Monday, March 10, 2014

Shaving in a hurry

There are many reasons why men make the switch back to old-school shaving products; price, control, a sense of history and tradition, a love of luxury, or even just sheer curiosity. Most men have a few reasons, and if there is one factor in common with all traditional wet-shavers, it is probably a perfectionist streak.

However, many men shave in the morning under time pressure, and  find that busy mornings and the quest for the perfect shave are fundamentally at odds with one another. This is especially true for beginners and straight razor users (and doubly so for beginners learning on a straight razor!), who are obliged to take extra time and care to avoid nicks and irritation.

Over time, as you gain more experience, you will likely find that you can achieve a good shave quickly, without feeling too rushed, or too much like you are performing a chore. Until you reach that level (I still have some room to improve), here are the approaches that work best for me:

1) Streamline your preparation

Shaving is an art- lots of factors need to come together for a perfect shave. Chief among them however is preparation- mainly of your face, and of the lather. There are a few ways you can make this more efficient.

  • First- if you both shave and shower in the morning, fill your shaving mug with warm water and place your brush to soak in it while you shower. Your brush will likely absorb enough or more water than you need to create your lather (if it soaks up too much, you can gently shake out some of the excess- a little practice will teach you how much you need). 
  • If you are using a solid soap, use you brush to transfer some of the warm water to the top of the soap to soften it while you shower. This will make it much quicker and easier to lather, in many cases it will lather as easily as a cream at this point. 
  • Use a shaving bowl- As much as I enjoy face lathering, if you are in a hurry, whipping up a lather in a bowl will reduce the likelihood that water and lather will end up somewhere you will have to clean up. You can also usually produce more lather in a bowl for a similar amount of time and effort, as you can "whisk" the brush around rather more quickly in a bowl without redecorating your bathroom in a "foam party" theme. A bowl full of lather also makes reapplying for subsequent passes easier. 
  • A warm shower should prepare your face enough before you lather- just don't entirely dry it off before you lather up. If you do not shower in the morning, wash your face with warm water while your brush soaks.
2) Replace your blades regularly

I find I can get quite a few shaves out of most brands of DE blades, but most blades are past their best after the first 2 or 3 shaves. At this point, more care is required for a comfortable shave- both in preparation and the shave itself.

If your time is at a premium, swap out blades early, after all, they are cheaper than cartridge blades. The straight razor equivalent to this would probably be to strop the razor thoroughly the night before, so it is at it's best and ready to go in the morning.

3) Use More Product!

Pre-shave products are no substitute for a good lather, but they can certainly improve the quality of your shave, and may help prevent nicks and irritation if you take a few liberties with the speed and care of your shave.

Traditional aftershaves tend to be alcohol based and fragranced, and while they may have some soothing ingredients, their purpose is often to be mildly antiseptic to help prevent nicks and cuts from becoming infected (it was an infected shaving nick that killed the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, backer of the Tutankhamun dig, so this was rather crucial before antibiotics).

Modern aftershaves are created to be more soothing, and these excel at relieving the irritation that may occasionally result from a hurried shave. While prevention is better than cure, these are still worthwhile products.

4) Switch to the evening

This one seems rather obvious, but shaving has been so culturally ingrained as a morning thing that it really doesn't occur to some people. I find shaving can be invigorating or relaxing, based entirely on what products I use.

Products such as Edwin Jagger's Cooling Menthol or Proraso's Menthol and Eucalyptus will tend to be stimulating and awakening, and ideal for a morning shave, while products with woodier, warmer scents are more relaxing and can help you to wind down after a busy day. If you want to take your time shaving, and your beard isn't so fast growing that you can shave in the evening and wake up with stubble, I highly recommend giving this a try.

5) Keep perfectionism a weekend luxury

In our interview with Neil Jagger (founder of Edwin Jagger), he revealed that his weekday shaves are usually with an Edwin Jagger razor fitted with a Fusion cartridge, while he uses a Chatsworth with a DE shave head on the weekends. He prepares with a silvertip brush and a soap or cream for all his shaves, so they are all to a standard he enjoys.

My own approach is similar: As someone who owns both straight razors and double edge safety razors, I tend to default to safety razors during the week for convenience, and treat myself to a luxury straight razor shave on weekends.

Even if you do not use more than one razor, the key here is to aim for "good enough" during the week, but to treat yourself and take your time on the weekend. The things you learn on your weekend shave will probably improve your everyday shaving experience over time.

6) Keep your mirror clear

One annoying obstacle to shaving, quickly or otherwise, is often a foggy bathroom mirror after showering. Here are my top workarounds for this:

  • The obvious: Better bathroom ventilation
  • The masochist: Colder showers (which are supposedly good for you, and actually quite tolerable, especially if you have a morning exercise routine)
  • The high-tech: apply an anti-fog treatment of the variety sold for car windscreens and mirrors
  • The low-tech: leave the bathroom and shave like they did before modern plumbing, with a basin of warm water and a freestanding mirror

I've had good results from all of these approaches (apart from anti-fogging my bathroom mirror, which I've only heard good things about). I'm sure there are other good ways to get a better shave in a hurry, and I'd love to hear about them in comments.