One of the biggest dilemmas I had when I switched over from cartridge shaving to using a double edged razor was working out how to come up with adequate pre-shave preparation without having a shower.
I cycle to work and I’m lucky to have shower facilities there so it didn’t make much sense to shower at home and then again at work. Two showers wastes a lot of time and isn’t really practical first thing in the morning.
The other option was to shave at work after a shower but this also wasn’t really practical as it meant storing my wet shaving gear at work – not to mention the weird looks you get from guys who burst in to use the toilet and find you’ve taken over the sink area.
Instead I looked to a showerless prep and tried a few different things. After some trial and error I’ve settled on a damp towel prep which, while not as thorough as a shower prep, is a quick efficient compromise for when it’s just not practical to have a shower before you shave.
Why should I have a pre-shave preparation?
Coming from my Mach 3 cartridge shaving days, my pre-shave preperation was usually pushing down on the foam can, smothering this all over the shaving area and then attacking my face with the blade.
Although blindingly quick, it left me rough and irritated and didn’t really do much to ‘prepare’ my face for a shave.
A proper pre-shave preparation conditions your face for the shave to come and is arguably just as important as what razor and blade you use for the shave itself. A pre-shave preparation isn’t something that takes a lot of time and is key to leaving your face feeling fresh at the end of the shave.
After shave might emulate this freshness briefly, but if your skin isn’t happy it’s going to let you know about it all day.
Rashes, an irritated chin line, ingrown hairs and other common shaving problems are usually a symptom of poor technique, a bad blade/razor combo or an inadequate pre-shave preparation. Out of the contributing factors a pre-shave prep is the easiest to rule out as the cause of your shaving problems and by doing so you can then focus on the other components of your shave.
Here’s what I do every morning before I take the blade to my stubble.
The wet towel
The main purpose of the pre-shave shower is to soften the bristles and open up the skin before you begin shaving. Without a shower you need to be a little more creative and the wet towel technique harks back to the barber shop days.
We’ve all seen the old movies with your typical guy sitting on a reclining barber chair with a wet towel across his face while the barber strops his cutthroat. There’s a reason this image is stereotypical, it works!
The towel I use on my face is just a random hand towel. Make sure the towel you choose is large enough to cover your neck area from ear to ear as well as your cheeks and the bottom of your jaw to the start of your nose in your moustache area.
If the only towels you have are on the large side, you can always fold the towel in half lengthwise. I do this with my hand towel and it still has more then enough surface area to cover the shaving area on my face.
To heat up the towel I simply run it under the tap (hot/warm water) for a few seconds, making sure water gets into the towel all over. Then I wring it gently so that it’s not dripping and place it on a dinner plate before popping it into the microwave.
‘Cooking’ time for the towel is HIGH on 1 minute 30 seconds, during this time I complete the rest of my shaving prep.
Alternative to microwave: If you don’t have a microwave an alternative is to let the towel soak in some boiling (or hot if boiling isn’t available) water and then wring it out. This is what I initially started doing but found the microwave method much faster.
Also the problem of wringing out a boiling hot towel meant I had to put on some dishwashing gloves and this was just extra nuisance.
Preparing your shaving tools
While the towel is in the microwave (or soaking in hot/boiling water) I go back to the bathroom and start to prepare my shaving tools.
First I fill my sink with some hot water and then place my razor and shaving brush in it to soak. Make sure your razor’s head rests sideways in the sink so that the blade won’t get damaged. Also keep the brush and razor somewhat apart as the last thing you want is your brush to get damaged by the razor.
I then fill up my shaving scuttle with hot water, take out the brush and start whipping up shaving cream.
Once this is done I then apply a liberal coat of cream to my face. This initial coat doesn’t have to be thick and you don’t need to stimulate the bristles too much. It shouldn’t take you more then thirty seconds.
Now you’re ready to apply a hot towel to your face.
Applying the hot towel to your face
The microwave usually dings while I’m applying the pre-shave lather to my face. When I’m done lathering I head back to the kitchen and put the microwave on for a further thirty seconds before taking the towel out.
You can reduce the heating time or skip the reheat altogether if you find the towel too hot to go straight onto your face.
When holding the towel on my face I use both hands with my thumbs holding it to my neck and my other fingers around my ears ‘stretching’ the towel over my cheeks. This stretching pushes the towel into the moustache area so there’s no need to press here at all.
If for some reason you’re using a really large towel and have folded it a few times, just be careful as you need to be able to breathe through the towel while you hold it on your face. If the towel you are using is thick and folded it can be uncomfortable to breathe through.
I hold the towel to my face usually until it feels slightly cool. I haven’t timed it but I imagine this is a few minutes, although sometimes it can feel quite short. Still, that’s the point right?
Once the towel has started to cool give your face a gentle wipedown as you remove it. There shouldn’t be any residual lather on your shaving area and your face should feel soft and ready for a shave.
I hang my towel on a peg and it dries by the next morning. If you’re pedantic (or have acne problems) I guess you could use a new towel each day but I’m lazy and just use the one towel throughout the week and put it through the machine on the weekend.
Although it sounds like a lot to do, this entire preparation process shouldn’t take you more then 3-4 minutes. My actual shave takes about 10-12 minutes so all up I spend about 15 minutes every morning on my shave.
A good prep is part of the wet shaving experience and apart from being good for your skin is a nice gentle way to start the day. If you’re already taking the time to shave properly and enjoy it, there’s not much of an excuse to spend those few extra minutes prepping your face for that smooth comfortable shave.