The average guy will spend thousands of hours shaving over his lifetime.
So isn’t it worth investing a bit of your time to learn the best way to do it?
You’re probably giving yourself a sub-optimal shave without even realizing it.
I’ll teach you how to avoid getting razor burn or having to stick pieces of toilet paper on your face a bit later. But first let’s look at some reasons why you should consider giving traditional wet shaving a try.
Why You Should Try Traditional Wet Shaving
- It’s less expensive – Disposable razor refills cost $2—4 each, even if you buy them in bulk! Safety razors use double-edged razor blades which only cost about $0.09 – $0.13 each.
- It’s better for the environment – Billions of disposable razors end up in the dump each year. That’s a lot of unnecessary plastic!
- It’s better for your skin – Skin irritation. Ingrown hairs. Nicks and cuts. Shaving with a disposable razor can be a painful and tedious process. Electric shavers aren’t much better and can produce skin irritation.
If you’ve never tried wet shaving before, you’re really missing out.
Not only does traditional wet shaving leave you looking and feeling your best. You also feel like a badass while doing it.
I used to hate shaving every morning. It was such a chore. I just wanted to get it over with.
When I discovered traditional wet shaving, it changed everything for me. Shaving became something of a ritual—something I actually enjoyed doing each day, and actually looked forward to!
Over the past year I’ve experimented with growing a beard, but each time, I always looked forward to shaving it all off with my safety razor.
What You’ll Need to Get Started
Your investment in traditional wet shaving equipment can be as thrifty or expensive as you want to make it.
Lots of guys who try out traditional wet shaving can be tempted to spend hundreds of dollars trying out all the latest soaps, razors, and blades. There are even online shaving communities like the Wicked Edge subreddit where men share pictures of their most recent hauls.
But to get started, you really only need a few basics.
A Safety Razor
This will be the most expensive part of your new shaving kit. A good one will set you back about $30.
My personal favorite is the Parker 99R. I’ve tried other razors like the Edwin Jagger DE86 and even vintage Gillette safety razors from the 1960s. But I always seem to keep coming back to the Parker 99R. I love its extra-long handle, weighty feel, and twist-to-open butterfly design that makes it really easy to change blades.
Every guy seems to have his own personal preference when it comes to blades. For this reason, I’d highly recommend picking up a sampler pack so you can try a few different ones and see which you like best.
You can pick up 70–100 blades for $20, which will last you 6+ months even if you change them every couple of days.
My personal ranking of the blades I’ve tried are:
- Astra Superior Platinum – I find these blades stay sharper than any other brand I’ve tried. I can use them for 5+ shaves and they still cut perfectly.
- Lord Platinum – These are good blades. I find them pretty similar to Astra blades and I’ll use them in a pinch, but I find they don’t stay sharp quite as long.
- Feather – These blades are EXTREMELY SHARP. Good if I feel like an extra-close shave, but not something I use every day. Be very careful the first time you try them. You don’t need to use any pressure at all. Some people love the sharpness and others hate it, because it can be easy to cut yourself with these blades if you aren’t careful.
- Shark – These would probably be my favorite except I find they don’t stay sharp nearly as long as Astra or Lord blades.
- Derby – I feel like these are the most “dull” of the blades I’ve tried. They can be good for beginners to practice with since they’re a bit more forgiving, and won’t slice your face like Feather blades if you make a mistake.
Shaving Soap or Cream
Popular aerosol shaving creams contain propellants, lubricants, and chemicals that can cause irritation and allergic reactions. You don’t really want to put that stuff on your skin, especially while you’re scraping it with a blade.
My favorite shaving soap is the white Proraso, which is made specifically for sensitive skin. A container costs about $10 and will last you a year or more.
Proraso is a popular shaving soap brand from Italy. They also make a green version with eucalyptus and menthol, and a red version with sandalwood oil and shea butter.
