Traditional Wet Shaving & More!

A Brief History & Explanation of Wet Shaving

Wet shaving is the traditional technique of shaving, using plenty of water, a single blade razor, and a brush to lather and apply a cream or soap.  Wet shaving uses multiple passes to reduce and finally eliminate whiskers, often without any irritation.  Wet shaving can take longer than shaving with modern multi-blade cartridge razors and canned foam, but the shaves are better, it is healthier for your skin, and it is often more economical too; many wet shavers claim that the routine of wet shaving is relaxing!  It is also very masculine.

Wet shaving originated centuries ago, across many civilizations, with skilled barbers, who offered straight razor shaves, when common grooming services like shaving and bathing were not easily accessible, due to a lack of indoor plumbing and other comfortable standard of living resources we enjoy today.

Straight Razors, also called Cutthroat Razors, were the principle instrument for shaving up to the early 1900’s, when King Gillette (founder of Gillette shaving products) introduced the modern Safety Razor, which used a disposable Double Edge blade.  Various single and double edge safety razors designs had been around since the late 1800’s, but Gillette was the first to successfully patent a disposable DE (carbon steel) blade and safety razor system. Gillette safety razors were issued to soldiers during WW1, which would be a key factor in their razors’ successful introduction to the public, post war. [Wikipedia]

Gillette had unparalleled financial success with their safety razors until the 1960’s, when competitors began implementing better blade technology (stainless steel).  Also around this time, plastic, disposable single blade cartridge razors were introduced.  Having lost the market advantage on DE blade sales, Gillette entered the disposable cartridge razor market, with a patented twin bladed cartridge, and regained financial success.

Multi-blade cartridge razors claim to shave closer using a technique called Hysteresis; as the first blade cuts the hair, it further pulls the hair from the follicle, allowing the additional blades to cut even shorter.  (Wet shavers refer to this as a tug and cut method.)  Today, manufacturers continue to vie for mass market shaving dominance, introducing increased multi-blade razors, pivoting razor heads, various lubricating technologies, and battery operated light and vibration features—all in the guise of providing “a better shave.”  By this reasoning: If one blade is good, and two blades are better, then every additional blade added should continue to improve performance, right?  No.

Shaveology chooses to define Wet Shaving as:

The technique of shaving with hot water, using a single blade razor, and a brush to lather a cream or soap. There are 3 phases to the routine.

Shaveology’s philosophy of Wet Shaving is:

The pursuit of the best shave, every shave, affordably priced.

Using a DE safety razor is different than a cartridge razor

For years, modern cartridge shaving has stressed its so-called convenience; you can do it in very little time, with very little preparation, and you don’t even need to be fully awake!  Canned shave gels and foams generally use petroleum based lubricants, which repel water rather than absorb and incorporate it, plus the aerosols used to get the product out of the can further dry your skin. Only recently have mass-market shaving manufacturers begun to introduce pre-shave products (after the resurgence of traditional wet shaving trends).  This is not to say that pre-shave preparation cannot be done with cartridge shaving, but that it has not been stressed.

The human body is over 60% water; dry whiskers are coarse, but once saturated with water, they become soft and easy to cut (like spaghetti noodles).  Wet shaving keeps your skin hydrated with water and you lather a cream or soap with water; per shave, more water is incorporated with wet shaving than modern cartridge shaving practices. Of course, modern cartridge shaving uses water during its process, but traditional wet shaving uses more water.  Think of traditional wet shaving as wetter shaving.

Safety razor’s don’t require any pressure to cut stubble; the weight of the razor head and the properly hydrated whiskers effortlessly work together.  You will cut yourself if you apply heavy pressure. With cartridge razors, pressure is necessary because of the relatively fixed razor angles (pivot heads attempt to remedy this); you can rotate or adjust the angle of your safety razor to fit the contour of your face (and get gentler or more aggressive shaves).

Traditional wet shaving products (soaps, creams, oils, and after shaves) generally use better, healthier, and often more natural ingredients than mass-market products.

Wet Shaving is ultimately a philosophy and technique for approaching how to shave.  Shaveology offers these loose categories to identify individual shaver’s preferences:

  • Classic Wet Shaver (Straight razor, Brush, Cream/Soap)
  • Traditional Wet Shaver (Safety razor, Brush, Cream/Soap)
  • Method Wet Shaver (The Roberts Method Of Wet Shaving) [not discussed here]
  • Modern Wet Shaver (Cartridge razor, Brush, Cream/Soap)

There are 3 phases to the wet shaving routine:

  • Pre-Shave
  • The Shave
  • Post Shave

The Pre-Shave routine softens the whiskers and cleanses and prepares the skin before shaving.  If you shave in the morning, allow your skin 30 minutes to “wake up” first.  Whiskers take about 3 minutes to hydrate and absorb moisture.  Probably the best form or preparation is a hot shower before shaving.  If you don’t have time for a shower, spend about 2 minutes wetting your face with hot water, then apply your shave lather and allow it to sit for 1 minute before proceeding to shave.  A hot, steamed towel is also a very relaxing way to prepare your face before shaving.  Some men like to apply a pre-shave oil or cream. (optional)

The first shaving pass should always be With the Grain (WTG).  This means shaving in the direction of whisker growth.  You can determine your whisker growth pattern by running your fingers across your face.  The first pass takes the longest because this is where the majority of beard is cut (5-6 min).  You will not be completely “smooth” after the first pass, additional passes (re-lathering) will be necessary.

Re-lather.  The second shaving pass will be Across the Grain (XTG). This means shaving across the direction of whisker growth (from jaw to chin). The second pass takes less time because you are only further reducing the leftover stubble from the first pass (2-3 min).  You should be “smooth” enough to quit after the second pass.  A third pass is optional…

Re-lather between passes.  The third and final shaving pass will be Against the Grain (ATG). This means shaving against the direction of whisker growth.  The last pass takes less time because you are only further reducing the leftover stubble from the previous passes (2-3 min).  You should be careful when attempting to shave ATG because it is quite aggressive, but the results can be baby’s skin smooth!  If you have sensitive skin or are prone to ingrown hairs I would not recommend ATG.

The Post Shave routine is important because you Rinse, Condition, and Heal your freshly shaved skin.  Thoroughly rinse your face with warm water, then cool water after shaving.  Pat your face dry, don’t scrub it.  I recommend patting with the direction of your grain.  You can apply a topical antiseptic like witch hazel or use an alum block if you are prone to acne or have any minor abrasions.  A styptic pencil can be used for the occasional nick.  Finish with aloe or a non-alcoholic aftershave balm.  (1 min)

Thoroughly rinse your razor and brush after each use, then store them someplace to air dry, or you can pat them dry on a clean towel.  I generally get 3-5 comfortable shaves from a DE blade; at .07 to .25 cents apiece you could use a fresh one every shave and still spend less than the cartridge refills!


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July 2012
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