A Good Shave
OK. So I’m 32 now. I used an electric razor pretty much exclusively for my entire life (as long as I can imagine having facial hair). I tried wet razors in the past, but I never really got used to them. Actually I hated shaving so much that I rarely shaved at all. I just let it grow until it was too long and then cut it all off, before the cycle started again. December last year I wanted to try a new 30-day-challenge. I was wondering about my shaving skills. Am I able to keep my face shaved for 30 days straight? That sounded like a rather pleasing 30DC, so I tried it.
I succeeded. For 30 days (almost) straight I was clean shaven. My surroundings reacted to it. They realized something was different. I got compliments how good I’m looking. When I started this particular 30DC I changed only one small thing in my daily routine, which made it so easy to be clean every day. The change: I simply shaved under the shower. That’s it. No other secrets. Instead of shaving after the shower, I simply shaved in the shower. Just a (wet) razor, pouring water, done. Boom! I went with a 5-blade Balea precision5, which you can buy in a German DM store. The razor is not too expensive, cartridges are cheap too.
I shaved with a wet razor for about two months until it hit me. How much is this going to cost? Is this really the best I can do for my face? Because, in the end, preferably, I wouldn’t just want to be clean, but also to look neat. This includes having the skin clean as well.
Some weeks before this event, I also made the decision that I wanted to wear a beard. It became pretty clear what type of beard I wanted early on, and I could tell from the picture I had in my head that it would be hell on earth to style this beard with a cartridge razor. Combine all of that and you easily enter the world of: double-edge safety razing.
I found communities of men discussing this topic. Whether the one blade is better than the other, what the best shave creams are, why, or if, “canned goo”1 is bad for a man, and how the “shaving industry” forces products onto the masses that are easily produced, marketed to millions, but are not tailored specifically to a person’s individual needs and skin.
One additional note: these mass products may also contain non-vegan or non-vegetarian ingredients and may also be animal-tested. Products are out of the question for some people.
I don’t want to go into detail on everything, but I want to touch on the most eye-opening things that I learned over these weeks. As always I’d like to share my knowledge in a meaningful way so that you, the reader, can make the most out of it.
The question was: Was it really true? Was old-school shaving, with a razor my grandpa would use, actually better than mass-marketed shaving with cartridge razors?
If you take nothing from this article, but only one thing, then please consider throwing away the canned foams. Maybe you are wet shaving already, then you probably know how all the hairs get stuck between the blades when using shaving gell. It’s a total pain to get the hairs out of between the blades.
Know what? Just switch out the foam with a shaving cream or soap and a shaving brush. You wouldn’t believe the difference! Stroke, hairs stuck between blade, rinse, hairs gone.
There are so many shaving creams out there. I can hardly recommend anything, mainly because I have such a broad readership that comes from across the world. Recommending a German product won’t help you anything. I recommend some below nonetheless.
If you change anything about your shaving, try shaving soap.
The Price Tag
Now that I recommended something, I also briefly want to talk about money. A lot of men, and women mind you(!), start getting into DE shaving because cartridge razors are so much more expensive than DE razors. The thing that costs so much money is actually not the razor itself, but the cartridges one needs to buy to keep the thing running. It works with printers, why shouldn’t it work with razors, right? Over time the cartridges cost a multifold of an old-school DE razor. Here is an article that I just quickly googled.
Initially the costs of a DE razor are actually higher than the ones for a cartridge razor, but over time the costs flip dramatically, favoring DE razors.
First Year Annual Double Edge Razor Cost: $52.68
First Year Annual Cartridge Razor Cost: $64.46
11 Years of a Double Edge Razor: $99.68
11 Years of a Cartridge Razor: $619.46
Now we’ve got that out of the way. When you go for traditional shaving, you can spend hundreds and hundreds, of whatever currency, on stuff. There are shaving brushes for $10, and there are ones for $300. As I wrote, if you change anything, then try a shaving cream and a cheap brush for 10 bucks. If anything, you lost $15, at most. Throw it away or give it to a DE-Razor-Aspirant®. They will be happy to take the brush!
Shaving soaps come in neat mahogany bowls. Brushes come from bores or badgers. Razors comes from all over the world, but, if you happen to live in Germany, take a look at Merkur’s razors.2 Steel, shine, weight. If that doesn’t cry “man”, I don’t know what else it does. (Let’s actually keep that thought for some paragraphs later.)
