Thursday, May 22, 2014

Learning how to shave

This post is about my experiences with re-learning how to shave.

When I first started shaving, I was a college student in India, and I started with a twin blade razor.  I did use a brush to lather the cream, but I didn't know the significance of lathering and how to do it right.  After I came to the US, I started using various foams, gels, and brushless creams.  After a few years, I became aware of animal by-products used in these creams and started using vegan brands.  But through all of this I didn't experiment very much with razors.  I went from using a twin-blade cartridge on a Gillette Sensor, to a 3-blade cartridge--the Sensor 3 Excel.  I had tried a Gillette Mach 3 once because I had received a free sample, but did not like it.  Over time, the poor shaving habits resulted in shaves that were not as close, areas that I missed because they were difficult to get to, but more importantly I started getting a rash on my neck every time I shaved.  And it didn't seem to matter what cream I used.  I also noticed a gooey feeling from the sensor strip on the razor blade.

In this process, I found the information and the forums on Badger & Blade, as well as numerous videos on shaving on YouTube, to be an invaluable resource, especially the ones by ShaveNation, such as this one.

Shaving after a shower

My normal routine was to shave before my shower.  That's because it's how I saw my dad do it and I thought it was cleaner since any excess soaps gets rinsed off during the shower.  When I was in graduate school, a friend worked hard at convincing me to try shaving after a shower just once.  After many weeks, I finally gave in and tried it.   It made such a big difference to the shave that I never again shaved before a shower.

Using a brush to lather

I took this step after I came across at Art of Shaving store at one of the malls.  Art of Shaving was a small company back then, but has since been acquired by Proctor & Gamble.  I tried their cream and immediately found a big difference, even without a brush.  Their "silvertip" brushes seemed too expensive, and their regular ones too harsh, so after doing some research online, I found the Vulfix Super Badger to be reasonable.  I found that lathering with a brush made a huge difference to the quality of the shave.

Learning how to use a razor

Twin blade razors are often accused of causing ingrown hair which tend to cause razor burn and rash, but I wasn't ready for a double-edge razor.  They seemed to scary and one of the things that is often pointed out as being detrimental is the tendency of a user of a cartridge razor to apply too much pressure.  With double edge razors, the weight of the razor is supposed to do the job of "pulling" and no pressure should be used.

So as my training wheels, I decided to try the Merkur double-edge razor which came with a hefty metal handle.  With that razor I learned to use the weight of the razor to do the work.  I also read up about different passes (WTG - with the grain, ATG - against the grain, XTG - across the grain), and started to shave with the grain instead of using random strokes with no particular method.  I found this made some difference but I still had cases of rash on the neck and getting through a multi-day stubble was still difficult.

My first shave with a DE razor

In response to one of my posts asking whether it's necessary to use a DE to experience a good shave, someone responded saying "you owe it to yourself to try it."  I started researching razors and found that most were 3 piece styles with only a few that were twist-to-open.  Being afraid of injuring myself, I got a TTO which seemed to be safer with respect to loading the blade.  I have later found that, in general, 3-piece razors hold the blade much more securely in place and are thus able to deliver a better shave.  So I ended up getting an Edwin Jagger DE89 which is one of the more popular, highly rated styles recommended by both beginners and experience shavers.  The razor is supposed to be relatively mild (exposes less of the blade) and somewhat forgiving with respect to blade angle while shaving.

After watching the above video on YouTube several times, I gave it a shot.  I immediately noticed several things.  The razor left a clean track.  There was audible feedback as you could hear the razor slicing the hair.  And I found very little irritation in the neck.

Experimenting with blades

One great thing about shaving with a DE razor is that the blades are cheap.  Blades vary in terms of sharpness and how many shaves you can get from the blade.  I started with Astra, but have tried several.  My current favorites are Feather and Kai.  I have not experienced anything sharper than the Feather.  However I don't like that they have "goo" on them.  The goo supposedly holds them in place within the wrapper.  Kai blades do not have this goo.

