Welcome New York Times Readers
March 22, 2006
Thank you, Peter Jaret, for the nice writeup in the New York Times. For Times readers checking Shaveblog out for the first time, here’s the updated version of my oft-linked wetshaving primer that started all of this — the Today Show segment, the MSNBC article, the old-school shaving revival, and this blog.
THE PERFECT SHAVE
by Corey Greenberg
Ever since prehistoric man first scraped a seashell across his cheek so prehistoric woman would let him dance cheek-to-cheek, shaving has been a part of the male experience. But even with today’s high-tech razors, lots of men still get nicks, cuts, and razor burn. That’s why the latest trend in male grooming, “wetshaving”, promises a better shave by going back to the old school.
The perfect shave is what all men strive for every morning when they bring their razor up to their chin — an effortless shave that’s baby smooth, and without any of the usual skin irritation, redness, and that burning sensation most guys seem to feel is par for the course when it comes to shaving.
Why do so many guys find this so hard to achieve? Because proper shaving has become a lost art. Shaving is one of those glorious male traditions that used to be passed down from father to son, but somewhere along the line, shaving became more about cheap, disposable razors than a nice, precision-made metal tool in your hand. In a single generation, shaving went from a pleasant, contemplative exercise in good grooming to a brainless routine to slash through in the morning without even thinking about it.
A disposable or cartridge razor dragged across a layer of foam or gel on your dry cheek is a step backward from the past, not an improvement. Now that men of all ages are once again paying attention to their appearance, it’s no wonder that the hottest trend right now in male grooming is a return to the traditional wet shave. And those who try it are shocked to discover that the “old-fashioned” method of shaving they thought went out with the Hula Hoop is actually the best quality shave of them all.
Wetshaving is just what the term implies — keeping your face wet with plenty of hot water before and during the entire shave. In fact, you should always shave after a hot shower, not before (if you need to shave without taking a shower, try washing your face with hot water for a few minutes).
Believe it or not, but your whiskers are tougher than the edge of a razor blade, and shaving “dry”, or mostly dry as with the vast majority of shaving creams, foams, and gels on the market, means you’re literally tugging on each and every hair on your face instead of neatly slicing it at the skin’s surface and moving on without irritating your skin.
With a layer of hot water between your skin and the lather, the blade skims the surface instead of dragging on it, which is the main cause of irritation, redness, and “shave bumps”. Most men are astonished the first time they have a proper wet shave, because the razor no longer pulls, tugs, and otherwise fights the whiskers — it just glides over your skin leaving a clean path in its wake.
THE SHAVING BRUSH
The perfect shave has three ingredients: a good razor, a good brush, and glycerin-based shaving cream. But the biggest difference between wetshaving and the way most guys shave today is the use of a shaving brush. A good badger-hair shaving brush is the single most important ingredient in getting the perfect shave — if you change no part of your shaving routine except to add a good shaving brush to the mix, you’ll be astounded at how much better and more enjoyable your shaves become.
Take it from a guy who used to use his fingers to smear cheap shaving gel on his face that smelled just like his deodorant — using a fine badger hair brush to lather high-end English shaving cream that smells like fresh-cut violets onto your face and neck isn’t just about treating yourself nicely after years of the ol’ slice’n’dice. It’s also the best possible way to prepare your skin and whiskers for the closest, most comfortable shave.
A shaving brush isn’t a paint brush for your face. A good brush — the best brushes are made of badger hair and start at $25 — absorbs hot water and then, after you dip the tip of the brush into your shaving cream, the brush releases and mixes the hot water with the cream as you swirl the brush around on your face and neck. The combination of hot water mixing with the cream and getting beaten by the brush all over your face delivers a thicker, richer, more emollient lather than you can get from a can, no matter what the brash young He-Men in the commercials with no hair on their chests wearing a bath towel being playfully tugged at by a gyrating tigress may tell you.
A shaving brush also gently exfoliates, or removes the dead skin, from your face before shaving, which gets rid of anything coming between the blade and your whiskers. Finally, the brush lifts your whiskers and suspends them standing upright in the thick lather, which exposes the maximum whisker length to your blade as it skims along your face. Never mind that using a shaving brush feels really, really good on your face right after a nice hot shower — it happens to be the very best way to prepare your face for the shave of your life.
High quality badger hair shaving brushes come in all sizes and hair types, costing anywhere from $25 for a basic “pure” or “fine” grade badger model to $550 for a monster-sized, high-end “silvertip” job. Do you need a $550 shaving brush? Unless you’re Mr. Burns, the answer is no. I’ve tried a lot of shaving brushes over the years, from the entry-level to the obscenely expensive, and I got no better lather or shave from the expensive brushes than I do with the reasonably priced brushes I finally settled on. Once you go above $75 or so, you’re paying for snob/collector appeal, not a better shave.
Most shavegeeks go for the biggest brush they can hoist, but I get the best results with the small-to-medium sized brushes like Simpson’s Tulip and Vulfix’s 2233. They’re a lot easier to use, you don’t get sloppy lather flying everywhere like you do with the bigger brushes, and you don’t wind up dumping a lot of unused lather down the drain. They’re also the perfect size to throw in your dopp kit for travel (no reason you have to shave like a heathen when you’re on the road).
