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Men learn from their fathers and go on to teach their sons how to wield a razor and scrape off every corner. We’ve been doing it for generations and we’ve been doing almost exactly the same way.
Shaving beards is a rare example of something being culture-agnostic.
A man in his late sixties in Mumbai probably shaves the same way a young kid shaves for the first time in Barcelona. It’s probably in front of mirror, probably while taking a shower, a little bit of warm water to prep the skin, some shaving cream lathered on nicely and a sharp razor.
But if there’s one step we’ve managed to add to that routine over the years, it’s aftershave.
Have you ever wondered what is aftershave and why would a man need one? What does this product give you besides a refreshing feeling and nice scent?
We’ve got a few interesting points to cover and we’ll take it step by step.
Let’s see what we’ll be talking about in today’s post
- What is aftershave
- Common ingredients that you find in aftershaves
- History of aftershaves
- The different types
- Skin types
- Why you need to use an aftershave
- How to use aftershave
Wet shaving 101. What is aftershave
In a few words, aftershave is anything applied to the skin right after shaving.
I guess that the term is self-explanatory. What does this practically mean?
An aftershave can have variations. It could be a cream, a lotion or even an oil.
The point is, aftershave is a product applied directly onto your face the minute you wipe your face with a towel at the end of the shave.
Why do it?
Well, Dr. S. Manjula Jegasothy, founder of the Miami Skin Institute, believes men initially started applying aftershave for decades as a way to prevent infection. Shaving, after all, involves a sharp blade scraping off the surface of your skin.
Cuts and nicks are commonplace, and leaving cuts unprotected led to severe infections back when our medical capabilities were limited.
That made sense, but medicine has advanced and so have men’s shaving tools.
The blades we have now are much less likely to cut or nick your skin. In fact, a lot of men don’t even use traditional shaving tools anymore such as a straight or safety razor.
Most young men start off using electric shavers that are really unlikely to hurt your face. But that doesn’t mean men don’t need aftershave anymore.
Aftershave has evolved as well and men need to be able to protect their skin when it is most vulnerable.
Shaving takes away the top layer of the skin around the beard area. Now, most of this layer is filled with debris and dead skin, so it needs to go, but the layer underneath is fresh and sensitive. It needs something to protect it against germs, sun, dust and all this sort of elements that could damage your skin.
That’s where aftershave comes in.
Aftershave has astringent, something that blocks your pores but in a good way. It offers protection from any dirt, debris and particle floating around you for the rest of the day.
Think of it as a thin protective blanket for your skin that helps it shine as well.
Skin irritation isn’t the only reason why should someone use an aftershave.
Aftershave is great for it’s ability to preserve moisture.
That clean and fresh look you have when you first leave the shower is not present throughout the rest of the day as you get busy doing what it is you do.
Aftershave helps you lock in the moisture and keep that fresh look going for much longer. This also has the added benefit of helping your face age slower. Hydration is one of the most important things you need to do to your skin to slow down aging.
Unfortunately, you can’t do much against time but you can at least be a good friend to it.
Lack of moisture is sure to erode your young and vibrant look over time.
Common ingredients found in aftershaves
You can put all the aftershaves of the world into two boxes, according to Mark of Sharpologist. One is for balms and the other for splashes.
If you’ve used a balm before you know that they tend to feel much heavier on the skin.
They linger on the skin and you can feel them for the rest of the day. These balms tend to lock in moisture and prevent the irritation you are likely to feel on your skin just after a shave.
Balms are also the type of aftershaves that are more likely to work better in colder and drier climates.
As a rule of thumb, heavier products such as balms, perfumes or creams are more suitable for cold weather and lighter ones during spring and summer time.
Now, splashes are more watery in general.
They come as combinations of toners, astringents, and hydrosols. Wondering what are these?
- Toners are water-based liquids based on plant extracts that are mainly used for hydration while cleansing your skin by removing dust and pollution. There are also astringent toners usually containing alcohol and being more aggressive with antiseptic ingredients.
- Hydrosols such as lavender, are types of aromatic water that can be used as natural fragrance on skin care products. Compared to essential oils, hydrosols can be applied directly on the skin without any dilution.
- Astringents are chemical compounds that promote healing by shrinking body tissues. They are heavily used in skin care products that have to do with skin irritation or injuries and this is why you would expect them to be present in aftershave products.
These are likely to offer protection against bacteria and can act as an antiseptic that you’ll barely notice for the rest of the day.
Most aftershaves contain a combination of extracts, proteins, essential oils, antioxidants, humectants and immediate hydration agents.
As the name suggests, immediate hydration agents are needed to capture the moisture already on your face and hold it as long as possible.
Humectants, on the other hand, are needed to capture the moisture from thin air and help your skin hydrate.
