Shaving passed from the barber shop into the home with the advent of the double edged safety razor back in the 40s and when it did pre-formulated products began to be widely used. Cartridges, and disposable razors followed. The net result was that the art of shaving got left behind.
Most men these days haven’t actually been taught how to shave. They know how to open a can of shave cream, and pull a blade over their beard but many don’t understand shaving well. Consequently many have poor results and bad experiences when it just isn’t necessary. Shaving has just become something they have to do rather than a uniquely masculine experience they can enjoy.
What happens when you shave?
It sounds like an extremely elementary question with the obvious answer being that hair is cut and removed from the surface of the skin. True enough but, if it was really just that straight forward then why is it that so many suffer so much discomfort as a result?
It seems like such a simple process but there’s more going on than what appears on the surface. The hair itself is more than what you see above the skin. It’s actually an appendage of the skin with a blood supply that feeds the hair bulb which is responsible for growth. It also has nerves and muscles attached to it. That’s right. Hair is alive below the surface of your skin.
It’s important to understand that because shaving is as much about your skin as it is about your hair. Actually, it’s more about the skin than the hair so it pays to understand what’s really going on when you lather up and pick up a razor.
As you can see from the diagram, your skin is organized in layers.
Since the purpose of this article is to help you get a great shave we need to start where a great shave needs to begin, at the bottom.
The Adipose layer is the fat layer and it’s where the larger blood vessels are that supply the skin’s other structures. It also houses the fat cells that make all the “cottage cheese” that, women worry about. That “cottage cheese” is actually an abnormality associated with aging, and it figures into your shave. Here’s why. It’s caused by the collagen and elastin fibers being distributed unevenly. As the skin’s elastic net develops weak spots over time it sags, and the more fat cells there are the more prevalent the appearance of the “cottage cheese”. The bags under the eyes, jowls, and loose sagging skin are all the result of collagen loss and uneven elastin distribution. They can be alleviated with massage and good skin care. Tight toned skin is easier and safer to shave, and a facial once a month can help provide that because massage increases the circulation and helps tone the adipose tissue keeping elastin fibers evenly distributed.
A facial also helps by exfoliation because it removes dead loose skin cells from the Stratum Corneum which is the top layer of the skin, reducing bacteria caught under dead skin cells and facilitating a smoother less irritating shave.
Alright, it’s time for that shave. The very best time for a shave is right out of the shower. Make sure your skin is clean. Use a mild cleanser, warm water, and a washcloth, or a luffa to help exfoliate. Rub gently in a circular motion, don’t scrub, and then rinse clean.
One of the most important elements in enjoying a comfortable shave is lubrication. Today we have all kinds of gels and things that aid in lubricating the blade including those little glycol strips built into the cartridge razors. Pre shave oils also provide a layer of lubrication and are becoming popular again with the resurgent interest in wet shaving.
If you’re going to use shaving oil now is the time to apply it. Put a few drops in the palm of your hand, rub your hands together, and then rub your face to cover it thinly and evenly, and then let it set for a minute or so prior to lathering up. You can wash your hands while it sets. For more information on shave oil visit http://www.shaving101.com/index.php/shaving-faqs/86-how-do-you-use-preshave-oil.html
It’s time for a nice hot wet towel.
As it sits on your skin for a few minutes here’s what’s happening. Your circulation increases. Your skin reddens as the heat opens up the blood vessels. Your skin softens and becomes smoother as the Erector Pili which are the tiny little muscles that give you goose bumps and make your hair stand up relax from the moisture and the heat. Additional lubrication is poured onto your skin from your sebaceous glands, and you sweat which helps control some pathogens because of its salt and slightly acidic pH of around 5.0. The hair softens because the pH of the water at 7.0 causes the hair to swell and opens the cuticle that covers the hair shaft making it easier to cut.
Okay, on with the lather. Put it on and wait about 20 to 30 seconds so that the beard softens further. As a matter of fact if you have a tough beard you may want to reapply the hot towel on top of the lather, hold it for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then re-lather. Shaving lather is made to help soften the beard and hold whiskers upright so that they can be shaved cleanly. That is its main purpose but there are many different kinds of shaving lathers and gels and they differ greatly in formulations and quality which means of course that your personal experience with them can differ greatly as well.
Because of that fact it doesn’t pay to just get what you think will be the cheapest shave. Remember, the guys that make the cheapest stuff are usually interested in the biggest profit, and most of the popular premixed foams and gels that you can buy at the local drug store are not good at providing enough lubrication for a non irritating shave. If you think that’s wrong, I got one word for you, BUMPS.