THE SAFETY RAZOR
A DE razor is the kind that takes a single, disposable razor blade, and it’s the same type of razor that your father, your grandfather, Cary Grant, Lee Marvin, JFK, and John Wayne used. Take it from me — the classic DE wipes the floor with any modern razor, I don’t care how many blades it’s got or whether it buzzes like a vibrating egg. Ever since I switched to using a DE razor from a Mach3, I’ve gotten much closer and more comfortable shaves, my face doesn’t burn at all anymore, and all the red irritation on my neck I thought was there for good went away completely.
That said, some guys feel more comfortable using a brand new razor that’s never shaved another man’s puss. Personally, I think it’s cool to shave with a vintage all-metal razor that predates WWII and I do so every morning, but the fact is, a goodly number of eBay razors have been
up a hobo’s ass in situations which you would not want something you’re planning to touch to your face to have been. I’m not saying you should avoid vintage razors on eBay, but if you do the math you have to accept that some of these vintage safety razors must have gone Papillon been kept in rather unhygienic conditions. The good news is that there are currently-manufactured safety razors available that are every bit as good as the vintage jobs.
The venerable German company Solingen offers a whole range of high-quality safety razors under the Merkur brand, the biggest bang for the buck being the HD “Hefty Classic”. It’s an excellent razor to start with if you’ve decided to take the DE plunge, and lots of guys love it so much they won’t shave with anything else. I love the HD and highly recommend it — it’s like the Telecaster of razors. There are a slew of cheap Asian and Indian DE razors that look cool and old-school but rattle like a paint can and don’t hold the blade as tightly as they should — do yourself a favor and stick with the Merkurs, they’re the higher quality descendants of the early Gillettes and built like a tank.
Believe it or not but the generic “house brand” DE blades found in many drug stores and supermarkets these days are actually surprisingly okay. They’re usually relabeled US-made Personnas and give a perfectly good shave for about a buck a blade, which should last you a week. Even better are the Israeli-made Personna DE blades, aka the “no-name” eBay blades marked simply “Super+” which can be bought in boxes of 100 for $20-25. These are the blades I’ve shaved with for many years, and they’re the smoothest, most consistent blades I’ve found despite being some of the cheapest.
At the other end of the comfort spectrum are the Japanese Feather High Stainless Platinum blades. These are easily the sharpest, most unforgiving DE blades on the market. My skin can’t cope with the Feather blades without nicks galore — they can deliver a skin-peeling shave in the right hands, but I don’t recommend them for newbies or even seasoned wetshavers with sensitive skin like mine.
THE SHAVING CREAM
The Brits have been making this stuff for centuries, and they really do make some of the best shaving creams on the planet. At around $20 for a tub and $12 for a travel tube, they may seem a bit more expensive than the foams and gels at the drugstore, but since a little goes a long way when lathered with a shaving brush, these high-end creams are actually a good value and last for many months of daily shaving.
I like Taylor of Old Bond Street and Trumper shaving creams in both tubs for the bathroom and small tubes for travel. These shaving creams will spoil you rotten for anything else when lathered onto your face with hot water and a badger shaving brush. And the intoxicating scents of these top-shelf creams will make you actually look forward to shaving, probably for the first time in your life.
Perhaps my favorite shaving cream of them all is the one I first started with, the legendary Italian shaving cream called Proraso. This $9 wonder comes in a bright green toothpaste tube and has been the best-selling shaving product in Italy since the 1940s. Despite its budget price, Proraso actually shaves on a par with the fancy English creams, and it has the added benefit of eucalyptus oil, which gives your face an incredible cooling effect when you splash with cold water at the end of the shave.
You definitely want to avoid most of the boutique “upscale” shaving creams found marketed to young guys and hipsters. This stuff is oily, sticky, smells like ass and shaves like crap. None of this garbage is any better than commodity drugstore gel and most of it’s a lot worse. I’m not just being a stubborn traditionalist here — the shaving cream equation was solved a long, long time ago, and there’s just nothing new under the sun when it comes to shaving lather. If anyone tries telling you different, hold onto your wallet.
Two exceptions to this rule: Cremo Cream and Nancy Boy. These are the only two new-school creams I’d rank up there with the trad English brands. Nancy Boy, in particular, has a wonderful lavender, peppermint, and rosemary scent and is extremely skin-friendly.
HOW TO SHAVE LIKE A MAN
Remove your brush from the water, hold it bristles-down, and give it a slight shake to get rid of the excess water. You want some water in the brush to make good lather, but not so much water that your lather turns out thin and runny.
Open your tub of shaving cream, scoop out about a nickel-sized dollop of cream with your finger, and place it on the wet tips of your brush’s bristles. Some guys swirl the brush and cream in a mug or bowl to build up their lather, while others just cup their other hand and build up the lather in that. I like to cut to the chase and build the lather directly on my face by swirling the brush around on my neck, chin, and cheeks till I’ve got a nice, thick layer of opaque lather.
