I love old people. Old men in particular. To be exact, old men like Jep Gambardella. No, it's not the style and the white linen suits, even though I admire those too. It's the idea he epitomizes that beauty is all around us, only if we could pay attention.
Jep Gambardella and the old men like him are from the type that don't rush through things. They take their time and deliberately enjoy every step of the process. Whether it is tying their shoes, picking their shirt, or simply shaving the journey is what matters, not result.
Yes, the slow pace of old people could drive you insane but maybe there is more to it than just being slow. Maybe there is something more to being deliberate with things rather than rushing through life and looking for a shortcut. Slowing down and treating yourself to enjoying the pleasure of the present moment may in fact speed you up and make you more productive.
I'm not going to go all philosophical on you and ask you to marvel the trees as if you're high on 'shrooms. I'll ask you get up half an hour earlier one morning (yes, it's a big ask) and give yourself the slow old-school shave with a brush and soap. Like your grandpa used to do. Once I tried it, it quickly became my morning routine - the "me" time I look forward to every morning.
If you are on board, here' the ultimate guide to shaving with a brush and soap.
Pick Your Weapons
Your grandpa was no wimp. He probably lived through two world wars and knew how to pick his weapons. For your morning shave with a brush and soap, you are going to need a shaving brush, some form of a razor, and a shaving soap.
Your Shaving Brush
If you follow any of the shaving forums, you probably know that shaving brushes are a bottomless rabbit hole. You can drive yourself nuts with all the features, dimensions and properties of the different brushes out there.
I suggest we keep things simple. Generally speaking you have three types of brushes:
- fancy ones made with badger bristles,
- less fancy ones made with boar bristles,
- and plain cheap ones with synthetic hair.
I use a boar brush that I bought from the local drug store for about $20. I've been pretty happy with my choice and never felt the need to upgrade.
That said, however, I'd suggest you don't go super cheap on your brush. The quality of your lather and respectively your shave depends on the quality of the brush. According to Classic Shaving boar and badger brushes tend to hold more water, which contributes to better lather and a better shave. Synthetic brushes, on the other hand, do not hold water as well and may not perform as well.
Here are three good options on Amazon if you can't find anything you like at the drug store near you.
You have three basic options when it comes to razors:
- cartridge razors,
- safety razors, and
- straight razors.
The cartrige razors are the standard ones you can find anywhere. They are the Gillette MACH 3's, Schick Hydro 5, etc. They are the most popular choice and are not a bad one. For years I used Schick Hydro 5 before I switched to a safety razor.
Safety razors are the ones you'd probably refer to as the old school razors. They've been around since the beginning of the past century and were the go-to choice before the invention of the cartridges.
If you want to use a safety razor you will have to buy the razor holder itself and then separately buy razor blades. You can get a good solid metal razor (e.g. Parker or Merkur) for about $20- $30. You will also have to buy razor blades, which will literally cost you a fraction of the price of cartridges.
Here are several options of good quality safety razors you can get on Amazon. I'd recommend, however, you go to an actual store and test the feel and weight of the razor. This way you will pick something that matches your personal preferences.
Razor blades can also vary by sharpness and feel, so the best thing to do is to buy several 5-packs of different brands and test them. Below are some popular brands you can start with.
Your third choice is going really old school and buying a straight razor. I must admit there is some serious coolness factor around using a straight razor to shave. This coolness factor, however, comes at a cost.
First, using a straight razor has the highest learning curve of the three razor options.
Second, your chances of cutting up your face or slitting your throat (if you decide shaving drunk) are higher. The safety razors didn't get their name for nothing.
Third, if you buy a real safety razor, you will need to get a strop to sharpen the blade.
As you can see, going that far old school may be more hassle than it's worth it. If you have set your mind on a straight razor, but don't want all the work that goes with it, consider getting a shavette. It is a straight razor that comes with a disposable blade.
Here are some options of straight razors and shavettes:
Shaving Soap vs. Shaving Cream
Shaving soaps and shaving creams have the same function and work the same way but they are slightly different.
Think of shaving soaps just like regular soaps that form thicker and richer lather. Unlike regular soaps, shaving soaps have more potassium hydroxide, which makes them foam up more.
Shaving creams, on the other hand, can come in a tube or a jar and are much more pliable than a soap. The good shaving creams form rich lather just as quickly (if not quicker) than the good shaving soaps.
Besides the differences in texture, shaving soaps and shaving creams differ in the way you can use them. While you can apply most shaving creams with your fingers and work up a foam, you can do no such thing with a shaving soap. The only prudent way to use a shaving soap is with a shaving brush.
This very property of shaving soaps, that you can use it only with a brush, led to the creation of shaving creams. During World War I men needed a way to get a quick shave without the fuss of beating up a lather with a messy shaving soap. Hence, scientists developed the shaving cream, which, since then, has ruled supreme.
Considering the shortcomings of the shaving soap, you may ask why bother using it. The only good reason I can give you is that it is more economical than the shaving cream. Because you lather up the shaving soap by rubbing your shaving brush on it, you naturally use only as much as you need to shave. Whatever you don't use remains in the shaving bowl for future use.
When you use a shaving cream, however, you mix it in a separate bowl, not in its jar or tube, and you may have some lather left after you're done shaving. You can't preserve this leftover lather and you rinse it off as a waste.
