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A Case For Retro Shaving
If you’re like most men and began to shave on a regular basis in your early teens, by now the whole shaving thing is beginning to become a little routine.
In fact, it’s probably getting to be a chore, particularly when you consider the number of products and amount of time involved in the process. It’s time for men to simplify the task of shaving, while saving time, money and effort.
When you think about it, shaving is pretty basic. The point of the exercise is to get rid of the hair on your face, something men have been doing for about 5,000 years, according to archaeologists. The goals haven’t changed, even after all that time: Get a close, smooth shave, avoiding too many nicks and cuts and finish without that raw, scraped feeling and bumpy rash called “razor burn.” Seems pretty straight-forward.
The problem is that, in recent years, there have been a large – and sometimes confusing – number of shaving products placed on the market. They are touted as being the solution to make shaving easier, closer, faster or sexier, or any combination of the above. Some of them are based on mutually conflicting theories about beard hair, skin health and (it seems at times) the laws of physics. What they do seem to have in common is that they are all pretty expensive.
Perhaps now is the time to consider some old-fashioned solutions to shaving, to see what benefits they can offer to us today. Admittedly, few modern men want to return to using pieces of mollusk shell or copper blades like our forefathers did in Ur and Egypt, even if they did get the job done, but we don’t have to go back that far. In fact, the Golden Age of Shaving is within living memory, just before all the gimmicks began to make their debut.
Pre-Shave Techniques from the Good Old Days
Beard stubble is tough and scratchy, as we’re constantly reminded when we run a hand over our cheeks before shaving. Although shaving cream is supposed to soften the stubble before shaving begins, there’s a problem of timing: Most shaving cream will start to dry out before the hairs become softened. The second problem is that the skin pores, where the hair follicles are based, haven’t been relaxed enough to allow the razor blade to cut as low as possible and provide a close shave.
To open the pores and soften the beard stubble, apply wet heat to the area to be shaved. This is why shaving after a hot shower usually results in a smoother shave, but the same result can be achieved with either a hot, wet towel or warm oil. Both of these are old barbering tricks, dating from the days when many men went to their local tonsorial emporium for a shave. Wrapping a hot towel around your face is a lot of trouble, particularly first thing in the morning, and the technique doesn’t always treat the really difficult areas (like the areas just behind the hinges of your jaw).
The best technique is to use pre-shaving oil. Get the oil comfortably warm and rub it into the stubble and massage the skin well, taking care to apply it everywhere you plan to shave. Do not wipe off the oil before you apply shaving cream: The oil will act as a lubricant to help the blade slide across your skin.
Shaving Cream – Keep it Simple
Any time a man even thinks about sneering at the number of skin care products on a woman’s makeup table, he should reflect on the variety of different shaving creams available in the average “shaving needs” aisle at the average drug store. There are so many gels, foams, scents and medicated formulas available that it is only surprising that there aren’t any that are touted as being low-salt and fat-free. All of these choices obscure the purpose of shaving cream: To keep the beard stubble moist and fixed in the soap matrix so they can be shaved off.
The best choices, as far as we are concerned, can usually be found at the bottom of the shelf. Yeah, those old-fashioned red-striped cans that you probably remember seeing on your grandfather’s bathroom medicine cabinet. Either that, or a cake of shaving soap in a mug. This isn’t just retro for the sake of being retro, but recognition that the simplest solution is sometimes the best one. Yes, they are basically just soap, which can cause your skin to dry out, but consider the following: (a) the shaving cream won’t be on your face more than a couple of minutes before you rinse off the remnants, and (b) the modern gels and foams contain additives which may (but not necessarily do) cause a reaction with your skin. Keep it simple.
Razors – Cold Hard Steel
Forget the three-blade, four-blade or, God help us, five-blade plastic disposable razors. Even the electric razors, including those engineered for wet shaving, aren’t as effective as cold steel. Before you get carried away, though, and buy a straight razor (which, admittedly, look pretty cool) remember why they were once called “cut-throat” razors and were instantly put away by most sane men when one of the great inventions of the early 20th century was introduced: the safety razor. While straight razors were fine when someone else, like a barber, was doing the honors, a safety razor is, well, safe for anyone to use.
Again, this isn’t retro for its own sake: Safety razors are not only more effective, but they are more hygienic than the multi-blade disposable ones. Unless you’re willing to throw away a disposable after each shave, consider that it quickly becomes a breeding ground for bacteria between uses. The spaces between those blades get clogged up with all sorts of gunk, including old skin cells, and they cannot be cleaned out thoroughly. The next time you use it, if you nick yourself you are pressing a veritable infection factory against an open wound. At least with a safety razor, you can really rinse off the blade between uses. Besides, safety razor blades last longer.
After-Shave – Post Shave Steps
You know those ads for fresh-smelling after-shaves, touted as the “perfect” Father’s Day present for the old man? Every wonder why the guys in those ads always look a little nervous as they stare at the bottle, as a mysterious sailor taunts them with that stupid whistled tune? That’s because the contents of those after-shaves are about 70% alcohol. Think about applying alcohol to a freshly shaved face, particularly if you’ve nicked yourself. What sort of sick, twisted mind ever came up with that concept? We have our theories, but they can’t be published because the court order is still in effect.
Go back to the old barber shops for the best after-shave: Witch hazel.
It’s a natural astringent, meaning that it closes the pores and firms the skin and, in most cases, witch hazel-based after-shaves don’t include alcohol. There are others available, containing various ingredients, which can have the same skin-tightening effects without the screams of agony. For nicks and cuts, avoid resorting to the old little-piece-of-toilet-paper trick; you’ll invariably forget to take them all off one day, and then have to spend the rest of your career at the office living down your new-found reputation as a dork. Septic pencils, which are basically alum (also astringent) with a little antiseptic mixed in, work well to stop the bleeding and reduce the chance of infection.
Unless you plan to go all mountain man and grow a full beard, shaving will continue to be part of your daily routine. It doesn’t have to be exciting or fun (neither term applies to much of anything while standing in your bare feet in front of a mirror), but it can be done efficiently and with a minimum of fuss.