Once you’ve lathered your face and neck, stand your brush up on the counter and pick up your razor. The first thing you need to know is that a safety razor doesn’t have a pivoting head, so unlike a Mach3 or a Fusion, the blade doesn’t hug your face no matter how half-assed you are with the razor. So you’ll need to maintain the right blade angle yourself.
Sounds difficult, but after a shave or two, most guys grok it just fine. You want to shoot for a blade angle of approximately 30 degress — not so shallow the blade misses the whiskers, and not so high you scrape your skin instead of shave it clean. It may take a shave or seven before you get this down, but once you do you’ll be amazed at how close a single-blade razor can shave without pulling on your whiskers and burning your skin like modern multi-blades do.
At first, you want to shave downward on your face and neck, with the direction your whiskers grow. A North-to-South shave will get rid of most visible stubble without irritating your skin. If you want a shave that feels baby’s butt smooth to the touch, wet your face again, lather up again, and shave very lightly upward against the grain.
If you can’t shave against the grain without irritation, try a second N-S downward shave. In most cases, you’ll approach that baby’s butt smoothness without any of the razor burn that a S-N pass gives most guys. But I’m not going to lie to you — if you want baby’s butt, shave upward, young man. Just do it as lightly as possible and only do it for one pass, after you shave downward first to clear most of the bramble.
Once you’re done shaving, rinse your face with cold water to close the pores, and thoroughly rinse your razor and shaving brush of lather. Shake your brush a few times to dry it, wipe it gently on your towel, and stand it on its handle to finish drying. This will let the bristles air-dry without damaging them, so your brush will last 20 years or more.
Pat, don’t rub, your face dry with a clean towel, and finish up with a good non-alcohol-based after-shave or moisturizer — Trumper’s Skin Food is one of the best, but any good moisturizer will be better than that stinging alcohol-based stuff that we’ve all suffered with. Some guys swear by witch hazel, which is cheap, good, and perfect for closing your pores and soothing your face. Lately I’ve been using moisturizing oils like Jojoba and rosehip seed oil, and my skin has never been happier after a shave.
If you’ve been shaving with a disposable razor or one of the modern multi-blade cartridge systems like the Mach3, be aware that switching to a single-blade DE will require that you un-learn all the bad habits that modern razors are designed to let sleepy, lazy guys get away with. Mainly, that means slower, more careful strokes, and guiding the blade over your skin without pressing down too much.
Let me say that again: without pressing down too much.
It’s really not a big deal — men have been shaving this way for over a hundred of years, well before plastic disposables and 5-blade razors were invented. Once you slow down and stop pressing the blade against your face so hard, you’ll find that not only do you get a closer, smoother shave, but all of that burning sensation and red marks all over your neck will start to go away immediately, and then disappear for good.
If you end up with a few nicks your first few shaves with a DE, don’t worry, it happened to all of us when we first picked up a safety razor — your grandpa, Lee Marvin, and me. It’s your face’s way of telling you to stop being a knucklehead. After a few shaves, you’ll figure it all out, and then you’ll wonder why you haven’t been shaving like this your whole life.
copyright 2005 Corey Greenberg
The Gentlemens Refinery
November 15, 2006
For the past several years, no trip to Vegas has been complete without checking in on my pal Daphne Gastis who runs Truefitt & Hill’s shop at Caesar’s Palace. Beyond just the sheer amount of brushes, razors, creams, and assorted poultices to peruse, it’s always a treat talking with Daphne — for some reason, most of the men in this business are odd, cranky loners, but Daphne’s this hip, brainy woman who loves yakkin’ about shavegeekery between keeping the T&H barbers and staff on their toes and running back and forth to Steve “Classy” Wynn’s casino to service its high-end salons with T&H products.
Daphne’s one of the biggest boosters of old-school wetshaving I’ve come across, so I was surprised when she called me this summer to tell me she’d left Truefitt to help start a new company, and that she’d be in touch once they were ready to hit the market.
And so it was that a month ago some product samples showed up, which I’ve been testing and comparing to my usual standbys, waiting to spill the skinny when the brand officially went live. And today marks the launch of a unique new entrant in the high-end men’s wetshaving scene: The Gentlemens Refinery.
The guiding vision behind The Gentlemens Refinery happens to be Daphne’s son, Perry Gastis, who Truefitt-Vegas regulars will remember as one of its master barbers who wrapped their head in hot towels, wielded the Dovo Shavette, and on a bed of Lather-King’d T&H cream shaved them closer than they’d ever been before or ever would be again.
Perry’s been a professional barber for many years, well before his stint with Truefitt, and it’s the barber’s perspective he brings to TGR that sets the brand apart from other newcomers to the men’s grooming counter. Because it was barbers who started this whole trip more than two centuries ago, when all the great English wetshaving firms like Trumper, Taylor, D. R. Harris, and yes, Truefitt & Hill began as barbershops servicing London’s upper crust back when said crust wore top hats, monocles, and indulged itself in a bit of hard, cruel wilding before settling down to a fine tavern sup.
What’s really interesting about the Gastises’ latest move is how it plays against the backdrop of their former employer’s own recent developments. Truefitt’s revamping of its classic colognes and shaving creams, and its emphasis on a new line of more modern-styled grooming products targeted to a younger, trendier demographic point to a move away from the company’s roots as London’s oldest barbershop (est. 1805) and seemingly on a collision course with the more metroey likes of The Art Of Shaving.
