Rasatura migliore mai!
June 14, 2005
Six years ago my wife and I were in Tuscany and I was still shaving with a Gillette Sensor Excel and that Novocain-juiced Lab Series “Maximum Comfort” shaving cream that numbed your face so you didn’t realize how badly the Sensor was beating up your skin.
There was an ancient Italian barbershop down the street from our hotel that we used to pass several times a day, and it fascinated me, mainly because it seemed to be less of a place for men to get their hair cut, and more about beautifully dressed local gentlemen strolling in at all hours of the day to lean back in one of the two ancient red leather barber chairs so that old men in white smocks could give them an old-school Italian barber straight razor shave.
An Italian barber shave is a very different thing than the version we serve stateside. For starters, Italian barbers use real straight razors, which are illegal for barbers to use in this country — they must use disposable blade razors, and discard the blade between shaves, so nobody shares the same cutting edge. Clearly, we must be protected against shared straight razors and unpastuerized cheese, because they deliver far more pleasure than Americans can plainly stand.
Italian barbers also use different shaving products along with their straight razors. The old barbers in San Gimignano had laid out clean white barber’s towels on the counter behind the barber chairs and upon them sat an array of shaving creams, after-shaves, and assorted high-end poultices of a brand which I’d never seen before, which brings us to the shaving rig I used this morning — Proraso!
Proraso shaving products have been around for over half a century in Europe, and Proraso’s famous shaving cream in the green tube (or tub, if you want the slightly harder “shaving soap” version) is the #1 selling shaving cream in Italy. And with good reason — this stuff is incredible! Really, it’s far, far superior to any shaving cream sold at your local grocery store, drug store, mall, or even those weird knife shops that also sell Hummel figurines and shaving stuff. It costs nine or ten bucks for a five-ounce tube that lasts and lasts, and whether you use it with a shaving brush or just slather it on with your hands, it lubricates and conditions your face as well or better than anything else I’ve tried at any price.
Proraso’s secret weapon is eucalyptus oil. It’s good for your skin and it smells wonderfully old-world He-Man, but the money shot’s when you finally finish your shaving and rinse your face with cold water. Yowza! When the cold water hits your freshly-shaven skin, the cooling effect hits you in a tidal wave of relief from any and all razor burn, irritation, you name it. When I use Proraso, I keep splashing cold water on my face long after the cream’s washed off, just because it feels so damn good.
Proraso makes three different versions of its shaving cream — the famous eucalyptus in the green tube, a wheat germ formula for sensitive skin that comes in a red tube, and a semi-hard shaving soap that comes in this really cool looking green plastic tub. I say semi because it’s actually more of a hard paste than a true cake of shaving soap — unlike the much softer green and red tubed creams, the stuff in the tub is meant to be used with a stiff-bristled boar’s hair shaving brush, the kind that all Italian barbers swear by. I bought an Omega boar’s hair brush for $12, just so I could use it with Proraso for the full-on Italian shave rig. It really kicks ass — I’ll talk more about it another time.
Proraso also makes a couple of pre-shave and after-shave products that deserve mention. The company’s legendary Crema Pre & Dopo Barba is known as the “pre-shave miracle” in Italy, where barbers slather it on the beard to soften the hairs before shaving cream is lathered on top of it. I’ve used it, and it’s great for reducing skin irritation if you shave very aggressively or use a straight razor. Proraso’s Crema Liquida Dopobarba is a creamy, milky-white aftershave that’s one of the very best I’ve used. It’s got witch hazel and vitamin E, and most importantly, no alcohol (I don’t recommend Proraso’s more traditional alcohol-based aftershave splash, the clear stuff, because it stings like @%#$ the same way all alcohol-based aftershaves do — who ever thought this was a good idea?!)
Of the three Proraso shaving creams, I like the green tube the best. It shaves best, at least on my puss, and even if you apply it with your hands instead of a shaving brush, it still lathers up nicely and delivers a world-class shave. The wheat germ Proraso shaves well, but it smells funky, and doesn’t have the intense cooling effect with cold water that the green stuff has. The semi-hard soap in the tub gets my vote for the coolest looking of the three Prorasos, but I find it doesn’t shave quite as well as the soft cream in the green tube. Still, I will always keep a tub of the semi-hard on hand, because it’s the same stuff that the old-school Italian barbers use, and they’ve forgotten more about shaving than I’ll ever know. It probably is the best of the trio, and I just haven’t figured out how to use it properly yet. I plan to keep at it with the boar brush till I get as good a shave with it as the green tube.
Some of the more zombified shavegeeks who can’t stand when inexpensive products work better than the overpriced totems these types worship poo-poo Proraso because it’s cheap compared to the upper-crust English creams, and because it has lanolin, which the cranks claim gums up badger brushes. I think these guys are full of it, and knowingly lying in order to preserve a hierarchy of expensive British products in the upper tier, and lower priced European creams like Proraso and Musgo Real (another favorite I’ll discuss another time) below. Me, I use Proraso all the time, with my best badger brushes, and I’ve never had a problem. And you won’t either. It’s great stuff.
What’s that? Your local grocery store doesn’t stock Proraso next to the eighteen rows of forty different types of Gillette and Edge “advanced” gels? Scroll down to the Links section — every online wetshaving vendor worth his salt sells Proraso because it’s the biggest bang for the shaving cream buck there is, and at one time or another all of these guys have told me the same thing, namely that Proraso shaves as well as anything out there, and better, in fact, than many of the most highly-esteemed brands from the UK. I agree wholeheartedly.
Do yourself a favor and get a green tube of Proraso. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve turned onto this stuff, and everyone goes bonkers over it. It’s by far the biggest bang for the buck in the shavosphere.