If you’re on a budget, you can pick up a puck of Williams Mug Shaving Soap for $1-2 instead.
These are special brushes that you’ll use to turn your soap into a rich foamy lather. They also help stimulate your hair to stand up so it’s easier to shave.
Brushes are commonly made from boar hair. More expensive luxury brushes are often made from badger hair. There are also synthetic brushes, which are a great alternative if you’re vegan or allergic to animal hair.
I’ve used a badger brush before, but I find I prefer the extra coarseness of boar. My go-to brush is an Omega brand boar brush with a wooden handle.
A Shaving Bowl
This can be any kind of bowl or mug you have lying around your house. No need to buy anything special. This will be where you whip your shaving soap into a lather.
This looks like a big block of salt, and costs $5 – 10 depending on the size you get. Brand doesn’t really matter for this, because it’s all the same stuff: aluminum sulfate.
After you’re done shaving, you wet this and rub it all over your face. It closes up your pores to prevent irritation and ingrown hairs.
If you’ve shaved using too much pressure or with the wrong angle, you’ll know when you put alum on your face because it will sting. A lot. But this can be helpful as feedback to improve your shaving technique.
This is usually made of alum, but they’re typically shaped like a pencil for easier application to a small area. Styptics are used more for the purpose of stopping bleeding. There are also some next-generation styptic products like Glyder, which is essentially aluminum sulfate with botanicals in a lip balm style container.
I don’t really do this, but some guys swear by it. You can use olive oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, or whatever you already have in your kitchen. Rub it on your face before you lather up to allow your razor to slide even better along your skin. Just wash your hands really well after so you don’t drop your razor.
Again this isn’t really something that’s mandatory, but it can be a nice finishing touch to your shaving experience.
A good aftershave doesn’t just make you smell good, but serves a purpose as well.
Look for something that contains an antiseptic like denatured alcohol or stearate citrate. These ingredients will help prevent infection. Your aftershave should also contain an astringent (like witch hazel) to close your pores and reduce skin irritation.
For well under $100 you should now have everything you need to shave for the next year.
Set aside some time to shave. Especially while you’re just getting started. You’ll do a better job if you take your time. Traditional wet shaving will take you 20 – 30 minutes to do well. It should be a ritual that you come to enjoy, rather than a chore that you rush through. It’s time every day that you get just to be alone and think about life.
Use a quality razor and blades. We already discussed some brands above at length, so you should have a good idea of what to look for.
1. Wet your entire face
Use water that is comfortably hot, but you don’t need to scald yourself. The warm water will help open up your pores and soften your coarse facial hair. You can put a hot wet towel on your face for a couple of minutes if you prefer, although this is difficult to do while standing up. If you take a hot shower before shaving, you can skip this step.
2. Consider applying pre-shave oil
Olive oil or pretty much whatever is in your kitchen cupboards will work. It further moisturizes and softens the hair, making it easier to cut. It also acts as a lubricant for the blade. Again, I don’t do this, but you might want to experiment and see if you like it.
3. Lather your soap
Get your brush nice and wet by running it under the tap for a few seconds while turning it. Then give it a few light flicks to remove some of the excess moisture.
Rub the wet brush on top of your shaving soap in circular motions for about a minute. The brush should start to absorb some of the soap. (If you’re using a shaving cream instead of a dry soap, you can skip this step and just squeeze a glob of soap into your mug.)
Now take your soapy brush and transfer it to your shaving mug. Begin to swirl for a minute or two to work up a lather in your mug. You might need to add a little bit of water to get it going. Don’t add too much, or your lather will be too runny.
You’ll know it’s ready when you have a thick, fluffy opaque lather. The lather should have enough structure that it forms “peaks”, or little points that stick off. You should be able to turn your brush upside down without worrying that the soap will all fall off .
For extra comfort, soak your shaving mug or run it under hot water before you begin to warm it up. This will keep your lather warm while you shave.