Double-Edge Safety Razors
I started with a DE razor, I still used to have at home, from about 5 years ago when I first tried out DE shaving. At that time I just thought the razor didn’t work very well. I bought the Wilkinson Classic, which comes with 5 Wilkinson blades. I know the packaging looks horrible, and the razor doesn’t have much appeal either, but if you take a look at traditional shaving, most things aren’t made to shine, they are made to work.
DE shaving is an entirely different beast than cartridge or even electric shaving. The reason I thought the razor didn’t work so well was because I didn’t know how to use the razor correctly. Cartridge razors are nice because they forgive your laziness. Cartridge razors are made so that you can wake up hung over and with a headache and just put the razor on your skin, move it up and down some times and the skin is clean3. Not so with a DE razor.
Remember the thought some moments ago? Yeah, being a man, a real man. Apparently being a real man means that you need to cut yourself, that you need to get nicks and the skin needs to bleed. Now, if that doesn’t cry men, I don’t know what else does. So if you are a real man, then bleeding is the way to go.
I’m just kidding.
I agree that you (probably) (most likely) (if you are not careful) may get cuts and nicks, but the truth is you might not. A face isn’t entirely straight. Therefore when you shave take a look at your face’s contours first and how the grain grows. Then it will be much much easier and less likely for you to get cut.
Don’t use pressure either. Bad habits have been formed with cartridge razors. Unlearn them. A DE razor is sharp. A cartridge razor, while being sharp, is produced so that you don’t hurt yourself. That’s why so many people push the razor into the skin when they are aiming for a BBS shave.4 A DE razor pushed into the skin will hurt you, resulting into bleeding and other nastiness you don’t want to have. Take your time. It took me about 3 weeks to get a half decent shaving routine going. It doesn’t come over night. Learn and practice.
Shoot for “a good shave” not a baby butt smooth face. Every shave is different. Some days you may get all the hairs, some days you may not. Overall it doesn’t matter that much, because there’s always going to be another day to shave again. And it’s more important to be shaved well, than to be shaved perfect. For the days where you need a perfect shave, you can put in the extra time to shave perfectly smooth. Heck, you might even enjoy shaving after a while.
Also an entirely new concept was “lather a second or third time”. I was like “wha?”, but it’s actually not a bad idea, if you think about it. Instead of using the razor to go over a just freshly-shaven area again and again and again, until all the hair is gone, just re-lather and shave, re-lather and shave. Results: less nicks, less cuts, happier looking skin.
Remember also that most cartridge razors have multiple blades. When you use a razor with 3 blades, you actually cut the skin 3 times in 1 stroke. A DE razor has one blade. To get a clean shave it makes sense to go over the same area again. Most people recommend to do three strokes total. One with, one across, and one against the grain. The one against the grain is the one that’s going to make your skin smooth like a baby’s butt, but it’s also the most painful one, when not careful.
Actually I don’t want to get into the technical stuff too much. I learned the basics on YouTube, but the main part of learning happened in the bath room. I can’t save you from the same experience. I can recommend the Sharpologist channel, he has an “Introduction to Traditional Wetshaving” series, which gets you up and running in about 50 minutes.
Just some brief words on skin care. Actually, maybe more words than I would like to write about this topic.
First, let’s talk about the good world. Taking care of your skin, when you basically cut the first layer of your skin off, with a razor that sharp, is a good thing. Moisturize after the save with a cream or some other skin care product. Maybe also put an extra layer of safety on your skin using a pre-shave oil.
Second, the bad side. The beauty industry has discovered men as target audience and they want to market products to us. While this market is still under-developed compared to the women’s market, this means the industry can make big profits from us because we’re such a small niche. Some of the products that we can buy are just over-marketed.
I would recommend not to buy anything that you see in the grocery store. Do some research and then buy a product. Typically useful products aren’t as shiny as quality products. That said, German’s DM market is not bad. They got some in-house brands that specialize on 100% natural products (Alverde) as well as their “cheap alternative” brand, Balea. Also German-based is Weleda.
I sent this article to a friend for proof-reading. He mentioned two more products. In Germany we also have Speick, who makes some very good and natural soaps. I personally haven’t tested or read much about Alaun blocks, but that’s another thing he mentioned.
You can look on Amazon for international products. Amazon is a good way to get American products in Germany. It works the other way around too.