Gastis sees things differently. By blending the best of the old ways (barbershop shaving techniques and disciplines) with the best of the new (all-natural ingredients), he’s developed a new line of men’s shaving products which isn’t simply just another minor variation on what’s already been done. And rather than just target the new line to consumers, Gastis always had professional barbers in mind as his true clientèle — so the shaving cream is formulated to work exceptionally well in a Lather-King hot lather machine, a fixture of any self-respecting barbershop. The Gentlemens Refinery’s credo seems to be “please the barber, and his customers will follow”.
TGR’s new line is made up of a shaving cream, a pre-shave oil, an aftershave balm, a moisturizer, and an eye gel. All of The Gentlemens Refinery’s products are made of 100% natural ingredients, with no parabens (widely used preservatives which have been alleged but not yet proven to be carcinogens) or skin-drying alcohol. While Gastis told me he decided to tone down the anti-paraben rhetoric on the final product packaging, he remains committed to keeping TGR’s products free of such ingredients.
Now, here’s the deal. I’m all about all-natural — the less crap we cram down our gullet and cake our pores with, the better. And I fully accept that the down-with-parabens brigade (Hi Chris) may have a point, and that while we may not notice any ill effects from a microgram here and a picoliter there, I’m not saying we may not someday look back on parabens the way we do lead paint chips, the binding of women’s feet, and men’s shaving forums.
I’m just saying that plenty of the very best shaving and grooming products on the market include parabens and alcohol. Nancy Boy, Trumper, Taylor, Truefitt, D. R. Harris — they’ve all got ‘em. George Burns smoked twenty parabens a day, ate a pastrami-and-parabens on rye at the Stage Deli every afternoon, slept on special paraben-coated bedsheets, and only died at 178 because he went swimming too soon after eating a paraben blintze.
That’s all I’m saying.
So anyway, I’ve been using TGR’s shaving cream, aftershave balm, and moisturizer for about a month now, comparing them to my usual standbys like Nancy Boy shaving cream, Trumper’s Skin Food aftershave, and rosehip seed oil as a night-time facial moisturizer.
I’ll level with you — since the blog started getting some media attention, I’ve started to get all manner of grooming products from all manner of companies sent to me in hopes I’ll blog it. Most of it is just plain forgettable, but unless the product smells like ass, I’ll try it at least once. I mean, you never know whether that unassuming little bottle of whatsis will turn out to be the next Cremo Cream, or the next bit of supporting evidence that we as a people are too fucking stupid to continue.
But The Gentlemens Refinery lineup impressed me right off the bat, and no matter what I threw up against it, I always seemed to come back to using it. Even the excellent eBay-scored Kent shaving soap (which is really Mitchell’s lanolin-tastic Wool Fat shaving soap) couldn’t keep me from reaching for the TGR when I wanted the best possible shave.
The Gentlemens Refinery shaving cream is definitely a New School cream, chock full of good, glisteny glycerin just like Truefitt & Hill’s Ultimate Comfort shaving cream. In fact, it’s so similar to the latter in appearance, consistency, and even scent that I went scurrying to the ingredients lists on both products just to make sure they weren’t the same. They aren’t. While both are made in Canada, the two creams do have different formulas and if you really jam your honker up close, TGR’s cream has a slightly stronger, more complex scent than the UC, which is marketed as an unscented product and has just a very slight lavender scent.
TGR lists a mixture of lavender, ylang ylang, and sandalwood oils as its scent agents, but it’ll take a more discerning schnozz than mine to tell you what “notes” this band’s playing. I can tell you it smells pleasant and subtle, lavendery with a sweeter thing also going on, but this cream is not at all the kind of olfactory sex bomb I’ve come to expect from my favorite English creams like Trumper’s Violet and Taylor’s Rose, and the stateside triple-threat of Nancy Boy’s lavender-peppermint-rosemary wakeup blast. There’s a scent happening, it’s nice and clean, but it doesn’t bowl you over like the heavily-scented creams I like to get off with.
As for the shave, TGR is in that upper tier of creams where ranking becomes a matter of splitting atoms, not hairs. In purely pragmatic terms, The Gentlemens Refinery cream lathers and shaves as well as the very best creams I’ve come to favor, and I’d have no problem using it as my only shaving cream. Its lather is superbly lubricating and protecting, and the extra cushion it provides between the blade and skin remind me very much of the shave I get from Nancy Boy’s cream, which has been my go-to for quite awhile now. Fans of Nancy Boy, and of Truefitt & Hill’s similar Ultimate Comfort shaving cream, now have another option for an upper-tier New School cream that falls somewhere in the middle between the other two on the scent intensity scale.
Being a man of a certain age now, I use moisturizer on my face before I go to bed. Am I proud of this? Of course I’m not. I find the whole thing depressing as hell. But I don’t eat Whoppers and onion rings for lunch anymore like I did all through my 20s, so I don’t have all that nice superfatted goodness coursing through my veins and keeping my skin looking its pasty best any longer. I need to compensate. So I moisturize.
