If you are reading this I am going to assume you at least have an interest in wet shaving and want to find out a bit more about the why people advocate the practice. Wet shaving offers many benefits over using cartridges and canned goo. Benefits include a better shave, being able to go longer between shaves, less irritation, better skin and complexion, and minimizing (or eliminating) the amount of harsh chemicals you apply to your skin. Other added benefits can include saving money over cartridges and leaving a smaller footprint by reducing the amount of waste you throw out
Before we get too far, let’s define what “wet shaving” actually means. There is no hard definition on what wet shaving is, but most people will agree the following are the core tenets of wet shaving as it is practiced today.
- The use of water as a lubricant or as a major component of the lubricant (soaps, creams, etc…).
- The use of a manual razor that uses a single cutting edge for each of the shaving passes.
- The use of a shaving brush to build and apply a lubricating lather.
Each of these components has distinct advantages over conventional multi blade cartridge shaving. While applying all of these components will lead to a better shave, adding just one of these to your shaving routine can yield noticeable improvements.
CORE TENET #1
Water, H2O, Aqua… whatever you call it, is all around us and most of us don’t give it a second thought. Why is water such a big deal? This is the central concept of wet shaving…… keeping the area to be shaved wet. Water is a natural lubricant that is readily available, is skin friendly, and readily hydrates hair making it easier cut. Most people have experienced the phenomenon of achieving a better shave right after taking a shower (or while in the shower for that matter). Unfortunately, when we splash water on our face gravity has a habit of working its magic and making it drain away. Luckily for us some ingenious individual in our past figured out that soap suds, what we call lather in the shaving world, actually trap the water in a bubbly, creamy, frothy goodness that allows us to retain and actually enhance the lubricating qualities of water.
Some of you may be asking yourself “But my neon green shaving goo uses water and my foam from a can is a kind of lather. What’s the difference?” Excellent question! Let me give you an explanation. The ingredients make all of the difference.
As you can see in the first picture, the canned goo is made up of 24 ingredients and I honestly can’t even pronounce most of them. My wife is a chemical engineer and doesn’t recognize most of these. Now take a look at the second picture…. Cella shaving soap has a total of 8 ingredients. Add water and mix vigorously and you have a bunch of beautiful lather for shaving.
Applying these chemicals to your face not only causes irritation, it doesn’t supply the same quality of lubrication for the shave itself. Some products introduce substitute lubricants that end up clogging pores or causing additional irritation.
I will grudgingly admit that there are some products out there that are marginally better than the standard foam from a can. Some have incorporated ingredients such as Aloe Vera into their formula to soothe the skin, while others (such as the neon green shave gel) require water to be incorporated into the product to produce lather.
CORE TENET #2
Another core tenet of wet shaving is the use of a single cutting edge for each shaving pass. Even when using a double edge safety razor you are only using one cutting edge at a time. Instead of attempting to remove the entire length of the hair follicle in one pass, we perform multiple passes (usually two or three passes) from different directions. This is part of a shaving strategy that is called “multiple pass reduction”. By applying a light touch with our razor and reducing the hair follicle in an incremental and controlled manner we do not abrade our skin and eliminate razor burn and other common shaving related issues. When you use a cartridge razor with 3+ blades you have three separate blades trying to remove the entire length of the hair follicle in one pass while scraping against your skin and causing irritation. Often times a second or third pass is required to achieve a satisfactory result, with individuals often applying pressure to the razor in an attempt to obtain a smoother shave. As a result your skin has been subjected to an average of six to nine blades scraping against it. This causes redness and irritation (razor burn). If you used a little pressure then chances are the irritation is even worse.
Another issue that arises from multi blade cartridges is the tendency of the first blade to “pull-up” on the hair follicle as it is cutting, allowing the following blade to cut farther down the follicle. This can happen multiple times on a hair follicle, each blade cutting a bit lower than the last. As a result when the razor moves past the hair being cut, the follicle is no longer stretched out and retracts to its normal size. Often this ends up with the follicle below the skin line. While this results in a smooth feeling shave it often results in razor bumps (ingrown hairs) that need to be treated in the future. This is particularly prevalent in individuals with very thick/curly/kinky hair. When using the multiple pass reduction methodology you make a single pass with your razor (using just enough pressure to keep the razor on your face) to remove the bulk of the protruding length of hair follicles. You then re-lather and perform another pass from another direction. Lather again and do one last touch up pass or if you want a super smooth shave then go the last pass against the grain of your hair growth. Using this method ensures you do not use too much pressure, you ensure sufficient lubrication, and you do not end up with ingrown hairs. This is referred to shaving “with the grain” (WTG), “across the grain” (XTG), and “against the grain” (ATG) or a “three pass shave”.
The last issue with multi blade cartridges is hygiene. Who would think that the shaving community would be worried about hygiene? How big of an issue is hygiene in an activity consisting of soap and water….. I’m pretty sure we have all seen the multi bladed monster with the whiskers that never got washed out and are now stuck between the blades.
If there are whisker remnants then there is going to be skin cells, some of your body’s natural oils, and moisture. This ends up being an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Even if you are diligent in cleaning your cartridge razor you can never verify you got ALL of it. For individuals with skin problems such as severe acne or eczema this is a big deal. When using a single cutting edge your can completely clean off any residue, disinfect the blade (if desired), dry, and store the razor. No muss, no fuss. Just clean and ready for your next shave.
CORE TENET #3
Finally we come to the venerable shaving brush. There are many different variations of both the bristles and the handle. That is another subject that will be covered in depth at a later time.
A shaving brush accomplishes two things. It is used to create lather from shaving soap and water and it applies the lather to the area being shaved. Sounds pretty simple when you think about it. First of all you cannot create lather without a brush to incorporate the water and soap into the foamy creamy goodness that is lather. While it is highly recommended that you use a proper shaving soap you could even use a shaving brush with some of the “neon green shaving goo” to make a better lather. Where the brush really shines in wet shaving is the application of the lather to the area being shorn. The act of swirling, rubbing, and painting the brush over the skin to apply the lather accomplishes the following.
While lathering your face (or other random bits of your anatomy) the tips of the bristles gently scrub the skin. This in turn exfoliates your skin getting rid of oil, dirt, and dead skin cells. Use of a shaving brush will lift up and suspend the hair follicles so they are not flat against the skin. The hair follicle is surrounded with lather which allows for a smoother shave and greater penetration of the water to soften the follicle.
Best of all, the brushing action helps to break free and lift ingrown hairs. In my opinion this is the biggest game changer for a lot of people. Anyone can get a smooth shave in ideal conditions (even using cartridges). By improving the skin condition we do not only achieve a better shave, we actually improve the quality of life for the individual.
I hope I have conveyed the essence of what wet shaving is and it’s benefits. I would appreciate it if you could do me a favor and let me know what you thought of the article. Please leave a comment, share the article, or sign up for updates on future articles.
Have a great day and a smooth shave!