One of my fondest memories of childhood was shaving with my dad. I wasn’t shaving for real, of course, but I would stand next to him at the bathroom sink as he shaved. I would pretend shave with dad’s Noxzema medicated foam on my face, using a pink plastic spoon from Baskin Robbins as a razor.
When it came time for me to start shaving grown-up style, I was about 16. I quickly learned that mine was a very sensitive mug that looked and felt like tartare after a week of carving a fresh face before school every day. At the time, I was using a twin blade and good old Barbasol.
It’s important to note that at this point in our mid-1980s pop cultural timeline, Don Johnson and George Michael were showing us that a few days’ growth wasn’t just for dirtbags anymore. But as a teenager in a Jesuit prep school, I had neither the beard density nor the permission to go full Sonny Crocket or “I Want Your Sex.”
When I went off to college in the late 80s, dad got me a classic Braun electric. It was certainly gentler than running bare blades along my super-sensitive skin, but there was no comparison to the closeness of a wet cream shave.
To this day, I juggle both the wet and electric, depending on my mood or if I’m in a rush. But for a good shave, I really prefer a good hot lather and a fresh blade. After decades of trying products that promised more comfortable shaves, I have a system that works pretty well. Here’s what I do:
The Wet Shave
I have the luxury of not having a career that requires me to shave daily, but I do enjoy the ritual. Here it is…
- Wash. For the best shave, it’s important to have a freshly cleaned face. The best time to shave is immediately after the shower, when pores are open and my skin is clean and nicely softened. My soap of choice is Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Pure Castile Soap. It gives a good honest clean with a refreshing blast of natural peppermint oil without stripping your skin of it’s own natural oils. As an added bonus, Dr. Bronner’s soaps are certified fair trade. Good stuff. Also… I don’t dry my face out of the shower. I leave it wet and warm.
- Shaving Cream. For years, I used Barbasol. Nothing wrong with it, I suppose, but it had a very drying effect, which added to the sting of a shave. These days, I splurge for Kiehl’s “Close Shavers™” Squadron Ultimate Brushless Shave Cream. It’s ultra-creamy, keeping my skin moist while the razor just glides along the skin.
- The Razor. I used to use disposable plastic twin-blades from the pharmacy until it occurred to me how much friggin’ plastic goes to waste when you throw them out. I’d recommend a good razor with replaceable cartridges, which use much less plastic. For years, my preference was always the original twin-blade Gillette Sensor, which is no longer available. Now there’s the Fusion or Mach 3, but these pumped-up, over-produced, butt-ugly, Hummer-inspired razors would look stupid in my bathroom. My blade of choice is from Dollar Shave Club, the smartest thing to happen to shaving. Simple, beautiful and extremely cost-effective. I change the blade cartridge on my razor about once a week. For me, a single blade cartridge is good for about three shaves. (If I were confident enough with a straight razor with one of those leather strap sharpeners, I’d go that way. But a straight-razor shave is extremely difficult to do on one’s non-professional self.)
- Save Water! I keep my sink hospital clean. When I shave, I close the drain and fill it with hot water. I don’t leave the faucet running.
- The Technique. For a good shave, I like to take my time. Experts tell us to glide the razor in the direction of the hair growth, as opposed to against it. I generally heed this tip, but when I’m in the mood for something extra close, I cheat and ever so gently shave against the grain. Not wise for everyday, but once in a while, it makes for an unbeatable shave, especially if it’s been a day or so since my last shave. I shake the razor in the hot water very frequently to remove whiskers from the blade. A clean blade is a better blade.
- First Rinse. I always do a light first rinse with warm water to wash of any excess cream. After this rinse, I do a good inspection of any tricky areas I might have missed, like around my nostrils, near my sideburns, around my chin, and around my rather pronounced Adam’s apple. If there’s any touching up to do here, there’s still enough lubricant from the cream left on my face to do it smoothly.
- Final Rinse. My last rinse after a shave is a thorough cold water rinse. It helps close up the pores and tighten the skin.
