You’re doing it wrong!
Chances are that every time you go into the bathroom for your morning ritual, you’re doing it wrong. It’s a sad fact but there’s still hope .
I was in Boots the chemist a while ago, browsing by the shaving supplies, when a sales assistant came over to me and tried to promote the latest multi-blade Gillette razor.
I was really into straight razor shaving at the time and wasn’t interested. Multi-blade razors irritate my skin (obvious really, if a single blade scraping over your skin can cause irritation, a 5 blade razor will be 5X worse) and the replacement cartridges can cost upwards of £20 per pack.
I said that I was just looking to pick up a styptic pencil and got a blank look in return. “What kind of pencil is that?” I explained that it was like a stick of alum, used to seal shaving nicks. The horrified / blank look that I got in response wasn’t exactly encouraging in a sales assistant trying to sell me shaving supplies. I eventually found the (Boots own brand) styptic pencil without their help and left. At first I thought that it was just one clueless assistant but, the more people that I spoke to, the more I realised that a lot of men just don’t know how to shave.
Whether that’s because of advertising campaigns telling us that real wet shaving is too difficult or dangerous for us so we need their expensive, precision engineered trimming tools or, as good old Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, “we’re a generation of men raised by women” who never had someone to show us how to remove our facial fuzz, I don’t know. It’s a shame though, shaving is a basic necessity that even a bebearded soul like me can’t escape, so why not learn a little about how to do it the right way and turn it into something that’s actually enjoyable?
First off, electic razors. I’ve never used one that gave me good results, they don’t exfoliate the skin like wet shaving does and they’re just too damn fast. People who use electric razors are the kind of people who shave in the car on the way to work. For them, shaving is an inconvenience rather than a relaxing period of personal time, so no to electric razors.
Next, cartridge razors. Ever since King Camp Gillette realised that he could make a business empire from selling cheap handles but making a profit on the blades themselves we’ve had these things, we’ve all had these things. My first shaves were with one and for years I assumed that they really were ‘The best a man could get‘! But after a while you start to realise that they’re, well, just a bit crap really.
The number of blades that they have keeps increasing to make up for the fact that they don’t actually shave that well. If you have thick stubble then it tends to clog between the blades and eventually the razor ends up like a pair of tweezers that rips out your beard instead of shaving it.
Also, the razor burn. Oh my god, the razor burn. You notice that most of these razors have an aloe vera strip across the top? It’s to disguise the burning sensation as those multiple blades scrape the hair, skin and natural oils from your face. In the same way that cooling menthol shaving foams’ only purpose it to anaesthetise your skin. Paying more money for a razor that shaves badly and damages your skin just because it’s apparently convenient? NEXT!
I don’t wanna pose myself as some kind of shaving guru because I’m most definitely not. But I enjoy the zen-like calm that a good shave can bestow and I wanted to share a few things.
- Firstly, a real wet shave takes slightly more skill than using an electric or a cartridge razor but it’s a skill that anyone can soon master.
- Secondly, you will nick yourself. Maybe not on your first shave, maybe not on your tenth, but it will happen. It’s no more than a mild annoyance and it’s all part of the learning process.
- Third, you will save money. Once you realise that you don’t need the expensive gimmicks that the shaving industry tell you are essential, you will save a significant amount of money on blades and soap.
- Fourth, you will spend a lot of money. Once you realise how many different products are out there, you’ll likely get bitten by the bug and want to try every brush, cream, soap and razor out there.
- Fifth and last, you will start to enjoy the whole process of shaving again. It’s a part of the day where you can close the bathroom door and just focus on one thing. Shutting out all other distractions. In fact, most wet shavers look forward to their shave as the most relaxing part of their day.
Here are a few of my recommendations.
Soap. When using a Double Edge or Single Edge razor, shaving foam just isn’t going to lubricate your face enough. Plus, the cans are bad for the environment.
Treat yourself to a shaving brush and a bowl of shaving soap. Apply the lather with a brush and you’ll notice how much better it feels straight away. Currently I’m using Ingrams shaving cream but you can get just as good a lather using a shaving stick from your local chemist.
Oil. Before creams and soaps, people used to shave themselves using oil to lubricate their face. This has become popular again in the form of King of Shaves oil and similar products, I’ve used these before and they work great but I prefer the whole ritual of lathering up using a brush.
If you want to be even more environmentally friendly, you can get a great shave using just olive oil. Seriously, a lot of wet shavers use just that. I’ve filled one of those small plastic bottles that you can take on airplanes with a mixture of olive oil and a dash of baby oil before to use as part of my travel kit. It works just as well as the premade oils and it also stops your razor from rusting.
Razor. So. Many. Choices.
If your starting out I recommend getting a DE razor. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, I regularly use a Wilkinson Sword Classic to shave my whole head and it’s one I recommend to anyone who wants to switch from cartridge razors to real shaves. You can pick one up on the high street for around £4 including a pack of razors.
Straight razors are straight up awesome. Straights, cut throats or open razors are the original facial sculpting tool and thanks to their image in films like Sweeney Todd, Skyfall etc they are linked to being a little bit dangerous and manly. I used to use one a lot and it’s more like they wipe the whiskers off of your face than shave you, the only downside is the maintenance involved. They need to be stropped before and after every shave and then honed when they start to lose their edge.
It was this continual cycle of stropping and honing that made me eventually give up shaving with straights. Some people love that part of the ritual but for me it was just a step too far.
Shavettes. My personal favourite, originally these were used by barbers as a more hygienic alternative to straight razors. They have a similar grip but the blade is disposable meaning that every customer gets a fresh blade. As my go-to razor it means that, when the blade starts to pull a little, I just pop in a new blade and I’m ready to go again.
There are different models of shavette (actually shavette is a brand name for Dovo razors but it’s kinda become the generic name for disposable blade straight razors) some using proprietary blades and some using plain old DE blades.
My travel shavette is a Parker 32R, it takes DE blades and I’ve been using it long enough now that I can shave my whole head pretty confidently.
Open up the metal, snap a DE blade in half, insert and close the catch. You can buy a shavette online for around £7 and NOTHING is more aggressive on your face. I’d argue that it takes even more concentration than shaving with a straight razor but it’s worth it for the feeling that you get.
Some people get quite elitist about disposable straights (as people do with any niche activity) a popular opinion is that you start off using one of these before ‘moving on to a real straight’. It’s a conceited opinion and totally wrong, shaving with one of these beauties is a totally different experience, they look a little similar but when straight razor shavers try their usual technique with one of these they soon find that they can’t shave themselves as well. Rather than realising that their technique is flawed, they blame the razor and give up.
My current razor has wooden scales, it’s a Sanguine R5. As it’s balanced a little differently to my Parker I’m relearning my grip and using it exclusively for the next month until I can shave as well with this as with my other razors.
Maybe wet shaving isn’t for you, maybe you’re so pressed for time that you can’t fit this extra ritual into your day. Maybe.
Perhaps you’ve been put off of trying it in the past because of fluff pieces written in magazines where someone tries shaving, nicks themselves and writes a “Crikey, I’m not very good at this being a grown-up lark!” article. Every guy owes it to themselves to at least try to shave with a real blade though.
If this has whet your appetite (See what I did there?) there are a couple of forums where you’ll find a wealth of knowledge about razors, technique and shaving products.
These should be your first stop for more information.