Last updated on November 29th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
If you’re a millennial or born after that era, the term wet shaving might be foreign to you. But that was how our dads, grandpas, and great grandpas shaved.
Multi-bladed disposables weren’t in the market back then so men had to use straight razors.
Then in 1901, the safety razor was born thanks to inventor King Camp Gillette.
This device housed a disposable blade that was safer to use because of the outer layer of metal that shielded most of the blade from the skin.
Learning curve wasn’t as steep so it became popular.
Fast forward to the 20th century, disposable razors are king.
If you need to shave every day but want to save time, disposables is the default option. It’s faster and there isn’t much of a learning curve involved.
In a way wet shaving has become a lost art because of time requirements and the steep learning curve. But the benefits will outweigh the time needed to learn proper technique.
Whether you want to use a safety or a straight razor there is a common denominator – wet shaving.
It was how men used to shave and for several good reasons.
First it adds a layer protection and lubrication to lessen friction from the razor as it goes through hair and face.
Second, it helps exfoliate if you use a shaving brush.
First reason, while you can shave without shaving cream on just a wet face, the difference is night and day in terms of how your skin will feel afterwards.
There will be less razor burns, cuts and irritation because of the layer of protection and lubrication present.
The great thing about using a safety razor is the flexibility to choose the type of blade that will fit your particular skin type. That’s not always the case with a disposable razor that often times use inferior blade materials that isn’t as sharp.
Dull razor = bad for the skin
Second reason – it’s cheaper for the long term.
Let’s do the math. Gillette Fusion razor will cost almost $12 compared to the Merkur long handed safety razor which costs around $30. That’s close to an $18 difference so there will be an upfront investment.
Now let’s look at the running costs. A pack of Gillette Fusion refills (8 pcs) costs around $26 (that’s $2.6/refill) while a pack of Mekur razor blades (100pcs) costs around $55 (that’s $0.55/blade). Cheaper brands can go as low as $0.09 per piece.
Here are the latest prices in Amazon…
Let’s compare it to the price of a safety razor blade…
Let’s do the math. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that you use the cheapest Gillette fusion refill and change only once a month so that’s $2.85 x 12.
You’ll spend roughly $35 bucks per year on refills alone but your blades won’t be as sharp because you’ll be dragging that think on your face for a month.
If you use a safety razor and changed the blades everyday. That’s $0.09 x 365 = $33 per year. So even if you change the blades everyday, you’ll spend $2 less than you would if you’re using a cartridge razor.
Let’s translate this to the real world. You’re hair and have thick beard growth, there is a huge risk of irritation of you don’t change often, like once every 2 or 3 shaves. So that $35 we’re talking about suddenly goes up to $150!
That’s only for one years worth of supplies.
When you add in the subsequent years, the cost will add up.
Quality is another factor. Most brands use steel instead of plastic so it’ll last longer.
First you’ll need a razor and there are two options.
Option One: The Safety (or Double Edged) Razor
A safety razor consists of two parts – handle and headpiece.
The headpiece is what houses the razor blade.
The great thing about this type of razor is the limitless option in terms of what blade you can put in it.
You can put a really sharp blade to get the closest shave possible or something less aggressive if you’re just starting out.
Each brand will use a different grade steel that may or may not suite your skin and facial hair.
Shaving connoisseurs recommend newbies to purchase a “sampler pack” with different razors inside to try out which one will fit.
The safety razor is the default option for a lot of men because it is safer and easier to learn than the next option.
Option Two: Straight Razor
This is the tool of choice in a lot of barbershops.
I remember my barber using this whenever I have a haircut. And it scared the heck out of me. A straight razor will give the closest shave, hands down.
But this will not be a wise choice for novices because of the steep learning curve.
Buying a good quality straight razor will cost more upfront but after that initial purchase, it’ll last a lifetime if you take good care of it.
Of course there are other stuff you need to buy such as a hone and strop to sharpen the blade that adds to the upfront cost.
A shaving brush is more than just a tool to apply shaving cream.
It also helps scrub off dead skin cells that help in exfoliation and raises up facial hair so it’s easier to cut.