I don’t do the full-on cucumber slices on the eyes and a turban to protect my perm, but I do squirt three drops of rosehip seed oil in my hands and rub them all over my face and neck, and this does keep my skin feeling and looking nice even in the dry winter months. The Fisher King hipped me to the magic of rosehip seed oil awhile back and it’s one of his best tips — it’s cheap, it’s all-natural, and it works crazily well for me.
The Gentlemens Refinery’s moisturizer is a blend of some of the most well-regarded, all-natural skin soothers available — aloe barbadensis leaf juice, Jojoba, shea butter, cocoa butter, glycerin, grapeseed oil, vitamin E, and some ylang ylang and sandalwood oils to carry the family scent across the product line.
This is a very, very effective moisturizer. While it mostly sinks into my skin nicely and doesn’t shine me up like so many other creamy moisturizers I’ve tried, it does leave a moist finish on my skin and keeps me moist till I wake up the next morning. This is serious stuff. I’ve been using a single squirt from the excellent pump applicator, but I could probably get by with half that amount. My skin is crazily sensitive and most moisturizers make me break out, but my skin likes the TGR and I haven’t had any issues at all.
But as good as the shaving cream and moisturizer are, I’ve saved the best for last. And it’s funny, because aftershave is such a, well, afterthought for most of us when it comes to shaving. Most guys I know don’t even bother with it — they just rinse the lather off their face and they’re good to go.
Me, I can’t get away with that. I need closure. I need something that’s going to soothe my freshly-shaven skin and re-moisturize it without leaving my face shiny, stinging, sticky, or smelling funny. Like, sadly enough, most of the even highly-touted aftershaves do.
I basically have three aftershaves that work best for my skin — Trumper’s Skin Food, Nancy Boy’s aftershave, or a few drops of either rosehip seed oil or Jojoba. Everything else I’ve tried that’s currently on the market falls well short of these three.
See? I said “currently on the market” — I gave myself an out. Because D. R. Harris’s wondrous Aftershave Milk, far and away the best aftershave I’ve ever tried, was discontinued earlier this year. Harris still sells something they call Aftershave Milk but it’s not the same stuff — bears no resemblance at all to the old formula, which was unique to the market. A thin, milky liquid, you poured a bit into your hands and wiped it all over your puss, and it sunk instantly and totally into your skin, leaving behind a wonderfully fresh cucumber scent and the feeling that you just had the greatest shave of your life. No shine, no stickiness, no nothing. Just perfectly soothed and settled skin.
The old Aftershave Milk was the perfect aftershave, which is why Harris had to kill it off. I mean, look, of course I don’t know why they did it — for all I know it had parabens out the ass and Harris fanboys were dropping like flies all up and down St. James Street. It was an old formula, I know that, so maybe there was some trouble sourcing some of the arcane ingredients. I don’t know. All the unfounded shavegeek speculation in the world isn’t going to bring it back. It’s gone.
Well, no, not really. Actually, it’s back, and even better than before. Only now it’s called The Gentlemens Refinery After Shave Balm. And believe me when I say this: as great as the original D. R. Harris Aftershave Milk was, the TGR is better. Noticeably better. Simply put, it’s the best aftershave I’ve yet tested. It’s not cheap at $40 a bottle, but like the equally expensive Trumper’s Skin Food, a little goes a very long way — a bottle should last well over a year’s worth of shaving.
The TGR After Shave Balm is thin and runny, and milky white just like the old Harris Milk. it doesn’t have that product’s cucumber scent, but it does have a fresh, earthy scent to it, veering a bit from the rest of the line, though in sixty seconds there isn’t a trace of scent left on your skin.
What’s in this stuff? Glycerin, Jojoba, shea butter, olive oil, allantoin, lime, geranium, and sandalwood oil, and a couple of gums, xantham and acacia, whose purpose I know not of. What I do know is that a squirt of TGR After Shave Balm is the closest I’ve come yet to aftershave nirvana. Like I said, it’s just like the old Harris Aftershave Milk, only moreso. Fans of the discontinued Milk (Hi Gordon) should be plenty happy with Perry Gastis’s take on the ultimate aftershave. I’ve been using this stuff for a month now and I don’t really want to use anything else, even the stuff that I’ve been very, very happy with. That’s how good this new stuff is. TGR’s shaving cream and moisturizer are world-class products, but the real star of this new line is the After Shave Balm.
Okay, so the prices. Yeah. This is expensive stuff. Not crazy expensive like the new Acqua di Parma shaving cream ($54!), but firmly in imported-from-the-UK Trumper territory. The cream is $28 and the After Shave Balm is $40, but TGR takes some of the sting out of it by throwing in free shipping to the lower 48. That’s not cheap, but it’s not as nutty as some of this stuff can get.
I like The Gentlemens Refinery shaving products a lot. They’ve definitely joined my short list of the top-tier products I use every day, and I have no problem recommending them highly to the fussiest shavegeek and newbie alike. It’s great to see a real professional barber like Perry Gastis bring such an impressive and unique line of wetshaving products to a scene that’s lately been overwhelmed by all kinds of me-too designer junk that smells funny and doesn’t really shave any better than drugstore goo. I welcome The Gentlemens Refinery to Planet Shavegeek, and I’ll say it again — TGR’s After Shave Balm is not to be missed. Best. Aftershave. Ever.
