What’s Pre-Shave Oil? Does It Make a Difference?

Most guys (myself included) began shaving with a razor and a can of aerosol shaving cream as teenagers; a relatively small number of men used oil after shaving to help with skin conditioning.

The use of oil prior to shaving came into public attention in the 1990s, and it has steadily increased in popularity.

So, what exactly is pre-shave oil; is it beneficial, or even necessary?Pre-Shave-Oil

Most pre-shave oils are a blend of natural plant oils; some of these oils are the same types as those found in facial oils and other cosmetic products.

Although pre-shave oil has begun to enter the mainstream over the past two decades, many have either not heard of it or have not tried it for themselves.

There are several benefits to using a pre-shave oil in addition to a high-quality shaving cream or gel; these benefits include additional lubrication, softening of facial hair, and a reduction in post-shaving irritation.

What’s In It?

Although pre-shave oil can be made using synthetic products, most guys agree that those derived from natural plant oils are of superior quality.

Quality pre-shave oils are packaged in dark glass bottles, which helps to prevent their degradation.

Depending on the types of oils used, they can have benefits ranging from increased lubrication to maintenance of the natural skin barrier.

Most naturally-derived pre-shave oils are a blend of 2-3 ingredients:

  • Carrier oils make up more than 90% of the pre-shave oil. Although synthetic ingredients (e.g., mineral oil) can be used, those derived from natural plant sources are preferred because they are generally of higher quality.
    • Sunflower oil has been shown to improve hydration of adult skin without erythema (redness).Sunflower
      • It may prevent against damage from UV light.
      • It is thought to be noncomedogenic.
    • Almond oil has emollient properties, which can be used to improve complexion and skin tone.
    • Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and hydrophilic phenols, but it contains a high concentration of oleic acid, and its topical application can have a detrimental effect on skin barrier function.Olive-Tree
    • Coconut oil contains lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, caprylic acid, oleic acid (6%), and lineolic acid (2%).
      • Topical application may protect skin from UV radiation.
      • Coconut oil contains monolaurin, which is a monoglyceride derivative of lauric acid.
        • Monolaurin displays antimicrobial activity by disintegration of the lipid membrane of lipid-coated bacteria (e.g., P. acnes, S. aureus, and S. epidermidis).
        • It exhibits a bactericidal activity against P. aeroginosa, E. coli, and P. vulgaris.
        • It may also possess antiviral and antifungal properties.
    • Jojoba oil has a high oxidative stability and resistance to degradation.
    • Argan oil contains polyphenols, tocopherols, sterols, squalenes, and triterpene alcohols.
      • Daily topical application has been shown to improve skin elasticity and skin hydration.
      • It can provide a softening and relaxing effect on the skin.
    • Castor oil was used in the 20th. century primarily as a laxative; however, it is now thought to posses anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and moisturizing properties when applied topically to the skin.
      • It contains ricinoleic acid, which has been shown to exhibit antibacterial properties.Castor-Oil
    • Grape seed oil is rich in phenolic compounds, vitamins, and antioxidants; it is thought to be beneficial in wound healing and have anti-inflammatory properties.
      • It contains resveratrol, which has been shown to inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Essential oils (e.g., sandalwood oil) can have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and astringent properties.
  • Vitamin oils (e.g., Vitamin E) can act as antioxidants and moisturizers and help to increase blood flow.

Benefits of Pre-Shave Oil

  • Provides an additional degree of protection from your razor when applied prior to shaving cream or gel.
  • Helps to lubricate the skin, reducing friction and drag of the razor and allowing it to glide more smoothly over the skin.
  • Helps to lift the hairs (much like a shaving brush) for a smoother shave.
  • It helps to soften the facial hair, making it easier to cut.
  • Allows the razor to make a cleaner cut through the hair shaft, leaving the cut end of the hair less pointed and less likely to become ingrown.
  • Helps to make the skin more supple, so that it bends with the razor blade, allowing it to cut more closely.
  • Reduces the tension on the skin surface to help prevent nicks and cuts.Oil-Droplet

An Ounce of Prevention…

I suppose I have said this enough by now, but there is a lot of truth to it; it’s generally much easier to prevent something than it is to treat it once it has started.

The first step in any proper skincare routine, including shaving, begins with clean skin; if you’re interested in reducing your chances of ending up with nicks, cuts, or other types of skin irritation, the preparation prior to the actual shave is just as important as the process of shaving .

After you have properly cleansed your face with a quality cleanser, you should also consider using a mild physical exfoliant to rid your skin of dead cells, which can lead to clogged pores and ingrown hairs if not addressed.

Exfoliation of your skin prior to shaving also makes the surface of your skin smoother so that your razor encounters less resistance when you’re shaving.

There is really not one thing in particular that will prevent post-shaving irritation, rather, it is a result of taking a number of different precautions.

How Do I Use It?

Once you have cleansed, exfoliated, and rinsed your face with warm water, you are ready to apply pre-shave oil.

Your face should be damp, but not excessively wet so that the oil is not diluted.

Place a dime-sized amount (3-5 drops) into the palm of your hand and then rub your palms together.

The oil should then be massaged into your facial hair for about 30 seconds; after application, you should let the oil penetrate and soften the hair for an additional 30 seconds while you wash the excess oil from your hands.

After the oil has had sufficient time to penetrate your facial hair, you’re ready to apply your shaving cream or shaving gel over the pre-shave oil.Soldier-Shaving


Pre-shave oils, like other skin care products, are not without potential drawbacks.

Essential oils and fragrances in some formulations can be extremely potent and can cause irritation, so it’s always wise to “patch test” new products on an inconspicuous area of skin before using them on your face.Essential-Oil

Although they may be helpful in the prevention of razor burn and ingrown hairs, they are most effective when they are used in combination with other products designed to prevent and treat post-shaving irritation; they are seldom able to prevent irritation when used alone.

Ingredients are important to consider, as some synthetic products can compromise shaving quality and comfort, and lower quality oils may be more likely to clog pores and trigger acne outbreaks.

Should I Use It?

As with many other shaving and skin care products, pre-shave oil is not an essential part of the routine; however, there are several potential benefits to its use.

Pre-shave oil helps to provide additional lubrication for your skin against your razor, helps to soften your facial hair, and can help to moisturize and condition your skin.

Although it’s seldom enough when used alone to prevent post-shaving irritation, it is extremely helpful when used in combination with other products and shaving techniques.

All pre-shave oils are not equivalent, and the addition of synthetic products can compromise their quality, resulting in skin irritation.

If your skin is extremely sensitive, products containing potent essential oils or fragrance can potentially further irritate your skin.

If chosen carefully and used correctly, a high-quality pre-shave oil can help to lubricate your skin during shaving and help to prevent post-shaving irritation afterward.


1.Lin, T. et al. (2019). Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int. J. Mol. Sci., 19(1), 70.


If you have experience using pre-shave oil, please let me know in the “Comments” section below. I’m always interested to learn what you like/don’t like about products and why you use/don’t use them.

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