Welcome to the third and final part of my series on how to wet shave–that is, to shave with a safety or straight razor:
- The first post covered the software: shaving soaps, creams and aftershaves;
- The second covered the hardware: razors, razor blades and brushes;
- The final part covers how to actually shave with all this stuff!
So, now you’ve bought all these creams, razors and stuff, how do you actually use them?
If you look around online, you’ll see there are many extravagant methods to prepare for a shave and to have one. Nothing against any of these, but I’m going to keep it simple. Just the basics.
1. The Prep
You may hear about blokes who have hot towel machines set up in their bathrooms. Super-luxurious, but totally unnecessary.
Prepare the skin
What you want is softened hair which is easier to cut; softened skin and open pores to help you get a closer, irritation-free shave. The easiest way to achieve this is to have a shower–the moisture from the water and steam is all you need.
I also use a pre shave cream (which we talked about in Part 1). I have sensitive skin and it helps me get a closer shave without irritation. Not essential, but I definitely recommend trying it.
Now your skin is ready, you need to apply lather. In order to shave closely without nick or razor burn, you essentially need to keep your face wet. Applying later to the area being shaved achieves this while also providing glide for the razor. A really good shaving cream or shaving soap may contain ingredients such as glycerin to help moisturize your face even after the shave!
There are myriad ways you can make lather from a soap or cream, and it takes some practice to get it right. This video by Dapper Shave is a great overview of how to quickly make lather from a soap. For a cream, follow the same method, just pop an almond-sized amount on the brush instead of swirling at the start:
- Start off with less water than you think you’ll need: it’s always easier to add more later. Different soaps and creams require different amounts of water. Different brushes require different amounts of water.
- Each cream and soap makes a subtly different lather, find one you like. And remember that some products with lather up quickly, others require more work.
With the brush, rub the lather onto your face. Don’t press hard, but swirl around so you do a bit of gentle exfoliation while you cover the area to be shaved. Now, before you do anything else, let the lather sit for a few minutes: make sure your skin is well-prepared and ready for shaving.
2. The shave
A word of caution: you are about to learn a new shaving technique. If you’ve been using a multi-blade razor, not only have you been spending far more money that you need… but you’ve also probably learned terrible shaving technique.
Here’s a great overview:
- Don’t use pressure. Let the weight of the razor do its thing. Trust me, you’ll get this wrong once or twice to begin with, it happened to me. Once you feel the true burn of razor burn, you won’t do it again, trust me.
- The angle of the blade is important. You’ll be shaving with the razor at a 30-40 degrees to the skin, give or take. This is often a different angle from multi-blade razors and you may find your angle is too aggressive to begin with. Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.
- You’ll need to shave in two passes. The idea behind a multi-blade razor is that you only have to shave in one pass. Each successive blade cuts more off the hair. This easily leads to irritation an ingrown hairs. With the single blade of a double edge razor, most of us recommend at least two passes to shave.
- Don’t shave skin which isn’t lathered up! If you missed a bit, it’s okay, wait until the next pass. Remember, the lather is there to protect your skin.
- Shave “with the grain” for the first pass. Don’t assume your hair all grows down–let your bear grow out a couple of days to see. For instance, on the right side of my neck, my hair grow up! So I shave upwards there.
- For the second pass, shave across or against the grain. Well, unless you have sensitive skin like me–I shave with the grain both times.
3. Putting it all together
This video by robbDV does a great job putting everything together. He uses a slightly different technique from me: he doesn’t use a pre shave and also does a three-pass shave, which is pretty aggressive. Part of the fun of wet shaving is developing your own technique!
4. After Shave
So now you’ve shaved. The next step is pretty much just to rinse off your face, I like to use cool water. Then splash on some aftershave or balm.
Remember, if you use an alcohol-based aftershave splash, you’ll have immediate feedback if you were too aggressive: you’ll feel the burn. One reason I’m a big fan of aftershave splashes is that you get an immediate “grade” on how good or bad your shave was!
Then all that’s left is to clean up your razor, brush and shaving bowl. You’re done.
Clean up your razor and brush and you’re done.
5. In Conclusion…
So there you have it: how to shave with a safety razor. It takes a few weeks to really get the technique down. Once you do, you’ll find you’re getting the best–and most enjoyable–shaves of your life.
Once you’ve mastered this, you might start eyeing one of these:
But that, my friend, is a topic for another day…
Thanks for reading!