Something New: Wet Shaving

I hate shaving. When I was 14, I remember watching my dad and looking forward to it. I perceived it as one big step on the way to manhood. Dad, however, warned me about the dark side of shaving: “Don’t rush it. Once you start, you won’t stop until you die.” Nearly eight years later, his words ring true. While at various times in my life I have been able to wear a beard, mustache, chinstrap, goatee, etc., my role in the military has precluded me from enjoying any sort of bearded look. Because I’ll be entering into the service this coming May, I’ve been thinking about my own process for shaving recently and revamping it. Currently I use a cheap set of mini-clippers, and they’re not cutting very close.

Like many black men, shaving with traditional razors have generally led to shaving bumps. These happen when low-cut hairs curl and begin to go under the skin instead of breaking the surface. Because of this, I’ve used electric clippers (like ones that could be used to edge hair) on my face since about age 16. The kit that I had been using dutifully since that time broke this summer when traveling, and the cheap replacement set that I purchased earlier this year has done a far worse job. I knew it was time for a change after the semester ended.

After looking across the internet for solutions and examining what other black men who needed a close shave, many articles recommended shaving with a safety razor. I remember stumbling across an article back in high school and rediscovered recently that dealt with the subject of wet shaving with a safety razor from Art of Manliness. At the time I originally read the piece, I had no interest in buying the equipment needed in order to give it a shot, as my electric clippers had worked fine. Now, the technique seemed much more appealing, and I had the money to make the switch. Another site I discovered that inspired me to make the leap was Bevel, a site specifically for black men that deals with shaving and personal grooming. Though Bevel do sell their own product (and it is too expensive for my liking), I did find some more great information and shaving techniques.

Having read the articles and seen the videos, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and head down to Sally Beauty to pick up some supplies. Unfortunately, they only had the barest minimum items: A $13 DE razor & razors, bottom rung soap, some pre-shave/post shave bump cream, and a brush. All of these items totaled to about $32, and are about as high-quality as one would expect at the price point. But I figured that if these supplies worked, then it would be easier to justify putting more money into the process.

The process of shaving with a safety razor is pretty easy. Here’s what you do:

  1. Post shower, put some pre-shave on to prepare your face. I’m still experimenting with what the best options are, and it will depend on what you want and what type of face and facial hair you have.
  2. Wet the brush and swirl it on the soap (which can be in a mug or a shaving soap bowl such as these). You want to create a nice foamy lather on the brush.
  3. Swirl the brush on your face, applying the cream everywhere. It’s pretty fun, and is much better than can-based gel from a can.
  4. Take your razor, run it under some hot water for about a minute, then use it. You’ll want it at a 30Âș angle from your face so the the razor can cut. There’s no need to apply pressure; the weight of the razor should suffice. Also use short strokes as opposed to long, dragging motions.
  5. Rinse off the razor after every few strokes, then continue, being sure to shave with the grain.
  6. Go for a second pass (or as many as you want, with the understanding that the more you shave, the higher the likelihood of cutting yourself is), repeating steps 3–5.
  7. Once you’re satisfied, wash off your razor in cold water, and splash some cold water on your face to close your pores. Then apply some after-shave to keep your skin smooth and healthy.

My Experience

My experience was mostly positive, but there were a few things that made the process less-than-great. Using the razor itself was extremely easy; the part that worried me the most actually ended up being the easiest. The razor I purchased was a butterfly clasp, and putting the razor on was cake (pie, even). Simply twist the bottom of the razor, and the the metal flaps open on top. This allows the single razor blade to be dropped in. Twist the bottom, and the flaps shut. It is truly the simplest design possible. Shaving with the razor at a 30Âș wasn’t an issue, especially since my electric clippers also require a certain angle in order to cut. I got one small nick on my cheek, but I didn’t have any issues in any problem areas (around the neck, Adam’s apple, etc.).

The primary issue I had was that the brush I purchased was extraordinarily cheap and terrible. It didn’t whip up a very good lather, and bristles kept coming off onto my face. Assuming I stick with this method, the brush will be the first thing that gets upgraded. (The best kind of brush to use is a beaver-hair brush, followed by boar-hair. Mine is likely some sort of plastic or something; it just isn’t nice.) A second issue is that the soap I used seemed to evaporate pretty quickly. I don’t know if this was because my brush didn’t apply a very good layer, because the soap is bad, or because of the pre-shave I use, but getting a nice lather is something that will greatly improve the whole experience.

But the biggest question is: Did I get shaving bumps? And the answer to that question is no. In fact, the closeness of the shave was something that was completely new to me. And four days later, my face is totally fine. It is still a little sensitive, as it’s not used to being cut that close, but no bumps to complain about at all like how I’ve gotten with super-cheap single-blade razors and 3-5 blade razors. Because I’ve yet to replace my brush (there’s no good place to get one in Tallahassee), I’ve decided to wait until I get to Nashville to get one, as there’s an Art of Shaving store there. The Art of Shaving store is pretty expensive and there are cheaper options online, but I want to at least get a feel for a nicer brush in person before purchase one online.

If you’re looking to get into the wet shaving game and/or switch to a double edged or safety razor, there are plenty of ways for you to do so. The Art of Shaving is a nice upscale option, but other sites like Art of Manliness, Grooming Lounge, Badger & Blade, and even Bevel provide excellent recommendations for other products, tips, and techniques. Searching Etsy for “shaving products”, “wet shave”, “Safety razor”, and the like also lead to some great results at a variety of price points. Reach out or shoot me an email if you want links to some of the shops I’ve found.

Overall, I recommend that for those that 1) want a nicer shaving experience, 2) want to be less wasteful by not using disposable, non-recyclable razors, 3) want to save money not constantly buying disposable razors, 4) Don’t want to buy a massive fancy electric shaving device and/or 5) get shaving bumps with multi-blade razors really give wet shaving with a safety razor a shot. Your face will be happy you did.

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