Best Products for New Wet Shavers:

Posted: August 7, 2016 in Shaving Articles

I think that there is a group of people out there who might enjoy trying shaving with a safety razor, but are a little buffaloed in regard to what they need. I am selling nothing, hyping no website, making no money on anything. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I can impart a little wisdom in this regard. I may have been born yesterday, but I stayed up all night. As it were. In the vernacular.

Is it hard to get started?
No, it’s not hard. The most difficult moment, I suppose, is nerving yourself up to put an unknown and sharp implement against your face the first time. Safety razors are not death machines. Even straight razors are far from that. As the tool is simpler, the skill and patience we put into using it has to increase, though. The best thing you can do when you approach wet shaving for the first time (and any of the times after that) is to be patient and give yourself plenty of time. It isn’t a sport for the hurried and harried. Let it be a moment of self-care. I’m not kidding. It can be very calming, very therapeutic. That may sound crazy to those who have always approached shaving as a necessary evil, but it can actually be fun. It can feel comfortable. It can be the moment you look forward to, an interval of pampering.

Can’t I just have a kit built for me? Is that a thing?
Yes. You sure can. Go to any of the shaving-specific websites like Shave Nation, Italian Barber, or Maggard’s, and they’ll ship you a kit. It’ll be fairly well considered. It will be pretty high value for money. It’ll get you down the road. It will likely have what, in my view, is a mixture of nice, average, and passable items. Perfectly reasonable to do. With no time or inclination to figure out what you need, they’re likely the easiest way to get good gear, and a comprehensive scope of the stuff you’ll need. My feeling is that Italian Barber’s “build a kit” feature is the best among these options.

Can’t I just read the reviews on some retail site and make the choice myself?
Of course. That’s what I did. I pored over endless reviews, and I got some good stuff. The reviews on a retail site are certainly a good resource. They aren’t perfect though. No review of a subjective item can be. Often, a bunch of the reviewers will have very limited experience with other products, and will be pleased as punch, whether their opinions are well founded or not. All of us are in the process of learning, but how can you tell how good your first purchase is, when you’ve only used that one example? If you’d never driven anything but a Citroen 2CV, you couldn’t really be expected to effectively rate it against an Aston Martin Vanquish. You just know it’s quicker than walking and smoother than the stagecoach.

I don’t know if I’ll like it. I just want the cheapest thing. Is that okay?
Sure. The cheapest thing might be okay. It may, however, give you a jaundiced eye and turn you away, where better equipment might pique your interest. There are some excellent high-value products that can be found. There are some great alternatives to “shave specific” products that can help you save money. There’s also some things that are a little more money, but richly worthwhile. Knowing how far into “cheap” to venture is an acquired skill, and you may not want to go right to the lowest common denominator when you’re just starting. At the same time, getting really expensive gear right to start risks you spending money on something you may not carry through with. A few steps up from the lowest-cost items is probably the sweet spot.

Can women use safety razors?
Heck yeah! Absolutely, they can. Dudes sometimes forget that women actually shave a lot more of their skin than we do (unless we’re bodybuilders or have a serious manscaping plan). I can’t do an absolute walk-through in regards to technique, but I feel confident that the gear I recommend for face shaving should do just fine for other spots. From all I’ve gathered, I think that the ladies will often use, ahem, interesting techniques in regard to what they use as shave soap. I believe that many of them could use a great upgrade in regard to keeping care of their razors and using proper soap. I think safety razors, in many respects, are much more appropriate to the rigors of leg shaving (and so on). Having a blade that costs ten or fifteen cents means you can easily replace them as often as provides a comfortable, effective shave. Because safety razors are made in all weights, shapes, and levels of aggression, there should be a combination that suits most any shaver. Remember that, before cartridge razors appeared, there were “Lady Gillettes”, Schick Injectors, and the like, used by women all over the place. While the traditional wet shaving community isn’t awash with pink or purple razors (although there are some), the razors the macho dudes are using can shave a leg (and anywhere else that seems appropriate) just fine. My uninformed opinion, in any case.

Will you ever get to the point?
Hey, I’m trying. Everyone’s a critic.

