Close Shaves: The Art of Facial Grooming

Whether you prefer a fuzz-free face or want to look like a lumberjack, shaving is part of any grooming plan
BY Bill Lindsey TIMESeptember 15, 2022 PRINT

Shaving is an everyday (or perhaps less frequent) task that’s typically performed with little forethought. However, it can be transformed into a morning ritual that leaves you energized and looking like a million bucks.

Historians tell us that man first began grooming himself 100,000 years ago by using clam shells like tweezers to remove unwanted hairs. About 40,000 years later, a caveman named Og realized that he could sharpen the clam shells or use stone knives to shave, representing a huge step in facial grooming.

A traditional shaving bowl and brush are certainly practical grooming equipment, but they can also provide a bit of whimsical decor to the bathroom. (baibaz/Shutterstock)

Archeologists have found brass razors in Egyptian tombs dating back to about 1500 B.C., and Alexander the Great is credited with having his soldiers shave their faces, in order to give the enemy one less way to grab them in battle. Shaving was forbidden in Turkey until Suleyman the Magnificent rose to power in 1520; soon thereafter, barbers pioneered a method of removing hairs by using a strand of thread that closed over the hair, allowing it to be plucked out.

When it comes to wet shaving, technological options include the safety razor and the straight razor. (BGStock72/Shutterstock)

The English firm of Sheffield is credited with creating the first steel-edged straight razors in 1680, which served as the most commonly used shaving tool until the stamped steel safety razor was invented around 1901 by an American named King Camp Gillette. The safety razor soon became wildly popular, aided, no doubt, by the fact that it was issued to American soldiers in both world wars.

In the 1970s, disposable razors with replaceable, disposable cartridges were introduced and now represent the most widely used shaving implements.

The safety razor has been around since 1901, and remains a very popular choice for facial grooming. (Stephen Plaster/Shutterstock)

For many, acquiring shaving skills begins at puberty, hopefully under the watchful eyes of an experienced mentor such as a father or older brother standing by with a styptic pencil.

Of the two shaving methods, wet and dry, there are steps to take well before the razor approaches skin. Our focus is on wet shaving and how it can easily become an involved process, but here’s a fast overview of dry shaving preparation: Make sure the skin and the razor are both as dry as possible, and use a pre-shave powder or lotion that dries the skin and helps to ensure hairs stand up for best cutting results.

A trick to the most comfortable shave is to use a washcloth that doesn’t irritate the skin. (Ann Yuni/Shutterstock)

For many, the process of wet shaving consists of splashing the face with warm water, applying a layer of shaving foam from a can, and then running a disposable razor over the areas to be shaved. This works, but for many it leaves a bit to be desired. A “proper” wet shave has multiple steps, all working together to achieve a great shave.

To ensure the closest, most comfortable shave, the skin needs to be prepared, and the razor needs to be as sharp as possible. Let’s start with the skin, which needs to be as moist as possible to provide lubrication for the passing blade. Shaving right after a hot shower is a good way to begin the moisturizing process. The skin needs to be clean, which is best accomplished with a soap made for facial skin, as opposed to bath and body bars that can remove natural oils and overly dry the skin. Using hot water opens pores, softens the tough outer layer of hair, and helps to remove dead skin. The trick is to do all this gently, without a washcloth that can irritate the skin. To do it right, wash your face well and then wrap it in a towel soaked in hot water for about 30 seconds. An easier option is to apply some hair conditioner to your face as you leave the shower.

An aftershave does a lot more than just smell good; the astringents close tiny scrapes, close pores, and helps eliminate bacteria. (LightField Studios/Shutterstock)

Shaving foam in a can certainly works. But, according to Derek Dodds of Naked Armor, purveyor of grooming products, you can step up your grooming game by going old school: using a scuttle bowl, a shaving brush, and a bar of shaving soap. Saturate the brush in hot water and then whisk it around in the bowl to create a rich, thick lather. Generously apply the lather in a swirling motion to reach every whisker. Using a badger brush adds an exfoliating effect.

If you’re a bit hesitant to try shaving with a straight razor, which is understandable, consider getting a barbershop shave to see how a pro wields the blade. (FXQuadro/Shutterstock)

Next, choose your weapon. Technology has provided many options when it comes to wet shaving. The options include the safety razor, cartridge-style multi-razor blades, or a straight razor. The straight razor is a bit of a paradox, preferred by barbers and assassins, both of whom may refer to it as a cutthroat razor. Unlike a cartridge system that can actually recede a bit under the skin, leading to bumps and ingrown hairs, a straight razor cuts the hairs at the surface for an extremely smooth, irritation-free experience.

No matter what type blade you use, a scuttle bowl, a bit of hot water, and a shaving brush can produce a lather superior to anything that comes out of a can. (Evgenyrychko/Shutterstock)

The thought of applying a straight razor to your face and throat can be daunting, but huge numbers of barbers employ this method every day, as did our ancestors, who managed it well enough to allow us to be here today. To gain a better understanding of how to wield a straight razor, read Naked Armor’s “The Modern Art of Shaving,” which is essentially Wet Shaving 101. It provides a detailed, easily understood explanation of the process, while also suggesting that newbies start off in just one area of the face and gradually expand until they can confidently execute a full-face shave.

Lather up!

Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.
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