Why I Wet Shave...

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shaving brush exfoliation

A shaving brush doesn’t exfoliate your skin; A rebuttal

One thing that is constant in the wet shaving world is that not everyone is going to agree on the “how” or the “why” of various aspects of our obsession hobby.  To be honest, it can be both refreshing and/or aggravating depending on the topic.  One such topic that bothers me, is the statement that the use of a shaving brush does NOT exfoliate your skin.  Instead of brooding or writing a terse comment on someone else’s blog, forum post, or Facebook group, I thought I would present my reasoning in an article of my own.  Because if you have a blog, why not use it 🙂

The argument for exfoliation

That use of a shaving brush exfoliates the skin on your face.

Assumptions used to argue the position

These are assumed to be true for the sake of this argument.

  •  That face latherers will spend more time with the brush on thier face than a bowl latherer.
  • A stiffer brush would equate to greater degree of exfoliation.  Since this is not a discussion about knot characteristics this will be simplified to:
    • Boar = highest stiffness knot
    • Quality Badger = lowest stiffness knot
    • Other Badger grades / Horse / Synthetics fall somewhere between the two.
  • Different amounts of pressure are used by different people.  More pressure = greater friction = greater rate of abrasion.

Some pertinent information on exfoliation

Let’s get a few things out of the way right off the bat.  What exactly is meant by “exfoliation”?  According to wikipedia:

Exfoliation involves the removal of the oldest dead skin cells on the skin’s outermost surface. Exfoliation is involved in the process of all facials, during microdermabrasion or chemical peels at medical spas.  Exfoliation can be achieved through mechanical or chemical means.


To be even more specific, exfoliation of the top layer of cells is called microdermabrasion.  From wikipedia:

“Often called “microderm” for short, microdermabrasion is a procedure to help exfoliate or temporarily remove a few of the top layers of the skin called the stratum corneum. Much like brushing one’s teeth, microdermabrasion helps to gently remove skin “plaque” and skin debris.  Since human skin typically regenerates at approximately 30 day intervals, skin improvement with microdermabrasion is temporary and needs to be repeated at average intervals of two – four weeks for continued improvement. Multiple treatments in combination with sunscreen, sun avoidance, and other skin care creams yield best results.”

The “mechanical means” of exfoliation is generated by “Abrasion.”  (wikipedia yet again)

Abrasion is the process of scuffing, scratching, wearing down, marring, or rubbing away. It can be intentionally imposed in a controlled process using an abrasive. Abrasion can be an undesirable effect of exposure to normal use or exposure to the elements.”

Ok, despite the mention of facials and medical spas, we can extract two salient points from this.

  1.  It fairly clearly spells out that exfoliation is the removal of the oldest skin cells from the outermost layer of skin by chemical or mechanical means.
  2. Scuffing, scratching, and rubbing against something will wear it down…  i.e. remove skin cells.

Since we are not applying chemicals to purposefully remove the skin from our face, we are left with the mechanical means of exfoliation (e.g.  abrading the skin with a shaving brush).


The argument FOR exfoliation

The argument really boils down into two concepts.

  1. That use of a shaving brush on your face abrades your skin
  2. That the top layer of dead skin can be removed by this abrasion

Let’s examine each concept and see where we stand.

That use of a shaving brush on your face abrades your skin

Let’s take a second and talk about shaving brushes.  We can all agree that different knots feel different on your face.  This can encompass how soft or scritchy the brush feels to the amount of backbone the brush possesses.   These differences affect the rate of abrasion on your face by the brush.  I will use an analogy to drive the point home.  Think of the differences in rubbing a sponge  on a piece of wood compared to rubbing a wood rasp on a piece of wood.  Both items will abrade the wood, but at a different rate.  The sponge is going to break off / wear down the very top particles of the wood (discoloring the sponge in the process) while the wood rasp is going to take off much larger pieces at a much greater rate.  While the wood rasp wearing down the wood is easier to see, the sponge would be doing the same thing just at a slower rate.  The rate of abrasion will also be affected by the length of time the action is performed and the amount of pressure used.

