If you walk into any bathroom, you can usually find at least one razor. They range from the use once and throw away plastic ones, through a variety of reusable cartridge – but ultimately disposable, razors and even pretty feminine ones. They come in a range of designs and colors but generally consist of similar components. They are made from plastic, have an easy grip handle leading to a flattened head holding a varying number of blades. These blades are enclosed in the plastic head at just the right angle to shave, if the head is held flat against the skin, and are designed to protect the user from cutting him (or her) self.
Once in a while, however, you may spot something a little different. Among the sea of lotions, potions, and plastic is a gleaming metal razor and accessories that would have looked very much at home in your grandfather or even great-grandfather’s bathroom. Welcome to the revival of traditional wet shaving!
An increasing number of men are rediscovering the benefits and satisfaction of traditional wet shaving. So, what is it and why is it becoming so popular again?
People are increasingly interested in adopting a sustainable lifestyle. A huge part of this is reviewing our use of disposable items and our everyday reliance on plastic. There has been a renewed focus on the ways of the past, and of returning to reusable items in our homes. Cutting down on waste and being environmentally aware is as important today as is healthy eating and exercise.
In addition, men have never been under more much pressure to look great. Men’s magazines are filled with images of perfectly-honed, hairless bodies and clean-shaven, chiseled jawlines. Choosing to follow a wet shaving regime can meet the needs of a man keen to reduce his carbon footprint and, with a little practice, to achieve the close shaved look in the magazines.
Equipment for Wet Shaving
The first thing to understand is that wet shaving requires some investment in the correct equipment. Like any job, you can’t do it properly without the right tools. Before making your purchase, however, make sure you do a little research into the various options out there. Investigate different techniques, brands as well as price points.
You should make a choice based on your lifestyle, abilities, and restrictions. Remember, you can always upgrade or change at a later stage. Like any shaving, the basic items you need for traditional wet shaving are a razor and lather, but even here, you need to choose wisely.
A razor is arguably your most important item, and the choice sounds simple – straight ‘cut-throat’ razor ‘safety’ razor. Don’t let the phrase ‘safety’ fool you. While it is not as intimidating as the straight razor blade, the safety blade is double-edged and doesn’t come with a safety guard – it is just slightly safer than the straight bladed alternative. For the novice, a safety razor can be less intimidating, and the ability to change blades when they become dull is simpler than sharpening the straight blade. On the other hand, a straight blade will last a lifetime, while you will still need to buy (inexpensive) safety blades, just not as often as cartridge razors.
Foam, Lather, or Gel?
Traditional wet shaving results in a clean shave because it cuts close to the skin. For this reason, you want to make sure you have the right lubricant to help the blade slide over the face as effortlessly as possible. Traditionally, such lathers come in a bar, tin or tube and require mixing with a little water to obtain the right consistency. If you choose the traditional lather, you will also need to invest in a good shaving brush, made of badger hair, and a cup to mix it in.
Canned foams, by their nature, contain a lot of air that doesn’t help the facial hair to stand upright. When wet shaving you want to find a rich, silky lather to do the job. For those people short of time, a good quality gel will also do the job, and often has the benefit of added lubricants which can be of benefit to those men with sensitive skin.
Pros and Cons of Wet Shaving
Before leaping into traditional wet shaving, it is worth weighing up the pros and cons compared with your usual shaving routine. Decide what is important to you in terms of cost, quality, environment, health and time and choose a way forward that is right for you. Remember, this is not a once in a lifetime decision, and you can amend, upgrade or change your decision at any time.
Initially, it will seem hard to view cost as an advantage, given the outlay required in the initial stages. It is only over the longer term that the true cost advantage of wet shaving will become obvious. Choose a quality razor, and it will last a lifetime, with only the small cost of replacement safety blades or sharpening the straight razor as an ongoing expense.
If you choose to use traditional lather, it is more expensive, but you use comparatively small amounts. You will need to buy a brush and mixing cup, but again these will last and not need replacing anytime soon. Compare this with your monthly outlay for your disposable cartridges and canned shaving foam, and you will soon see the cost advantage of wet shaving
One of the biggest differences you will notice, when switching to wet shaving, is the quality of the shave. Wet shaving gives a far closer result than shaving with your usual cartridge razor. There are several reasons for this but the main one is that you tend to shave slower as the in-built safety guards are not present.
