While you’ve been busy growing a bushy beard or cultivating a moustache to keep up, the shaving world has been moving on to the next big thing. We now have such innovations as self-heating razor heads and electric shavers that can sense how dense the forest is on your cheeks. And it’s a good job too, because until we can laser away the follicles from our chins (seriously, is that an option yet?) those of us who prefer to live with a smooth, fuzz-free face are going to have to contend with that daily hardship of scraping our chops.
Like brushing teeth or hair washing, shaving has the same autopilot nature of a repetitive daily tasks, meaning we often do it without thinking, following habits that have been laid down over years. Like a tennis serve or a golf swing, it’s always good to review your technique – this time with a little help from Murdock London’s Head Barber. If you need a shaving refresher course, this is what we learned.
It pays to prep
The boy scout mantra – “be prepared” – certainly applies to shaving. Samuel Hickey, Head Barber at Murdock London, believes “a lot of the shave and the quality of the finish is down to the regime before the blade has even touched the face. Preparation is key to achieving a close shave and smooth face without any irritation or sensitivity.”
A good cleanser is necessary to deep clean pores and remove dirt, oil and grime before you drag a blade over it. This will prevent bacteria getting into any nicks or cuts and help clear the path for the blade. Hickey also emphasises the importance of adding, “a few drops of a pre-shave oil to soften the stubble ten-fold, create a barrier between blade and skin and allow the blade to glide across the face with more ease and less irritation. “From personal experience,” he adds, “whenever I’ve shaved without oil I have found my razor really tugs at the hairs, which causes sensitivity.”
Turn up the heat
Hot towels or flannels are one of the simplest (and affordable) ways to dramatically cut down the work for your razor. “Steaming the face for a few minutes with a hot towel will soften coarse, thick facial hair,” says Hickey. It should never be so hot as to burn the skin, however. “Mix a sink of 60% hot and 40% cold water and immerse a small towel or flannel in the sink,” advises Hickey. “Ring out all the excess water and hold to the face for a few minutes. The steam will open up the pores, allow the pre-shave oil to soak in and help ensure a closer shave.”
Gillette has reinvented the luxury razor market with the launch of a revolutionary new heated razor from GilletteLabs, and it’s considerably more extravagant than a hot cloth at £199. The first of its kind, it has a steel warming bar that sits under razor head and heats the blades to adjustable levels so you can find the optimum temperature to suit your skin. It’s the hot towel effect at the touch of a button.
Brush up on your technique
If you’ve never tried applying shaving cream or foam with a brush, you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make. “Bristles act like a natural exfoliant,” says Hickey, “and will gently work away any excess or dead skin, leaving it feeling like new afterwards. The fibres also work to create a thicker, more luxurious foam that spreads easily and lifts any hairs that are curling away from the razor.”
Badger hair is the traditional material for shaving brushes, but it’s hard to feel comfortable grooming with an obvious bit of a dead animal. The alternatives are often synthetic (read: plastic), so it can be tricky to strike the right balance when you want to minimise your impact on the world.
Some of us are just never going to get on with a razor, and find electric shavers less harsh on the skin or more convenient for daily use. That said, you’ll still benefit from the same preparation for an electric shave as a wet shave. “Wash your face, apply a pre-shave oil and steam your skin as previously recommended,” says Hickey, “just be mindful that certain creams or heavy oils can clog the cutting heads – not exactly what you want to do with an expensive new toy.” Especially if it’s the top of the range Braun Series 9, which comes with a £500 RRP. It boasts Intelligent Sonic Technology that can “read” the density of the hair as it contours over the face.
Coming in at less than half the price is Wahl’s limited-edition 18k gold-plated trimmer, to celebrate 100 years of chin fuzz busting excellence.
With blades, less = more
While certain shaving brands have a habit of adding extra blades to their latest razor models, “less blades are certainly more in terms of keeping a shave cleaner,” says Hickey and praises traditional safety razors as, “more economical than single-use heads and the sharpness in the blade is consistent. They also allow you reach spots which are harder to reach with a conventional razor head as the safety razor is more adaptable to catch those harder to reach hairs.” German brand Mühle make some of the most handsome safety razors we know, with the added bonus of them being reasonably priced.
Suffer with sensitive skin? Gillette recently developed a razor head for you: the SkinGuard Sensitive Razor. The SkinGuard is positioned between two of the blades and help to flatten and the smooth the skin out of the way to reduce contact with the blades. The shaving behemoth is also rolling out improved packaging that only uses cardboard (so long, plastic blister pack) and have announced a simple initiative with Terracycle to increase recycling of disposable handles and heads – which even you can manage.
Ace the finish
How you finish the shaving process will also dictate how good your skin looks and feels. Hickey says, “men often forget to close the pores and re-hydrate their skin afterwards. The application of a cold flannel to the face closes the pores to stop any excess oil or dirt clogging them during the day.”
The function of the classic after-shave splash serves this purpose, as well as sterilising any nicks or cuts using alcohol as an antiseptic – it’s old school and it stings like hell. Herbivore’s alcohol-free Post Shave Elixir (£18) contains natural ingredients, witch hazel and aloe, to put out the fire, tighten skin and reduce redness, and has a fresh woody scent. Similarly, Harry’s Post Shave Mist (£11) contains a blend of essential oils including natural antibacterial plants, tea-tree, basil and eucalyptus (it also works well as an in-flight spray to beat dry cabin air).