The old-world, masculine charm of the straight razor shave is undeniable. Not since the days of Al Capone or the Old West have high end men’s grooming salons and products been so in demand as they are now, thanks to vast improvements in the technology, service and availability of the classic shave. But straight blade razor shaving still remains an art, and in most cases should be left to well-trained professionals. However, for those who have purchased a straight razor set, this little practicum will provide you the basics to properly care for your face and skin before, during, and after so you can enjoy the pleasures of the gentlemanly shave.
Prepare the face by showering before shaving. This allows moist heat to open pores and soften facial hair. If you are in the habit of shaving ‘pre-shower’, use hot water, or hot, soaked towels for the same effect. Be patient. Warming and moistening the face properly is an important step for several reasons, but mostly because it provides for a close and satisfying nick-free shave. A couple of minutes under hot towels prepare the skin nicely, preventing razor drag and allowing the barba (facial hair) to soften beneath the skin’s surface.
*Note: We do not recommend washing the face pre-shave in most cases; soaps and washes can remove protective oils naturally secreted around hair follicles and pores. We want the oils to help protect the skin; there will be time for washing later! With the pores wide open, it’s paramount to use the most thoughtful products, as pre-shave skin has now become a funnel to the body and bloodstream. Anything used now should be almost edible!
Applying the right pre-shave oil moisturizes the shaving area, helps reduce drag and can act as an antiseptic. For those of you who do not use these products in your shaving regimen, prepare for a “wow, that feels so much better!” moment.
Proper shave cream should be a highly alkaline formula, softening almost on contact with the hair shaft. It should continue the pore-opening process and, if formulated properly, should further moisturize the face and be safe for the body.
Applying Shaving lather with high-end shaving brushes (such as a badger brush), while not essential, can improve the experience immensely. Aside from the ‘cool’ factor, a good brush will lift hair follicles, produce a thicker, more luxurious lather, and exfoliate. Besides which, there’s no substitute for the sensation of a well-made brush lathering your face and neck; this is a gentleman’s way to turn a daily chore into an indulgence. The lather should be applied to your face in a paintbrush motion using one of your shaving brushes. Wipe away any extra with a hot towel.
Stropping is the most important skill to learn for maintaining the edge of your straight razor. We recommend stropping every time you shave; whether it's before or after shaving is a personal preference. Take your time learning and use caution and common sense. The easiest way to dull or "roll" the edge of your razor is with hurried or careless stropping. And remember we are always up for one-on-one advice over the phone or via email. Take your time when stropping the razor and use little more than the pressure weight of the blade.
If your razor is dull or slightly pulls on your skin, you will need to sharpen it with a barber hone. Depending on the material the hone is made from, moistening it may damage it, so only do so if the manufacturer recommends it. After honing the blade, you should ￼strop the razor; 15 round trips on the linen followed by 30 round trips on the leather.
Pull the skin tight as you apply the straight razor and shave with the grain of growth. If a closer shave is desired, you may go against the grain, but a gentleman who wants to avoid razor burn will reapply pre-shave oil and shaving cream before doing so. Three passes will help ensure maximum smoothness. Many straight razor sets are available that have everything you need to have a good shave.
*Note: use only as much pressure as needed! Find your “sweet spot.” As with some of life’s other pleasures, too much pressure (or too many strokes) can cause irritation...so take it easy on your face. Also, it’s a good idea to change or hone your blades frequently. If you are prone to bumps or ingrown hairs, lighter pressure and following the steps above will help significantly.
Rinse well; warm water feels good, but some people like cold water to close their pores. If you wish to use a face wash, a PH level of 5 to 5.5 is recommended-this is the natural level of the face and will not upset the balance of naturally occurring facial oils, which can cause dry skin or, on the other end, a ‘shiny’ look. You may also apply a natural after-shave balm that absorbs quickly, providing instant protection and soothing the face.
*Note: Do not splash with after-shaves or use any alcohol based products. The “burn” is your skin’s complaint that you’re drying it out and contributing to wrinkles! Alcohol- based products can also irritate the skin into over-secretion of oils, which can lead to ingrown hairs.
All men should moisturize daily! You do need to moisturize the same skin you surrender to a straight blade razor. A gentleman wouldn’t expect his partner to maintain a soft face while he lets his turn into saddle-leather! A good moisturizer (preferably the most natural) replenishes and restores what shaving depletes. Why would anybody engage in a ritual which dries and ages skin without applying a remedy? Moisturizer should be the last step both in the morning and evening, especially if you live in a high-altitude or dry climate; your lips aren’t the only part of you that chaps!
Perry Gastis is Classic Shaving's resident consulting barber (also founder of The Gentlemen’s Refinery; an all-natural men’s grooming brand). He is an expert men’s barber and also hosts askthebarber.com, a shaving advice forum.