November 24, 2005
(Editor’s Note: the following entry was submitted by a Shaveblog reader of the feminine persuasion, and by that I mean an actual female, not a shavegeek who simply acts like a nancy boy, and by that I mean a guy who gets hissy and pissy about shaving issues, not the excellent line of men’s skin care products of the same name.
Actually, women make up a surprisingly large part of Shaveblog’s readership, which only makes sense since they shave a lot more real estate than men do. This shavette really gets it, and by that I mean she understands what all the fuss is about, not that she has sex a lot, although who knows, that’s not really my purview, and by that I mean area of focus, not me purring contentedly from my secret spying perch outside their bedroom window.
So please join me in welcoming Beth D. for the first guest Shaveblog — enjoy! — CG)
First off, I’m a woman. Let’s just get that clear right off the bat. And in case you’re taking it two steps further, I am not a woman who currently needs to shave my face. I just wanted to get that out in the open.
I have a husband, yes, who was very much influenced (with my help, of course) by this new shavegeek movement introduced by Corey, and slowly but surely, he’s moving into neophyte shavegeek territory. (He’s still a tad nervous about the metrosexual aspect, but once I convince him that smooth is sexy, he’ll be just fine.) I don’t know the specifics, but I do blame Corey for suddenly creating a man in my life who now has smoother skin than I do. But I digress.
In the interest of the upcoming holiday season (and the upcoming holiday panic for finding gifts), I was browsing this fabulous shaveblog.com website, reading all about the amazing fabulousness of creams, including the Proraso Eucalyptus, and thought “Hey, isn’t that the beat up tube of goo that’s in my husband’s side of the bathroom cabinet?”
So this fine evening, inspired by this self-same site, I opened the top of the tube and took a sniff. Yep, there was the slightly menthol, eucalyptusly-fresh, not-quite-musky scent that’s not-too-manly, and not-too-floral that I love from my hubby’s face. Not too bad, I must admit. Next… take a spot and spread it on my hand. Uninteresting, when you really get down to it. Honestly doesn’t feel much different than the slightly stale soap that my grandparents keep in their guest bathroom.
Until I add a touch of water. And suddenly this unassuming opalescent paste turns into a film of slick lather with tiny bubbles… Oooh, okay. I might be catching on to why you guys like this stuff so much.
Okay, here goes! In the name of fair play and just plain nosiness… Larger dab (not enough to qualify as a dollop) onto my hand, add water, spread and lather my own face… Hey, I believe in equality of bathroom goods! Yep, forehead to chin, cheek to cheek… Rinse… no need to repeat, and wow! Niiiiice. A mild tingle, but fresh and smooth feeling. I think I may finally get an idea of what the big deal is here! Clean, soft, and happy healthy feeling… I have to write and say… watch out for the women in your lives, gentlemen, because if your wives (or whatevers) get a whiff of what this stuff can do for their skin, soon you’ll see Proraso Eucalyptus re-packaged in overpriced pink bottles at expensive department store counters and the only way you’ll get to use it is to sneak it out of my face-cleaning bag every morning.
Oh, but never fear… you’re more than welcome to use my Nair any time. After all, fair is fair…
— Beth D.
September 22, 2005
Behold the larval, protoplasmic blob that collected on the underside of my razor by the end of my at-bat with Ultra-Shave shaving cream. Isn’t he magnificent? Speak, Earl, speak!
Yesterday I described what Ultra Shave is — the first high-end shaving cream designed for dryshaving, i.e. you don’t need water to shave with it. You just spread it on your dry face and neck, wait 30 seconds for it to soften your beard and soak into your skin, and then you begin shaving. Oh, and you’re not supposed to rinse your razor till you’re finished shaving, either. You just keep swiping till you’re done.
As soon as I made my first pass across my cheek, I had a strong feeling of deja vu — my skin was mostly numb, and I could barely feel the razor as it glided over my skin. All I felt was a slight, pleasant tingle, even when I was shaving against-grain.
The sensation was very similar to how my shaves used to feel back when I was using Lab Series Maximum Comfort shaving cream, a brushless product that’s chock full of the topical numbing agent Benzocaine, which deadens your skin so it doesn’t feel any razor burn no matter how aggressively you shave or how crappy your razor may be. Oh, the razor burn is there — you just can’t feel it, thanks to the Benzocaine.
I asked the folks at Modern Gent who sent me the Ultra Shave whether it has any numbing agents in it, and they said it didn’t. They listed Ultra Shave’s ingredients as: Purified Water, Glycerine (vegetable, not animal, based), Stearic Acid, Grapeseed Oil, Grapeseed essences and extracts, and Geogard 221 (a preservative). No numbing agents I can see, but my face felt remarkably like it used to when I numbed it with the Lab Series cream.
