What About Men’s Shaving? A Guide

When I think about shaving, I picture of all the shaving products currently available; all the razors, creams, gels, brushes, aftershave, and other shaving products on the market make it easy to forget that shaving is a crucial part of any guy’s skin care routine.

Shaving-Set
My Shaving Essentials

Although men have been shaving their faces for centuries, this essential challenge remains: to shave as close as possible without causing skin irritation.

Overaggressive or improper shaving techniques in an effort to shave more closely may only result in frustration and irritation.

Some techniques that have been employed to avoid shaving-induced skin irritation include:

  • Shaving while applying less pressure.
  • Development of pre- and post-shaving skin treatment.
  • Giving up on shaving altogether and growing a beard.

Shaving seems pointless if you have to compromise closeness; one reason that the beard has enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past decade could be due to the perception that shaving is a hassle.

Although growing a beard is certainly a viable option, it should be a matter of choice and not a consequence of becoming so annoyed that you abandon the very idea of shaving.

While no technique or product can guarantee a shaving experience completely free of irritation, following a few simple guidelines drastically reduces your chances.

Preparation is Essential

Before you rush off to pick up your razor, it’s important to make sure that your skin is prepared for the impending shave.

Clean skin is ideal, so the first step is to wash your face to remove oil, dirt, and debris that accumulates throughout the day; shaving during or just after a shower gives the heat and steam time to soften your facial hair, making it easier to shave.

Hydration reduces the stiffness of beard hair by 30-65%; the force necessary to cut a beard hair is reduced by 20% after 1 minute and 40% after 4 minutes of hydration.

If you don’t have time for a shower, a good alternative is to wrap your face in a hot, moist towel for 2-3 minutes, which softens the hairs and opens pores.

Another grooming tip is to exfoliate your skin prior to shaving, which removes dead skin cells that can otherwise end up lodged between the blades of your razor.

A mild physical exfoliant can be used to gently exfoliate your face, which only takes 30-60 seconds.

Since shaving is an exfoliating process, it’s best not to be overly aggressive and to rinse with lukewarm water when you are finished.

A clean, exfoliated face helps to keep the razor free of debris during the shave and helps to prevent razor bumps and ingrown hairs afterward.

Shaving Oil, Shaving Cream, and Shave Gel

When I first began shaving, I was under the impression that all that I had to do was splash water onto my face and slather on some shaving cream before dragging a razor willy-nilly across my face.

I learned (the hard way) that I had sensitive skin, which was prone to irritation, ingrown hairs, and razor bumps, which often appeared the following day.

In the search of anything that would help, I discovered pre-shave oil, which made shaving easier and decreased the severity of post-shave irritation.

Pre-shave oil can be applied to your wet face after cleansing and exfoliation; it helps to further soften your facial hair and provides additional lubrication.

After you have applied a thin layer of pre-shave oil to your face, choose a product (shaving cream or shave gel) that provides a rich lather, being careful to avoid excess foam, which can decrease the closeness of your shave.

Jars, tins, and tubes generally contain cream-based (non aerosol) products that provide excellent lubrication; using a shaving brush helps to evenly distribute the proper amount of shaving product to you facial hair.

Shaving-Cream
Shaving Cream in Tin with Shaving Brush

A brush also helps to lift the hairs, making them easier to shave. After you are satisfied that you have properly applied your shaving cream or gel, it is ideal to let it penetrate the hair for 2-3 minutes, allowing for easier cutting.

Shaving Your Face

With the limitless variety of razors in the stores and online comes the difficulty in making a decision as to which razor you should use; it seems that rival companies are constantly trying to pack more blades into their next razor.

Razors with multiple blades are not necessarily superior, but they are more expensive, and the additional blades have a tendency to compromise control.

The number of blades on your razor is not nearly as important as their sharpness; a sharp razor allows you to shave while applying minimal force, decreasing the likelihood of making nicks and cuts.

Safety-Razor
Safety Razor

Shaving in the direction of hair growth (with the grain) decreases the probability of irritation and ingrown hairs; however, shaving only in one direction also adversely affects the closeness of the shave.

Shaving in the opposite direction of hair growth (against the grain) is possible, but it requires experience and skill to avoid razor burn, ingrown hairs, and razor bumps.

Using short (1-2″) strokes and thoroughly rinsing the razor after every pass keeps it free of debris and makes each stroke more efficient.

Most guys prefer to shave the sensitive skin of the neck last, giving the shaving cream or gel more time to soften the hairs.

After rinsing your face with cool water to help to constrict the pores, a clean towel or cloth can be used to pat (not rub) your face dry.

After the Fact

At this point, you’ve (hopefully) been able to achieve a close, smooth, and comfortable shave, but you aren’t quite finished yet; approximately 40% of men rate themselves as having sensitive skin.

