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The Details on Cleansing

The Details on Cleansing

The One-Two Punch of Skin CareCleaning the skin is the first step in maintaining a perfectly balanced complexion.  Cleansers can come in many forms, from bars to pumps to tubes and tubs, but they all seek to strip your face of dirt, oil, and bacteria, clearing the way for a soothing moisturizer, but especially a steel blade.


Regardless of its forms, what you use to wash your face with needs to adhere to some basic principles.  Unless otherwise stated in the directions, most cleansers only require about a nickel-sized amount to work effectively.  If it’s a foam pump, one or two pumps will suffice.  Rinse your face with comfortably hot water, and gently rub the cleanser all over your face and neck for around 30 seconds.  Thoroughly cover any oily or trouble areas, like the nose or forehead, and rinse with warm water.  If you’re about to shave, start your pre-shave routine.  Otherwise, move on to your toner or astringent and a moisturizer.

Daily Skin Care Routine

Morning: Cleanser, Wet Shave, Aftershave
Night: Cleanser, Astringent, Moisturizer

Some cleansers are made to be more aggressive, and can be used to not only cleanse the skin, but also treat other facial concerns like acne.  Others are milder, and take into consideration concerns like dry skin and sensitivity to fragrances or colors.  Make sure to read the label and select a cleanser that meets your skin care requirements.

I have said before that you should never use a body soap to wash your face.  While this is still true, there are some very limited exceptions.  Some companies make body washes and bar soaps that are mild enough to be used on the face and not over-dry it.  Just make sure the label clearly states that it can be used for both face and body. 


Toners and astringents are familiar to wet shavers because they are similar to a good aftershave. They are an excellent follow-up to a good face wash.  Generally speaking, toners and astringents seek to do many things as sort of a skin care workhorse.  They simultaneously try to soothe, close pores, disinfect, nourish, control oil, and mildly exfoliate dead skin cells.  As a result, the differences in the range of products in this category can be quite confusing. 

First of all, the ingredients used vary widely from company to company.  Soothing ingredients can include eucalyptus, A and B vitamins, peppermint, aloe, and glycerin.  Disinfecting and toning ingredients range from alcohol or witch hazel to various fruit enzymes.  Second, as a product group, there are really no set definitions as to what a “toner” is, or how it differs from an “astringent.”  What one company calls its “toner,” another company using a similar formulation may call an “astringent.”  Worse yet, some companies even label their product as an “astringent toner”!  Just know that the terms can be used interchangeably and have no set qualities.

This is where you really have to read the ingredients list.  Many toners and astringents contain alcohol, which serves many purposes by disinfecting skin, closing pores, and slightly drying out the skin to control excess oil production.  Products containing alcohol can be great for those with oily skin and acne lesions, but for many people, alcohol is over-drying and can lead to dry patches or flaky skin.  Worse yet, some people actually give themselves oily skin when their face tries to overcompensate for the lost moisture.

Your skin type is very important here.  If you have oily skin, an alcohol-based astringent may be good for you.  Just be warned that using it after a shave may burn and cause redness and irritation.  If you have normal or dry skin, and alcohol-free toner will be your best bet.  These products usually contain alternatives like witch hazel and aloe to help calm and nourish the skin.  Read the ingredients and select a toner or astringent that will work best for your skin’s needs.

Most astringents and toners come in some sort of flip-top bottle, and by nature are very runny.  To use, either very carefully pour out a small amount into your hand and apply like a lotion, or purchase a package of cotton pads to moisten with the product and wipe over your face.  A few companies make a toner in a handy spray bottle, which I think is the most efficient since there is almost no product wasted.  Just spray over your face and neck and gently rub in.  You can always transfer a flip-top astringent over to an empty spray bottle, too, or purchase an empty travel spray bottle at a drug store.

A few products that serve the purpose of an astringent/toner and might be readily available among your shaving supplies include an alum block, aftershave, and rose water.  An alum block is made of a naturally occurring aluminum salt, and not only closes pores and seals cuts from shaving, but has the added benefit of being a natural bactericide.   It has all the hallmarks of a good toner, but isn’t overly drying.  As a bactericide, it can help eliminate white heads from ingrown hairs and cut down on spots of acne within the shave terrain.  Your typical alcohol-based aftershave or cologne can serve as an astringent since the alcohol will serve the same purpose as it would in a regular toner.  High-quality aftershaves that include naturally derived fragrances and essential oils will also help to nourish the skin.  Lastly, rose water is made by distilling rose petals, and is naturally hydrating and soothing, especially if used right before applying a good aftershave balm. 

The only downside to using these products as an alternative to a purpose-made astringent or toner is that to get the most benefit, they need to be used on the whole face, not just where you shave.  What’s that?  Don’t want to spray your expensive cologne on you whole face?  I doubt it, especially since spraying your whole face would require much more than you normally would use, and you might be smelled from a mile away!  To save money and stretch your products out, consider alternating.  Use your alum, rose water, and aftershave on your shave terrain after you shave, and use your astringent when you don’t.  Remember, you need to be cleansing twice a day, so your morning shave will be perfect for your alum/rose water/aftershave routine, and when you cleanse at night, switch to the astringent.  This way, you will be benefiting from all of your products throughout the day.  Just make sure to keep in mind the needs of your skin, and that alternating between an alcohol-based toner and an alcohol-based aftershave may be very harsh on the temperamental skin of your face.  Use and select products that will work best for your skin type.

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A Primer on Men’s Skin Care
The Benefits of Traditional Wet Shaving

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