As the old saying goes,
Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.
Nothing could be more true of getting the ultimately perfect wet shave with a safety or a straight razor. Yes, hardware is important, but getting the best shave of your life on an on-going basis requires a strong emphasis on the skin and beard prep.
Too many newly-minted wet shavers (typically using a safety razor or straight razor) complain the shave did not perform as advertised. Unfortunately, in many such cases, it was not the razor’s fault, but more likely operator error with a lack of proper shaving preparation.
Table of Contents
- Proper Shaving Preparation for the Perfect Shave
- Stop Obsessing Over the Perfect Shave
- Experimentation is Necessary to Get the Perfect Shave
- Enjoy the phases of beard growth
- Decrease the frequency of your shaves
- Enjoy your perfect shaves while they last
Proper Shaving Preparation for the Perfect Shave
Proper shave preparation will help you avoid many of the complaints about wet shaving, which can include:
- Bloody wet shaving weepers
- Nicks and cuts
- Overall skin discomfort
- Significant learning curve to become proficient
Unfortunately, proper preparation does not solve for complaints about speed. There are certainly methods and tactics for speeding up the process. But, if you follow the cost/quality/speed matrix, there is no way to increase speed without simultaneously decreasing quality or increasing cost or both.
When it comes to preparation, some time is involved. But, if you fail to prepare properly, your shave will not even closely resemble that of the ideal wet shaver.
So, when it comes time to prepare your face for your next wet shaving experience, here are the proper preparatory steps for the best wet shave of your life:
- Soften the beard and whiskers. This is done with a combination of water and heat. The best preparation uses hot water, typically first splashed on the face and then the application of a hot, wet towel over the beard area.
- Apply some preliminary shaving cream or soap or pre-shave oil. The preliminary amount is much less than the complete amount used for your shave. If you are using pre-shave oil, a few drops in the hand should do if your have just a few days growth, more if you have a more mature beard. The application of some initial soap or cream can be applied as a substitute for pre-shave oil. I typically suggest an amount that is about 1/3 to 1/4 of what you would place on your face for your full shave routine. Remember, this is simply the preparation phase of the process, but you should build your lather at this stage as you will want to be completely ready to apply the lather immediately after step 3.
- More heat and water. Once you have applied the small amount of pre-shave accouterments like cream, soap or oil, heat your wet towel again and place it over the lightly creamed face. Keep it as hot as you can handle it. This is often referred to as Kyle’s Method.
- Apply your lather. Somewhere before now, you should have already built your lather. The ideal time to apply the lather is immediately after you remove the towel from step number 3 above. When the time for performance has come, the time for preparation is past. Get the lather on. Get it on thick and get it on quick.
- Scrape and repeat Step 4. Once you apply your lather, you can now use the razor of your choice to scrape off the follicles. If you have properly prepared for your shave, you will not need to apply the water and heat for additional passes. Just use your brush and existing lather.
In typical wet shave fashion, you will likely look to make two to three passes until all noticeable hair is removed. Remember, wet shaving is about continuous beard reduction, not immediate beard elimination.
Stop Obsessing Over the Perfect Shave
Nothing lasts forever – not even a perfect shave. If you’re like most guys, a perfect shave lasts long enough for you to make it to work, meet some important people, and by the time you get home you’ve got stubble.
Do you shave again in the morning, or let it go a few days before lathering up? These are important questions because if you’re trying to maintain a perfect shave around the clock, you’re wasting your energy.
Your beard will grow back fast and you can’t stop it
Aside from laser hair removal, there’s no way to slow down your beard growth, but you can buy yourself more time by using a double-edged safety razor. By getting the closest shave possible, you’ll have a little more time before those growing hairs break the surface of your skin.
If you’re going for a constantly smooth face, using inferior blades like disposable razors and electric razors will make you feel like you have to shave every twelve hours. Who has time for that? Toss those dull plastic blades in the trash and start shaving like a man. Disposable razors were great for learning how to shave, but now that you know how to shave, it’s time to step up your game.