Vitamins such as A, C and E are generally great for the antioxidants, which is why they are included in a lot of aftershaves. Antioxidants help your skin look young and stay young for longer.
Essential oils act as conditioning agents that can both add fragrance and help your skin become healthier.
It’s the same type of oils that are found in beard care products such as homemade beard oils and beard balm recipes.
Common oils that you find in aftershaves are coconut oil, avocado oil, jojoba oil, hemp seed oil, argan oil. These are ingredients that are proved to soothe the skin and moisturise it while also promoting hair growth. Just in case you decide to start growing a beard.
They also prevent irritation and act as anti-bacterial to leave the skin clean and soft.
These conditioning agents can also include natural butters for the added smoothness.
Finally, proteins can come in many forms. Manufacturers usually put them in after extracting them from natural sources such as fruits or almonds. They serve to soothe the cuts and repair skin when it is damaged by the blade.
History of aftershaves
We don’t really know when men first started to use aftershaves. The history of shaving itself, goes back to dawn of mankind.
We started shaving when we learnt how to sharpen rocks and use seashells to cut off hair that was getting too long to be manageable.
I guess beard grooming wasn’t a hot topic back then.
It’s easy to assume most men got cut shaving in this rudimentary way and with no way to treat the injury the cuts remained opened and exposed to the environment.
Some men developed infections and when the problem got serious enough, the need for some rudimentary form of antiseptic after shaving was developed.
One thing that we can derive from history is that alcohol may have been the earliest aftershave ever used, considering it was commonly used to treat cuts back in those days.
Hundreds of years later, in the 1800’s, barbers in barbershops started using alcohol and alum to protect the skin. That’s where the name aftershave comes from. It staved off infection and irritability.
For much of the twentieth century, aftershaves were almost entirely made of alcohol. Aftershaves you were likely to find in the early 1900’s barber shops were close to 90% alcohol.
Sometime around the 1980’s, men became more aware of the need for grooming and proper skin care. Alcohol’s disadvantages were better understood and widely accepted. This is when a more skin friendly solution needed to treat men’s shaved faces.
Newer and better ingredients started making their way into the mainstream and products were being sold in stores instead of just barbershops.
Now, aftershaves have evolved and offer much more than mere protection.
They smell good, make you look refreshed and even have anti-aging properties. All this on top of the general antiseptic elements that all men love and trust.
Different types of aftershave
As mentioned before, aftershaves are either balms or splashes. The splashes and balms may feel different, but they are two ways to do the same thing.
Balms feel heavier and are probably better if you live in colder and dry parts of the world.
Everywhere else, you don’t want to be wearing thick balms when it is sunny and humid outside and you are likely to sweat. Splashes are better in this regard.
Some aftershaves still have a ton of alcohol in them, but it’s probably best if you stayed clear of those.
Alcohol does kill bacteria, but there isn’t much need for that now considering your average grocery store aftershave has some other form of anti-bacterial agent.
One thing to keep in mind is that alcohol can make your skin dry and flaky over time, which is why it’s best you avoid it entirely.
Other products try to add some bells and whistles to impress you and this comes down to personal preference.
If the aftershave is likely to make you smell better, you may prefer it over something that is completely organic. That’s okay.
Products with essential oils, however, promise more than just a bottle of fragrant aftershave.
Take for example tea tree oil. This is an essential oil that is very good at cleansing your skin and getting rid of bacteria that is likely to attack your pores. Besides its awesome properties, it also gives you a manly, refreshing scent.
Witch hazel is another ingredient that can do wonders in an aftershave.
It is a natural astringent and anti-oxidant and can really help if you have irritable skin.
Witch hazel is known for medical uses such as sores, bruises, and swelling and it’s also used for rashes and bug bites. So you can see how effective it is likely to be when it comes to soothing your skin after a close shave.
Basically, witch hazel is the perfect substitute for alcohol. It doesn’t burn as much, gets rid of bacteria and doesn’t dry out your skin.
Another ingredient that is likely to soothe your skin is aloe vera. 100% natural aloe vera feels amazing and is the best moisturizer you could find.
Splash aftershaves, like we’ve discussed before, are much better if you have normal skin that is not too dry or oily.
You may also want to experiment with gels or lotions that you find in branded markets.
The good thing with normal skin is that you can try any type of aftershave without experiencing any discomfort.
With oily skin, your options are still open.
You can go for a splash, balm or even a gel. Make sure it suits your skin and doesn’t make it look greasy, and you’ll be fine.
With oily skin, balms tend to be the least favorable aftershave since it feels heavier than a splash to your skin.
Dry skin is a little bit more complicated than the first two skin types.
