Shaving isn’t mere personal hygiene, it’s an art. Or it can be. If you’ve been using an aerosol shaving cream and disposal razor, you’ve certainly left room for improvement. When using the wrong tools, shaving can feel like a painful chore — literally, if nicks, cuts, and razor burn are an issue for you. That’s why true grooming experts recommend a process called “wet shaving” — a little fancier, a little old fashioned, and a lot more satisfying. And getting started only takes a few tools and a little know-how.
Why wet shaving is better
Wet shaving involves using a shaving brush and a shaving soap or cream, plus a little warm water, to create a luxurious lather that you’ll brush on your skin before shaving. If you like, you can keep using your disposable razors alongside it, but true aficionados will opt for an old-school safety razor. Taken together, the two will deliver a closer shave — as Bolin Webb notes, “since you’re getting closer to the skin with a wet shave, you’re actually cutting the hairs down to a shorter length. This means you can go longer between shaves.”
You’ll also get a better shave — the lather will soften your beard and keep your skin better moisturized, allowing the blade to move across it more smoothly. And if you opt for a safety razor, you’ll experience less irritation and fewer ingrown hairs than when using a cartridge or electric razors. As West Coast Shaving explains, “if you use a 5 blade cartridge razor and go over an area of your face 3 times, you have now exposed one area of skin to 15 passes of a blade. In comparison, if you are using a safety razor, you are only exposing the skin to one blade at a pass. The fewer times that you rake your face with a blade, the happier it is going to be.”
Beyond these practical concerns, there’s also value in ritual, and wet shaving is can definitely be that for you — a small reprieve in the day, during which you can carefully focus on executing a task well. Using a fancy shaving cream, a soft shave brush, and your favourite smelling aftershave can make for an enjoyable experience at a minimal cost (though like any other hobby, you can certainly spend more money if you want to). No one is worse off turning a daily chores into an act they can genuinely enjoy.
What you’ll need to get started
Safety razor. A safety razor differs from a cartridge razor in that it only has one blade, whereas a cartridge razor has anywhere from three to six. Safety razors are primarily made from metal and will last for many years compared to their disposal cartridge razor counterparts. The cost can run anywhere from $US20 ($28) to a few hundred dollars, but Bib & Tucker writes, “while the razor itself is more expensive at first, safety razors should last for years.” Over time, a safety razor with replaceable blades will likely be less expensive and last much longer than using disposable cartridges.
Shaving brush. According to the menswear advice website He Spoke Style, when used with shaving cream (as opposed to foam or gel), a shaving brush will create a richer, thicker lather that will soften and lift up the hair you’re shaving, while also exfoliating the skin. There are different types of shaving brush bristles to consider, but they are commonly made of natural fibres — boar, badger, beaver, and horsehair — though synthetic alternatives do exist. All will get the job done, so it really boils down to which material you enjoy feeling against your skin the most.
Aftershave. Aftershaves come in three forms; balms, gels, and lotions. They all achieve the same purpose: soothing and moisturizing the skin after shaving. Even though its properties are similar to a high-quality shaving cream, aftershave is still an important part of the equation. The Gentleman’s Gazette writes, “unlike other products used during the actual shave, aftershaves have a longer-lasting effect because they’re not immediately wiped off (as shaving cream is).” The site recommends using a balm over a gel, and skipping lotions altogether. This is because balms have a lower alcohol content, and alcohol will not only dry the skin but sting if you’ve managed to nick yourself along the way.
How to do a proper wet shave
Executing a wet shave is a relatively simple process. First, create a lather by adding a dot of shaving cream to a small bowl along with about a teaspoon of water. Using your brush, whip the cream into a light, thick, foamy lather. Use the brush to apply it evenly across your face. Make sure you cover all areas you wish to shave, and let the lather sit on your face for a minute or so (or as the label directs) so it can soften your hair and cause it to stand up.
Next, gently run your safety razor over the lathered areas of your face in the direction of hair growth (to reduce razor burn). To figure out the direction of your hair’s growth, the groomers at Supply recommend the following: “grab a business card, credit card, or even the back of a comb and pass it lightly over each section of hair. Hair growing with the grain will feel as if you are just combing it down back into place. Hair growth that is against the grain will feel like you are pulling your hair follicles upright.”
Beard and Blade Supply Co. recommends coming in at a 30° angle to the skin, which “exposes the blade to the stubble and allows the razor to work effectively.” Shave in repeated short strokes of 1–3 centimeters, rinsing the blade often so you don’t clog the razor with hair. Repeat if desired for a closer shave.
Finally, rinse away any remaining traces of lather and apply aftershave immediately to soothe and moisturize the skin.