A Short Primer on Alum Blocks

Posted: August 24, 2016 in Shaving Articles

People who have not had the (misfortune?) of becoming involved in the traditional wet shaving game probably have no idea what an alum block is.

That’s okay. Really, it is. It isn’t a topic that comes up in the average conversation. If you wish to know a bit more, however, please read on.

Alum blocks are somewhat similar to styptic sticks in their basic function. If you’re asking yourself, “What’s a styptic stick?” let me go back a pace.

Alum blocks are solid blocks of potassium salts. They’re fairly solid, but when wet, they transfer a layer of salt onto your skin.

What does this do?

First, you’re rubbing SALT on your skin. Remember the old saying about rubbing salt in the wound? Yeah. If you’ve shaved in such a way as to perform, ahem, macro-dermabrasion, or given yourself a nick or cut, you’ll get some feedback. By feedback, I mean it’ll sting. Perhaps a lot. If it does, you’ve miscarried your shaving technique somehow. The pain is an incentive to do better next time.

The postassium salt will work as a styptic, to some degree. Because it is a very strong astringent, your pores will snap closed, and that’ll often stop minor wounds from bleeding.

High concentration salts are also excellent antiseptic/antimicrobial agents. So, if you’re concerned about disinfecting any facial injuries, this will do the trick.

Basically, the alum salt can be used as an aftershave astringent, in lieu of an alcohol-based balm/splash. Here’s how:

1) Wet your face.
2) Wet the alum block.
3) Rub the alum block on your face.
4) Suffer the repercussions, if there are any.
5) Let the alum stay on your face for a minute or two, max.
6) Wash it right off with cool water.
7) You’ll notice that your face now has NO SLICKNESS. Yes, the alum kills every bit of oil or lingering soap on your skin. No protective layer exists on your skin at this point in the process. Let’s not leave it that way. You’d feel really dry and uncomfortable after a while.
8) Put on your favorite moisturizing balm to fortify your skin.

But wait…there’s more. Alum is a competent styptic, an aces astringent, a disinfectant, and it’s also a deodorant.

That’s correct. I said “deodorant”. I wrote it, if the truth be told. It’s a stylistic flourish. You see…okay let’s not get ourselves off track with secondary and tertiary commentary…

Why do we develop a funk after a while? Bacteria, mostly. Sure, there’s a bit more to it, but the stuff you put under your arms to keep the funk at bay and be a socially acceptable person usually does so, in part, by keeping bacteria at bay. Sometimes, this is done by preventing sweat from forming beneath your arm. Not to be too gross, but sweaty armpits are a nice atmosphere for bacteria. No sweat? Less funk. That’s the antiperspirant mechanism. If you look at the ingredients on a plain old deodorant, it’s a different game. It’s usually high in alcohol, and has fragrance, as well as a gummy carrier of some type that holds that alcohol (an antibacterial agent) on your skin.

Without all sorts of weird chemicals, the alum salt can perform the same task. Just wet it and rub it in your underarm area after a shower. It won’t hurt skin that hasn’t been shaved, unless you’re very sensitive. I’ve never had a problem. If you’ve just shaved your underarms with a bench grinder, all bets are off.

Now, I’m a fat guy. It’s summer. Triple digit temperatures are not uncommon. I present a stern challenge to a deodorant. Many prove unequal to the task. I’ve only found a handful of products over the years that can be solidly counted upon. Late in the day, I will sometimes begin breaking through. Some antiperspirants and deodorants, while effective, can cause us a lot of irritation. Our scent-free presentation is ruined if we’re digging at our armpits like a dog with fleas all day. These concoctions can clog your pores, irritate your skin…some people believe they’ll cause all manner of other maladies. Without delving into the realm of the theoretical, let’s just say that there can be issues. Most of the time, it’s simple, functional issues, but it can be worse, if you have allergies or other unusual reactions to the standard ingredients.

I’ve had my share of deodorants either not work or really get me down in other ways. Not so with the alum. It lasts a full 24 hours with no sign of peril. It’s simple. It takes precious little of the salt to get the job done, so it should last a good long time. Alum isn’t expensive. Natural, simple, effective. Can’t argue with that.

Well, if you made it all the way through my blather without bursting into tears and running away from your computer screen, you are to be commended. You now know pretty much all I have to teach you about alum.

Happy shaving!


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