So, I have been shaving with shaving oil and safety razors 1 for a while now and decided that it is time I help my fellow geeks by spreading some knowledge about this method (which is sadly still poorly documented on-line). Much of the below method is hacks assembled together from different sources and lots of trial and error.
Why shave with oil and DE safety razors¶
First of all, shaving with old-school DE razors is not as much about being hip and trendy 2 as it is about optimising. Although, I have to admit, it is still looks pretty cool ☺
There are several reasons why shaving with oil and DE razors beats modern foam and system multi-blade razors hands down:
- they have got multiple uses – shaving oil replaces both the shaving foam/soap and aftershave (and pre-shaving balm); DE razors are used in tools and well, they are proper blades for crying out loud!;
- the whole set takes a lot less space when travelling – one razor, a puny pack of blades and a few ten ml of oil is all you need to carry around 3;
- you get a better shave – once you start shaving properly, you get less burns and cuticles and a smoother shave as well;
- it is more ecological – the DE blades have less different materials and are easier to recycle, all shaving oils I found so far have some sort of Eco and/or Bio certification;
- and last, but not least in these days, it is waaaaaaay cheaper – (more on that in a future blog post).
History and experience (skip if you are not interested in such bla bla)¶
I got my first shaving oil4 about two years ago, when I started to travel more. My wonderful girlfriend bought it for me, because a 30 ml flask took a lot less space then a tin of shaving foam and a flask aftershave. The logic behind this decision was:
“Well, all the ancient people managed to have clean shaves with oil, my beard cannot be that much different than the ones they had in the past.”
And, boy, was I in for a nice surprise!
I used to get inflammations, pimples and in-grown hair quite often, so I never shaved very close – but when shaving with oil, there was none of that! After one or two months of of trial and error with different methods and own ideas, I finally figured out how to properly use it and left the shaving soaps, gels and foams for good.
As I shaved for a while with oil I noticed that all “regular modern” system multi-blade razors have strips of an aloe vera gel, that works well with shaving foam, gels and soap; but occasionally stick to your face if you are using shaving oil. This is true for as many or as little blades in the razor heads as possible. – I just could not find razors without it.
That is why I started thinking about the classic DE safety razors and eventually got a plastic Wilkinson Sword Classic for a bit over 5 €. Surprisingly, after just a few minuscule cuts, the improvement over the system multi-blade razors got quite apparent. I have not touched my old Gillette Mach3 ever since. The Wilkinson Sword Classic is by far not a very good DE razor, but it is cheap and easy to use for beginners. But if you decide you like this kind of shave, I would warmly recommend that you upgrade to a better one.
For example recently I got myself a nice Edwin Jagger razor with their DE8 head and I love it. It is a full-metal, chromed, closed-comb razor, which means it has another bar below the blade, so it is easier and safer to use then an more aggressive open-comb version.
How to Shave with oil and DE razors¶
OK, first of all, do not panic! – they are called “safety razors” for a reason. As opposed to the straight razors, the blade is enclosed, so even if you manage to cut yourself, you cannot get a deep cut. This is truer still for closed-comb razors.
Wash your face to remove dead skin and fat. It is the best if you shave just after taking a shower.
Get moisture into the hairs. Beard hair is hard as copper wire while it is dry; but wet, it is quite soft. The best way is to apply a towel soaked in very hot water for a few (times per) ten seconds to your face – the hot water also opens up the pores. If you are travelling and do not have hot water, just make sure those hairs are wet. I usually put hot water in the basin and leave the razor in it while I towel my face, so the razor is also warm.
Put a few drops of shaving oil into the palm of your hand (3-6 is enough for me, depending on the oil) and with two fingers apply it to all the places on your face that you want to shave. Any oil you may have left on your hands, you can safely rub into your hair (on top of your head) – it will do them good and you will not waste the oil.
Splash some more (hot) water on your face – the fact that water and oil do not mix well is the reason why your blade glides so fine. Also during the shave, whenever feel your razor does not glide that well any more, usually just applying some water is enough to fix it.
First shave twice in the direction of the grain – to get a feeling for the right angle, take the handle of the razor in your fingers and lean the flat of the head onto your cheek, so the handle is 90° to your cheek; then reduce the angle until you get to a position where shaving feels comfortable. Also it is easier to shave moving your whole arm then just the wrist. Important: DO NOT apply pressure – the safety razors expose enough blade that with a well balanced razor just the weight of the head produces almost enough pressure for a good shave (as opposed to system multi-blade razors). Pull in the direction of the handle with slow strokes – on thicker beard you will need to make shorter strokes then on less thick beard. To get a better shave, make sure to stretch your skin where you currently shave. If the razor gets stuck with hair and oil, just swish it around in the water to clean it.
Splash your face with (hot) water again and now shave across the grain. This gives you a closer shave5.
Splash your face with cold water to get rid of any hair remains and to close the pores. Get a drop or two of shaving oil and a few drops of water into your palm and mix it with two fingers. Rub the oil-water mixture into your face instead of using after-shave and leave your face to dry – the essential oils in the shaving oil enriches and disinfects your skin.
Clean your razor under running water to remove hair and oil and towel-dry it (don not rub the blade!). When I take it apart to change blades, I clean the razor with water and rub it with the towel, to keep it shiny.
Update: I learned that it is better to shave twice with the grain and once across, than once with it and twice across. Update: I figured out the trick with rubbing the excess oil into hair. Update: Updated the amount of oil needed, to match new experience.
Enjoy shaving ☺¶
It is a tiny bit more work then shaving with system multi-blade razors, but it is well worth it! For me the combination of quality DE safety razors and shaving oil, turned shaving from a bothersome chore into a morning ritual I look forward to.
…and in time, I am sure you will find (and share) your own method as well.
Update: I just stumbled upon this great blog post “How Intellectual Property Destroyed Men’s Shaving” and thought it be great to mention here.
hook out → see you well shaven at Akademy ;)
Double edged razors as our granddads used to shave with. ↩
Are old-school razors hip and trendy right now anyway? I have not noticed them to be so. ↩
I got a myself a nice leather Edwin Jagger etui for carrying the razor and two packs of blades that measures 105 x 53 x 44 mm (for comparison: the ugly Gillette Mach3 plastic holder measures 148 x 57 x 28 mm and does not hold much protection when travelling). ↩
Some claim that for a really close shave you need to shave against the grain as well, but I found that to be too aggressive for my beard. Also I heard this claim only from people shaving with soap. ↩