- Pat Dry. I don’t rub the towel on my face. I gently pat it dry. Sensitive, sensitive.
- Moisturize. Many people (especially product manufacturers and sales people) have tried to sell me on using some kind of “toner” here, which always just felt like splashing diluted alcohol on my face. Um… no. And aside from the sting, toners are very drying. Instead, I go right to the moisture with my skin still slightly damp with a cream called Skin Food made by a German company called Weleda. In addition to their website, you can also get it at Whole Foods or in many health food stores. It’s extremely thick and concentrated. (You could probably condition a leather car seat with it.) A little dime-size dab thoroughly rubbed into the skin takes care of the whole face. And that Creamsicle orange peel smell? It goes away after about five minutes. I’ve been using Skin Food for nearly ten years, and I haven’t aged an hour… or at least I like to think so. (Fun Fact: Weleda also makes a nice shaving cream, too.)
The Dry Shave: Going Electric
If I’m in a hurry or if I need an evening touch-up from an early morning shave, I fire up the electric. If I were in the market for an electric shaver today, I’d go for a Braun or a Philips Norelco. Anything over $100 is too much. (My Braun Series 1 cost me about $45 and I’m very happy with it.) It’s also important to choose a shaver that has a beard/sideburn trimming feature, which I’ll explain later.
Unlike a wet shave, an electric shave is best on an unwashed face when the skin is more naturally oily and lubricated. I gently stretch the part of the skin I’m shaving to get the whiskers pointed as outward as possible to catch the blades. The trickiest bits, as with the wet shave, are my chin, my Adam’s apple and the contours around my nostrils. Just keep the blades clean with the brush provided and replace the foil as recommended by the manufacturer.
Jason Statham is arguably one of the handsomest faces gracing screens today. His face, as you may have noticed, is often sporting a few days growth – the “five o’clock shadow” that has morphed into the “five day shadow.” It’s a great look, and has become not only popular, but mainstream in dressier circles over the past few decades.
I often let my beard go to a five-day stubble. I get bored and I like to move my look around every once in a while. But with great stubble comes great responsibility. Here are a few of my rules about maintaining a worthy wool on the face:
- Grooming & Shaping. My desired effect for a maintained stubble is a look of effortlessness. I’m generally not a fan of grooming stubble by shaving (to the skin) the cheeks and the area from the jaw-line down the neck. It only works if you have a naturally chiseled jaw. Most men who do it tend to shave the jaw-line they wish they had, ignoring the pudge bag under their chin. The unfortunate result is having the appearance of a Quaker or Amish person when seen in profile. (In fact, leaving the stubble under the jaw is better, as it adds a natural shadow.) If you’re going to shave a jaw-line, be damn sure you have a jaw like Batman.
- Maintenance. Get clippers. Beauty supply stores have them, as well as big-box pharmacies like Duane Reade, CVS, Walgreen’s and the like. Depending on how fast your beard grows, clippers are good for maintaining a four to five day look. On the other hand, those beard/sideburn trimmers on electric shavers I mentioned earlier cut a little closer and are good for maintaining a one to three day look. Just be sure to keep the blades brushed clean and well oiled. You can buy “clipper oil” if you want, but I’ve been keeping my clippers lubed and rust-free with good old 3-in-1 for years. (Don’t worry about it getting the oil on your face. You’ll be washing your face after you’re done clipping.)
- Offsetting Stubble. On the weekend or in your own home, you can do whatever you want. But a well-tended man stepping out with stubble should offset the beardlet with crisp and clean clothing. Wear your stubble with manly pride, but don’t forget to wear it with a little class: clean shirts and jeans, good trousers, a nice jacket, polished shoes… you get my drift. A guy with stubble in a dirty t-shirt, a shabby hoody, ratty jeans and worn-out sneakers just looks like an unkempt frumpty dumpty. We’re better than that.
Whether I’m in the mood for a clean shave or a Statham stubble, these are some of my tips, tricks and rules. I hope this was helpful, or at least mildly amusing. Thanks for reading.