You can learn about them at Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudofolliculitis_barbae
Pseudofolliculitis barbae, is a medical term for persistent irritation caused by shaving. It is particularly problematic in areas of curly hair growth where the skin is sensitive but that doesn’t mean that only guys with curly hair can get bumps, and it doesn’t mean that just because your beard is curly that you have to put up with them.
Shaving is a violent experience for the skin.
When you use a razor the top two layers of the skin are excoriated. It gets scraped as the blade moves over the top of it. The hair that’s been cut has been severed at its thickest circumference and left with a sharp edge at its top. This is where the myth comes from that if you shave the beard comes back tougher, grows faster and is more coarse. It just seems that way because short hair feels coarser than longer hair. If it’s curly it wants to bend right into the skin that you just irritated by scraping over the top of it while shaving. Now you have many sharp edged little whiskers poking themselves into your irritated skin and what does irritated skin do? It swells. Ta! Da! BUMPS!
What’s needed after you shave and before you bump up is something soothing, cooling, hydrating, and preferably antibacterial. Here are a few suggestions.
Aloe vera gel or juice (aloe barbadenis) is soothing and cooling to the skin. It’s known to have rapid cell regeneration properties; good for wounds, rashes, burns, and all skin issues. Anti-bacterial, anti fungal, anti-allergy, and anti-inflamatory.
Castor oil (ricunus communis) a humectant (promotes the retention of water) which is very good for very dry or chapped skin. Gets rid of warts and prevents scars. Castor oil as a poultice is known to dissolve cysts and growths, enhance the thymus gland which supports the immune system. Helps with various cutaneous (skin) issues such as ring worm and itching.
Coconut oil (cocos nucifera) keeps the skin smooth without making it greasy. Rich in antioxidants and is antibacterial.
Jojoba oil (simmondsia chinensis) is considered a liquid wax. It’s known as our “skin twin.” Great for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, non-oily but yet very softening to the skin. Great for those with sensitive skin. This is not a NUT OIL, and is excellent for all skin types.
Some people have oily skin, and it may seem counterintuitive to put an oil on skin that is naturally oily but, many of these oils are light and they absorb into the skin very quickly so they are very different than the oil that your skin naturally produces, and one of these, Aloe Vera, is not an oil at all.
You can check out more about them at http://www.wayoflifematters.com/carrier-oils.html
You can also learn about essential oils at http://www.bulkapothecary.com
Okay, time to use that razor. Whatever your choice is for a blade make sure it’s sharp. Don’t apply a lot of pressure. It only increases the chance of injury and irritation.
Typically after shaving many guys reach for alcohol. What’s most popular in our area is Wintergreen infused alcohol. That’s because wintergreen, (pictured below), is good at soothing skin and enhancing healing, and alcohol is an antibacterial. All of that is good.
What’s bad is that alcohol cools the skin very quickly, and it dries it out. It causes the pores to close and as the skin tightens it contracts around those razor sharpened whiskers which may now be trapped and could be being pushed, by growth, point first into your flesh.
As you may know from reading our previous newsletters, we’re happy to tell dirty little secrets. Here’s one. Most over the counter after shave and bump products that you purchase at the local drug store are suspect when it comes to being effective. Why? Take a look at the label. Most of them contain alcohol as an ingredient because it is an effective antibacterial. It’s also an inexpensive ingredient with which to fill a bottle. It’s also widely accepted by the consumer because they’re familiar with it, and they can “feel it working” so they think it’s effective, and it is. It’s also effective at getting you to put money in the manufacturer’s pocket.
If you’d rather have a name brand product instead of using a natural oil or gel a good place to find them is to check out magazines such as Mens Fitness online and read their reviews for shaving products and moisturizers. There are some very good ones. We use some of them in our shop. It’s important that you have a formulation specifically for men because men actually have thicker skin than women and it takes more active ingredients for male skin products to be effective.
Here are a few thoughts in closing. Shaving is an art and as such it takes practice, and patience to develop technique.
It stands to reason that the more you learn about it and the better your information, the more intelligent the choices are that you make. Wet shaving is being rediscovered and not just by the guys. There was a story in the news recently about how facial shaving is one of the beauty secrets of even some of the women in Hollywood.
Shaving is personal. It’s as personal as your face, and every bit as unique as your preferences, and tastes. It’s completely unreasonable to assume that what works for one should work for all.
If you’re not sure of what will work for you, stop by the shop. Let’s talk about what products you have been using and the way you do it. You might want to test some of the products we have during a shave to see if they work for you before you buy them.
You don’t have to settle for a second rate shave, or an experience that leaves your skin in distress. You can, instead make the effort to educate yourself and make better choices in products and practices and enjoy shaving, and by all means feel free to pass your new found knowledge along.