Shaving generally removes 1-2 layers of superficial skin cells, which can be quite irritating to your skin.

A wide variety of after-shave products line store shelves, but you must be careful of those that contain alcohol, which can excessively dry out your skin; those that contain fragrances can also be irritating and can sensitize your skin to other products.

Finding a high-quality, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic after-shave lotion will help to moisturize and soothe your skin so that you will be less likely to develop irritation afterward.

Look for aftershave products that contain glycerin, niacinamide, shea butter, and aloe, which minimize irritation and help to restore the skin barrier.

Specific Concerns

Certain elements of shaving can be particularly bothersome and annoying; nicks, cuts, ingrown hairs, and razor bumps are some of the more irritating aspects of shaving, literally.

Ingrown-Hair
Release of Ingrown Hair

There were times in my life at which I thought I’d be plagued with them for all eternity after having tried so many products in vain; over the years, however, I have stumbled across a few products that actually seem to help with post-shaving irritation:

  • Alum (aluminum salt)
    • Astringent and antiseptic.
    • Helps to stop small nicks and cuts from bleeding.
    • Reduces irritation and prevents razor bumps.

  • Tend Skin
    • Liquid formulation; contains glycerin.
    • Apply immediately after shaving.
    • It does contain alcohol in order to dissolve acetylsalicylic acid, one of its most effective ingredients.
      • Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) is more commonly known as aspirin.
      • Aspirin is a potent anti-inflammatory medication that is effective when taken orally and when applied topically to the skin.
    • Very effective in reducing the incidence of and treating razor burn and razor bumps.
  • Veliscio Post Shave Lotion
    • Lotion formulation; effective as an after-shave.
    • Contains aloe, glycerin, safflower oil, licorice root extract, and grape seed extract.
    • Contains vitamin E, vitamin A, and alum.
    • Effective in prevention and treatment of razor bumps and post-shave irritation.

    Shaving as Skincare

    Although most guys shave because they want (or don’t want) to look a certain way, shaving exfoliates the skin and actually has more to do with its care than most people realize.

    One of the main fears that most men have after shaving is developing skin irritation, which can be prevented or reduced by proper preparation, the use of quality shaving products, and the application of the correct shaving techniques.

    Taking time to prepare your skin for shaving can prevent irritation and frustration afterward by removing dirt, debris, and dead skin.

    Proper shaving products including pre-shave oil, shaving cream, and after-shave help to lubricate your skin for a closer shave and condition your skin to prevent dryness and post-shaving irritation.

    Specialty products like alum blocks help to stop nicks and cuts from bleeding; both cream and liquid products have been specifically designed to help soothe skin and prevent irritation.

    References

    1. Maurer, M. et al. (2016). The Male Beard Hair and Facial Skin–Challenges for Shaving. Int. J. Cosmet. Sci., 38(1), 3-9.

    2. Cowley, K and Vanoosthuyze, K. (2012). Insights Into Shaving and Its Impact on Skin. Br. J. Dermatol. 166(1), 6-12.

    Comments

    If you have any favorite shaving techniques or products, or if you have any suggestions or problems with post-shaving skin irritation, please let me know in the “Comments” section below. I would love to hear any suggestions that you have regarding products and/or solutions.

     

4 Replies to “What About Men’s Shaving? A Guide”

    1. Hi Catherine,

      Thanks for your comment. I think most of the shaving oil that I’ve run across is more or less the same, but some have different scents.
      I like Acqua di Parma and The Art of Shaving, but lots of brands make less expensive versions. Anthony Pre-Shave + Conditioning Beard Oil is another good one. American Crew Ultra Gliding Shave Oil is about $13 for 50mL, which lasts quite a while, depending on how often you shave. I plan to do a post sometime in the future about each individual shaving component, but I’m not sure when that will be. Hope that this helps!

      Ian

  1. Hey Ian,
    This is a great topic with loads of valuable inflammation that I wish my ex-partner had read. It may have saved our relationship.
    Over the years I was so stressed by my sore mouth & lips from kissing caused by his abrasive whiskers, that I was eventually put off love-making. Our relationship ended – he blamed me.
    Are abrasive whiskers a ‘baby boomer’ thing?
    RJ

    1. Hi RJ,

      Hmmm…that’s unfortunate. I’m not much of a facial hair person at all; it seems like the more popular the beard gets, the less inclined I am to have one.
      I really never did consider the potential impact of one’s facial hair on another, although I have heard similar comments through the years. I think it’s a matter of personal preference as to whether one wants to sport facial hair. I’m not sure if any sort of facial hair is a generational thing; plenty of younger guys are growing beards now, so I’d probably say no, but I don’t know for sure. Not really sure about relationships, either…I think the older that I get, the more I realize that it’s just a combination of both of us rather than one or the other and that I did my share of stupid things. Good questions, though, and thanks for your interest.

      Ian

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