What About Aftershave? Is It Necessary?

Most guys probably recall “trying out” their father’s (or grandfather’s) aftershave as kids, which was almost certainly a highly-fragranced, alcohol-based liquid.

Alcohol-based aftershave was initially introduced in barber shops as an antiseptic to kill bacteria on the skin and to disinfect shaving instruments.

Although it is an effective antiseptic, alcohol often leaves skin dry and irritated, especially immediately after shaving.Aqua-Velva-Aftershave-Splash

These days, different types of aftershaves with various consistencies and active ingredients are available for different types of skin to achieve different goals.

Although some modern aftershaves may contain alcohol, they also contain ingredients that help to moisturize and protect the skin as well as those that help to prevent and relieve irritation caused by shaving.

Types of Aftershave

  • Tonic: liquid formulation of aftershave; they typically contain toners/astringents and hydrosols.
    • Splash: “original”, classic type of aftershave.
      • Type which contains the highest amount of alcohol.
      • Helps to constrict pores (astringent).
      • Effective antiseptic (alcohol).
      • Can be irritating and excessively drying; best avoided on dry and sensitive skin types.
      • Often has a strong fragrance.
    • Lotion:
      • Has a fairly high (60-75%) alcohol content.
      • Consistency is more of a liquid than a lotion.
      • Alcohol may dry out and irritate dry/sensitive skin.
      • Can have a fairly potent scent.
  • Gel:
    • Usually has an alcohol content and consistency intermediate between lotions and balms.
    • Generally do not contain oils, thus are usually less moisturizing than balms.
    • May help to reduce post-shaving irritation; most have soothing, cooling properties.
    • Absorbs quickly into the skin; non-greasy.
  • Balms: typically the heaviest and thickest type of aftershave.Truefitt-&-Hill Aftershave Balm
    • Generally contain very little (if any) alcohol.
    • More moisturizing and lubricating than other types of aftershave.
    • Some balms contain oils to help moisturize and soften skin.
    • Recommended for dry and sensitive skin types.
    • Milder fragrance than lotions and splashes.
    • Helps to prevent post-shaving irritation.
    • May exacerbate acne flare-ups, especially those containing large amounts of oil.

The Best Aftershaves for Specific Skin Types

  • Normal Skin:
    • Able to use any type of aftershave.
    • Splashes and lotions contain astringents that constrict pores and help to kill bacteria.
    • Gels are cooling, soothing, and non-greasy.
    • Balms help to moisturize, condition, and soothe the skin.
  • Oily Skin:
    • Tonics (splashes and lotions) may help to remove excess oil because they contain astringents (e.g., alcohol).
    • Oil-free gels are absorbed by the skin and do not congest pores.
    • Natural skin toners, such as witch hazel or rose water, may dry out skin less than alcohol.
    • Alcohol and astringents remove oil from the skin, which can result in excess oil production by the skin in order to reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
    • Glycerin is a good moisturizer for oily skin.
  • Dry Skin:
    • Balms are good for restoring moisture and forming a protective layer over vulnerable skin.
    • Avoid alcohol and astringents, which can further dry out and irritate already dry skin.
  • Sensitive Skin:
    • Avoid alcohol which can dry out skin.
    • Look for fragrance-free products since fragrances can sensitize and irritate the skin.
    • Avoid dyes which are unnecessary and can irritate the skin.

Aftershave Ingredients

  • Astringents/Toners: cleanse skin and help to minimize the appearance of pores. They cause a mild coagulation of skin proteins which helps to dry, harden, and protect the skin.
    • Witch Hazel:Witch-Hazel
      • Main active compounds are tannins, which are polyphenolic compounds with the following properties:
        • Exhibit a constricting and drying effect when applied to the skin.
        • Have anti-inflammatory properties.
        • Inhibit bacterial growth.
        • Facilitate skin repair processes.
        • Can sensitize the skin to other irritants.
      • Witch hazel helps to constrict pores (astringent) while drying out the skin to a lesser extent than alcohol.
    • Alcohol:Isopropyl-Alcohol
      • Can excessively dry skin, causing flaking and peeling.
      • Likely to irritate sensitive skin.
      • SD (specifically denatured) alcohol 40 is a mixture of ethanol and a denaturing agent; it is a common component in many aftershave products.
    • Alum: compound composed of aluminum (and potassium or sodium) forming a salt with a sulfate.Alum-Crystal
      • Antiseptic properties.
      • Astringent properties.
      • Helps small nicks and cuts to stop bleeding.
      • Decreases the incidence of post-shaving irritation.
  • Hydrosols are obtained from steam distillation of essential oils and are generally mildly antiseptic.
    • Rose water
    • Lavender water
  • Polyquaternium-10 is a surfactant (detergent) that also functions as a preservative; it has antiseptic properties.
  • Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Oil) is derived from the leaves of the Australian Tea Tree.
    • Antiseptic properties may help to control acne by decreasing bacterial growth.
    • Anti-inflammatory properties help to prevent and treat skin irritation.
    • Can be irritating to the skin, especially in patients with eczema (atopic dermatitis).
  • Aloe Vera:Aloe-Vera
    • Helps to soothe and heal burned and irritated skin.
    • Effective moisturizer with anti-inflammatory properties.
    • Contains vitamins A, C, E, and several B-vitamins.
    • Contains calcium, potassium, sodium, copper, iron, and magnesium.
  • Humectants: attract water from deeper skin layers and the atmosphere into the outer skin layer; they help to minimize the drying effects of other ingredients.
    • Glycerin:
      • Antimicrobial properties; FDA approved treatment for burn wounds.
      • Helps to moisturize and minimize dehydrating effects of other ingredients.
      • Moisturizer and lubricant that helps to soften dry skin.
    • Urea
    • Propylene Glycol
    • Sorbitol
  • Moisturizers help to soften the outer skin layers by reducing evaporation of water (transepidermal water loss).
  • Vitamin E is the collective name for a group of fat-solube compounds.
    Vitamin E
    Tocopheryl Acetate
    (Vitamin E)
    • Alpha-tocopherol is the only form recognized to meet human vitamin requirements.
    • Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals, which are compounds that can cause damage to cells and tissues in the body.
    • Moisturizer with anti-inflammatory properties.
    • Vitamin E has been shown to act synergistically with vitamin C.
    • Topical formulations are not always stable, especially when exposed to UV light.

