By May 14, 2012

How to Prepare for a Double Edge Safety Razor Shave

I shaved my beard off in early March and I knew I was going to have to shave more frequently than I have the last year and a half. I burned up my last Mach 3 razor cartridge, and thought I would try my hand at shaving with a double edge safety razor.

I am going to write about my experience and the products I use in future posts, but let me just get this off my chest. It’s going to sound weird to some of you, but it’s true.

I love shaving.

I never would have written that before shaving with a double edge safety razor. If I didn’t nick myself with a cartridge, I’d irritate my skin or develop in-grown hairs.

However, shaving with a double edge (DE) razor requires some skill, some practice, some additional steps and products, and most importantly, a lot more time.

If you want to start shaving with a double edge razor I recommend starting with this article about preparing your face for a shave. You can even do this with your cartridge razor (I did), so when you get your first DE razor you’ll already have this part down pat.

What you’ll need

  1. A facial cleanser or soap.
  2. A cup or bowl of some kind to rinse and clean your razor in.
  3. A shaving brush.
  4. Brush stand, bonus points if you have a combo brush stand / razor stand.
  5. Two washcloths or small towels; you can reuse one from your prior day’s shave.
  6. An aftershave.
  7. A styptic pencil.
  8. An old toothbrush, soft bristles are the best. Also optional.
  9. At least 20 minutes.

Introduction

Yes, I said at least twenty minutes. This is the biggest difference between shaving with a “real” razor versus a cartridge blade. There are a lot of steps when shaving with a double- or single-edge safety razor, and even more when you go to a straight blade. However, this longer time results in a better, closer shave with less irritation than a cartridge shave.

There are two other things to consider before you get started with DE shaving.

One: everyone has a different face, and everyone’s facial hair grows in different ways. I have pretty thick facial hair, and it’s curly. In addition, my hair grows in basically one direction on my cheeks, but in at least two directions on my throat, including “upside down” on the bottom half of my neck. Getting to know how your facial hair grows is a very, very important part to shaving properly.

By starting out slowly and following the method I do, you’ll learn a little bit about your face before you even make the transition to safety razors. You’ll feel, both with your hands and your razor, how your hair grows on your face. I didn’t realize how different the zones of my face were until I took the time to properly prepare.

Two: shaving is a very personal experience. You can spend a lot of money on expensive razors, blades, brushes, creams, soaps, oils, towels, balms, ointments, cups, and bowls. You may find yourself becoming a shaving enthusiast and collector, and that’s totally fine. I’m the kind of guy who tries to find the best price-to-performance, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a razor because you like the way it looks or feels.

If you’re just starting out, however. I recommend that you buy lesser expensive items. You may discover that shaving this way is not for you. Most likely, however, you will make assumptions (or educated guesses) but still be wrong. For example, the blades I thought would be best for my face after reading tons of articles and reviews turned out to be my least favorite. If you start “slow and low” you won’t be financially invested in something that doesn’t suit you.

Lastly, the majority of my routine is based on the infamous Kyle’s prep as posted on shaving site Badger and Blade. There are some very minor modifications.

Okay, now that all that shit’s out of the way, let’s talk prep.

In the shower

  1. Close the door to your bathroom and turn on the ceiling fan. You want to trap moisture and heat in the room, but not so much that you won’t be able to see the mirror when you get out of the shower. My bathroom has two doors; at this point keep one closed and one open.
  2. Wash your face in the shower with a facial cleanser / soap. The goal here is to remove sweat, dirt and oil from your face, and also to start breaking down the outer layer of hair as described in Kyle’s Method. I use Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean face wash I reviewed late last year. I apply the face wash with my hands. I wash my forehead, face, ears, and neck. When I get to my throat, I spend a little bit of extra time and lightly buff my neck in a circular pattern.

Immediately after the shower

  1. Towel off, but try not to dry your face. You want to keep your face as warm and wet as possible during the shaving process.
  2. Take your first hand towel and wipe the steam from the mirror. I use little Krama white cotton square towels from IKEA. They are $0.39 each and if you start shaving this way you’ll go through a lot of towels.
  3. After wiping the steam off of the mirror, take your towel and put it on the edge of the counter top, in front of the sink. This will catch drips from your face / body while shaving.

