I entered a new era in shaving when I decided to return to using a safety razor which is how I started shaving as a teen in the 1960s. It has been four months since I returned to classic single-blade shaving. Here are some things I have learned so far, including reviews of products I like and those I don’t.
Three Pass Shaving
I wrote a post about mapping your beard growth so you can do three-pass shaving: with the grain, across the grain, and against the grain. I’ve been doing three-pass shaving since I started shaving in the 1960s, but I had assumed my beard grew down. It doesn’t. My neck hair grows horizontally away from my Adam’s apple.
After trying to follow the actual growth pattern of my beard for a month, I realize two things. First, my three passes: down, horizontal, and up, were so ingrained into me that fighting the way I have been doing it for fifty years was extremely difficult. Second, I didn’t feel as if my shave was any better following my beard growth than the way I had done my three-pass shaves previously. So, I am back to down, horizontal, and up and my face is baby-butt-smooth every time.
This isn’t to discourage you from finding the grain pattern of your beard. I do not have a tough, thick beard or sensitive skin. Different faces have different needs. Do what is right for you.
Many shavers search for the perfect razor blade as part of their safety razor experience. I have not yet begun a serious comparison of the many razor blades for sale. In fact, I initially didn’t believe there would be much difference between blades.
I was wrong. Free sample blades came with several of my razors, and there is a difference. Reading the reviews of others, it is clear that blades, like most aspects of shaving, are a very personal choice. What one person judges to be a spectacularly excellent blade, another might think it is a one-star rating piece of garbage.
I was surprised when I found ASCO blades (Made by Lords) consistently felt milder while giving me a smooth, close shave. The ASCO blades are Teflon coated, which makes me want to try other similar blades, such as Voskhod.
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Teflon Coated Blades
My first shaving brush, purchased close to forty years ago and long since lost, was a boar bristle brush. It was inexpensive and stiff. I wish someone had told me about alternatives back then, but this was before the internet.
When I became interested in returning to safety razor shaving last year, most articles on the web said a badger bristle brush was best. The silvertip bristle brushes were the top choice among the various grades of badger brushes.
I made two mistakes. First, I purchased a best-badger brush instead of a silvertip badger brush. The best badger is excellent and was half the cost of a silvertip brush. But if I was going to make a mistake, I should have erred in getting the best.
The second mistake? It was buying a badger brush. I had not thought about how the badger bristles were harvested from the animals, and I should have. Badger bristles are not a cruelty-free animal product. This is why many shavers are switching to synthetic bristle shaving brushes.
I now own an Edwin Jagger Best Badger Shaving Brush and a Simpson Trafalgar synthetic bristle brush. Both are soft and comfortable on my face. But they are not the same. The badger brush always produces a fantastic lather without effort, regardless of which shaving crème or soap I use.
I have had problems with the synthetic bristle brush. It holds too much water compared to the badger. This results in runny lathers, which require the addition of more crème or soap to build a thick lather. If I make an extra effort to remove water from the brush before building a lather, I get a lather that is too stiff. At least this is correctable by adding a little more water. But I have yet to master the balance that gives a great lather without correction. I assume I will get there eventually.
Synthetic Bristle Brushes
The first question regarding pre-shave conditioners is, are they useful? I am sure the answer is yes for some men. I’ve been using either beard oil or a Proraso conditioner for the past four months. Recently I forgot the conditioning step. My shave was no worse than with the conditioner. The main effect of the pre-shave treatment was longer-lasting scents after the shave, and this was only with some of the products.
Still, I will probably continue with the pre-shave step, if only because my wife likes the scents.
Proraso makes lower-cost but quality products in Italy. One of their popular lines comes in three variations: white-capped products for sensitive skin, green-capped products made with menthol and eucalyptus, and red-capped products made with sandalwood scent for tough beards. I was given their pre-shave conditioners and the corresponding shaving cremes for all three types.
The white-capped jar of Proraso conditioner for sensitive skin has a delicate and enjoyable fragrance I like a lot. On the other hand, in the jar, the red-capped sandalwood Proraso conditioner smells like dirty, wet socks. It is fine after you put it on your face and let it breathe.
Pre-shave Conditioning Creams
I retired the first bowl I used for whipping up a lather. It was a small stainless bowl I borrowed from the kitchen. The size was perfect, but the bowl lost heat too quickly on a cold morning in my bathroom.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of shaving is applying warm lather to my face. I soak my brush in warm to hot water in the bowl while going through my other preparations. When I finally make a lather, it is warm, not hot, but wonderful on my face. However, the stainless mixing bowl and its lather were cold by the third pass.
I purchased a stainless insulated lather bowl, nearly the same size as the first one I used. I was disappointed. It did no better than the uninsulated bowl.
I was given a marble shaving bowl, and it is truly terrific. The key is to pre-warm the bowl long enough to heat the marble to the core. This takes more than a few minutes. One trick I use on cold mornings when I know the furnace will come on just as I get out of bed is to sit the bowl on the bathroom heat vent. Another effective way to warm the marble bowl is to bring it into the shower with me. To get the bowl warm just from filling it with water in the sink, I’ve found I need to refill it several times with hot water. Better still, fill the sink with hot water and submerge the bowl. Still, it requires fresh hot water to get it warm enough to last through three passes of my razor.
I’ve used Cremo shaving crème for years while using a Gillette Mach 3 cartridge razor. It is a low foam crème intended to be rubbed into your beard with your fingers. It is still an excellent shaving crème alternative to those that produce thick lather using a brush. A little goes a long way, and I put some Cremo in a small plastic jar for travel so I wouldn’t need a brush or bowl away from home.
Jack Black Supreme Cream Triple Cushion Shave Lather was the first shaving crème I bought to be used with my shaving brush. It makes a thick lather and gives excellent protection for shaving. It is fragrance-free. It costs twice as much as Proraso cremes but isn’t much different in price from other artisan soaps and cremes.
I am not impressed with the Proraso shaving cremes. I hate products with menthol and mistakenly had them on my wishlist. The crème for sensitive skin is all right, but not great. I don’t have a rugged beard, but I like a sandalwood scent. But I have had the most problems building a good lather with the red-capped Proraso crème.
It is much easier to produce a thick lather with Lather & Wood Shaving Soap than any Proraso product. Even my synthetic brush builds a good lather with the Lather & Wood Shaving Soap.
I have samples of six different artisan shaving soaps arriving this week. Each sample costs between $1.50 and $8.00, which seems an excellent way to investigate the many great soaps available today. I’ll report back after I’ve tried them all.
I remember I never liked the alcohol-based aftershaves, which were popular when I was shaving in the 1960s. I stopped using it not long after I started shaving.
Today I prefer aftershave balms. I do not like the Jack Black aftershave product I tried because it is a gel. At least I learned I do not like gels. The two balms I like equally are Nivea for sensitive skin and Proraso. I do not plan to explore this area of shaving much, at least not in the near future. I am satisfied with my products and see no compelling reason to change. Of course, if someone gifted me something new, I would try it.