The difference between an okay shave and a great one comes down to one ingredient: a pre-shave oil. Yet, every time I speak someone about pre-shave oils they tell me that they either don't have time or they didn't do anything for them, so they stopped using them.
I totally get it. Pre-shave oils are one extra step in your morning routine and they do take another 30 seconds to apply and rub in. Time is a very precious asset in the morning and investing it in properly applying pre-shave oil will pay off with an amazing shave that will keep you feel great throughout the day.
To get the maximum benefit, you need to know how to use pre-shave oil. It sounds like a no-brainer but just like many other seemingly simple things in life, it has its tricks. I want to share with you the technique I use to apply a pre-shave oil that pretty much guarantees me a smooth shave every time.
Why Bother with a Pre-Shave Oil?
The logic here is like the logic in asking: why bother going to a nice restaurant? I mean, really, if the idea is just get food in your stomach, just go to a McDonald's - it's quick, easy and cheap.
It's the same with shaving - if the idea is just to scrape your face with a blade, then any product or technique would work. The thing is that if you keep scraping it with a razor, pretty soon you won't have a face.
You and I know that going to a nice restaurant is not just to get fed - it's about the experience and the taste of the food. The same is true for shaving - it's about the experience and getting ready to conquer the day. We, as men, have very few opportunities to pamper ourselves and this is one of them: getting a great shave, without skipping steps and cutting corners. It's our "me" time and we don't have to put cucumber slices on our eyes to relax.
Using a pre-shave oil, however, is not only about feeling good. It has a very practical reason. Contrary to the popular belief its purpose is not to lubricate your face. The water and shaving cream are in charge for that.
The job of the pre-shave oil is to make your skin supple and moist. Good pre-shave oils absorb easily into your skin and keep the water inside. The moisture in the skin makes it supple, so that it gives way to the blade. Think of it as spreading icing on a cake. Because the icing is moist, it allows the spatula to spread it easily. If it were dry, then it will crumple and break up.
Of course, the pre-shave oil is not the only thing that makes your skin supple. The key player is in fact the water. If you put on a pre-shave oil on your dry face, the results won't be as good as if you had had wet it first. The pre-shave oil, however, helps your skin retain the moisture. This is the reason why pre-shave oil gives you a better shave with less cuts and nicks.
How to Use a Pre-Shave Oil
If the idea for the pre-shave oil is to retain water and make your skin supple, then we need to apply it in a way that it fully absorbs into the skin. Here's a step-by-step technique that I learned from a barber at Truefitt&Hill that works every time.
Step 1: Expose Your Face to Heat and Moisture
Put simply, do one of the following:
- take a hot shower;
- apply a hot towel on your face, or
- wash your face with warm water exposing it to the heat and steam.
The steam and moisture will open up your skin pores, which will make it easier for the pre-shave oil to keep the moisture in them.
Step 2: Put a Dime Size of Pre-shave Oil on Your Fingers and Vigorously Rub it into Your Skin
Massage the oil into your face to make sure the oil gets fully absorbed by the skin.
Step 3: Rinse off Your Hands and Apply Shave Cream.
Even the best technique though won't do you much good if the oil you use is no good. For best results look out for oils using castor oil, olive oil, or apricot kernel oil in their base. Additives like vitamin E, vitamin C, and essential oils are nice perks but not essential. If you are not sure where to begin, start with the list we've put together of the best pre-shave oils.