A Beginner’s Guide to Wet Shaving. Part 1: Shaving Creams, Soaps and After Shave

James Bond Skyfall, Naomi Harris, Daniel Craig, shaving

I’ve been wet shaving (that is, with a safety or straight razor) for about ten years now. In that time, I’ve tried hundreds of products and tried endless techniques. Over the years, I’ve been asked to write up an introduction for blokes interested in trying out wet shaving.

I’m finally giving it a go. This will be in three parts:

  1. The Software (shaving creams, soaps and aftershave)
  2. The Hardware (razors, brushes, blades)
  3. Technique (how to actually shave with a safety razor and brush)

Initially, I switched to a safety razor because I have really sensitive skin and I wanted a way to shave without irritation. What I discovered was (1) a whole world of amazing products and (2) that shaving could be fun. Oh yes, and it can save you a lot of money (how does the idea of $10 every year for blades sound to you?).

1. the Preshave

Proraso White Preshave Cream

Some blokes skip this step. I don’t because a good pre-shave oil or cream makes all the difference for me between a smooth, close shave and a shave leaving me with irritated skin.

Recommendations:

  1. Proraso White Preshave Cream (100ml), $10. This stuff is fabulous! Proraso’s “White” line is for sensitive skin; they also make a really good pre-shave in their standard “Green” range. Compared to the Green, the White has almost no scent and is less aggressive (it has less menthol)
  2. Geo Trumper’s Lime Skin Food, Extract of Limes (200ml), $26. An advantage of Trumper’s Skin Food is that you can use it as a pre-shave and an aftershave. This is lighter than Proraso and also comes in Coral and Sandalwood scents.
  3. Pacific Shaving Co. Shaving Oil (15ml), $8. A little goes a very long way. Although marketed as a shaving oil, I’ve always used it as a highly effective pre shave. Has the advantage of being easily available in stores as well as online.

Avoid:

  1. Art of Shaving Pre Shave Oil (60ml), $26. Not only is this expensive for what it is, it also feels like you’re slathering a thick layer of cooking oil over your face. It provides me with no added comfort and just feels like I’m gunking up my pores.

2. Shaving Cream

Truefitt and Hill Trafalgar Shaving Cream

You have two options here: Shaving Cream or Shaving Soap. The end result will be the same: fantastic lather that allows you to have a close shave. The key differences are this:

  • Shaving Cream. More convenient; you can lather it up faster.
  • Shaving Soap. A puck of soap usually lasts considerably longer than a tub or tube of cream; much greater variety of scents on the market.

I’m a fan of both and usually keep some creams and soaps in my rotation. There literally hundreds of both to choose from, so whittling it down to my favourites is pretty tough. Here goes.

Recommendations:

  1. Proraso Green (150ml), $10. I regard this as the gold standard of creams: it is fantastic value and top quality. Lightly scented, it has a good amount of cooling menthol in it. Proraso makes a variety of creams and soaps: all are top notch and worth trying. You may also see Proraso Green repackaged as “C. O. Bigelow” shaving cream in the USA>
  2. Truefitt and Hill Trafalgar Shaving Cream (6.7oz), $30. Truefitt and Hill were founded in London over 200 years ago, this is my personal go-to cream. It feels highly indulgent and has a classic, light and woodsy fragrance. You should also try their 1805 which has a compelling, oceanic scent.

3. Shaving Soap

Mike's Natural Soaps

When it comes to shaving soaps, there are a great many artisanal shaving soaps out there in addition to the more mainstream options.

Recommendations:

  1. Mike’s Natural Soaps, Barbershop (5oz), $13. To my mind, Mike makes the best soaps on the market: with them you get a thick, dense lather, a tin of soap that could last you a year, and some of the best scents out there. He rotates the scents he makes; my favourites are: Barbershop (light and classic), Pine and Cedarwood (like a walk in the forest), Orange, Cedarwood and Black Pepper (an enticing wake-up call in the morning).
  2. Tabac Original Shaving Soap (4.4oz), $25 with bowl, $16 for refill only. You either love Tabac or you hate it. No one disputes that it lathers with the best of them, what some people can’t deal with is the scent. If I could best sum the scent up it would be “slightly seedy 1970s businessman.” That might sound nasty, but it’s weirdly compelling and I love it. It also comes with the most kick-ass milk glass container that looks like purest awesome by your sink.

