Shaving is something most men take for granted as a dull, time-sucking, everyday necessity. We get up in the morning, coat our faces with a stinky gel or foam of dubious composition and drag a disposable razor that’s as many parts synthetic rubber and plastic as it is metal across our skin. After a week or so of repeating this process, the dull razor cartridge gets tossed in the bin and the cycle begins anew.
Frankly, this is no way to groom ourselves. Shaving can be a joy, but this fact is lost on today’s time-pressed man who must choose from a bewildering array of expensive – but inferior – throw-away shaving products in the personal care aisle at the chemist’s. To our good fortune, however, traditional wet shaving is regaining popularity, and once you try it, you may never turn back.
In this post I’m going to cover how to use a safety razor, and recommend a good kit to buy for beginners.
Wet Shaving versus Everything Else
In its simplest form, “wet shaving” means splashing your face with water (usually hot) before you shave. It doesn’t even preclude the use of those aforementioned nasty gels and foams, nor does it require anything more than a cheap razor.
But when you precede the word “wet” with “traditional”, things start looking up. Traditional shaving encompasses not only wetting the face, but using high-quality grooming tools – yes, tools, not throwaway bits of mass-produced plastic – and a time-tested process to smoothly cut away the previous day’s stubble and reveal a clean visage.
Where regular shaving typically uses canned foam, in traditional wet shaving the skin is protected and lubricated (always after wetting it) with the lather produced by much higher-quality soaps or creams. Such products typically contain all or more-natural ingredients and are formulated to soothe the skin as well as allow the razor’s blade to glide.
Lather is made using a shaving brush. Such brushes typically feature a wooden handle and boar or badger bristles. Variations on handle material are available, from the utilitarian to the exotic, and synthetic (animal-free) bristles are, too – but most men prefer the natural variants.
Badger hair is generally considered superior to boar hair, but there is a range of quality, or grades, of bristle from which to choose. As you delve further into traditional shaving, you will realize that each brush feels and lathers differently, and develop your own preferences.
Lather can be whisked up in a shaving bowl, against a puck of soap, in the palm of the hand or directly on the face. No matter how it’s done, the result is richer and more luxurious that anything you’ll get out of a can. Applying the lather with a brush feels lovely – like a micro-massage – and helps soften and lift up each facial hair for easier removal.
Of the greatest importance to traditional wet shaving is the razor. This is no five-bladed, rubber-handled, swivelling, contoured-comfort-gripped, Aloe Vera-enhanced monstrosity – what you’ll be using is something very much like what men of your grandfather’s generation shaved with – either a “safety razor” or a straight razor.
The former (recommended for beginners) has all-metal construction and utilizes a single replaceable blade, which with its close-cutting ability dispels the myth that more blades give a better shave. Safety razor blades are also very economical, costing pennies, not pounds, and break down more readily after disposal, being nothing more than a razor-thin (quite literally) piece of steel.
Straight razors – otherwise known as “cutthroat razors” – are a more advanced shaving tool. They feature a permanent blade – sometimes fixed, but usually hinged – which is carefully manoeuvred across the face, slicing through hair – and if you have a good hand for it, without losing any skin in the process!
Straight razors have to be maintained with a strop and sharpening stones. Some people love the process as well as the extremely close shave, but they’re not for everyone.
Recommended Safety Razor Shaving Kits
There are a lot of razors, brushes, creams and soaps to choose from. You could spend a good amount of money experimenting, but if you’re new to the wonderful world of traditional wet shaving, consider The Bluebeards Revenge Scimitar Safety Razor Shaving Kit – it includes a good-quality, all-metal safety razor with a sleek chrome finish, a shaving brush, and the much beloved Bluebeards Revenge shaving cream and post-shave balm.
The advantage of such a kit is that it contains everything you need to get started right away – no ordering from different merchants, wondering what to try – just the essentials at an affordable price and means to introduce yourself to a new way of grooming.
How To Use a Safety Razor Kit
Traditional wet shaving with a safety razor might sound like it’s complicated, but it isn’t. Just follow these four simple steps:
1. Prepare your beard…to be removed! Hot water softens facial hair, thus helping prevent irritation, so it’s best to shave immediately after showering. If this isn’t an option, splash your face liberally with hot water from the sink or use a hot towel.
2. Make some lather. A small amount of shaving cream around the size of a small coin is all you need. Drop it in your shaving bowl, in the palm of your hand or apply it to your face and move a pre-wetted shaving brush in a circular motion on the foam until a thick lather forms.
Cover your beard evenly and smooth out any errant mounds. The same process applies if using shaving soap, except soap is lathered directly on the puck. If using cream without a shaving bowl, lather can be made directly within the bowl’s container.
3. Shave! For the sake of newcomers, we’ll restrict this portion of the instructions to safety razors, which work a little differently than a typical disposable razor.
It’s key to shave as lightly as possible – avoid applying any significant pressure to your face. In most cases, the weight of the razor’s head (owing to the fact that it’s made of metal) should be sufficient.
Keep the blade angled as far as reasonable from your face, between 30 and 45 degrees, and always begin by shaving with the grain. As you develop your own technique and your skin adapts, you may follow with-the-grain strokes with across-the-grain and against-the-grain. What works best varies from one person to the next.
Remember that the goal is a gradual reduction of your beard. Attempting to go full bore and cut it all off in one swipe is a recipe for disaster. With each progressive pass of the razor, a little more hair comes off. Within a couple or few passes, your skin should be perfectly smooth.
4. Cool down. Splashing and gently patting your face with cold water will remove any leftover lather and loose stubble, in addition to soothing the skin and closing the pores. If desired, follow up with a good quality aftershave or astringent splash, such as alcohol-free Witch Hazel extract. Everyone’s skin is different – experiment until you find your ideal post-shave protocol.
Traditional wet shaving is a wonderful – and ultimately economical – way to introduce a little bit of luxury into your morning routine. Your skin will feel better and your face will look better; you’ll save money and lessen the environmental burden associated with disposable razors. Give it a try – get yourself a good starter kit and you’ll realize what you’ve been missing.