First lather and facial massage

  1. Make your lather using your shaving soap or cream. Some of my friends like BigDubb will use a pre-shave oil and apply it at this time. Making lather with a brush (and the type of brush you use) is an entire discipline to itself, but the idea here is to get a somewhat thick cushion of lather on your face.
  2. Splash water on your face, as hot as you can stand it.
  3. Apply the lather to your face with the brush. I start off with a circular motion, but I wind up “painting” my face, just like I do before I shave. The goal is to get as many hairs facing in the same direction as possible.
  4. Don’t rinse your brush; let it hang in your brush stand with the lather still on it. Depending on the soap you use and your lather technique you might be able to use the “loaded” brush for your entire shave without making more lather.
  5. Lightly wet the tips of your fingers. Massage the lather into your face. This will help break down the tough, outer layer of your hair. It may also help dislodge any dirt you missed while washing your face.

    I use a circular motion on the left and right portions of my throat, massaging for twenty seconds per side. I pay particular attention to my trouble areas. I then massage my cheeks, chin, and under my nose for twenty seconds. Then back to my throat for another forty seconds, twenty seconds a side.

Hot towel

  1. I heat the second washcloth up as hot as I can stand it. Don’t rinse the lather off, and put the hot cloth right onto your face. Make sure it comes into contact with your throat as well as your face. Keep the towel on your face for about two minutes, or until you feel the towel start to get cold. I lie down for this part, and usually play Draw Something or message Sedagive? on my Kindle Fire or mobile phone.
  2. I gently wipe the lather from my face with the warm towel. Depending on how thick your lather is, you may want to rinse the cloth out at this time, otherwise just hang it up.
  3. I rinse my face with water as hot as I can tolerate, and get ready for my first “real” lather.

First shave

  1. Okay, here we go. This first shave part is the most important so remember to go slowly and use a light touch. The goal here is to reduce the amount of hair on your face with each pass, not chop 100% of it in one go.
  2. I fill my rinse mug with super hot water and put my razor in it. A heated razor feels really good on the face, and I find that a cold blade causes my skin to contract, which makes for a worse shave.
  3. Lather up! Make sure you “paint” your hair in the right direction this time, if you didn’t in the prior step. Make more lather if you need to do so.
  4. Hold your razor as far away from the head as possible. You are going to shave with a very light touch, with as little pressure as possible. Pushing on your skin creates an uneven surface, and you will probably cut yourself. Do this even with a cartridge razor.
  5. You want to shave at about a 30 degree angle. See this excellent article about blade angle for more information. I got started by putting the razor at a 90° angle and then lowering / lifting the blade until I got to 30. Do this even if are using a cartridge razor.
  6. Shave one stroke going with the grain of your hair. The length of the stroke will depend on your facial topography, the type of blade and razor you are using, the lubrication of the shaving soap you are using, and how thick your facial hair is. I do the following:
    • Shave from my face to my jawline, going “down.”
    • Shave my upper lip and front of my chin in short, light strokes, going “down.”
    • Shave the top third of my throat (bottom of my jaw), going “down.”
    • Shave the bottom two-thirds of my neck, going up because my hair there grows in the opposite direction as the rest of my face. Shaving “down” on the first shave results in nicks, ingrown hairs, and bumps.
  7. Swish your razor around in your rinse cup after every stroke. Later, after you figure stuff out, you may be able to go a few strokes before rinsing. For now, make sure that blade is clear of hair and soap.
  8. Flip your razor around every three strokes, to both edges of the blade evenly.

Don’t freak out if you cut yourself here. It will happen, especially during the first few weeks of shaving this way. You’ll be okay. Don’t try to close the cuts with your styptic pencil or alum block just yet.

Second rinse, prep for the second pass

  1. Rinse your face with water as hot as you can stand.
  2. Dump out your rinse mug, and fill it with the hottest water possible. Put your razor in the hot water.
  3. Re-lather your face. If you use Arko or similar bad ass soap, you might not need to make more lather. If you are still learning how to make lather, or if your soap isn’t as thick and poofy as Arko, you can make more lather.
  4. Lather up, making sure to paint your face in the same way you did the first time. Get those hairs straight.
  5. If you are just going to do a two-pass shave (which is what I usually do), rinse your brush out and let it hang dry with the bristles facing down. If you are going to do more than two passes, let the brush hang with lather on it.

Second shave

You’ll want to repeat the steps of the first shave, except that you can now shave against the grain if you want a closer shave.

If you shave with the grain again, your shave may be more comfortable, and you may develop less irritation or cuts. However, it won’t be as close.

I shave with the grain on my face and the top 1/3rd of my neck, just like in pass one. I shave against the grain on the bottom two-thirds. You will want to tailor this to your desire to get a closer shave versus running the risk of nicks and irritation.

