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Topping Forty's Tips On How To Get That Perfect Shave

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Published: 27 Nov 2012      

Ever since prehistoric man first scraped a seashell across his cheek so prehistoric woman would let him dance cheek to cheek, shaving has been a part of the male experience. But even with today’s high tech razors, lots of men still  get nicks, cuts and razor burns.

So what is the perfect shave and why do most men get it so wrong?

The perfect shave is what all men strive for every morning when they bring their razor up their chin, an effortless shave that’s baby smooth, and without any of the usual skin irritation, redness, and that burning sensation most guys seem to feel is par for the course when it comes to shaving.

Why do so many men find this so hard to achieve?

Shaving is one of those wonderful male traditions that used to be passed down from father to son.  Somewhere along the line, when shaving became more about cheap, disposable razors than a nice, precision made metal tool in your hand, it became a brainless routine to rush through in the morning without even thinking about it.

A dull disposable razor dragged across a layer of foam or gel on your cheeks is a step backward from the past, not an improvement. Now that men of all ages are paying more attention to their appearance, it’s no wonder that the hottest trend right now in male grooming is a return to the traditional wet shave and millions of men have been shocked to discover that the “old fashioned” method of shaving they thought went out with the Hula Hoop is actually the best quality shave you can get.

What are the basic tools you need for wet shaving?

The perfect shave has three ingredients:
A good razor
A good brush
A good glycerine based shaving cream.

But the biggest difference between wet shaving and the way most guys shave today is the use of a shaving brush. A good badger hair shaving brush is the single most important ingredient in getting the perfect shave, if you change no part of your shaving routine except to add a good shaving brush to the mix, you’ll be astounded at how much better and more enjoyable your shaves become.

The combination of hot water mixing with the cream and getting beaten by the brush all over your face delivers a thicker, richer, more emollient lather that’s impossible to get with your fingers alone. A shaving brush also gently exfoliates, or removes the dead skin, from your face before shaving, which gets rid of anything coming between the blade and your whiskers. Finally, the up down brushing lifts your whiskers and suspends them standing upright in the thick lather, which exposes the maximum whisker length to your blade as it skims along your face.

The next tool you need for wet shaving is a razor. And by razor, I mean whatever high quality, NON-DISPOSABLE razor you feel most comfortable with. I know, I know, disposables are cool because that’s what they hand out in prison, but they’re extremely hard on your skin because the quality of the blades isn’t as good as a cartridge razor, or better yet, the kind of razor that serious wet shavers use: the classic double-edge safety razor!
A DE razor is the kind that takes a single, disposable razor blade, and it’s the same type of razor that your father, your grandfather, Cary Grant, Lee Marvin, JFK, and John Wayne used, and in the opinion of many shave o philes, the classic DE wipes the floor with any modern razor.

DE razors are also the best choice for darker skinned men, many of whom suffer from “shave bumps”, which occur when their tougher whiskers are cut too aggressively by modern mutli blade razors, causing them to grow back underneath the skin and turn into ingrown hairs.

The men’s grooming boom has created a huge resurgence of interest in DE razors, and men are snapping up vintage models on eBay for ten and twenty times what these razors sold for back in the 50s and 60s! But if you don’t want to shave with a razor that’s got a half century under its belt, new safety razors are available that bring back the spirit of the classic Gillette adjustable DE razors, which many shaving connoisseurs consider the finest double edge razor ever made.

Once you’ve got a shaving brush, a razor and some quality shaving cream, you’ll need a sink full of hot (not scalding) water. After you emerge from a nice, hot shower, fill the sink with hot water and let your shaving brush soak in the water as it fills the sink. Splash some more hot water on your face to keep it maximally wet. The key to wet shaving is keeping your face as hydrated with hot water at all times as possible.

Remove your brush from the water, hold it upside down until water stops pouring out of it, and then you’re ready to apply the cream. If you’ve got a tub of shaving cream, swirl the wet tips of your brush around in a circular motion on the surface of the cream until you get a small amount of visible white lather. You don’t need a lot of cream, but you don’t want too little either. After your first few shaves, you’ll begin to get a feel for how much is just right.

Now you want to paint your face up and down, up and down all over the areas of your face and neck you’ll be shaving. Keep at it for a minute or so until you’ve got a thick, opaque layer of rich lather covering the shaving area. Then set your brush handle down on the side and pick up your razor.

You want to shave downward on your face and neck, WITH the direction your whiskers grow. At least for the first pass, a North to South stroke will get rid of most of your stubble without irritating your skin. If you want a closer shave, wet your face again, lather up again, and shave very lightly upward, against the grain, in a South to North direction. Most men’s skin is too sensitive to stand up to an against the grain shave without redness, razor burn and even ingrown hairs, but if you can deal with it, go gently.

Once you’re done shaving, rinse your face with cold water to close the pores, thoroughly rinse your shaving brush of lather and shake it dry, and store it in your cabinet on it’s handle, not lying down. This will let the bristles air-dry without damaging them, so your brush will last 20 years or more.

Pat, not rub, your face dry with a clean towel, and finish up with a good non alcohol based after shave or moisturiser, any good moisturiser will be better than that stinging alcohol based stuff that we’ve all suffered with. 

CAUTION: if you’ve been shaving with a disposable razor or one of the modern multi blade cartridge systems like the Mach3, be aware that switching to a single blade DE will require that you un learn all the bad habits that modern razors are designed to let sleepy, lazy guys get away with. Mainly, that means slower, more careful strokes and guiding the razor’s head over your skin WITHOUT PRESSING DOWN.