Get the perfect shave with a safety razor
It won’t last long, but here’s how to get the perfect shave with a safety razor:
1. Start with a high-quality razor and a fresh pack of sharp blades. A good safety razor is heavy, thick, and has a non-slip handle you can hang onto. Shaving with a safety razor ensures you won’t get those nasty bumps those multi-blade razors are famous for when they rip the hair out of your face. With a safety razor you don’t have to worry about razor burn, bumps, or random nicks.
2. When you shave with a safety razor, you don’t need to press the razor into your skin like you do with a disposable razor. The blade is sharp enough to cut the hair close to your skin using just the weight of the razor.
3. To get a perfect shave, you want to lather up with a product that won’t dry out your skin. Forget about shaving cream in a can; use shaving soap and learn to work your own lather. Canned shaving cream has chemical ingredients that will dry out your skin. Good shaving soap will moisturize your face while you shave.
4. Remember those moisturizing strips on the disposable razors you threw in the trash? They’ve got nothing on real shaving soap.
5. Create your lather in a scuttle rather than directly on your face. It’s less work. By working your lather up in a scuttle, you can see exactly how thick it is before applying it on your face. If you prefer working the lather on your face there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re just learning how to make lather, make it in a scuttle first so you can learn to achieve the correct texture. Lather that’s too thick and pasty won’t give you the slick glide you need to shave.
6. Pull your skin as tight as you can while you make several passes over each area of your face. If you don’t pull your skin tight, you won’t get a close shave.
Getting the perfect shave with a safety razor is that simple. However, shaving takes precious time out of your day. No matter how much you enjoy the ritual of shaving, wouldn’t you rather be doing something else? If your shaves take fifteen minutes from start to finish, and you shave every day, you’re spending 91 hours every year just shaving. Reducing the frequency of your shaves will free up some of that time for doing other things.
Experimentation is Necessary to Get the Perfect Shave
Apart from the difference in blade numbers, there are many other often-overlooked and nuanced differences between cartridge razor shaving and safety razor shaving. These small, but significant differences are what can 1) get you to a better shave with a safety or a straight razor and 2) cause some frustration in the newly-minted wet shaver.
Getting the perfect safety razor shave requires some patience, practice, adjustment and experimentation to get you to the right shave. The over-engineered cartridge razor seeks to provide a ubiquitous one-size-fits-all solution to the typical face, but no two faces are the same. As such, someone with very sensitive skin and overly-curly facial hair is likely to have a wholly different experience with the very same razor, especially if that razor only has one blade.
One of the most oft-repeated complaints I hear from those just started into wet shaving is not that they don’t enjoy the process of shaving with a safety razor. No, it’s that they wish they knew how to experiment toward the perfect shave faster.
Iterating toward the perfect shave requires a look hardware, technique and accouterments. We will take a brief look at each so the newly-minted shaver can prepare himself up-front for some of the easily-adjustable areas that will get him to his perfect shave much more rapidly.
Like the hinge that holds up a very wide gate, small movements in certain areas can create large fluctuations in others–for both good or ill. The same holds true for wet shaving hardware. Here are some small, but significant iterating experiments you can implement to improve your wet shave right from the start.
- Razor Head Gap. Your blade gap plays a significant role in the initial comfort of your shave. When just starting out, I typically advise shavers to opt for a more narrow blade gap to protect themselves from wet shaving weepers. As you become more accustomed to the process and technique, you will want to expand out from there.
- Head Type. There are so many safety razor head types to choose from: open comb, closed comb, slant, etc. For the novice shavers, I advise a simple closed comb model as these tend to be more gentle and forgiving. Open comb and slants are really built for those experienced in the wet shaving arts. As more aggressive blades in general, they are more helpful in really hacking through longer facial hair and even beards and mustaches.
- Safety Razor Handle. The longer the handle the more control over your blade angle and your razor. Shorter handled safety razors are good for traveling and camping, but until you’re accustomed to the style, they’re better used by those who a bit better versed.
