The birds are chirping, the sun is shining and you’re ready to start your day. You hop out of bed ready to face the world. Whistling, you grab your razor and shaving foam and get ready for a quick, convenient shave…
Or maybe not. Up to 15% of men flat out refuse to shave due to discomfort. Other guys aren’t happy about adding shaving cartridges or disposable razors to overflowing landfills. And many more are tired of in-grown hairs, razor burn and irritation. Welcome to wet shaving 101.
What Is Wet Shaving?
Wet shaving is shaving while your face is… wet. Simple enough, right? We could stop right there, but we won’t. In fact, this guide is actually about traditional wet shaving. This is a primer on the lost art of shaving done right. One man, one blade and one hell of a smooth shave. Unfortunately, long gone are the days when men would hand down their treasured straight razors as family heirlooms. Today, most men are too busy to spend time perfecting the art of the wet shave. And it truly is an art. Make no mistake, proper wet shaving takes both persistence and patience. But if you’re the type of man who refuses to settle for a sub-par shaving experience, then read on. This introductory guide is your first step to reclaiming the shave that nature intended.
You may be wondering what distinguishes traditional wet shaving from your current routine of using a cartridge razor and shaving foam from an aerosol can. Traditional wet shaving is a process. Some even consider it a ritual. Typical items for a proper wet shave include a single bladed razor, shave soap and a badger or boar hair brush. Wet shaving is all about slowing down enough to get the best quality shave. A shave that you not only tolerate, but enjoy. While shaving is seen as a chore for most men, most wet shavers are enthusiastic about their craft.
Why You Should Make The Switch.
You may be wondering about the advantages and disadvantages of wet shaving. Wet shaving is less convenient than regular shaving and takes more time to master. Other than that drawback, it trumps regular shaving in every other category.
Let’s take a look at regular old cartridge shaving. Cartridge shaving works best if you shave daily. If your hair gets too long, the cartridge is more likely to pull against your hair follicles which can cause irritation and razor burn. The first blade pulls the hair, while the subsequent blades cut. The pulling action at the root of your hair causes follicles to re-emerge from under the skin. If the hair follicles don’t grow in the same direction, this can lead to in-grown hairs and shaving-related irritation. Most cartridges have at least three blades. Extra blades are touted as offering a superior shave. But each blade just compounds the irritation to your skin. Three blades taking multiple passes over your skin is inefficient but gets the job done quickly. In contrast, wet shaving with a single bladed razor is deliberate and efficient.
Consider the environmental benefits of wet shaving. Disposable and reusable razors end up in landfills en masse. Mass market shaving creams and foams contain harmful chemicals that are also horrible for your skin. You can read more about the detriments of modern shaving foam here. Wet shaving offers a better quality shave than the alternatives. The process removes dead skin cells which promotes healthier skin. There’s a certain zen to wet shaving. It takes a degree of precision and patience, but it is an equally rewarding experience. The end result is less irritation, greater smoothness, and an inner peace that would make Buddhist monks jealous. Plus a steel shaving blade, shaving bowl, and badger hair brush will always look better than a plastic cartridge razor and an aerosol can filled with chemicals.
How to Wet Shave:
Learning how to shave the traditional way is immensely rewarding once you've learned to do it right. There’s a deliberate process to the art of wet shaving. The very first step is to map the grain of your facial hair. That means identifying which direction your facial hair grows.
We start by finding the grain of your beard.
Let your facial hair grow out a bit so that you can feel out how it grows. Start by running your fingers across each part of your face in all directions. Whichever direction has the least resistance against your fingers goes with the grain. This is the direction you want to shave for your first pass. The direction that offers the most resistance is, of course, against the grain of your beard. You don’t want to shave against the grain of your beard until your third pass.
For most men, neck hair usually grows upward and inwards toward your chin. Hair follicles on the chin are usually grows downwards. These are just some general observations and every guy’s hair grain is different. Most importantly, pay attention to where the grain reverses or changes direction. Wherever the grain changes direction is where you will end one stroke and start another.
Don’t neglect the pre shaving ritual.