I also run a “mini” third pass across two zones on my neck near my windpipe. This is the only place I shave across the grain (left to right) due to how the hair grows in those little one inch by three inch spots.

If you want to run another pass, repeats step one again, except this time going across the grain the whole time. I haven’t done this yet.

Rinse and repair

  1. Rinse your face with the coldest water possible. Clearing your face of bits of skin and hair are important to avoiding irritation. The cold water will also help your pores to close, reducing the chances of ingrown hairs and bumps. If you have time, soak your second towel (the one you used in the Hot Towel phase) with cold water and repeat the Hot Towel phase, but this time with cold water. I usually skip that part unless it’s the weekend.
  2. Optional: If you are using an astringent like witchhazel or equivalent, apply it at this time. Don’t use a cotton ball, you’ll probably leave bits of cotton behind on your face and neck. I keep my unscented (which means, stinky) witchhazel in a spray bottle and mist my face with it. Close your eyes. Ask me how I know.
  3. Let the astringent dry, if you used it. Then use the styptic pencil to close up any nicks and cuts remaining. Wet the end of the pencil with cold water, then lightly dab or brush the pencil over the cut. It may sting slightly. Make sure you rinse the tip off again. As a health note, it is probably not a good idea to share a styptic pencil with another person.

The pre-shave

Note that I did not use the term “after shave.” I like to think of everything we do as a precursor to the next shave. “After shave” insinuates to me that we’re done thinking about our skin or preparing it for the next shave. Don’t think this way. Think about your skin the whole day, and realize the more you prep, the more bad ass (and bloodless) shave you’ll have next time.

  1. Optional: Wash your face again. Be careful here. Doing this may clear your skin of oil, sweat and debris that may lead to irritation. That’s a good thing. However, it may also dry your skin out too much. If you use a particularly odious soap like Arko, avoiding the wrath of your significant other may justify a second wash.
  2. Optional: Lightly brush any ingrown hairs with the toothbrush. Some people like to use dry bristles, but I wet mine slightly before using. Use a circular motion.
  3. Pat your skin dry. Avoid vigorously scrubbing your face with the towel.
  4. Apply your “pre-shave” (aftershave) product. I currently use the Signature Mint Post Shave lotion by Every Man Jack. Use enough that your face feels a little over-lubricated. Your skin will be thirsty.
  5. Optional: apply your aftershave product to your face again before going to sleep.

Workarea and tools maintenance

Time for cleanup.

  • Use your first washcloth to wipe any water you splashed around the sink.
  • Shake as much water out of your razor as possible and hang it to dry. Some people disassemble their razors and allow everything to dry this way, but I think it’s unnecessary and may put unnecessary wear and tear on the threads of the razor. Don’t store your razor on its head, even on the side of its head. You may risk damaging the blade, and even a small bonk may effect your shave.
  • Change your blades according to your own personal schedule. Again, everyone’s face and razor-blade combination is different. I change my blades every Sunday and Wednesday.
  • Hang your towels up — I use today’s face towel for tomorrow’s sink towel.

Feel like a bad ass

This post started out as a quick note on how I prep for my shave. 2600 words later, I realize this is a pretty involved process that takes a lot of time. However, thanks to this system I went from someone who dreaded shaving and only did so every three days or so to a man who looks forward to shaving in the morning.

Shaving with a double, single, or straight razor requires knowledge, preparation, and skill. Most men these days just fooooosh out some gel crap from a can, smash it on their face with their paws, and jam a cartridge razor onto their face. After doing the same thing for 22 years, I realize now I’ve been doing it wrong. I love shaving, and if you try this prep system you may love it, too.

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4 Comments on "How to Prepare for a Double Edge Safety Razor Shave"

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  1. Brice says:

    Wow, I thought I went a long way for a shave. I’ve got nothing on you. Anyway, I use Mother Bear shave soap, awesome stuff. For cleaning my face, I use a handmade bar by the lady that always comes to my local gun show.

    • DrFaulken says:

      :-) This started out as the “shortest” part of my discussion about shaving and tools, and it kept growing and growing.

      This post was also not supposed to go live until tomorrow, but it looks like I screwed that up :-\

      thanks for your comment.

  2. Agreschn says:

    I’m going to have to give this a shot as it sounds that my facial hair is VERY (almost eerily) similar to yours DrFaulken re: directions on neck and whatnot. It’s actually quite freaky.

    I’ve got two old double-edged safety razors that were probably my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s. They’re pretty bad-ass.

  3. Ed says:

    I have never done anything other then the 1-2 minute disposable razor shave. I might have to try this.

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