4. Apply the soap to your face
Start off by rubbing the shaving brush in a circular motion all over your face for about a minute. You should have a nice thick layer of soap all over your face.
Once your face is mostly covered, you can use sweeping back-and-forth “painter strokes” to even everything out a bit more. The brush isn’t just helping apply the soap, but is also making the individual whiskers stand up to be more easily cut as well.
5. The actual shaving part
It’s important to shave “with the grain” on your first pass. If you’re familiar with cutting with or against the grain in woodworking, your hair acts similarly.
Everyone’s facial hair points in different directions on different areas of their face. Some unlucky guys even have swirls of hair that point in all different directions. But generally your first pass goes from up to down.
Keep the blade at a 30 to 45 degree angle to your face. If you go too steep or narrow, you can cause irritation or cut yourself. This can be especially tricky around your chin and jawline, so take extra care in these areas.
Don’t apply pressure. Cheap disposable razors have probably trained you to press hard, but with a safety razor this isn’t needed. Let the weight of the razor do the work.
Rinse your razor after every stroke to prevent it getting clogged up with hair .
Try to only go over each area once initially. You’ll be re-lathering and making another pass, so don’t worry if you missed some hairs the first time. Repeatedly running the razor over your unlathered face will cause unnecessary irritation.
6. Re-lather for a second pass
Grab your shaving brush and do the whole thing over again. Except this time, you want to shave sideways across your face instead of from top to bottom. This will cut the hairs just a little bit closer.
If you want an extra-smooth shave, you can do a third pass going against the grain (bottom to top.) This is great for special occasions when you want that baby butt smooth shave, but also has the greatest chance of causing skin irritation. Don’t be surprised if your skin is a bit red and itchy the next day after your first attempt.
Clean your face off with cold water to help close your pores off a bit. Then rub your alum block all over your face. Wait about a minute for it to further close your pores, then rinse it off with cold water again.
8. Pat your face dry
Use a clean towel or washcloth to avoid spreading bacteria to your freshly shaved face. Don’t rub it completely dry, as this will irritate your skin.
9. Use an aftershave or moisturizer
You can further protect your skin by using a moisturizer, or apply an aftershave with a nice manly smell.
10. Clean your equipment
Rinse your brush and razor thoroughly and shake out as much water as you can over your sink or bathtub. Then stand them up to dry for at least a few hours. Leave your alum block exposed to the air to let it dry as well. Taking care of your shaving tools will help them last longer.
Leveling Up Your Shaving Game
If you really want to take your wet shaving game to the next level, you might be tempted to try a straight razor. It’s guaranteed to make you feel like a lumberjack or cowboy the whole time you’re shaving.
I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners. Get yourself comfortable with a safety razor before you consider moving on.
While straight razors make you look and feel super cool, they have a lot of drawbacks too.
You can cut yourself really badly with a straight razor if you don’t know what you’re doing. Make sure you understand the angle you need to keep your blade at, and how much pressure to use (hint: none) before trying one for yourself.
They’re also expensive. Expect to pay $100 for a good one. Although if you’re committed to it, you won’t have to buy another blade for the rest of your life.
Straight razors also require a bunch of specialized knowledge and equipment to maintain.
Do you know how to sharpen knives? You’ll need your own sharpening stones and a leather strop to keep your straight razor sharp enough to shave without causing irritation.
Now You Can Shave like a Pro!
Shaving can be an expensive and tedious chore if you’re using a disposable razor.
Traditional wet shaving using a safety razor can be a great alternative. It’s cheaper, less irritating for your skin, and offers a superior shave.
Having the right tools will make a big difference in your shaving experience, and your skin will thank you too.
You will need to re-learn the whole shaving process, including everything from how to lather your face, to how much pressure to apply. But the results will speak for themselves. You too can experience the perfect shave!
Have you tried wet shaving for yourself? What did you think?
What’s your favorite razor or soap to use?