Ultra Shave also happens to be Kosher, Halal, vegetarian and vegan, and its formula is described as being “respectful of all religions and lifestyle choices”, which is a welcome rebuke to such avowedly anti-Semitic shaving creams as Castle Forbes Lavender and Salter’s Mint, as well as homophobic creams like Coates Lime and Musgo Real. Will their wanton, hollow demagoguery never cease?
The shave itself was odd but surprisingly good. Odd because I kept reflexively going to wash my razor in the sinkwater after every swipe, and I had to keep reminding myself not to. Odd too because I couldn’t really feel the blade on my skin, despite the fact that I was shaving with my Featherjector — a vintage WWII-era Schick Injector loaded with a modified Feather Pro Super disposable straight razor blade —- which is a pretty aggressive razor. Surprisingly good because let’s face it — it’s a lotion on dry skin, and they tell you not to rinse your razor the entire time. But damned if this stuff didn’t lube things up nicely and deliver an excellent shave without a hint of razor drag and no irritation whatsoever, though I can’t say for sure whether there really was any irritation, since my face felt comfortably numb the whole time.
Ultra Shave surpassed my expectations, which I admit couldn’t have been lower. A dryshave? C’mon! Every shavegeek worth his saltpeter knows the whole point of a great shave is to keep your face as wet as possible the whole time, so the blade rides on a bed of water and never actually comes in contact with your skin. The lather is there to hold the water on your skin. Ultra Shave turns this whole scenario upside down, but I’m here to tell you that this stuff does what it claims. You get a damned good shave with it.
What you don’t get is the pleasure of a wetshave. By benching the badger, 86ing the warm water, and swapping your favorite decadent-smelling shaving cream for this scent-free, latherless, thin, translucent lotion, you’re as far away from the usual posh, relaxing, sensuous shavegeek ritual as you can get. The shave’s good, but the sex is nowhere to be found. If you’re purely pragmatic about shaving, you’ll love this stuff. But if you dig the feel of the brush against your face, and the wake-me-up splashes of water on your skin, and the intoxicating scents of your favorite shaving creams, I don’t think you’re going to enjoy a dryshave. It’s a very, very different trip.
I see Ultra Shave as a huge upgrade for someone who’s been using one of the Edge or Gillette shaving gels, or worse, foam in a can. To someone who normally shaves with these kinds of products, Ultra Shave will be a revelation and a tremendous improvement, and its lack of scent won’t be such a big deal when compared to modern gels and foams. But for someone like me who likes his brush, likes the feel of warm water on his face, and likes his rose and voilet and lavender scented creams, Ultra Shave is a tougher sell. The shave’s good, but fun it’s not.
That said, I’m not one of those guys who believes that progress in men’s shaving stopped a long time ago, and that a Vulfix badger brush, a bit of English shaving cream, and a safety or straight razor is the best that will ever be. Even centuries-old shaving cream was once considered a “newfangled idea” with suspect merit when compared to the bars of hard soap men used to lather with. At some point, someone will come along with a better idea, and the whole she-bang will lurch forward.
That’s why products like Ultra Shave are interesting to me. Guys are out there trying to come up with the shaving prep that really does boldly go where no cream has gone before, and it’s important to keep an open mind about them. So while I don’t personally plan on dumping all my great smelling shaving creams and my badger brushes to use this scent-free, brushless cream, and while I wonder why it numbed my skin when there aren’t any obvious numbing agents listed in the ingredients, Ultra Shave does deliver a good shave, and does so in a manner that couldn’t be more different from that of the usual shavegeek wetshave.
Switching Disraeli Gears
September 8, 2005
Today I switched back to cream, after yet another stab at shaving with a hard soap to make the lather. I’ve been getting very comfortable, super close shaves with Classic Shaving’s hard soap, but the mole on my upper lip (you can’t see it in my photo at the top of this page — it’s hidden beneath a white strip of lather, and beneath TV makeup under that) has always been the most sensitive part of my face, and I’ve been nicking it something fierce with this soap. So it was time to go back to cream.
Actually, my mole’s loss is your gain, if you don’t happen to have any protruding freakish mutations on your face that spray blood everywhere if you lather with anything less lubricating than the finest, most moisturizing shaving creams. When my mole gets nicked, you know that whatever made the lather allows for an extra close shave, and I can tell you that the rest of my face got a shave that was noticeably closer than usual.
But me, I can’t shave like this every day. I nicked my mole three days in a row, and I needed to give the poor little bugger time to heal so I could shave over it again without incident. And that meant going back to cream.
Specifically, Taylor’s Avocado. The smoothest, thickest, creamiest, most soothing and moisturizing cream I know of. The cream that always hugs me to its bosom, kisses my forehead, and magically restores my skin in just a shave or two. I swear, this stuff is magic.
This time, it only took one shave to make it all right again. After a workout at the Y and nice relaxing break in the sauna where I overheard a pleasant conversation between two septuagenarians about the HBO series “Rome” and why couldn’t they have lived during a time of such rampant free love, I caught a shower and then lathered up at a sink with the Avocado and my Vulfix #2233 badger brush that gets knocked around in my gym bag’s dop kit without a protective case but somehow doesn’t collapse inward like a white dwarf star from the overwhelming pressure.