Scent and Fragrance

While fragrance is not necessarily a major factor in selecting an aftershave product, one definitely doesn’t want to choose a scent that isn’t appealing to him (or those in close proximity).Cologne-Fragrance

If you have sensitive skin or atopic dermatitis (eczema) that can be easily irritated, you should probably avoid products that contain fragrance, as many fragrances are irritating to certain skin types and can sensitize the skin to other types of irritants.

Also, unscented products are useful if you wear any other type of fragrance (e.g., cologne) because you probably don’t want to mix too many different types of scents unless you’re sure that they work together to complement one another.

While the possible combination of scents is essentially infinite, there are basic notes from which all scents are constructed (i.e., fresh, floral, oriental, and woody notes).

Aftershave Application Routine

Immediately after I finish shaving, the very first thing that I do is rinse my face with cool water, which helps to constrict the pores that were opened with the hot water used while shaving; this helps to prevent any bacteria from getting into the pores and hair follicles.

After rinsing my face with cool water, I wet my alum block with cool water and rub it over the freshly shaved skin to seal any small nicks and cuts on my face.

Alum is an antiseptic and astringent that helps to prevent ingrown hairs and post shaving irritation.

Lastly, I dispense a dime-sized (smaller than you probably think)  amount of aftershave product into my palm before rubbing my hands together and then gently patting it evenly onto my face, under my chin, and on my neck.Dime-Sized

I avoid rubbing the aftershave vigorously into the skin, which may cause irritation.


There are a myriad of different aftershave products available today, but they generally are meant to accomplish the same thing–to prevent and treat skin irritation caused by shaving and to moisturize and protect your skin.

There are four main types of contemporary aftershaves, each of which is well-suited to one or more skin type.

Active ingredients in aftershave products function as topical antiseptics and astringents to kill bacteria and constrict pores to help prevent inoculation of the hair follicles.

Other components help to condition, soften, and soothe skin while protecting it from environmental damage and inflammation.

Aftershaves come in a wide variety of fragrances that can complement other scents, such as cologne, as well as unscented and fragrance-free types.


If you have used any specific types of aftershaves that you like or dislike, please leave let me know why you like or dislike using it in the “Comments” section below.

2 Replies to “What About Aftershave? Is It Necessary?”

  1. Hi Ian,

    Thank you for this well-written post.
    I do think that aftershave is important. I need to show my husband your post. He usually finishes his shaving ritual by washing his face with cold water only. So, sometimes I can still see he gets skin inflammation. He thinks cold water is enough to close the pore and reduce the inflammation.
    I think based on your article, I would recommend him to use gel. He has normal skin. What do you think?

    1. Well,

      Cold water is probably enough to constrict the pores in the skin of most people; however, I do a few other things because I tend to get irritation after shaving.
      I wouldn’t consider my skin to be especially sensitive, but it probably is for some things.

      Immediately after shaving, I rinse with cool water to constrict the pores.

      Next, I use an alum block (I have a couple of posts about alum) to help to constrict pores, to help kill
      some of the bacteria on the skin, and to help and stop very small nicks and cuts from bleeding.

      After that, I will use a more traditional aftershave product, usually a balm that doesn’t have alcohol in it because my skin can be sensitive.
      I also use a couple of other products for razor bumps that have been quite effective.

      In regard to which type your husband should use…probably any of the types if he has normal skin. Splash, lotion, gel, or balm.
      The liquid types (splash/lotion) have more alcohol and astringent properties, so they are good at killing bacteria and closing the pores.
      Gels are kind of intermediate in alcohol content and usually contain some cooling/soothing ingredients.
      Balms are the heaviest type and contain some oils that help with moisturizing the skin; they usually don’t contain any alcohol, so they are the
      least irritating to the skin.

      Hope that this information is helpful to you.


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