Using the argument of economy to justify using a shaving soap instead of a cream is like splitting pennies - it hardly would make any difference in the long run. Luckily, if you are reading this, you are likely mature enough to shave and hence mature enough not to have to justify your basic preferences of shaving soap vs. shaving cream.
I use both: shaving soap and shaving cream. When I feel in a Jep Gambardella mood, I reach for the soap - it is more old school and stirring the brush on the soap helps me meditate on life.
6 Steps to an Amazing Shave with a Brush and Soap + 1 Bonus Trick
Follow these six steps and you're guaranteed to have the best shave of your life. You are probably already doing many of these steps as part of your regular routine, however, I'll go over them again telling you why each one is important.
TAKE A SHOWER
I must admit - on a lazy morning I skip the shower. I pay the price, however, when I run the blade against my face. Taking a hot shower immediately before you shave opens up your pores and softens your skin.
To take the process a step further, some guys rub in a hair conditioner into their stubble. If your conditioner has mint in it, you may get a tingly feeling on your face, which may help numb the sensitivity of your skin.
PREP YOUR BEARD
Immediately after you've turned off the hot water, massage your pre-shave oil into your stubble. The pre-shave oil will retain the moisture on your face and drive it into your open pores. As your skin retains more moisture, it will become supple and give way to the razor when you shave. The result is less nicks and cuts.
LATHER IT UP
While you are prepping your beard with the pre-shave oil, start soaking your brush in warm water. You can either fill up your sink or fill a bowl and soak the brush there. The warm water will soften the bristles, which will make it easier to lather up the soap.
When it comes to the water, the key word is "warm". You don't want to soak your brush in a boiling hot water, as the heat may make the glue holding the bristles crack. Not changing extreme temperatures on your brush is a good idea in general, as it will preserve the quality of the bristles and the life of your brush.
Rinse of the brush and shake off any excess water. With circular motions on top of the shaving cream, start foaming up the soap. You can apply some pressure and add a few drops of water to help the process.
Have a look at your brush. If the bristles seem dry and separate easily, then you need more water. It only takes a drop or two to do the trick.
If the foam you are getting is too runny or thin, then you've added too much water. Try to shake off any excess water or runny foam from the brush and continue rubbing it against the soap. Eventually, the ratio of soap to water will increase and you'll get thicker cream.
Overall, when you lather up your soap, aim for rich and thick lather that fully envelops the bristles. Using a good brush with natural bristles makes a difference in the process of lathering up. Badger and board bristles retain water better, which helps in forming a good quality foam.
SHAVE USING THIS TRICK THAT WILL MAKE YOUR BARBER JEALOUS
Once you have a good rich leather, start spreading it with the brush on your face. You don't have to apply a lot of pressure. Think of it as massaging your face with the brush. Apply the lather with circular motions and against the grain the make sure all bristles get are lifted up and covered.
The key to a really smooth shave comes down to this technique that will seriously make your barber jealous. To get maximum results, you are going to do three passes with the razor. This is how it works:
Using the 3-Pass Technique will give you the closest possible shave but it may also cause some irritation. After each pass, evaluate how your skin looks and feel. Rub your fingers against it to see if you have missed any spots or if you have any pain or irritation.
If you have normal skin, you probably won't feel any irritation or pain after your first pass. All the prep work you did in the previous steps will help you stay out of the pain zone. Your second pass (across the grain) may cause some irritation, especially in the more delicate spots of your face. For me, these are the under-chin and upper neck. If you find that some irritation in some parts of your face, skip the third pass in those areas.
Do the third pass only in areas that don't feel irritated. Usually these are the parts where your beard growth is the thickest (e.g. sideburns). Do short and delicate passes and stop shaving a certain area if it starts to feel irritated.
If you have sensitive skin, you may be better off skipping the third pass altogether. A two-pass shave is still very smooth according to most people's standards.
As you keep using the 3-Pass Technique you will learn what the sensitive spots on your face are and how they respond to each pass. I don't do a third pass on my neck because I know it will result in irritation, nicks and ingrown hairs.
Another crucial part of this technique is to rinse your face with warm water in between passes. Soap residue and loose hairs may cause irritation, so just rinse it off.
The last part of your super-smooth shave is to check for any missed spots. If you find any, rinse off your face again, put some foam on each particular spot and do another pass. If the rougher parts are the more sensitive ones, just leave them alone. Going over them again will just cause more damage.
You've done a great job with the blade and you have to brace yourself. Splash cold water on your face and thoroughly rinse your face. The cold water will close your pores and prevent any dirt getting into them that may cause infection. The cold will also calm any irritation or burn caused by the shave.
Tap your face dry, making sure you don't rub it with your towel. Rubbing takes away precious skin oils and dries out your skin more. Also, rubbing with your towel an irritated spot, you may make it worse.
No shave is ever great without proper moisturizing or aftershave routine. I love splashing those menthol-smelling classic aftershaves that take me back in time. The reality is, however, that many of those classic aftershaves are alcohol-based and can turn your face into the Sahara desert.
One way to get your fun and still stay moisturized is to follow up your aftershave splash with a facial moisturizer or an aftershave balm. If you have a sensitive skin, however, I'd strongly recommend skipping any alcohol-based aftershave splashing. Soothe your face with an aftershave balm for sensitive skin. Check out our list of the Top 10 of the Best Aftershave Balms for Sensitive List for some good options.
You know how to do this best. Go out there and be awesome!
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