Here, goes, then, and I’ll create a few kits for different budgets and needs. Please keep in mind that some of you will not tolerate some of these products, as you’ll not get along with some of their ingredients. If any of these products brings about issues, put it aside and look for an alternative that works better for you.

Must-haves for all kits:
1) Styptic pencil – You’ll bleed here and there. This stuff will sting for a second, and the bleeding will stop. It’s a must. You can, to some extent, use an alum block instead. Bonus with an alum block is that it can be used as an astringent, and even a deodorant. There will be an article.
2) Razorock “Plissoft” synthetic shaving brush – This brush, to my way of thinking, is a game changer. Examples can be had for as little as ten dollars, and they are stellar performers. There’s really no reason to consider another brush when starting out.
3) Thayer’s Witch Hazel – I recommend the Medicated Superhazel variant, but if you are not tolerant of alcohol, look for the Original or one of the scented, non alcohol toners. This stuff is magic, indispensable liquid. Just get some, even if you don’t shave. If you have skin, this stuff is useful.
4) Hydrocortisone ointment – You’ll have adventures. You’ll get a little irritation or razor burn. This stuff will save you. If you don’t have some for other skin issues, your medicine cabinet doesn’t meet with my expectations, and needs work.
5) A good moisturizer – You should have a favored moisturizer already in-house, but if you don’t, apply yourself and find one. I recommend Aveeno or the store brand equivalent, but whatever works for you.
5) Noxzema Original – This is a great old school face wash, and is one of the best beard preparation items I’ve ever found. Very high value, especially if you find a store brand.

On to the kits:

Highest value:

Razor: Feather “Popular”

Soap: Arko (90gm bowl) or Palmolive Classic Cream or Proraso Green (cream or bowl)

Blades: Dorco ST-301, Derby Extra

Moderate value:

Razor: Merkur 34c or Edwin Jagger DE89

Soap: Taylor of Old Bond Street cream (scent up to you)

Blades: Astra Superior Platinum, Personna Lab Blue

Lathering bowl: This can be a wide-mouthed mug or small bowl you have kicking around, but you can buy a shaving scuttle, if you so choose
If you find you like shaving with your safety razor, here are a few things you’ll probably want to have (but not need):

1) A razor blade variety pack – You’ll like some, you’ll hate some, and you’ll learn a lot. It sometimes takes time to find the blade that works best for you. For someone with a very fine, light beard, they’ll likely need a smooth blade, but not necessarily a sharp one. The Derby Extra, for instance. For moderate beards, it mainly comes down to your skin and your razor of choice. If you have a wiry beard, you’ll probably want a blade on the sharper side, like an Astra, a Wilkinson Sword, a Gillette Silver Blue, or the legendary Feather blade.

2) A few additional soaps – there are so many great soap makers out there. It really depends upon the scent you like. Brands that I can recommend(that I haven’t already listed)? Cella, Razorock, WSP…there are many, many great soap makers out there. I can only test so many of them without having them crowd me out of house and home. There are tons of shaves in every puck or tube of soap.

3) A scented aftershave or two – If you’re into scents, try a few aftershaves. I think that scents are very subjective. I love Aqua Velva, but you might hate it. Captain’s Choice makes some really nice stuff. This is a voyage of discovery you’ll have to make on your own.

There are other inexpensive or high value razors out there. Parker makes a lot of high quality razors, for instance. Many shaving websites have a “house brand” razor of some sorts. Some are purportedly good shavers. Merkur has a variety of razors that are at or below the cost of the 34c. If another one calls to you, follow your bliss. Be careful of an adjustable, a very expensive razor, or one with an open comb for your first outing, as they can be a little problematic before you have your technique down.

If, on the other hand, you want to go the vintage route, my recommendations are thus: 1) Gillette Superspeed (any era is fine, any model except the Red Tip, which is a bit more aggressive than a beginner should use). 2) Gillette Tech – any era, any model except the travel model with the super short handle. 3) Schick Krona. To my mind, not quite as good as a Superspeed, but a nice old razor, and can be had for a reasonable fee.

Regardless of the vintage model you choose, please clean and disinfect it before you try it out. If you’re not sure about its mechanical soundness, make sure to ask someone who is knowledgeable about razors to give it a look for you.

Well, I hope this helps you on your way. Happy shaving!


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