Recently, the Twitters prompted me to look into "wet shaving". Wet shaving is a technique that requires a safety razor that holds a double-edged blade, a brush, a good soap or cream, a bowl, and a steady hand.
I was in my mid teens when my father first handed me a golden plastic-handled razor he had plucked from a ten-pack of single-blade Bic disposables, a can of Barbasol, and a styptic pencil. I cut my face to pieces.
Shaving is a personal care chore that I typically put off until it's absolutely necessary, which is usually about the time my face is itching so badly I can't stand it any longer. I've used disposable single blades, cartridge double, triple and quintuple blades, and electric razors. It made no difference what the advertisers claimed, I accepted that razor burn, acne, terrible neck irritation and ingrown hairs were just part of being a "man". For the past 26 years, I have considered shaving to be an export from Dante's imagination.
"Shave like a man!" or "The manly art of shaving!"
A quick search of the internets for "wet shaving" revealed numerous ways for me to become the man I apparently was not. Setting aside the initial investment into equipment, the cost savings I would enjoy not having to purchase cartridges any longer was incentive enough. $2.00-$3.00 for a 5-pack of double edged blades that would last for up to 3-4 shaves each side versus a $19.00 8-pack of Mach 3 blades that last for an average of three shaves each before they start nicking skin.
My interested piqued when I started reading fantastical claims that shaving with a double-edged safety razor would clear up all of my girly skin issues. I was sold and started looking for the best reasonably affordable vintage DE razor I could find.
Turns out that vintage Gillette DE safety razors are highly regarded by wet shaving aficionados. Gillette doesn't manufacture safety razors any longer, opting instead for the multiple blade cartridges that drain your wallet and provide a shave that guarantees skin issues.
Vintage models of Gillette safety razors will cost anywhere from $30 to $250 depending on the age, condition/restoration, and rarity. You can find beautiful shave-ready vintage Gillette razors from the turn of the century (1900-1910) that have been fully restored with nickel, rhodium, or gold finishes. However, the Gillette Adjustable Slim DE from the 60's and early 70's is universally regarded as the best safety razor ever produced.
I found a rare 1970 long handle "Black Beauty" Gillette Adjustable double-edged safety razor on eBay for $100. I chose this model simply because it was manufactured during the year I was born. It still works like it just came off the assembly line. The "adjustable" feature is a twist mechanism that allows the user to select up to nine different blade angles from pussy (1) to slice-your-face-off (9). Most nonadjustable DE razors are set at a 4 or 5. The quality of the shave these all-metal razors provide is fantastic.
If vintage razors aren't your bag, Merkur makes very good, relatively inexpensive DE razors you can pick up for around $40. Parker, Edwin Jagger, Meuhle, and Baxter are a handful of other companies that manufacture safety razors. You'll find immediately how nice a heavy, well-balanced razor feels in your hand.
There's a certain cache to shaving with a vintage razor. Whether you pick one up on eBay, from an estate sale, or found one in your grand father's box of goodies, you can easily clean them up for your own use. Or you can go the extra mile and have them professionally refurbished, resurfaced, and disinfected.
Cleaning a razor is simple:
1. Scrub the razor with Scrubbing Bubbles and a toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly.
2. Using a cotton ball, apply rubbing alcohol. Then let dry - alcohol kills germs during the drying process, not the application process.
3. Shave away.
** Boiling a vintage razor is unneccesary and potentially damaging - If your vintage razor is made with any copper at all, boiling will leech the copper and turn nickel pink. Boiling will also ruin plastic. If your super paranoid, take your vintage razor to a tattoo shop and pay them to run it through an autoclave.
After a bit of research, I purchased a Thater 4125/2 finest silvertip brush. This is a fabulous German-made brush with a lush, tightly bound knot. Of all the brushes I looked at, it was the cheapest, hand-made silvertip brush I could find. Spend the money to purchase a high-quality badger hair brush. With proper care and storage, a good brush will last ten to fifteen years.
The best brushes are traditionally made using badger hair due to it's ability to retain copious amounts of water. Because badgers are a protected species in North America and most of Europe, nearly all commercial badger hair is culled from mainland China. Yes, a badger died for your shaving comfort.
In general, "Silvertip" is the softest and comes from the underside of the neck of the badger. "Super", "Finest", or "Best" come next in order of softness and "Pure" rounds out the common grade of badger hair brushes. It is worth noting that for more expensive brushes, some shops label their brushes as "silvertip", "finest silver tip", or "best/finest". If the word "silvertip" is NOT noted, it's the grade of hair just below the silvertip.
I've received free packs of blades from nearly every shop I've ordered from. I'd recommend testing a variety to find the blade that's right for you. I've had good results from Gillete DE and Lord blades. Wasn't too fond of Merkur blades.
I'm told that "double-edged" blades are excellent gifts for young children.
Soaps and Cremes
I've found that the Essence of Scotland soap is more difficult to generate a thick lather with (even in a bowl), but it smells terrific.
I purchased the Lord cream because it is dirt cheap and comes in a very handy 2.15 oz. tube perfect for travel. I was able to create a thick creamy lather from a pencil eraser-sized dollop placed (and lathered) in the palm of my hand. The addition of menthol as an ingredient sets this cream apart. It simply feels fantastic on your skin. [insert inapropriate masturbation joke here]
You should be able to get many dozens of shaves out of either product.
Wet Shaving and Travel
There is nothing more appealing than a great shave when traveling. In an effort to maintain my suspect machismo on the road, I purchased a Merkur Travel Style "straight bar" with Leather Case. This terrific little razor unscrews and packs down into a 2"x2"x.5" leather case. I also bought a Best Badger & Faux Ivory Travel Shave Brush by E. Jagger which is a very nice, tiny brush designed to fit in a small screw top travel tube. Due to it's diminutive size, it also dries quickly.
Important: TSA will confiscate DE razor blades found in your carryon luggage. Blades must be checked.
I hated shaving. After wet shaving for a month, I'm absolutely sold. 26 years of skin irritation vanished after the first shave.
All in, your initial investment into wet shaving can easily be less than $100. If you want the best equipment, plan to spend more. And if you get bitten by the bug, vintage razors are not only highly collectable, but also usable.
Depending on how steady your hand is, you may or may not find yourself "relearning" how to shave with a safety razor. I picked it up instantly. I promise you though that taking the extra time to shave well, will make all the difference. If your testosterone gets the better of you, you can always try shaving with a straight blade. My grandfather was a straight blade man. I'm not that manly.
The only instructions necessary:
- Shave after showering, when your facial hair is softest
- Keep your face lathered and remoisten with a brush frequently
- Slow down, let the blade cut without pressure. The weight of the blade should be all the pressure required.
- Make fewer passes
- Follow the direction of your whiskers
- Do not cut against the grain
- Rinse with cold water
- Use an aftershave balm
A final note: Ladies, all of this information applies to you too.
I purchased all of the products mentioned above from one of the following online stores**:
** All provided very fast, excellent service.
There are dozens more. I'd recommend doing a little research because you can find many of the products sold on these sites on Amazon.
Thanks to @yaykyle and @gregferrell for initial push.