Why I Wet Shave...

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post shave skin treatment

Treat your skin right: Your post shave ritual.

Today’s topic is about what you do after you are done shaving.  Specifically, how you treat your skin after the shave.  We will be covering what options there are, the forms they come in, and what they contain.

Post shave skin treatment can come in solid forms such as alum blocks or styptic pencils, but most often are in a liquid or lotion form such as balms, splashes, lotions and aftershaves.  Depending on what ingredients are included, they can act as an antiseptics, toner, astringent, moisturizer and scent transport.

Take a minute and imagine you have finished up another successful shave.  You look good and are looking to tidy up the sink and go on your way.  I am going to recommend you pause and take just a few minutes to finish off your shave the right way.  This is where you have the opportunity to put the final polish on your shaving masterpiece and set yourself up for the next great shave by using post-shave products to treat your skin.  Post shave treatments can help heal cuts, fight bacteria, replenish skin and make you smell good to boot.

 

A quick note.  In order to avoid confusion (for you and myself) the term “Aftershave” will only be used for the type of product.  Instead of using the term “after shave” and possibly confusing myself and the spell check function, everything else will be termed as “post shave”.

Assess Your Progress

How good of a shave was it REALLY?  Splash some cold water on your mug and rub your hands over the areas you just shaved.  Run them WTG, XTG, and ATG of your beard.   Take this time to see if you missed a spot or if an area you have had issues with is improving or not.  If you don’t know how well you are doing, you don’t know if you are getting better or not.  You don’t have to do this everyday, but periodically take the time to reassess your progress.

Cold Water Rinse

I know a lot of people really enjoy their hot towel and warm lather, but I highly recommend a nice COLD rinse at the end of your shave routine.  A splash of cold water will cause the blood vessels and the skin on your face to constrict.  This tightening will make your face a little tauter, stop any weepers you may have, reduce any swelling or irritation, and give you a little jolt to get you going.  For more info on cold water shaving check out the guest post I did at Sharpologist.com.

Alum Block

An alum block is made of potassium alum.  This is a naturally occurring substance that is mined, shaped, and shipped to you fresh from the depths of the earth.  After your face is wet, dampen the alum block and run it over your freshly shaved mug.  This will accomplish three things.  Alum has astringent and antiseptic properties;  This means that alum will help to stop the bleeding of nicks and weepers and kills bacteria;  Third, one of the best things about alum is that it stings when it is used on abraded skin.  When you run it over your face and get some stinging sensation in a few areas, you know that you are using too much pressure, the wrong angle, to many passes, or a combination of the above.   This is a great feedback tool and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Styptic

Did you happen to nick yourself and have a bit of a bleeder that won’t be stopped with cold water and an alum block?  Try using a styptic to stop the bleeding.  Styptic comes as apencil, powder, or gel and is another alum compound similar to the alum block.  Styptic is a man  made product and is usually aluminum sulfate or titanium dioxide.

Styptic compounds are a stronger astringent and are good to stop bleeding on nicks and small cuts.  While the astringent effect is stronger, unfortunately so is the stinging sensation.  The styptic will cause the blood to clot and stop the bleeding.  If a styptic doesn’t stop the bleeding take a look at this past article on stopping a shaving cut from bleeding.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel can be used directly after the shave in place of an alum block.  Witch hazel is an astringent and an antiseptic.  However, witch hazel does not have the sting that alum does.  This lack of a stinging sensation and its liquid form make it a popular alternative to alum blocks.  Many varieties of witch hazel also have a small amount of alcohol as a preservative, as well as aloe and other soothing additives.  Some witch hazels are lightly scented and may be good for the ladies or gentleman who prefer a very light scent.

Witch hazel is actually a flowering shrub common in North America.  This shrub is called a witch hazel bush, winterbloom or spotted alder.

Shaving Balm

Post-shave balm is more of a lotion type product which has conditioners meant to soothe, moisturize and condition your skin. Balms usually look like a runny lotion and are opaque in color.  Many balms contain alcohol (two to five percent), but the best ones contain none at all. Alcohol-free balms substitute alcohol with natural ingredients such as essential oils. Because balms contain very little or no alcohol, they’re not as dehydrating as aftershaves.  Balms are heavier-feeling on the skin and typically provide more irritation relief and more moisture to the skin, particularly in cold or dry climates.

Balms are recommended for individuals with sensitive or dry skin, and for use during dry winter months when there is less moisture in the air and when the skin is prone to dryness.  Balm has a more subtle fragrance than aftershave, so it is less likely to conflict with cologne. It is also preferred by individuals who prefer to avoid fragrances on their faces.  What little smell there is will also fade quickly.

Post Shave Lotion

Similar to balms, lotions are designed so that they are not greasy, absorb quickly and dry with a matte finish so that your face doesn’t look shiny. The best post-shave lotions not only replace lost moisture and soothe the skin, but also have ingredients that will cool and refresh the skin.  Post-shave lotion is applied after shaving to reduce the risk of razor bumps and general skin irritation. Unlike traditional alcohol-based aftershaves, lotions do not dry out the skin.  These post-shave lotions tend to have a milder scent, if any at all.  Don’t let the name fool you, lotions can be anything from a liquid to a thicker cream.  It’s the ingredients that matter, not how it is delivered.