The perfect time to shave is right after a hot shower. Alternatively, you can use a hot washcloth on your face to open up your pores. Don’t forget to wet the hairs on your neck either. When saturated with water, the strength of a single strand of hair is approximately 30-50% less than the strength of dry hair, making it much easier to shave.
For an even smoother shave, pre-shave oil is a great way to reduce nicks and cuts. Pre shave oil holds moisture in the skin allowing it to be as supple as possible under the blade. They also lubricate the skin allowing the blade to easily glide over your skin. Apply the oil by hand and make sure it covers everywhere you’re going to be shaving. Leave the oil in for at least a minute before shaving for best results. Once you've applied gotten your pores open and your skin lubricated, you can lather up your shaving soap. For best results, put a quarter sized chunk of shape soap in a bowl or mug. Work the soap into a lather using a boar or badger hair brush, then cover your face in shave soap lather.
Find the best angle for your shave.
For a close shave with minimal irritation, it’s necessary to find the right angle to shave at. You’ll want to start with the blade at a 90 degree angle against your face. Adjust the angle as you move the blade down your face. Once the blade starts cutting, you’ve found the right angle. The hair should come off with no pressure at all. If you find yourself applying pressure, adjust your angle or check the sharpness of your blade. For most men, the best angle is somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees. Remember to cut with the grain of your hair. Don’t apply pressure if there’s still stubble remaining on your face. On your first pass the goal is reducing facial hair, not removing it all in one go.
The process is deliberate and takes patience. Don’t rush it.
After you’ve finished your first pass, rinse your face with water to remove any dead skin cells. Wet shaving is great at exfoliating and as a result will cause your dead skin cells to flake off. Reapply your shaving soap all over your face and neck. Your razor should never directly touch your skin – the shaving soap should always be in between them.
After you’ve lathered and reapplied your shaving soap then you can start your second pass. This time, you want to shave perpendicular to the grain. Or sideways, for most people. Don’t apply a lot of pressure. You want to allow the razor to do the work as it drags across your stubble. Rinse and reapply your shaving soap and you can move on to the third and final pass.
For your third pass, you will be shaving against the grain of your hair. This pass is usually the harshest and most likely to cause irritation. Some people consider it optional, but it will ensure you get the smoothest and closest shave possible.
You might think this is a time intensive process. It is. But it’s essential that you take the time to do multiple passes. Many men have picked up the bad habit of repeatedly shaving the same spot to get all the hair off quickly. This is a recipe for irritation and aggravation. When you start wet shaving you should be mindful about making long efficient strokes. Don’t go back to get a stray hair… just be patient and get it on the next pass. The result will be smoother skin and significantly less irritation.
After the shave, take care of your skin.
After you’ve finished your shave, it’s time to apply an aftershave balm. This will minimize post shave irritation, prevent dryness and moisturize your skin. And that’s it! You’ve finished your first traditional wet shave. Learning how to wet shave properly takes some time and there's a chance you nicked yourself once or twice. Stick with it and you'll be a pro in the art of wet shaving in no time.
And...you're done! Sorta.
That wasn’t so hard was it? Your skin probably feels smoother than ever before at this point. Or maybe you have a few nicks from beginner mistakes. You’ll figure out how to avoid those quickly. This is just the tip of the wet shaving iceberg. There are tons of different options for each aspect of the wet shaving process. No doubt, much of the fun of wet shaving is customizing your shaving experience to be as enjoyable as possible. You can pick from a number of razor options. There are different widths, concaves, and weights of razors. Your pre-shave routine is also open to adjustment. You could use hot water and forego pre-shave oil. Or opt for a shaving crème instead of a shaving soap puck. There are even different options for strops and whetstones for your blade. And we haven’t even figured out whether you’re the type of guy who prefers a mug or bowl for lathering your shaving soap.
You don’t need to dive in right into the deep end of traditional wet shaving. Beginners are advised to start with a safety razor and a puck of shave soap. For a more forgiving shave, add pre-shave oil to the list. You’re on the right track to be an expert at traditional wet shaving. Soon you’ll have women gushing at your smooth skin and guys in awe of your new manly hobby. Be a good friend and share this guide with them, they’ll thank you for your benevolence. Now feel free to brag a bit, you’ve earned it.