Welcome New York Times Readers
Thank you, Peter Jaret, for the nice writeup in today’s Times! For Times readers checking Shaveblog out for the first time, I thought it might be good to repost the oft-linked wetshaving primer I wrote last year that started all of this — the Today Show segment, the MSNBC article, the old-school shaving boom, and this blog. I’ve updated the text with new tips and links I’ve picked up since the original article ran, so if you’re interested in seeing what all the fuss is about, read on:
The Perfect Shave
Corey GreenbergEver since prehistoric man first scraped a seashell across his cheek so prehistoric woman would let him dance cheek-to-cheek, shaving has been a part of the male experience. But even with today’s high-tech razors, lots of men still get nicks, cuts, and razor burn. That’s why the latest trend in male grooming, “wetshaving”, promises a better shave by going back to the old school.
The perfect shave is what all men strive for every morning when they bring their razor up to their chin — an effortless shave that’s baby smooth, and without any of the usual skin irritation, redness, and that burning sensation most guys seem to feel is par for the course when it comes to shaving.
Why do so many guys find this so hard to achieve? Because proper shaving has become a lost art. Shaving is one of those glorious male traditions that used to be passed down from father to son, but somewhere along the line, shaving became more about cheap, disposable razors than a nice, precision-made metal tool in your hand. In a single generation, shaving went from a pleasant, contemplative exercise in good grooming to a brainless routine to slash through in the morning without even thinking about it.
A disposable or cartridge razor dragged across a layer of foam or gel on your dry cheek is a step backward from the past, not an improvement. Now that men of all ages are once again paying attention to their appearance, it’s no wonder that the hottest trend right now in male grooming is a return to the traditional wet shave. And those who try it are shocked to discover that the “old-fashioned” method of shaving they thought went out with the Hula Hoop is actually the best quality shave of them all.
Wetshaving is just what the term implies — keeping your face wet with plenty of hot water before and during the entire shave. In fact, you should always shave after a hot shower, not before (if you need to shave without taking a shower, try washing your face with hot water for a few minutes).
Believe it or not, but your whiskers are tougher than the edge of a razor blade, and shaving “dry”, or mostly dry as with the vast majority of shaving creams, foams, and gels on the market, means you’re literally tugging on each and every hair on your face instead of neatly slicing it at the skin’s surface and moving on without irritating your skin.
With a layer of hot water between your skin and the lather, the blade skims the surface instead of dragging on it, which is the main cause of irritation, redness, and “shave bumps”. Most men are astonished the first time they have a proper wet shave, because the razor no longer pulls, tugs, and otherwise fights the whiskers — it just glides over your skin leaving a clean path in its wake.
The perfect shave has three ingredients: a good razor, a good brush, and glycerin-based shaving cream. But the biggest difference between wetshaving and the way most guys shave today is the use of a shaving brush. A good badger-hair shaving brush is the single most important ingredient in getting the perfect shave — if you change no part of your shaving routine except to add a good shaving brush to the mix, you’ll be astounded at how much better and more enjoyable your shaves become.
Take it from a guy who used to use his fingers to smear cheap shaving gel on his face that smelled just like his deodorant — using a fine badger hair brush to lather high-end English shaving cream that smells like fresh-cut violets onto your face and neck isn’t just about treating yourself nicely after years of the ol’ slice’n’dice. It’s also the best possible way to prepare your skin and whiskers for the closest, most comfortable shave.
A shaving brush isn’t a paint brush for your face. A good brush — the best brushes are made of badger hair and start at $25 — absorbs hot water and then, after you dip the tip of the brush into your shaving cream, the brush releases and mixes the hot water with the cream as you swirl the brush around on your face and neck. The combination of hot water mixing with the cream and getting beaten by the brush all over your face delivers a thicker, richer, more emollient lather than you can get from a can, no matter what the brash young He-Men in the commercials with no hair on their chests wearing a bath towel being playfully tugged at by a gyrating tigress may tell you.
A shaving brush also gently exfoliates, or removes the dead skin, from your face before shaving, which gets rid of anything coming between the blade and your whiskers. Finally, the brush lifts your whiskers and suspends them standing upright in the thick lather, which exposes the maximum whisker length to your blade as it skims along your face. Never mind that using a shaving brush feels really, really good on your face right after a nice hot shower — it happens to be the very best way to prepare your face for the shave of your life.
High quality badger hair shaving brushes come in all sizes and hair types, costing anywhere from $25 for a basic “pure” or “fine” grade badger model to $550 for a monster-sized, high-end “silvertip” job. Do you need a $550 shaving brush? Unless you’re Mr. Burns, the answer is no. I’ve tried a lot of shaving brushes over the years, from the entry-level to the obscenely expensive, and I got no better lather or shave from the expensive brushes than I do with the reasonably priced brushes I finally settled on. Once you go above $75 or so, you’re paying for snob/collector appeal, not a better shave.
