Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tips for a Low-Cost, Pleasant Shave on Dry, Sensitive Skin

If you, like me, have ultra-sensitive skin (also almost paper thin in the lower neck, which is very easily nicked while shaving) and a tough beard, then having the best pre-shave preparation, lubricating and moisturizing shave lather, and good technique is every bit as important (probably more so) that what kind of after-shave balm you choose.

[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.

Currently I follow this with an application of home-made shaving oil directly onto my beard. (This oil is a little less than half refined olive oil [the cheap stuff -- no need to by virgin grade for shaving], same amount of castor oil, and a splash of vitamin E oil -- maybe about 10%;  this isn't rocket science.) About a quarter to a half teaspoon in the palm of my hand, rub the hands together, and massage gently into my beard.

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.

The Shave:

After gently massaging the lather into my beard with the brush to ensure thorough moistening of the whiskers, I paint the lather to a thin opaque coating and use my double-edge (DE) safety razor to make my first, low-pressure pass with the grain of the hairs. The theory is that each pass reduces the beard; I'm not trying to get a smooth shave on the first pass. I also try not to repeatedly draw the razor over the same area twice, which helps minimize irritation on my sensitive skin.  Then I rinse with warm water, and apply a bit more shaving oil. I re-lather and make my second pass -- this time across the grain (XTG).

Then I repeat the process a third and final time:  re-lather and shave.  The final pass is theoretically against the grain (ATG), but there are areas of my beard (lower neck, chin below the corners of my mouth, and upper lip) that are just too sensitive for a final ATG pass.  So in those areas, I sacrifice the baby-bottom smooth (BBS) shave and again shave XTG -- this time from the opposite direction as the second pass.  On this third and final pass, I will often use buffing and J-hooking techniques (see the YouTube video by mantic59 for explanation and demonstration) in those pesky areas where I can still feel or hear stubble.

Post Shave:

After that it's a rinse with warm water, then a rinse with cold water to tighten up blood vessels and close pores. Then a splash of witch hazel on my wet face, which I leave to air dry. (Yeah, I know, witch hazel is about 14% alcohol, which is, of course, drying.  But my face is already wet, which further mitigates the effect of the already-low alcohol content.  Also, the shaving oil has left my face protected to a degree, so I welcome the witch hazel for its mild cleansing and disinfecting effects.) 

At this point, I leave my face wet and tend for a moment to my razor and blade.  I blow moisture off the razor and blade, and then after drying my hands, I palm strop the blade.  This probably helps to minimize oxidation on the blade overnight, thus giving more smooth shaves before a change is necessary.  I then re-assemble the blade into the razor, and put it up to dry thoroughly.

I then put into my palm an appropriate amount of my after-shave balm of choice (alcohol free), add a few drops of Jojoba oil, rub palms together and apply to my face.  

Where to Obtain Oils:

I have a local Vitamin Shoppe store that sells Jojoba, Vitamin E, and Castor oils at reasonable prices. I purchase Glycerin at a drug store, which also sells the Williams Shave Soap as well as Castor oil, though perhaps at a higher price that at the vitamin store.  I buy the least expensive grade of olive oil from my local grocer. (Save the pricey virgin and extra-virgin olive oil for your salads!) The oatmeal powder is just dry, common oatmeal that has been ground in a coffee grinder.

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