- Razor Blades. Blades play a critical role in your success as a new wet shaver. Astra Greens or Gillette 7 O’clock’s are great for starting, but I typically steer folks away from blades like Feather. They’re sharper and you will be more likely to take off a layer of skin after your first couple of passes with the blades.
Wet Shaving Accouterments
The wet shaving software you use matters. The difference between a healthy, protective lather and one that simply smells nice can mean the difference between bleeding or not. However, one of the most fun parts about wet shaving is working through and trying all the myriad of shaving creams and soaps available on the market. The market for these products continues to expand and grow.
There are continual discussions on whether you should use a wet shaving cream or a wet shaving soap, whether alcohol-based after-shave is best for your skin or whether you need some type of pre-shave oil.
When it comes to experimentation, this is the area that can take years to perfect, partly because it can take six months to exhaust a single container of shaving soap. First, read customer reviews on the products you are looking to purchase. See what others’ experience is on various soaps and creams. Iterate between various cream types. You can even purchase smaller, sample packs until you find the right pre-shave, cream/soap and aftershave combination that works best for you.
Remember part of the enjoyment of wet shaving is experimenting among the available soap and cream options on the market.
Wet Shaving Technique
Apart from the hardware, your particular wet shaving technique(s) will play the biggest role in the quality of your shave. Quick technique adjustments can easily be made on a daily basis to have you iterating and experimenting toward the perfect shave in no time.
Here are our top considerations when trying to iterate to the perfect wet shaving technique:
- Short, Slow Strokes. Keep your strokes short and slow. This allows you to maintain control and adjust your angle with the contours of your face as you go up or down (as the case may be). Pay particular attention to areas that may be more sensitive and adjust accordingly. The perfect shave is best attained as you find out what works best for you and the direction your facial hair grows.
- Maintain a proper angle. Wet shaving enthusiasts will tell you to maintain a 30 degree angle, but it’s typically something that is most frequently done by feel. Both the feedback of the razor and the feel of the blade typically will let you know what your best angle is, but your best angle may be slightly different than others.
- Let the razor do the work. Instead of putting pressure and weight against the razor like you do with multi-blade razor shaving, let the weight of the razor do the heavy lifting. You are nearly guaranteed to experience less irritation in this scenario.
Even the most experienced wet shaving enthusiast is still experimenting. The perfect shave is not elusive, however. You will find that as you iterate through various types of shaving techniques, hardware and accouterments, you will quickly move down the learning curve and start wet shaving like a pro in no time at all.
What wise learning can you impart to the would-be and newbie wet shavers out there? How have you experimented toward the perfect shave?
Enjoy the phases of beard growth
It might be making lemonade out of lemons, but learn to enjoy the various stages of beard growth until you’re ready to shave again. Stubble isn’t a bad thing, plenty of women love it. Plus, stubble is useful when you have an itch on the palm of your hand.
Once you make it past the 24-hour mark, your stubble will feel less coarse. If your face itches as your beard grows back you probably just need some moisturizer. Wash your face with some hydrating soap and when you’re done, apply your pre-shave butter.
Decrease the frequency of your shaves
If you don’t need to shave every day for work, consider shaving every other day or every three days. Trim your beard neatly with an electric razor in-between shaves so you don’t look disheveled, but let it grow just a little longer between shaves.
You might surprise yourself and start enjoying a new look by allowing your face to experience all the glorious stages of beard growth. You don’t have to become a hipster or sport the lumberjack look, although if you did you’d add 91 hours per year to your social life.
Enjoy your perfect shaves while they last
You’ve spent your whole adult life perfecting your shaving skills. Learning to shave with a safety razor is a total game changer. When you finally learn to achieve that perfect shave, enjoy each shave while it lasts. Don’t let fast beard growth get you down. The world may never recognize you as a perfectionist the day after your shave, but you’ll know in your heart that you’ve mastered the art of shaving.