The Elusive Perfect Shave

The last three generations of young men in America have been brainwashed into believing that the latest razor can provide a better and smoother shave. Razors went from one blade, then two and now you can buy razors with five blades. The electric razor underwent a similar transformation and most have at least three shaving heads.

For many men, the idea of a perfect shave follows a certain pattern. Spray shaving cream or gel into the hand, apply to face, get latest razor wet, drag across face, rinse razor, repeat. Rinse face, dry face, apply aftershave and done. The process of shaving, start to finish, takes less than five minutes. The rest of the day men grit their teeth and try to ignore ingrown hairs and razor burns.

The elusive perfect shave bears no resemblance to the shave aisle at Wal-Mart and requires a different set of tools. A shaving bowl, a badger or boar hair shaving brush, shaving soap or cream and a double-edged safety razor (DE razor) or the straight edge razor, commonly referred to as a “cutthroat” razor. Johnny Depp uses straight edge razors in his portrayal of the bitter vengeful barber in the movie “Sweeny Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

The “wet” shave is enjoying a renaissance as men realize they can get a better shave for less money by passing on cartridge razors and aerosol shave creams and gels. The Zen-like art of wet shaving becomes a morning ritual to look forward to, rather than something to dread.

One of the most important parts of wet shaving or shaving at all, is the shower. Always shower before shaving. If you cannot shower, take the time to wet your beard with hot water. This will soften your facial hair and make shaving easier than it would otherwise be. Before shaving and during shaving your face should always be wet. The water acts as a cushion and a barrier between your skin and the blade.

Next comes the most important part of the shave. How you lather your face can make the difference between a good shave and a poor one. Soak your brush in hot water for a minute or two, and then shake the excess water out of it. Badger brushes retain more water than boar bristle brushes and may require a gentle squeeze to rid the brush of excess water. Dip the brush in your shaving cream or soap and get the tips of the brush covered in soap. What happens after this point is a matter of personal preference. Some men like to take the brush and transfer it to a shaving bowl where they whip up lather. If lather is not forming, add a few drops of water to your bowl. If the lather has large bubbles in it, you have too much water. Practice will help you learn the perfect water to soap ratio. The lather should have the consistency of meringue. Some men prefer to apply the brush to the face and work up the lather on their face. This is called “face-lathering”. The most traditional method is to lather in a shaving mug with the soap at the bottom of the mug. This method tends to dry out the soap and is wasteful, so most aficionados pass on this method of lathering.

The shave is where most men will decide to stay with cartridge razors or make the switch to double edge razors. DE razor blades can be purchased for less than twenty cents a blade, compared to three or four dollars per cartridge. If you are used to a cartridge style razor, you will have to re-learn how to shave, because the DE razor is not as forgiving as a cartridge razor. You do not press the razor against the face; instead, you will make several passes, applying no pressure beyond that of the weight of the razor itself, lathering between each pass. The idea is trim the facial hair closer and closer until you have a perfectly smooth face. Remember to shave with the grain of your facial hair; this will minimize razor burn and ingrown hairs.

Many forums online focus on men’s shaving and have helpful members, links to videos and instructional tips on how to achieve the perfect shave. Whether you switch to double edge razors or straight razors or stay with the familiar cartridge razor, you owe it to yourself the make the switch to wet shaving with a brush. The quality of your shave will improve noticeably. One of the greatest gifts a father can pass on to his son is the knowledge of how to shave properly and with great enjoyment. The perfect shave is something to be mastered, perfected, and passed on to new generations.