream. I have recently started to test shave creams, and initial results are very good. I had my first shave with a Sienna shave cream from Crabtree and Evelyn, and found that when I combined it with my usual wetting and shave-oil-application routine, got a smooth, comfortable shave -- even better than with my highly-doctored shave soap! Though creams can be more expensive than pucks of shave soap, the creams are generally used very sparingly, and thus can offer much mileage from a given jar or tube. (And if you choose to buy a cream, to reduce the ecological impact, consider the ones that come in a recyclable jar, rather than a plastic tube.)

Before you go out and buy some shave creams, which can be a little pricey, see if you can find a local shopping mall in your area that might offer samples of their product. This week I took a stroll though a nearby mall and got shave-cream samples from both Crabtree & Evelyn and The Body Shop. Following up with some on-line browsing, I saw many reviews for the shave cream offered by The Body Shop, and the vast majority were not just good, they were raving about the product (which is available in a more-Earth-friendly jar). I will be trying my sample tomorrow, and am looking forward to it. The shave creams are used so sparingly that each of these little samples should provide enough product for three to five shaves.

I should offer some closing words on canned shave foams and gels. They not only generate land-fill refuse, but are known for offering arguably less shaving protection and more skin-drying qualities than more traditional lathering methods such as shaving soaps and creams used with a shaving brush. Now, of course, opinions will vary, but, personally, I have come to enjoy the lathering ritual of brush and bowl, and would not want to return to the lather-in-a-can approach.

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