This tool also helps spread shaving cream evenly on the face and protect the skin from direct blade contact that can cause razor burn.
There are three main types of shaving brushes.
The most expensive option would be the badger brush. Next up is the boar brush and the cheapest would be synthetic brushes.
The badger brush has four different grades – the highest and the most expensive are the silvertip badger brushes.
If you check out prices in Amazon they would cost roughly between the high fifties to a hundred plus dollars.
Shaving cream / soaps and after shave products
No wet shaving is complete without a good shaving cream.
No it does not have to be the most expensive but it should not contain any alcohol in it because alcohol = dry skin, a big no-no if you want great looking post-shaved skin.
Experts recommend a shaving cream with glycerin because these are thick and rich and not foamy. This will give you the best possible protection from razor burn.
Another option aside from shaving cream would be shaving soaps. These products will provide the best possible protection from irritation and razor burn.
Before shaving soaps were available, the only option men has was shave soaps. These products have a harder consistency that resembled bar soaps hence the term.
Can I use aerosol shaving creams?
Yes, you can but there’s one thing you should know about these products – it contains propellers, lubricants and chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions.
Don’t forget the aftershave
Aftershave products is another must have because it provides a layer of protection and moisture that the skin needs post shave.
Always remember that when you shave, you actually take off a few layers of skin – this leaves it vulnerable to irritation if you don’t apply a layer of protection and that’s the job of an aftershave cream or moisturizer.
Now that you have all the tools in place, it’s time to actually shave.
Step 1: Prep
Before you start shaving you need to prep, remember prep is the most important step in any successful shave and you start by either washing your face or taking a hot shower.
I’ve covered more about this in the shaving tips for men page.
Washing your face helps remove any excess oil and other impurities that may otherwise block the path of the razor and clog it. Remember to use hot water to open up the pores and soften hair to make it easier to cut.
The next step would be covering your face with a hot towel for two to three minutes. This is often times done in barbershops which helps in further softening facial hair.
Relaxing isn’t it?
If you’re in a hurry you can skip this step as long as you had a hot shower.
Step 2: Lather
After washing your face, it’s time to apply shaving cream / soap. Remember that you don’t need a lot. An almond sized drop will be enough to work the entire face.
Notice the technique used – circular motion then ending with a crisscross pattern.
Most enthusiasts will have a similar technique but there will be nuances based on personal preferences.
Rule of thumb is not to apply too much pressure and allow the brush to do the work for you.
You can apply shaving cream by hand but using a shaving brush is a better option because you’ll need to use less shaving cream to achieve the same lather.
If you prefer applying by hand, this is one technique you can use but you will still need a shaving brush…
Step 3: Shave
To get the best shave possible you need to remember a few things.
Know the proper angle the razor will work best. When shaving the side of the face, start with a 90 degree angle and then move the handle down between 30 and 45 degrees as you start to shave. Use this same principle when shaving the neck area.
Here’s a graphic that shows the correct blade angle…
Don’t apply pressure on the razor but let the weight of the razor and blade do the work for you.
When starting out always go with the grain and not against it. Once you’ve mastered the art of wet shaving, you can go against the grain (or across the grain) to get closer.
If your neck area is sensitive, avoid going against the grain.
Again, I’ve discussed more of this in detail in the shaving tips page.
Step 4: After-shave protection
Always rinse your face with cold water because this will close the pores of the skin. If you’ve suffered any cuts or nicks, try covering your face with a cold towel to alleviate irritation or apply alum block.
Avoid rubbing the face, instead pat dry it. Last step would be applying some aftershave lotion and/or moisturizer (if you have dry skin).
To put that all things you’ve learned together, watch this video about the 15 minute wet shave…
Here’s an infographic I found on reddit that sums up the benefits of wet shaving and why you should ditch the disposable and go with a safety or straight razor.
If you think I’ve missed anything or have more tips to share, please do leave them in the comment sections below.
Garrick spends his days researching and writing about grooming. When he’s not in front of his computer, you can find him hanging around with his wife and son.