Tabac Original Shave Soap in Awesome Milk Glass Bowl

Avoid:

  1. Colonel Conk Shaving Soap. This may be a little unfair of me: Col. Conk products are ok, and their Amber soap actually smells divine. However, they are not the most cushioning of soaps, nor the easiest to lather. I wouldn’t recommend them to a beginner, even though they are often bundled into starter packs.
  2. Williams Mug Shaving Soap. You can usually find this for a couple of bucks in a pharmacy. It’s not terrible and smells ok (like Lemon Pledge), but it’s notoriously difficult to get a good lather out of it. Even when you do make a lather, it dries out fast.

4. Aftershave

Captain's Choice Bay Rum Aftershave

Firstly, a word about the difference between after shave and cologne. They often get confused but they serve entirely different purposes. Here are the key points:

  • Aftershave. This is designed to sanitise and help heal your skin after a shave. It can come as either a splash (usually alcohol-based) or a balm and is applied to your face. Whether you prefer splash or balm is down to your skin-type and personal preference. I tend to go with splashes. An aftershave’s scent is a sideshow: scent in aftershave should dissipate quickly (within 15 mins to 2 hours).
  • Cologne. Cologne is a scent-delivery system. You dab/spray it on specific parts of your body (e.g. your neck and inside of your wrists) and it is intended to provide you with an aura of scent for a longer period of time.

If choosing my favourite creams and soaps was hard, choosing my top aftershaves is harder!

First, the splashes:

  1. Truefitt and Hill Trafalgar Aftershave Splash (100ml), $75. Ok, yes, this stuff is insanely expensive but I love it and it pairs perfectly with the shaving cream. They make a cheaper (but no less  excellent) balm at $48 and a matching cologne, also for $75.
  2. Captain’s Choice Bay Rum Aftershave Splash (4oz), $18. Simply one of the best artisanal aftershaves out there. It has a great kick to it. This is the classic bay rum scent (think: sunny afternoon in the Bahamas), but they have other similarly wonderful scents, including Cat-o-Nine-Tails which has an incredible alcohol kick that will bring tears to your eyes.
  3. Mr Fine’s Clean Vetiver Aftershave Splash (100ml), $15. Another great artisanal aftershave, this one has a cooling menthol feel. Most of their other scents I’m not a huge fan of, but their unscented Snakebite is fabulous: it contains so much menthol that you can’t feel your face for 30 mins. Great stuff!

Mr Fine's Snake Bite Aftershave

Now, the balms:

  1. Proraso White Aftershave Balm (100ml), $17. One of the most soothing balms out there. When I’m having a bad-skin day, the oat in here always makes things right. Proraso make other splashes and balms, all of which are worth trying.
  2. NIVEA for Men Sensitive Post Shave Balm (100ml), $6. Not every great shaving product has to be bought online or in a boutique store. Nivea’s post-shave balm is proof of this: a great product, easily available and a steal at $6 or so.

Avoid this like the plague:

  1. Aqua Velva. Aqua Velva makes a variety of truly revolting products. The cheap price point and ease-of-availability may draw you in, but once you’ve put this stuff on your face and you’ve felt how it messes with your skin, you will know what a mistake you’ve made. Then, my friend, then you will smell the product and you will do everything to wash the cheap, toilet-cleaner smell off your face. It won’t work. And whatever you do, for the love of all that is holy, don’t try the “Musk” variety. I did. Once. And it smelled as though I had been urinated on by a horribly ill cat. And that stench lasted well over 24 hours.

Aqua Velva

5. In Conclusion…

So there you have it, my personal top and bottom picks for pre-shave, shaving cream, shaving soap and aftershave. I tried to pick good-value products from across a variety of price points. All are long-lasting and enjoyable to use. If I’ve missed your favourite, please add it in the comments below!

Next time, we’ll look at the hardware: what razor should you get? How about blades? And what about shaving brushes and bowls?

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Richard

About Richard

I am a writer who travels endlessly. Fascinated by how our lives are propelled forward by what's left behind, I thirst to know everything. I read, collect, gather, organise, list. Here are some of the things I read, see and experience. Please make yourself at home: drinks and pretzels will be served shortly. If you'd like to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you!

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