It’s time to throw in the towel on your modern shave. April 06, 2015 09:51

This is part 2 of "The 'modern' shave is a bad deal." To read part 1, Click Here

To understand how to make shaving a truly enjoyable experience, let’s start with the heart of a good shave; And no, it’s not the blade.

It’s the lather.

That’s right. How you prepare the hair and lubricate your skin is the most critical part of a truly great shave. If you prep properly, a sharp blade is a sharp blade. The shaving Gurus from whom I learned traditional shaving will likely go up in flames over that statement, but it’s true. I have several beautifully restored 100+ year old straight razors, and I love them, but they take special care and extra time, so they are for special occasions.

My mid-week "get-it-done-and-get-out-the-door" shave is performed with a disposable cartridge razor. When combined with a warm lather prepared with a badger hair brush, even a disposable cartridge can provide an immensely enjoyable experience unlike anything one can get out of a can. Spend any time on wet shaving forums and you will see this borne out. There are literally hundreds of thousands of pages discussing the relative advantages of this razor over that razor, or this brand of brush versus that brand, but for all of the good natured arguing going on, there is one argument you almost never see: Traditional wet shaving versus modern canned shaving or electric shaving.


Because there is no contest.

From superior lubricative properties, to the wonderful feel of a soft brush loaded with warm lather as it glides across your skin, (Seriously, it's like a hug from Grandma.) there are countless arguments for traditional wet shaving.

But goo in a can must have some advantage, or it wouldn't be the industry standard, right? Wanna know what it is? Speed. That’s it. It’s “Faster and Cheaper”. But here’s the big, dirty secret:

It isn’t.

You've just been convinced that it is. The corporations that manufacture the goo spend millions every year on marketing to convince you that you can have a great shave, fast and cheap; and millions more on research and development trying to force their products to perform as well as the simple soap and brush your great grandfather used a century ago. All in the name of convenience.

From a cost perspective, once you get the hang of building a proper quantity of lather and minimizing waste (which I will cover in an upcoming post), the shaving creams available on our website can last for up to 6 months, depending on your usage. I used to go through 3-4 cans of goo in the same amount of time. At best, that works out to an equal cost.  As for the razors, this article does a great job of illustrating how traditional shaving with a Safety Razor or Straight Razor is more economical, not to mention more sustainable in the long run than disposable cartridges. 

What about the time it takes? Again, once you become familiar with the brush (again, stay tuned), building a lather vs squirting goo is a difference of a minute or so.

You need to ask yourself if your comfort is worth a minute of your time.

This is all beside the fact that canned shaving goo is loaded with stuff that has no business on your skin. A quick look around the shaving cream aisle at the mega mart reads like a mad chemist’s notebook: Triethanolamine, Isopentane, Isobutane… These chemicals can have detrimental effects on your skin that no amount of added moisturizers will counter. Industrial goo also causes your skin to swell and tighten, making the hair stand on end. This is marketed as a benefit: Causing the hair to stand up must be a good thing, right? It's not that simple. A proper lather applied with a brush lifts and suspends the hair gently while leaving the skin supple and relaxed.  Chemical goos force the hair upright by making it retreat into the follicle. Then, when you shave, the hair is cut in its retracted position, only to emerge again when the skin relaxes. Ever notice how you are rough just a few hours after you shave? That’s why. 

The gentle scrubbing action of the brush also helps to break up and carry away oil (called sebum) and dirt buildup around the base of the hair. relaxing the skin with heat and moisture increase this effect. Those hard little concretions are a great shave's worst enemy. When the blade catches on them , it causes the skin to be lifted into the edge, and severed. Do this thousands of times on a microscopic scale and what do you get?

Razor Burn.

That's why barbers use hot towels. The heat and moisture relax the skin and open the pores, loosening the sebum and allowing the brush to carry it away. 

Put more simply:

Hot towel + lather/brush = relaxed, clean, supple skin, perfect for shaving.

Cold goo = tight, swollen skin and razor burn

I used to go a week or more between shaves (much to Mrs. Bare Knuckle's chagrin) because I hated shaving. I hated the cuts, nicks, razor burn, and the inevitable ingrown hairs that followed (more on this in a future post). I thought it was because I had particularly sensitive skin or my beard grew funny. It wasn’t.

It was because I was expecting Filet Mignon from a TV dinner.