I wish I knew. Plus, who cares? You don't even need a pre-shave oil - just put on some shaving foam and you're off to the races.
That's what I would have told you two years ago if you had asked me what is the best pre-shave oil. I had no idea and I didn't even see the point of using one. Then, something happened. I went for a cut to my barber and he offered to give me a hot towel shave for another 20 bucks. I had the time and the scruff, so I said why not.
Twenty minutes later I emerged reborn. I felt like I had undergone a life-changing ritual and I could barely get off the chair. My barber and I started chatting about wet shaving and he suggested that I should try it at home. The secret to a smooth shave, he said, was putting on some pre-shave oil and then a lather of shaving soap. This way, he explained, the razor glides much smoother and doesn't irritate the skin as much.
Since then, I've been on a quest to find out what the best pre-shave oil is. I've looked high and low, tried tons of different concoctions and put a list together with some of the best pre-shave oils on the market.
I didn't stop there, however. Just because I like a product doesn't mean that you will. So, to make sure I'm giving a list of what are truly spectacular pre-shave oils, I dug deeper and researched what others have to say about the oils on my list. Some of the ones I loved didn't get much love in the wet shaving forums. Others, which I found average, were top rated on Amazon by shaving aficionados.
The result of all this hard work is a list of the best pre-shave oils on the market that will give you a friction-free shave. Before we get into the oils, however, here's how to apply a pre-shave oil, so that you get the maximum benefit from using it.
How To Apply a Pre-Shave Oil
Putting on a pre-shave oil is pretty straightforward if you are looking just to moisturize your face. If you want to prime your beard and get your skin ready for the razor, you need to do a little more than just slather on some oil and shaving soap.
The main reason for using pre-shave oil is not to lubricate the skin and allow smoother gliding of the razor but to make it moist and supple. This is why, the following technique I picked up from a barber at Truefitt & Hill works great.
Start off with a hot towel routine or a hot shower to open up your pores.
With your face still wet, put a dime-size drop of pre-shave oil on your fingers and vigorously rub it into your cheeks, neck and chin.
Massage your face by pinching the skin and lifting it up. The massaging and rubbing of the oil into your face lifts up the hairs and drives the moisture inside your skin instead of leaving it on the surface.
I've found that when I prime my skin and beard this way, I get a lot less irritation and ingrown hairs when I shave.
What Makes a Good Pre-Shave Oil
When looking for a pre-shave oil, keep in mind the following three criteria:
- It has a medium viscosity and spreads easily on your skin without leaving greasy residue.
- It absorbs easily and retains the moisture in your skin. It makes your skin supple and allows it to give way to the blade as it glides against it.
- It is made of oil that do not cause irritation (e.g. phototoxicity). Look for pre-shave oils containing mostly castor, olive, apricot kernel, or avocado oil. Vitamin E and other herbal oils are also good but look at them as a nice bonus, not a requirement.
The pre-shave oils featured on this list meet these criteria and have something extra. They all get thumbs-up from me and five-star reviews on Amazon, so picking one over another is a matter of personal preference. Read through my take on each pre-shave oil here and check out what other reviewers have to say before picking one.
Lather & Wood Pre-Shave Oil Sandalwood
Next to centenarian shaving brands like the Taylor of Old Bond Street or Truefitt & Hill, Lather & Wood is a baby. Despite its toddler age, Lather & Wood punches above its weights. Their Sandalwood pre-shave oil is what you would expect from one of the classic luxury shaving brands. Its formula is a mix of grapeseed oil and olive oil fortified by vitamin E and wheatgerm oil. It has a medium viscosity (think olive oil) and gives you a smooth glide of the razor.
This pre-shave oil has a classic throw-back scent most people would describe as herbal-woody. The mix contains a sandalwood oil (most likely synthetic since the real thing is almost extinct) and it does smell quite pleasant.
Some reviewers on Amazon find Lather & Wood's pre-shave oil too strong-smelling, while other think it is too faint. My experience is that it has a strong enough aroma to smell it while you apply and shave but it is by no means overpowering or lingering after your rinse your face.
Lather & Wood pre-shave oil comes in a 30ml bottle and you can get it on Amazon for about $14.
Not sure about it? Check out what they say about it on Amazon.
The Art of Shaving Pre-Shave Oil Lemon
I must admit - I am a bit of a lemon addict and The Art of Shaving's pre-shave lemon oil hit is a dream come true. Its zesty and mouth-watering aroma jump-starts my senses and never fails to set me off on the right foot every day.
If you are not a fan of lemon, The Art of Shaving offers the same pre-shave oil in three other varieties: lavender, sandalwood and unscented. These oils are exactly the same except for the smell. I have tried all four versions of this pre-shave oil and the lemon and unscented are by far the best-smelling in the collection (well, it's really the lemon because the unscented is...you guessed it, unscented).
A word of caution: the lemon scented pre-shave oil contains lemon essential oil, which is phototoxic. Put simply, citrus oils react with the UV rays of the sunlight in a way that may cause skin sensitivity (e.g. redness, inflammation, burning, etc.). Therefore, if you have a sensitive skin, it may be a good idea to opt for one of the other aromas of the pre-shave oil.
To be fair, this warning for the lemon flavour pertains more to the aftershave rather than the pre-shave oil. After all, when you shave you essentially remove any trace of the oil from your skin and I think it's highly unlikely that the proper use of the pre-shave oil alone will cause any serious irritation. Regardless, you know your skin best, so do what's right for you.