Aftershave

Aftershave is typically alcohol-based (85% and higher) and runny, and is used to tighten your pores after shaving by causing you skin to contract.  This can have a drying effect on your skin. Aftershaves are applied immediately after shaving to provide some combination of irritation relief, skin moisturizing, protection from the elements, and killing of any harmful skin bacteria.

Many aftershaves contain a fragrance. The scent is added in many ways, from essential oils to a group of chemicals.  Despite many products being marketed as both a cologne and aftershave, they are not interchangeable products. A cologne does not have the antiseptic qualities of a good aftershave and an aftershave does not have the long lasting scent qualities and subtleties of a good cologne.

Cologne

As stated above, a cologne does not have the antiseptic qualities of a good aftershave and an aftershave does not have the long lasting scent qualities and subtleties of a good cologne.

Cologne is primarily for smelling good.  Any other properties are only icing on the cake.  Cologne is made up of approximately two to five percent of scent bearing materials and a 70% to 90% alcohol base.  The remaining is usually some percentage of water.  Due to the higher scent content than aftershave, far less is needed during application.  The higher alcohol concentration can also be an issue with individuals with very dry skin.

Talc

Traditionally talcum powder is used as the very last thing to do after shaving.  Talcum is used to:

1) To calm irritations

2) To soak excess moisture (keep skin dry)

3) To minimize the appearance of “residual” beard for somebody with dark hair and light skin.

4) Minimize skin chafing if you are wearing a shirt with a tight collar.

One small point, make sure that your face is dry before application, especially if you’ve used a product that is a little bit tacky, such as a shave balm or lotion.

Talcum powder may be applied by many different methods.  Some shake a bit into their hand and then rub it on their face.  Others shake a little powder into a towel and then massage it into their face and neck.  You can buy a talc brush at a beauty supply shop or possibly use an old badger brush.  Put a little talc on the brush to cover your neck and a little on the face.

Talcum powder does have its detractors.  Many do not like how talcum will soak up any residual moisture or oils on your skin and feel it does a disservice to your skin.  Talcum is also a respiratory hazard due to its very fine nature and similarity to asbestos (info here).

As far as scent goes, talcum powder has a scent all its own and strongly reminds me of “old fashioned” barbershops.  There are scented versions available as well.

 

I hope that this has cleared up a few misconceptions about post shave skin treatment and post shave products.  There are a huge array of products to choose from.  What may make it more confusing is that one producer may market something as a balm, the next one will have a very similar product and call it an aftershave or maybe a lotion.  Take a look at the ingredients and try and think of how they could help your skin.  If you’re not sure, try something else. If you want to incorporate more than one product into your post shave routine, go for it.  One sequence of product usage I saw quite a few times was shave, use aftershave, let dry and apply balm, let dry and apply cologne.

 

Articles and information related to this:

Sharpologist: Talcum Powder Use

Gentleman’s Gazette: Aftershave Guide

Wikipedia: Cologne

 

If this was helpful to you please let me know by leaving a comment, liking, or sharing this article.  Have a great day and a smooth shave!

Matt

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10 Comments

  1. Great post Matt! I saw the Acqua di Gio and you reminded me the good old days when I used to wear this one during high school.

    Good times 🙂

  2. This is very good information! For a person with sensitive skin, what type of ritual would you recommend after shaving? Witch hazel and post shave balm?

    • For sensitive skin I would stay away from post shave products containing alcohol and be careful with scented products. It’s not overly common but some scent compounds can cause skin irritation as well.

      The witch hazel and post shave balm would be a great place to start.

    • Witch hazel may be a minor ingredient of the shave balm. It’s been added to Nivea Sensitive in the past two years.

  3. I’m blessed with cherub sensitive skin. I’ve two exclusive rituals.

    The simple:
    shave> cold water rinse > witch hazel > clean up.

    The thorough:
    shave > water rinse > alum > clean up > cold water rinse > balm.

    Witch hazel is lovely on its own terms, but I consider it a ‘mild alum’ that doesn’t need to be rinsed off and a rubbery alternative to a good balm.

  4. Alex

    I have oily skin. What aftershave should I use? If I use a balm(like Proraso White for sensitive skin or Nivea for sensitive skin) would that be suitable?

    • A lot of people who have issues with oily skin (me included) will use an alcohol based aftershave. The alcohol base helps to balance the oily skin, is a great disinfectant, and usually carries a scent better than a lot of the balms and lotions on the market. Alcohol will sting a bit, but it is short lived and some actually prefer the sensation.

      • Alex

        Right now I use an alum block and an aftershave balm. What if I use a toner and then a BHA exfoliant and a face moisturizer instead of the alum block n the balm?

        • I am a fan of the alum block. Unless you start to have your dry skin issues I would try to keep it as it also provides great feedback if you are using to much pressure and is an astringent and anti bacterial. Be careful using the exfoliant thought. The act of using a shaving brush and the actual act of shaving itself will exfoliate your skin. Too much exfoliation can cause dryness that you body will try correct by pumping out even more oils. This is a problem that took me a long time to come to terms with myself.

          In the end I would recommend changing ONE and try your new routine for an entire week. After that, evaluate if it has been an upgrade in your routine or a negative. IT can take a bit of time, but what once you figure out what works for YOUR skin, the pay off lasts a lifetime.

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