I shaved in the usual way with my Featherjector, first down and then up. With a thick blanket of Taylor cream protecting it, the Feather Super Pro disposable straight razor blade — the sharpest shaving blade on the market — skied over my mole like it wasn’t even there. I got an ungodly close shave with the Featherjector, and my skin felt incredible afterward — smooth, clean, and perfectly moisturized. It was the kind of shave where the Trumper Skin Food at the end seemed like gilding the lily instead of a welcome post-shave poultice.
I’ve said it before about Taylor’s Avocado shaving cream and I’ll say it again — I don’t know why I shave with anything else. This is what my face and skin love most. It’s like the official shaving cream of Ponce De Leon. I’m convinced that If I shaved with this stuff every day I’d start looking like a kid again.
Shaving in the Shower
July 29, 2005
I used to shave in the shower every day, back in my 20s. I had that same cheesy “fogless” shaving mirror every guy gets at some point — the one you have to attach between your shower head and the water pipe, the thought being that the hot water rushing through the mirror assembly will keep it fog-free, though why that might make a difference I haven’t the foggiest idea. Of course the mirror always fogged up! It’s right there in the steaming hot shower — what do you think’s going to happen? But I bought one anyway and just kept wiping it every time I shaved in the shower.
In those days my shaving rig was pretty pathetic — the ubiquitous blue plastic Gillette “Good News!” disposable razor, and whatever foam or gel inna can I happened to have on hand. I never put that much thought into shaving back then. It hurt with a fresh razor, hurt with a weeks-old razor, hurt with foam, hurt with gel, hurt in the shower and hurt at the sink. It was a chore to suffer through, in order to look semi-presentable. Nicks and cuts abounded, and rare was the bloodless shave.
But the ritual itself — the shaving in the shower, with the nice, hot water hitting your chest, the easy rinsing of the razor just by waving it through the stream of water — was pleasant, and it kept the sink from getting messy with all that crap, so I kept with it.
At some point, though, I finally wised up and ditched the disposables for a more serious razor, Gillette’s double-blade Sensor. So I tossed the crud-encrusted “fogless” mirror and began shaving at the sink like a grownup, and it’s been that way ever since.
Now that I’m shaving old-school and loving it more than I should, my Me Time every morning at the sink has become sacrosanct (look it up here, shavemyface think-tankers). And ever since I stumbled onto the discovery that shaving at the YMCA after a sweaty workout made for a much better shave, I’ve been catching most of my shaves at the sink in the locker room.
Which is all good and well, except I seem to be the only guy doing it. And judging from the stares I keep getting, I’m not sure it’s a welcome development.
It’s not like the sinks are in heavy demand and I’m keeping anyone from getting there facewash time in, but I definitely note a certain chill in the air whenever I’m standing there in a towel with my lather-choked brush and assorted poultici crowded around the sink as I swipe my razor over my face for 10 mins or so. The old-timers seem to approve of my DE and brush, but the younger members don’t seem that down with some guy parked at one of the sinks and shaving himself like Ol’ Pops.
So today I tried a different tack. I shaved in the Y’s shower. I got one of those hanging dop kits from L.L. Bean with the built-in shaving mirror (not fogless), loaded all my crap in it, and tried going back to the shave scenario of my dimly-remembered youth when the beer flowed freely, tests were multiple choice, and you weren’t a real playa unless you were wearing parachute pants with no underwear.
Okay, right off the bat, let me just say that this was a terrible, terrible idea. What was I thinking?! Shaving in the shower is for knuckleheads — the light is terrible, the mirror either fogs up or gets streaked with water, rinsing your razor isn’t as easy as I remembered, and above all, where do you put the brush?
Actually, I anticipated the brush issue and went with the brushless Cremo Cream for my shower shave, used as directed instead of with a brush like I like to use it. It still gives a damn good shave without a brush, so I figured it’d be the perfect shower shave cream. The rest of the rig — Merkur HD safety razor, Trumper’s limes skin food — was my usual combo.
But try as I might, I just couldn’t get down with shaving in the shower. After all these years, I’d forgotten just how dumb this idea really is. I guess it’s not that big of a difference whether you’re scraping your face with a “Good News!” disposable in the shower or at the sink, but shaving with a real razor and cream just doesn’t translate well to the shower. Worst of all, if I thought guys were giving me the stink-eye when I shaved at the locker room sink, that was nothing compared to the looks I got during my shower shave today. I think I could’ve been taking a no-hands wizz against another guy’s leg and I wouldn’t have gotten the dirty looks I did just for shaving in the shower. As my people say, never again.
Amazingly, I got a pretty good shave for all my trouble. It wasn’t the best shave ever, but it was better than it seemed to be when I was in the middle of it, squinting in the water-streaked mirror velcro’d on the front of the L.L. Bean toiletries bag. But screw it, that’s the last shower shave for me if I can help it. Zero pleasure, lots of struggle, and all my gear got soaking wet. Not my brightest idea ever.
But heyy, speaking of “Good News!”, my latest eBay score arrived in the mail today — two vintage Gillette adjustable DEs, a fixed-head Gillette silo-door DE, and….an Eversharp/Schick Injector from the 1940s!
And now for something completely different…