Of course, the amount of preparation you put into a wet shave will affect its outcome. Using a brush and thick lather and working it into the face allows the hairs to be supported in an upright position, rather than lying flat against the skin. This makes it easier for the blade to cut neatly at the base of the hair. With practice, you will feel the weight of the razor pressing against the skin, something that you don’t experience with the lightweight disposable kind. You will also begin to take more notice of the direction in which the hair grows, making it easier to shave without irritation.
With practice, you may find your skin’s health improving. While the ultimate aim of wet shaving is to achieve a smooth finish, your skin is actually full of bumps and crevices. As a living organ, your skin can be damaged by repeated scraping by a blade, especially if it is a little dull. Such damage can lead to dry, irritated patches that may be red or itchy. Using a good, lubricating lather with a sharp blade and making fewer passes over the skin can reduce this unseen damage to your face.
If the environment is important to you, then wet shaving will appeal. Whichever style of razor you choose, they are plastic free and designed to last a lifetime, unlike disposable cartridges which are thrown out and are typically sent to landfill. Replacement blades for the safety razor are recyclable but be careful as even when you have finished with them; they are still incredibly sharp! Wet shaving with traditional lather from tubes or bars often contains more natural ingredients than those found in a can and do not require the use of chemicals to make them foam immediately. They also remove the requirement for a metal and plastic can at all.
Cons of Wet Shaving:
Purchasing the equipment for wet shaving can be expensive, with an average double-edged safety razor setting you back in the region of $50 and a tube of shaving cream about $10. You also need to consider the cost of a quality brush and cup. Buying these items online can be a lot cheaper than from a store or upscale barber, so shop around for your best option. If budget is a high consideration, then choose the best quality you can afford and upgrade later if necessary.
Time can be a large drawback to wet shaving, particularly in the early days. The lack of safety guards around the blades means that you must take your time to avoid injuring yourself. If you choose to use traditional lather then the preparation time to mix it and apply it can also take far longer than simply squirting foam from a can. With practice, however, you should find that preparing the face and making a single quality pass over the hair will result in a clean shave with less effort and time than a cartridge razor.
Wet shaving can lead to more nicks and cuts than regular shaving, especially at the beginning. Be aware of the contours of your face, especially as you move from the cheek to the jawline. Modern cartridge razors have built-in tilt and movement to help you navigate these areas. Paying attention to the direction the hair grows in and taking your time will help avoid these accidents, as will practice. Make sure you have a styptic pencil handy to seal those cuts quickly.
If you are short of space, or if you like your bathroom sink area to look tidy and clutter free at all times, then wet shaving may initially appear a nightmare of clutter! Rather than a simple razor and can of shaving foam, you may face a lot of items around your sink; razor, lather tube, cup, brush, styptic pencil. As with other bathroom items, these can be stacked neatly, or even put away in a cupboard.
Barber Shop Experience
If you are unsure of just how different a wet shave will leave your face compared with your usual shaving routine, why not visit a traditional barbershop? The experience will be far more luxurious than your soon-to-be daily routine, but you will be able to feel the difference of a traditional lather, a straight blade and how cleanly your face is shaved. Your barber should be able to answer any of your questions and advise on the best products and techniques. Even if you decide, ultimately, that wet shaving is not for you, a professional shave is something every man should experience.
Traditional wet shaving can seem daunting at first and making the change from everyday cartridge razors, a huge step into the unknown. With the right attitude and a lot of practice, however, you will soon be able to wet shave as easily as you do now. Once you have chosen the right tools for the job, the main difference to get used to is your technique. Wet shaving requires you to use short, sharp strokes according to the hair direction.
You also need to hold the blade at the right angle (approximately 30 degrees) depending on the area of your face. This is something your cartridge razor does for you at the moment, so trial and error will be needed here. As cartridge razors are comparatively light, you need to learn to feel the weight of the straight or safety razor and allow it to do the work for you. You don’t need to press as hard.
Most importantly, you should feel free to experiment. Don’t expect perfect results the first time – or even when you are a novice. You may need to try different brands, blades, lathers, and aftercare to find the ones that best suit your technique and skin requirements. As with other things in life, practice makes perfect. Take your time preparing and shaving in the beginning; as you become more proficient, you will find you can start wet shaving like a pro in no time.