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A Close Shave

CLOSE – Gels, ointment, creams or foam, what’s the best way to look after a gentleman’s skin during and after raking a blade across your face.

Gels, ointment, creams or foam, what’s the best way to look after your skin while raking a blade across your face

When I started shaving, it was amid copious teenage acne breakouts. Running a blade across my face wasn’t a spectator sport for the faint-hearted. Taking a styptic pencil to my face was like trying to halt the flow of a babbling brook with a kitchen sponge.

Now that the breakouts have calmed down a bit, and assuming I have the luxury of time, I enjoy good, cleansing shave. I’ve even been known to splash out $60 or so on having someone else soap me up and shave me down. (Once in Bangkok, a blind man took on the task with a cut throat blade in a swanky grooming establishment for well-heeled gentlemen. And yes, I did get nicked – twice.)

When shaving yourself however you don’t just have to be mindful of the activity itself; the associated lotions and potions also need your attention. Dry shaving, as you’ve possibly realised is never advisable. Even if you can avoid lacerating yourself, skin irritation will be bothersome enough to prevent you from making the same mistake twice.

As a novice shaver, foam was always the go-to. It’s fun, to slap on a fist full of lather, whether you’re a debutant teenager or a weary adult. But even the creamiest of foams tend to leave behind a dry complexion that cries out for a four-stage moisturising process. Somehow though I inherit foams and still use them occasionally, if only for variety’s sake.

Preferable, especially if you’ve shaved the day before and therefore need guidance as to where you have and haven’t shaved (as with a window cleaner gliding his rubber blade across a soapy pane), these days I plump for creams. They can’t be runny like moisturiser cream of course. Instead they must be and invariably are quite viscous (a little looser than toothpaste), being able to hold their form until the blade glides its way through.

I recently discovered a concoction that calls itself cream but is more akin to a very light, soft and smooth clay. It’s silver-grey hue makes it very satisfying for a one-day growth shave, as you get clear visual confirmation of the work your blade is doing as the debris falls onto the porcelain with every rinse under the tap. 

Higher still up the personal preference list are gels. The brand I use are aromatic (mango, spearmint, lime and coconut) and all the better for it. As a super-smooth lubricant, these are hard to beat and ideal for a growth compiled over several days (common over the Covid years and likely to remain so). In deep contrast to the surgical precision needed to avoid a bloodbath in my teenage years, you can blitz through this shave like a swashbuckling musketeer. As far as I can recall, I haven’t had so much as a graze yet.

Water temperature, I read, plays a part in the experience. Hot water, perhaps those who enjoy shaving in the shower makes your skin overly soft, making it more prone to cuts. Warm water opens the pores and is therefore good for rinsing the skin of the lubricant you’ve chosen. The advice is then to use cold water to close the pores. Once you’ve dried off, this is the time for that four-stage moisturising process: cleansing lotion, preparatory serum, specialist moisturiser for the eye area and then general facial moisturiser for everywhere else.

Given that we’re shaving on or near the equator, sunscreen isn’t just suitable for lounging around the pool. After shaving, your skin becomes more sensitive and the sun’s damaging rays can cause more damage than ever. Ideally a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 will be a good move if you’re going to be exposed.

If you notice an accumulation of gunk in between the increasing number of blades found in modern-day disposable razors, then assess whether it rinses out easily with a stream of water. If it doesn’t, this is the first sign that you need to replace your razor. Even if it still cuts well, a razor with impacted waste can introduce bacteria into open pores or cuts and cause an infection.

If your woodwork teacher always told you to never work against the grain, it’s worth remembering this when you shave. Shaving with the grain (in other words downwards, in accordance with the direction that your whiskers grow) will be a smoother process. It might be worth experimenting however, by shaving upwards and therefore against the grain. While this undoubtedly will give you a closer shave, it may cause irritation. So, take it easy and try this with different parts of your face to avoid burning up your entire visage. 

Finally, stories that shaving stimulates hair growth and makes it return thicker and faster than ever before, simply are not true. Hair may appear thicker when growing back in after a shave, but it’s just an illusion. New growth of about an inch per month is normal. Hair growth rate and volume is controlled from inside your body and has nothing to do with the external act of shaving. A daily shaving routine won’t turn you into a Saskatchewan mountain yeti.
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