Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on Assessing Skin and Hair to Choose the Best Shaving Gear

In the time that I've been writing this blog and I've tried to question everything, test the common beliefs and mythologies of DE shaving. As a result, I've sleuthed out many of the objective characteristics of DE razors and blades. This has helped to suggest methods to better match gear to beards without resorting to blind trial and error right from the start.

In other words, it's much easier to get in the ball park with the right gear to get a better shave right off the bat, when you understand the design characteristics of razors and blades, and how they combine to shave skin and beards of different character.
Many think Jack Benny just liked this pose.
He was actually always trying to figure out
the character of his beard and skin! :-D

But this morning, I got to thinking about the very beginning of my DE shaving. Did I know that I had sensitive skin? Not really. Did I know that my beard was moderately tough? No, I thought it was tougher, actually. But for a person new to DE shaving, to get the gear well matched to one's hair and skin, one must not only understand the design characteristics of the gear and how that can affect a shave, one must also be able to accurately assess the character of one's own skin and hair.

I just started pondering this challenge this morning, so I don't claim to have all the answers. A few have occurred to me though. For example, it is fairly easy to assess one's skin topography and tightness.

As to topography, if the contours of your shaving area are rather smooth and convex like a beach ball, you are likely to be more comfortable with sharper blades and razors with larger blade exposure. This is because it will be easier to find and maintain the ideal razor angle while shaving over such a uniformly-contoured surface.

Similarly, if your skin is taught and firm like a Thanksgiving turkey breast, not only sharper blades and larger blade exposure may be well tolerated, but also larger blade-bar gaps as well. For those with loose, thin skin, these razors with large blade exposure and blade-bar gaps are opportunities for thin, loose skin or uneven contours to get in front of the blade leaving weepers, nicks, and cuts in its wake.

Judging beard thickness and hair toughness is another matter. I suppose one might evaluate one's five-o'clock shadow. The darker and more coarse it is would likely indicate that a more sharp blade would be needed.

Even more uncertain on initial evaluation is the sensitivity of one's skin -- that is, how susceptible to irritation it is from drawing sharpened steel over it.

This morning, without the benefit of sufficient coffee, I would initially say the solution is to start with a razor to match contour and tightness of one's skin, which are the characteristics that may be easiest to reliably assess objectively -- but also make one's razor choice taking into account one's shaving frequency. Choosing a blade may be trickier to get right on first attempt.

If your beard is clearly heavy and thick, sharper blades are likely to be needed. But you may not know if you need a very smooth, coated blade, or if you can tolerate sharp, bare steel. So you may want to start with a sharp, coated blade for the first month or more, and then consider if you might tolerate an uncoated blade, and whether you need to go sharper or less so. Polsilver Iridium or blades of that character -- perhaps some other blades of Russian manufacture -- spring to mind as a starting point.

If your beard might be more moderate or even lighter, probably a coated blade of lower sharpness should be the starting point. This is a range of blades that I haven't probed much, so I don't have a lot of suggestions beyond Derby Extra blades.

What are your thoughts on this matter of skin-and-beard assessment for newer DE shavers, and blades that might be a good match?

Happy shaving!

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