I’ll be the first to admit that my analogy might stink, but it drives the point home.  Another way to look at it is when you load your brush with soap.  The act of spinning your brush on your soap while applying a bit of pressure is abrading the soap.  If there was no abrasion to the soap you wouldn’t be able to load up your brush (This is easier to visualize with a hard puck soap, but holds true with croaps and creams).

That the top layer of dead skin can be removed by this abrasion

I won’t argue the point that using a shaving brush once will exfoliate your skin. In fact I’m pretty sure that would be a false statement.  However, the use of a daily ritual that results in a mild abrasive action (use of a shaving brush for instance…) would result in the continuous removal of the top most layer of skin cells as they die off.  This by definition would be exfoliating your skin.

For more information on skin, take a peek at the wikipedia article on skin.

As an aside, exfoliating your skin is usually considered to be a good thing because it helps to clear the pores, allows even distribution of your skin’s natural oils, and helps with acne issues.

Why exfoliation of dead skin cells is a good thing, from Livestong.com:

“Skin cells have a shelf life of just a few days, and this can vary depending on sun exposure, the temperature and humidity of the air; and the nutrients you are eating. By clearing off dead skin cells, you reduce the risk of irritating the skin and developing whiteheads, blackheads or pimples. Exfoliating also leaves your skin looking more radiant and healthy, and it enables moisturizers and other skin treatments to penetrate and affect the skin.”

As always, let me know what you think and share with others if you think it’s pertinent.

Have a great day and a smooth shave!



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  1. I actually like the sponge metaphor, although, as a matter of pure pragmatism, I would prefer that everyone — cosmetologists, shavers, dermatologists == ditch the concept of “exfoliation” entirely.The idea originates in practice, and that practice has traditionally been pretty harsh, a far sight harsher than what a shaving brush does. We’re certainly free to do what we like to our faces; until now, I traditionally amputated the stratum corneum every autumn, with a razor.

    Meanwhile, doctors are increasingly realizing the barrier function of the skin depends almost entirely on the “dead” stratum corneum; cosmetologists are considering the possibility that increased cell turnover is essentially aging, and developing products to slow the genetic clock. And a few shavers are realizing that the tensile strength of an intact SC is the source of cutting power, key to shaving efficiency.

    “Declamation” is defined as a kind of invective, but the word also denotes the natural, invisible shedding of skin cells that would be my preferred locus of normality. This happens at an alarming rate, some MILLIONS of cells per minute, I was reading on a web page from Vaseline earlier today. If some precancerous, “immortal” keratinocyte is stubbornly clinging to life, and a shaving brush nudges it to release, I’m all for it. I’m just not comfortable with the association with barbaric and disgusting, ill-informed spa therapies, the worst of which has to be foot peels.

    • Thad,

      Thanks for the feedback! I must say that your response is probably the most well written on the blog to date. I am intrigued by your statement “And a few shavers are realizing that the tensile strength of an intact SC is the source of cutting power, key to shaving efficiency.” Could you point to any more information on the subject. I’ll be honest, I THINK I understand what you are implying but I’m not sure.

      Thanks again and hope to hear back from you.


      • I actually stumbled into the “exfoliation” game by a chance discovery, that the juice from a previously frozen pumpkin makes a pretty decent aftershave! Suddenly, I had a limitless supply of a substance comparable to cosmetic exfoliators that are too cost-prohibtive for a normal person to experiment with. Now, it’s tying back into theories I came up with (but men have long understood) on my blog, especially the tension-power formula in the article “Advanced Placement.” I haven’t got any authoritative answers yet, but to think along with me, I invite all to visit the following post and read forward.

  2. I think we can all agree that the actual act of shaving with a blade once (let alone multiple passes) is doing much more to remove dead skin cells than the act of lathering rendering both sides of this argument rather moot

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