Balms are best when you live in colder parts of the world. Your skin may be predisposed to being dry anyway and using something with alcohol on it will make things worse.
Stick to something that moisturizes well and normally, balms are the best solution.
As mentioned, witch hazel and aloe vera are two ingredients you want to be on the lookout for when you have sensitive skin that cuts or nicks easily.
If you get an open cut you want to be able to clean out bacteria and prevent infections, sure, but you also want to be able to avoid irritable skin.
Scratches and irritation is easy to avoid if you have something that soothes the skin well.
One thing to keep in mind is that alcohol based aftershaves aren’t a great idea for faces prone to irritation. Besides the burning sensation, your skin may not react in the best possible way.
Why you need an after shave
Aftershave is widely available and we already know why it was used, but aftershaves have evolved and there is lot more they can do now.
They can help you soothe and protect your skin right after a shave. You can also use aftershave to smell better.
Shaving is messy if you don’t have the right products.
With a good, reliable aftershave you can prevent ingrown hairs, razor burns and even sagging skin later in life.
Cuts are protected from infections and the moisture your skin emits naturally is preserved for longer.
How to use aftershave step by step
Applying any product for shaving is fairly easy. No need for special education.
There are however a few steps to take for the most effective way to apply an aftershave.
Assuming that you have a very close shave and the pores are left open.
No matter if you used a safety razor or an electric shaver, the principle is the same. Your skin needs an aftershave.
The first thing you want to do right after you finish shaving is wash you face and neck with plenty of cold water.
Cold water will close the pores immediately and even if you’ve had minor nicks and cuts, this will make things better for your skin. Cold water will also reduce any skin irritation the razor blades might have caused.
Even if you don’t like cold water, avoid warm in any case.
Insist with the water splashing until your skin doesn’t feel slippery anymore which normally means that there’s no lather left on your skin.
Take a clean, dry towel that you haven’t previously used after washing it and dry your face.
Make sure you remove any water from your face. This will ensure that any aftershave you apply won’t be diluted by water and will be easily absorbed by your skin.
Now that your face has no excessive water, put a small amount of your very best aftershave balm on your hand and rub it against the other.
In the beginning you want to put as little as possible and apply more if this doesn’t feel enough.
That being said, put a few drops of aftershave on your hands, no matter the type.
Apply it on your face by dabbing or slowly massaging your face, depending on the type of aftershave.
As you massage your face with the aftershave, you will immediately understand if there’s a need to apply more product.
If you haven’t managed to cover your face, this means that a little bit more aftershave would be a good idea.
Remember that you don’t want to soak your face in aftershave. You want to apply enough so that you treat your skin and hydrate it and at the same time, you want the aftershave to be absorbed by your skin.
If you apply too much aftershave, your face will have trouble absorbing the product and your face will feel heavy and greasy. It’s all about moderation.
I didn’t use many products when I was young and just starting out with wet shaving.
That’s normal though since your facial hair isn’t thick during your teenagehood. This is also why I didn’t think it was necessary to apply something right after shaving,
Not to mention that it was an extra cost to my budget during university.
But applying aftershave to your skin is almost (or maybe even more) important than what’s applied to the facial hair right before you start shaving.
It’s not only the fact that you prevent irritation or treat nicks and cuts.
You give your skin the lost moisture, your pores that are left exposed after shaving, you make your face feel softer.
I can’t stress enough how necessary is a good quality aftershave for any man who shaves, no matter if you shave a small part of your face because you wear a beard or shave your beard completely. Either you shave everyday or once per week.
But is it necessary to use after shave?
Not really. At least not for some men.
Even though there are many reasons why someone uses an aftershave, this doesn’t mean that it’s absolutely necessary.
Guys with normal skin that doesn’t get irritated after shaving might prefer rinsing their face with water without applying anything.
Even though this is the case with many men, aftershave is also great for keeping your skin soft and moisturized. The reason is that shaving scrapes the upper layer of your skin, removing the oils -that naturally lubricates your skin, which can also cause dryness besides irritation.
Therefore, even if your skin looks great and doesn’t get any irritation, aftershaves are great for keeping your skin healthy.
Look for something that fits your budget and includes ingredients that suit your skin. If it’s made of natural ingredients is even better.
Every man should invest in a great bottle of their favourite brand and apply it regularly. Either you’re interested in beard grooming or you’re getting excited when you wet shave, an aftershave would work great for you.
After all, if you don’t treat your skin the way it deserves, who’s going to?
Other guides you might be interested in reading:
- The ultimate guide to the best safety razors
- How to use a shaving soap
- The right way to use a shaving brush
- Finding the best shaving brush
- How to make your beard softer naturally
- A guide to natural beard softeners
- The best pre shave oil for men with sensitive skin