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The Shave, No After Shave Please!

Originally Posted: February 16, 2010

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

  |   3 Comments · Print Article

The classic straight edge razor with brush and shaving mug. (Thinkstock.com)

Southampton - The day of the basic straight edge razor has gone the way of the dodo, no matter how cool Marlon Brando looked in "Last Tango in Paris" dragging that dangerous barber's blade across his face with a naked and voluptuous Maria Schneider looking back at him in the mirror.

The double edge safety razor popular in the 1950s.

Few men would dare a shave like that today, much less wash their hands with their grandfather's Boraxo. In the new millennium, the male preoccupation with physical vanity has caught up with that of the goddesses and the cosmetic industry has addressed it in spades.

To that end the next few installments of "After Shave" will address how we carve the whiskers off our faces, wash our hair and bodies and, yes, actually moisturize our mugs. Let's face it men, we actually really care about how we look and spend a lot more time in front of the mirror than our forefathers.

So let's start with the shave in this installment, first and foremost, shave cream! There is a dual purpose to lathering up, one is to soften the whiskers and the other is to lubricate the skin prior to dragging a blade across it. In truth the latter is the more important of the two, as it is the first step in protecting our skin. Pardon the pun, but face it boys, friction is not our friend.

Most of us do not have time to duplicate the classic hot towel shave that we watched our western movie heroes demand after two weeks on the trail, but if you can actually wrap your face in a warm wet towel prior to your shave, go for it. In any case, do make sure you wash your face before shaving with soap and warm, as hot as you can take it, water. Although washing does remove inherent oils from your skin, it also removes dirt and you do not want to drag dirt into your pours while shaving, much less into the cut you might have gotten from a shave the day before.

The multi-blade disposable cartridge razor presently used by most men.

Thoroughly rinse the soap off your face with warm water and leave your face wet before applying the shaving cream. A compliment to the old straight razor was the lather bowl and brush, although still an option, again pretty much bygone accouterments. In 1919, tube shaving cream was introduced by the Barbasol Company. By the early 1950s aerosol canned foam shaving cream was the choice of most men and in the 1980s gel shave cream was introduced and then further elaborated upon with gel that turns into foam after application.

Some of the most popular shaving creams on the market are the aforementioned Barbasol, along with Noxzema and Gillette Foamy. Edge Gel was the first gel in a can and probably remains the most popular, but Gillette has brought out Fusion, which is a hydrating gel. There are creams and gels that actually turn hot on contact and there are menthol, aloe and citrus versions of shave creams and gels. Essentially, you can find a flavor for any shave.

Many designers who offer signature colognes like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein also offer a line of other mens grooming products that include shave creams and gels. (I personally think American Crew has one of the best line-ups of mens grooming products and I have used them for years). I have also come across shave creams by both Neutrogena and Aveeno, which might prove helpful to men with particularly sensitive skin. In any case, find a shave cream that best fits your needs because most of us spend 3,000 hours of our lives shaving before its over.

After applying the shave cream or gel let it sit on your face for a few minutes before you start shaving. This will allow the whiskers to soften and the oils in the gels and creams to lubricate your skin before you take the razor to your face.

When it comes to razors, the big dogs are Gillette and Schick. A big innovation came in 1971 when Gillette offered the Trac II with disposable twin parallel blades, prior to that the twin blade "safety" razor was the norm and the device your father taught you to shave with if you are a baby boomer like me. It took many a bloody and nicked face to master the technique of shaving with that style of blade.

Always try and rinse your razor after each stroke.

Well if two blades are good, three must be better and four must be better yet and now the Gillette fusion with five blades! Personally, I hold the line at three and actually still prefer the original Trac II. There are also razors that are battery powered and vibrate when you shave, which were actually proven in court to have no significance regarding the closeness of a shave.

Anyway, find your blade of choice and go for it making sure before you take your first stroke to vigorously rinse off the blade in the hot, and I mean hot, water, you should half fill the wash basin with before you start. You want to clean off any hairs, dead skin or deposits left from a previous shave. While shaving you should rinse the razor after each stroke, certainly after two as you won't get a clean, close shave if the blade is clogged with whiskers. I have been told that you should only shave in the direction that your beard grows, but I personally would not get a close shave if I stuck to that rule.

Once you have finished shaving, be sure to thoroughly rinse off your face with fresh, very warm water. You do not want to leave any shave cream residue behind. Do not, despite what your father told you, apply cologne or after shave to your face at this time as they have high concentrations of alcohol in their formulas. Yes, there is a reason why it stings, particularly on open pores, as this habit will result in the drying and aging of your skin. If you simply must put yourself through this, I suggest you splash really cold water onto to your face to close up the pores a bit before the after shave or cologne is applied.

A better way to go would be to use a moisturizer or shave balm after you finish shaving. There are many on the market, both men's and generic. Think about it, shaving takes its toll on the epidermal, do a little repair work after you are done. If you use cologne try and find an après shave balm or moisturizer from the same designer, otherwise try and find an odorless balm. When you do splash on the cologne I suggest you aim low on the neck and the back of the neck.

Well there you have it, everything I know about shaving. Sorry electric razor guys, you are on your own as I know little to nothing about those devices and never got a close shave the few times I tried them out.

By the way, if you have never had a real hot towel, straight razor shave I suggest you head down to your local barber shop and treat yourself to one. Just make sure the barber knows what he is doing. It is a glorious and relaxing experience. I would have one every day if I could afford it, but at least I always make sure to treat myself to one on my birthday. I suggest you do the same, as it will be the best shave of your life.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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Guest (Dan) from Seattle says::
I've gotten the best shaves of my life since ditching the overpriced cartridges and canned gels for the "old fashioned" double edge safety razor, soap and brush. It's eliminated my problems with razor burn and nicks, and made the daily drudgery of shaving a luxury experience that I look forward to.
Feb 25, 2010 10:31 pm

Guest (RetroRazor) from The Great Northwest says::
As Andrew mentioned, the Wilkinson Sword was actually the great innovation in the late 1960's with the addition of teflon to their blades. This immediately dropped Gillette's market share of safety razors, as men and women realized that bloody faces and legs disappeared when using the Wilk. In the spirit of their brilliant founder/marketer, King Gillette, the Boston labs created the proprietary cartridge. Blade improvements, which no one really mentioned until last week's launch of the ProGlide, demonstrated greater technological advancement; from the carbon steel used from 1900's-1960's, to stainless, then teflon, and now awesomeness. Consider my favorite blade, the Derby Extra safety razor blade, ~$.15 cents each, Platinum, Chromium, Tungsten, Ceramic, and Teflon edges. 95% less in cost, ecological footprint, and I have fewer nicks than with the Mach3... Safety Razors are getting incredibly popular, many people buying new razors, others using older tanks found in the back of a drawer or on eBay. Blades are cheapest online, but a Hampton's drugstore can order them...Wilkinson's are available at my local hometown rX for $1 for a 5 pack, a deal! Chadd
Feb 18, 2010 10:16 am

Guest (Andrew) from Parsippany says::
The Trac II was the first multi blade razor that replaced for many the old ''safety razor'' that your dad used. Don't forgot the Wilkensen Sword single blade razor that was very popular as well. Consumer Reports magazine rated the Wilkensen better than the Trac II but for some reason it did not catch on and as far as I know the Wilk. is no longer produced.
Feb 17, 2010 4:47 pm


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