Ongoing refinements with my technique

While I have been shaving with a DE for over 2 years now, I am still refining my technique.  I have learned about various terms used to rate the quality of shaves -- SAS (socially acceptable shave), CCS (close and comfortable shave), DFS (darn fine shave), BBS (baby butt smooth).  I still cannot claim to get BBS shaves, but I definitely do manage a DFS.

Manufacturers of stainless steel DE razors

The following is a list of companies that currently make stainless steel DE razors.  Stainless steel razors are typically of higher quality and durability than regular counterparts, which may be made of plastic, brass, zamak, or other materials.
The ones marked with an * appear to have been discontinued.

The only one that I have experience with on this list is the Feather AS-D2.  It is a very mild razor and there is a learning curve one has to go through to be able to use the razor efficiently.  Many new owners are discouraged because they find it overly mild.  However, using the proper blade angle, the razor delivers superb shaves that are free of any razor burn or irritation.  I have been very happy with mine.

A word on synthetic brushes

I am still on my first brush, but now that I have become aware of how the hair for the brush is obtained, my next brush will likely be a synthetic. From the reviews I've read, high-end synthetic brushes perform as well or even better than brushes made with badger hair.  The main negative is that they do not absorb water or heat.  As a result, they also do not require soaking before a shave (a big plus in my book!).

The two synthetic brushes that have received a lot of attention by the folks at Badger and Blade are the Plisson Fiber and the Muhle STFv2 (silver tip fibre version 2).

The Plisson is noted for its softness, its ability to splay easily, and the amount of lather it generates. Negatives are that it doesn't hold water and heat, and it also has less backbone and scrub than a badger brush.

The Muhle STFv2 is also very soft at the tips but it has more backbone. However, users have reported that it does not splay as easily as the Plisson. As with the Plisson, it does not retain heat or water like a badger brush would.


After having tried the Plisson myself (actually a Plisson Pour L'Occitane, but the knot is identical), I can say with near certainty that I probably won't ever go back to using a badger brush.  The brush builds lather amazingly quickly and it's super soft on the face.

DE blades

These are some of the blades that I have tried. The ones that I like are marked with an '*'.   Blades marked with a # do not have wax spots on them.
  • Astra (Russia) 
  • Bic (Greece)*#
  • Bolzano (Germany)
  • Derby (Turkey) 
  • Feather (Japan)* 
  • Gillette 7 O'clock Black (India)* 
  • Gillette Blue (Russia)
  • Gillette Super Thin (Vietnam)
  • Kai (Japan)*#
  • Merkur (Germany) 
  • Personna Med (USA)#
  • Timor (Germany)
My all time favorite blade is the Kai. Incidentally, they are also the most pricey. The blades are unmarked and do not have the "goo" (wax spots) that most blades have on them to stick them to the packaging. The Feather is super sharp and effortlessly slices through multiple days of growth, but they do have "goo" on both sides of the blade which means I have to "pluck" it out of its wrapper and also "pluck" it off the razor.  Some other blades without goo recommended by others include Rapira (any variety), Ladas, and Laser Ultra.

Almost all blades nowadays are coated with PTFE (teflon).  If I come across some that are not coated with teflon I will update this page.

Shaving 101 has reviewed several blades and rates them by sharpness.

Shaving creams and soaps

Below are some of the shaving creams I have tried.  The ones that I like are marked with an '*'.
  • Art of Shaving [Sandalwood, Unscented] (UK, USA)
  • Castle & Forbes [Lime] (UK)
  • La Cigale Savon Barbe Aloe Vera Shaving Soap (France)
  • Muhle Organic (Germany)*
  • St. James of London (UK) -- samples
  • The Gentlemen's Refinery [Standard, Unscented] (Canada) -- samples
  • XPEC [Original, Unscented] (Italy)
My favorite so far has been the Muhle Organic.  I find it to be the least irritating for my skin, although some of the other creams (e.g. XPEC) provide more slick.

I have extremely sensitive skin and I have found (thanks to someone in the forums at Badger & Blade) that I am sensitive to creams that contain Triethanolamine.  These creams immediately cause a mild burning sensation while lathering.  Unfortunately, most of the creams contain it and I now avoid purchasing such creams.  However, I have also tried creams and soaps without this ingredient that also cause burning.

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