The Art of Shaving pre-shave oil is formulated with olive and castor oil, which makes it thicker than many other offerings on the market. It has a similar viscosity of honey - it spreads slowly and is not as liquid as olive oil. The thickness, mostly due to the castor oil, is perfect for lubricating your beard and getting it ready for a smooth shave. Put on a small drop and massage it into your beard for best results.
One down side I found out using this pre-shave oil is that it leaves a greasy residue in my sink after use. Don't let this stop you, however, as a quick scrub after you're done gets rid of any left-overs.
The Art of Shaving Pre-Shave Oil Lemon gets tons of love on Amazon. The fresh and invigorating smell gets tons of praises, just like its consistency and moisturizing abilities. The most common downside some reviewers bring up is its richness (which can make your razor slippery) and the relatively high price.
If you are curious to try it, here's a link to Amazon where you can get a bottle.
Shaveology Pre-Shave Oil
I'm usually not a big fan lavender in shaving products. Shaveology's pre-shave oil, however, is the only exception that features lavender and has a special spot on my bathroom counter. To be fair, I get only a hint of lavender in this formulation. The excellent texture and superior blend of castor oil, apricot kernel oil and a mix of lavender oils work wonders on my skin. It absorbs quickly and and leaves my skin moist and ready for a great shave.
While Shaveology's pre-shave oil gets lots of love on Amazon, some reviewers found it sticky. It does have a thicker consistency but I had no problem with stickiness or blotchiness as some reviewers put it.
Curious about Shaveology Lubricating Pre-Shave Oil? Check it out on Amazon.
Shaving Secret Shaving Oil
If you are looking something cheap, I mean really cheap, like $6 on Amazon, look no further than the Shaving Secret Shaving Oil. For the price you pay you definitely get a bargain because this oil boast all natural ingredients. The blend includes menthol and eucalyptus, which gives you a pleasant cooling effect. Menthol is commonly used in shaving products also because of its numbing effect on the skin. Too much menthol, however, can backfire. I've come across some creams that smell great and give you a very nice cooling feel on your skin but also irritated and sensitive skin.
Luckily, you won't get any of that with the Shaving Secret. The menthol is present but it feels very faint. The coolness was just right and the absorption was quick. I'm a fan of thicker pre-shave oils and this one was a little thinner than what I'd usually go for. Nevertheless, the Shaving Secret worked great for me.
The official description suggests that you use the oil without shaving cream. You can try it on its own but I think it is a little thin to sustain a smooth shave on its own.
Generally, the purpose of the pre-shave oils is to retain moisture in the skin and make it supple. The shave cream serves the function of providing barrier between the blade and skin. This is why, skipping the shave cream for the sake of using just oil may not give you as smooth a shave and may cause some skin irritation.
Proraso Pre-Shave Cream
Technically speaking, this is not a pre-shave oil but it does such a great job prepping your face that I had to put it on the list.
Proraso is an Italian brand that has been keeping the art of traditional shaving for ages. Its high quality products, low prices and wide distribution make it a great choice for pretty much anyone.
Proraso's pre-shave cream doesn't fall short of what the brand stands for. The cream has a subtle classic barbershop smell and absorbs very quickly into the skin. It is thicker than oil, which is to be expected from any cream. As a cream, however, Proraso is on the light side. I get the consistency of a lotion without being runny. The aroma is definitely on the weak side. It was noticeable during the shave and was gone when I rinsed off my face.
Unlike oils, the Proraso Pre-Shave Cream doesn't leave a greasy residue. I washed off my razor without any effort and the cleanup of the sink afterwards was a breeze.
Proraso gets excellent reviews on Amazon, even though some reviewers complain that the cream left them with irritated skin. When reading the ingredients I didn't notice anything that could cause irritation, except maybe for some traces of menthol. If you have a sensitive skin or suffer from acne, it might be a good idea to try some of the pre-shave cream on a small spot to gauge your skin's response to it.
The Blades Grim Cinder Pre-Shave Oil
The Blades Grim is probably the most inspirational company on this list. The founder, Luke Webster, wanted to create a business that he could leave to his children. Coming from the IT industry, Luke builds his business on the craft of manufacturing artisan straight razors. Luke, however, doesn't believe in the typical employer-employee relationship. He has let his staff make their own products in his shop and sell them under their own brand names.
If you find Grim Blades story inspirational, watch the full set of videos they have shared at http://grimblades.com/our-story.
Grim Blades, however, is not only great at making straight razors. Recently, Luke has branched out in manufacturing shaving products. I got to try his pre-shave oil Cinder and I fell in love with it. A blend of castor oil apricot kernel oil, and vitamin E, Cinder has a rich texture easily absorbs in the skin. The label on the bottle says that the Cinder mix also include a fragrance but I can barely detect anything. Browing through the reviews on Amazon, I found out that I am not the only one. Several reviewers have commented that contrary to their expectations, Cinder has a very mild smell.
The official fragrance description lists lemon, fir, geranium, wood, leather and musk as the notes making up the fragrance. I do get a masculine feel from smelling Cinder but I can't pick out all the notes in the blend.
Nevertheless, Cinder delivers a smooth shave and comes highly recommended with two thumbs-up.
Curious to try it? Check out Cinder on Amazon.
There you have it: a full list of six amazing pre-shave oil that will make sure you don't get a single nick. Regardless of what pre-shave oil you choose, make sure you test it to make sure it won't cause skin irritation. No matter what everyone else says, your skin is unique and reacts uniquely to the oil ingredients.
If you have already tried any of the pre-shave oils on the list, drop us a line and tell us what you think.