That said, if you do get cuts in the beginning, do yourself a favor and don’t just shave for the sake of being shaved. Stop for a day or two, maybe go back to your old shaver. No matter what you do, let your skin heal first before you try again. After a shave, wait a couple of hours before the first red spots appear. If you see red spots, then you know where you did wrong. Again, wait for things to heal up, then try again. If, no matter how often you try, you still get red spots, then that’s an indication that some product you use may not be right for you. Switch to something for sensitive skin. Do you use an after shave with alcohol in it and you think “the burn” is helping? Then you will hopefully be happy to hear, that the burning doesn’t have to be part of your shaving routine at all. We have made lots of advancements since the early days of alcohol-based after shaves. After shave balms contain soothing, moisturizing, and cleaning ingredients for your skin. No burning necessary.
What about time, I hear you say? Doesn’t it take much longer to shave with a DE? Yes, it does. In my case, think of my scenario, I knew I was going for a beard and that I couldn’t continue to shave in the shower anymore. It made perfect sense to change things up a little. And so it doesn’t hurt me to put in that extra time.
Showing Skill, Getting Compliments, Being Awesome
Think of it this way: I find it satisfying to show myself that I got the skill to shave with a DE. See, I could go back to a cartridge at any time, but right now it just gives me a good feeling to take care of myself and to make me feel nice.
People will recognize that something has changed when you (start to) take care of yourself. I think it’s because you feel good inside yourself, that creates enough good energy to emanate through you to others. I don’t know. That may be the little buddhist in me talking.
I’ve been learning shaving for the last couple of months. That doesn’t go without any skill being built. I don’t know, but it felt like I owe it to myself to show that skill… just a little bit. I didn’t want a standard goatee or mutton chops. I wanted something a little bit more involved, just so that I can take the time to style my beard every day. Something people are going to notice. When I talk with other folks now, I can see it in their face when they start to examine “the beard”. Their faces tell stories: “Oh it has a straight line from here to there, and it connects to here, but it doesn’t go to there, but then there’s a straight line… wait, did he really put the extra time in to cut that part straight? He did. So what’s up with the … Oh I see…” That’s pretty much the experience I’m getting. Not many people are going to notice, but the few who do, massage the ego that much more.5
Oh, did I tell you about my other 30-day-challenge? I’m this close to being done6:
Suck it, laziness!
How does that help you? Maybe you want to take care of your face as well, show some skill, and show that you do care. Most other men I know simply don’t care much. Right now I see a lot of men wear a full beard, mainly because, I don’t know why, maybe because it’s just the beard that’s easiest to shave. You shave it once a week and otherwise just let it grow. Read this again: almost everyone else doesn’t take care, so if you do, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb!
Even with a full beard you can do better. Here are some tips to make people notice:
- Trim: That’s right. Trim the thing. Maybe you have a clipper already7. Trim your beard to medium length, if you want to go for the scruffy look. Scruffy men are sexy. But going for scruffy doesn’t mean the hair has to be all over the place. Keep it trimmed and other people will recognize that you “don’t just let it grow”, that you intentionally look scruffy, and that you also put in the extra effort to make “scruffy” look “neat”. And that is what’s going to catch people’s attention!
- Cut edges: When I let my beard grow, I knew that there were areas that I would shave off for 100% certainty. I don’t like mustaches, so I shaved my hair above the lip. I also noticed the hair on my cheek doesn’t run in a “geometrical” shape entirely across the cheek. I decided to fix that by shaving the few little extra hairs off, so that it looked like there was a perfect rounded line on my cheek. I thought no one is going to notice, but then the other day, I was attending an afterwork event. One of the folks in the audience looked at me briefly, then away. Then from the corner of my eyes I could see an act of amazement. His eyebrows went up, making his eyes really big, before he squinted. Usually a sign that a thought occurred that now needs some investigative research. I rotated my head slightly, so that my entire cheek points straight at his face, so that he can examine better. His eyes wandered from my ear, to the nose, to the edge of my chin, with one eyebrow down. Needless to say, he noticed. Another example: Here in Germany, we have a lot of Turkish barbers who shave you a really really neat beard with contours so sharp, everybody will notice. If you want to make people go “ooh”, just pay one of these guys, and you know what I want to tell you with this entire article.
Canned goo is a term used to describe that the usual shaving foam one can purchase from a drug store usually contains gases and many artificial ingredients to make the lather work, but all of that means these foams put more chemicals onto the skin as well. ↩
Yeah, I know, I’m such an unfortunate guy to live in this country. ↩
(Or appears to be clean.) ↩
Oh, all the acronyms people come up with… ↩
If you are among these folks, I love you. ↩
If not, please buy one. ↩