Most shavegeeks go for the biggest brush they can hoist, but I get the best results with the small-to-medium sized brushes like the $55 Vulfix #2233 and Simpson’s almost comically small $65 Wee Scot. They’re a lot easier to use, you don’t get sloppy lather flying everywhere like you do with the bigger brushes, and you don’t wind up dumping a lot of unused lather down the drain. They’re also the perfect size to throw in your dopp kit for travel (hey, why shave like a heathen when you’re on the road?).
I recommend the English-made Vulfix brushes as the best bang for the buck. They’re much more reasonably priced than a lot of high-end British shaving brushes, and they lather right up there with the best of them. The brush shown above is Vulfix’s #2233, which is a medium-sized “super” grade brush that hits the sweet spot for size, price, and performance — at just $55, the Vulfix puts far more expensive brushes to shame when it comes to building world-class lather.
The German Merkur Platinum blades are sold by most vendors who sell Merkur’s razors and they’re of good quality, but I find these blades can be inconsistent and not terribly forgiving for the first-time wetshaver, so I don’t recommend them if you’re just starting out.
A much better choice would be the American Personna relabeled “house brand” blades you find in drugstores, which are inexpensive and much smoother than the Merkurs. Even better are the $25/100 Personna blades made in Israel, aka the “no-name” marked simply “Super+” which can be bought in boxes of 100 for $25 on eBay or here.
The Brits have been making this stuff for centuries, and they really do make some of the best shaving creams on the planet. At around $20 for a tub and $12 for a travel tube, they may seem a bit more expensive than the foams and gels at the drugstore, but since a little goes a long way when lathered with a shaving brush, these high-end creams are actually a good value and last for many months of daily shaving.
I use and recommend Geo F. Trumper’s and Taylor of Old Bond Street’s shaving creams in both tubs for the bathroom and small tubes for travel. My personal favorites are Trumper’s Violet, and Taylor’s Avocado and Rose creams — these shaving creams will spoil you rotten for anything else when lathered onto your face with hot water and a badger shaving brush. And the intoxicating scents of these top-shelf creams will make you actually look forward to shaving, probably for the first time in your life.
The Art of Shaving makes a nice shaving cream as well, in the old-school English style. I especially like their Lavender cream, made with real lavender essential oil. AOS has shops all over the country and its products can be found in many mall’s men’s departments, where it’s usually the only good shaving cream in the display case.
I also recommend the legendary eucalyptus shaving cream from Italy called Proraso. This $7 wonder comes in a large, bright green toothpaste tube, and has been the best-selling shaving product in Italy since the 1940s. Despite its budget price, Proraso actually shaves on a par with the fancy English creams, and it has the added benefit of eucalyptus oil, which gives your face an incredible cooling effect when you splash with cold water at the end of the shave. Like the Trumper and Taylor shaving creams, you can buy Proraso online, but you might also check your local Target, as the chain recently began carrying Proraso’s entire line of old-school shaving products.
While most of the boutique “upscale” shaving creams marketed to young guys and metrosexuals are crap, two “new-school” shaving creams recently hit the market that give the best English creams a run for their money. London’s Truefitt & Hill has been around since 1805 (a full century before King Gillette invented the safety razor!), andwhile the venerated English firm’s traditional shaving creams are excellent, their new Ultimate Comfort unscented shaving cream is their best yet. Creamier and kinder to sensitive skin, the Ultimate Comfort is an easy recommendation.
My favorite shaving cream these days is Nancy Boy’s amazing lavender, peppermint, and rosemary scented cream. It’s extremely skin-friendly and chock full of beneficial ingredients like avocado oil, aloe, allantoin, cucumber extract, Vitamin E, and genuine lavender, peppermint, and rosemary essential oils, with no harsh soaps or artificial fragrance. The Nancy Boy shaving cream also works well brushless, if you’re in a hurry. But lather this stuff up with a good badger brush and it just doesn’t get any better – my skin feels much more moisturized after a shave with Nancy Boy than with any other shaving cream I’ve used. If I could only shave with one cream, this would be it.
If you end up with a few nicks your first few shaves with a DE, don’t worry, it happened to all of us — your grandpa, Lee Marvin, and me — when we first picked up a safety razor. It’s your face’s way of telling you to stop being a knucklehead. After a few shaves, you’ll figure it all out, and then you’ll wonder why you haven’t been shaving like this your whole life.