The Best Smelling Aftershave: A List of Our Favorites
Finding your favorite aftershave scent (or scents!) can take a while—there are a lot of options out there, and many of them are kind of mysterious until you experience them for yourself. So, to make things clearer, we'll go over our favorite aftershaves (along with two of our picks for best smelling aftershave overall), and detail some of the things you may want to know in order to make an informed decision: we'll explain the two different types of aftershaves, quickly list the scents available to you, and discuss how your skin type is important to the right type of aftershave you choose.
Our Favorites: A Quick Run-Down
Before we get into the details—the different types of balms, how to use them, and our in-depth reviews—here’s a quick list of our favorite splashes and balms:
Our #3 Pick for Aftershave Splash: Proraso Aftershave Lotion
We're big fans of Proraso, and the Proraso Aftershave Lotion is a thicker splash, with a clean, fresh smell.
Our #2 Pick for Aftershave Splash: Barberry Coast
A little bit of sweet, a little bit of spice, light but invigorating: the Bay Rum Barberry Coast is a lively option.
Our #1 Pick for Aftershave Splash: Taylor of Old Bond Street Aftershave
TOBS is one of the classic shaving companies, and the Taylor of Old Bond Street Aftershave is masculine and calm and clean. Our favorite splash overall.
Our #3 pick for Aftershave Balm: Lather and Wood Sandalwood Aftershave Balm
Sandalwood is one of the classic shaving scents, and to us, the Lather and Wood Sandalwood Aftershave Balm has that "just-after-the-barbershop" feel to it. Gentle and warming.
Our #2 Pick for Aftershave Balm: The Art of Shaving Lavender Balm
Lavender has a sweet, subtle scent, and we think The Art of Shaving Lavender Balm can be a good alternative to some of the stronger, more aggressive/masculine aftershave smells. Pleasant.
Our #1 Pick for Aftershave Balm: Calvin Klein Obsession
Calvin Klein Obsession is one of the classics. Balanced, interesting, and totally unique. Warm and not overpowering. The scent is a nice mix between aftershave and cologne, without being too much of either.
Our Pick for Sensitive Skin Aftershave Balm: Proraso After Shave Balm
It's surprising more companies don't make a sensitive skin aftershave balm, and Proraso After Shave Balm for Sensitive Skin is our pick: it's got a gentle feel, with a strong-but-not-overpower clean scent.
Aftershaves: A Very Quick Buyer's Guide
The most important thing you need to know about aftershave is:
There Are Two Main Categories of Aftershave
There are basically two types of aftershave: aftershave splash and aftershave balm.
Aftershave splashes are the "traditional" aftershave, and they've been around for decades. They have a "liquid-y" feel and a high water content, and they spread easily over the skin—hence the term "splash," because you splash it onto your cheeks and chin after you get done shaving. They usually feature a combination of various toners (to remove oils and dirt and debris), astringents (which is a substance that causes your skin to tighten), and hydrosols (which are the aromatic parts of plants that are used to give the aftershave a nice smell). It's usually antiseptic, and usually has a high alcohol content. They're a good option if you get a lot of nicks when you're shaving, because the splash solution gets into those cuts and prevents infection—but brother, they can sting a little bit (but luckily that stinging sensation goes away pretty quickly). And, believe it not, a lot of guys (ourselves included) enjoy that stinging, "bracing" feeling.
Aftershave balms are the new kid on the block. They've been around for a decade or so, and they're a fantastic development, because they take some of the best properties of splashes—that is, the astringent properties and scents—and are friendly for most skin types. They have a soft, creamy feel, and whereas splashes are more bracing and will wake you up, balms are much calmer and more comforting. Just like splashes, you'd use them after a shave, but instead of splashing them over your face, you rub a very thin layer of the balm over the areas of the skin you've just shaved. They're much heavier-feeling, and they provide some moisture to the skin, and usually have little to no alcohol. Just like splashes, they're available in a wide range of scents, and we'll talk about that in a minute.
There are also aftershave creams, lotions, and gels, but for the most part, that's all marketing lingo. Aftershave creams, lotions, and gels usually fit under the umbrella of "aftershave balms," and shaving companies that describe their products as creams or lotions are usually just trying to make their products look unique.
Consider What Type of Skin You Have (It Actually Matters)
So, now you know what the two types of aftershave are. Which one is right for you?
It all depends on your skin type. Because splashes and balms have a different makeup and react with the skin in very different ways, it makes sense to figure out your skin type before you figure out what type of aftershave is right for you. Here's how it breaks down:
If you've got oily skin, a splash may be a good fit. The alcohol in most aftershave splashes can break down some of the oils in your skin, and the toners can help your skin dry out a little bit. Many also contain moisturizers, so that the oils in your face are quelled a little bit, but your skin doesn't dry out. If you've got oily skin, you may want stay away from balms, as they add a layer of oil to your skin, instead of removing it.
If you've got dry skin, a balm may be a good fit. Balms usually contain a long list of moisturizers and conditioners, so after you shave—and showering and shaving usually removes some of the moisture from your skin—the balm will replace some of the moisture in your skin, and act as a restorative agent to any nicks or cuts you've experienced. If you've got dry skin, you will probably want to stay away from splashes, because they may dry you out even further, and result in itchiness, patchiness, or dry spots. If you really, really want to use a splash, however, there are some alcohol-free versions you may want to try, but definitely—proceed with caution.
If you've got sensitive skin, a balm may be a good fit... but you obviously want to proceed with caution. You may want to look for all-natural ingredients (and there are plenty of balms that contain only all-natural ingredients) and also see if there are any unscented options (we included a review of an unscented aftershave balm below). Be careful with alcohol splashes if you have sensitive skin, as they may be, well... somewhat torturous! All that alcohol seeping in nicks to sensitive skin can feel pretty rough.
If you've got combination skin, a balm can work. Combination skin—that is, skin that's oily along your forehead and nose but dry on your cheeks and jawline—can be kind of tricky, but balms usually work fine. This is one of those areas where you'll need to find what works for you, though—it can be hard to predict how your skin will react to certain products.
If you've got normal skin, you can use whatever you want. Splash or balm, dealer's choice.
There are two things to keep in mind before we move on:
1) If you've decided to use a splash or a balm and are worried that your chosen scent won't come in that type of aftershave, have no fear. Luckily, splashes and balms come in a wide range of scents, and whatever scent you fall in love with is usually sold as both a splash and a balm (although, obviously, exceptions exist).
2) You may have to experiment a little bit. Aftershaves are kind of a wild card, and it's difficult to tell what will work you. As a general rule of thumb, splashes are good for oily skin and balms are good for dry skin, but, as they say, your mileage may vary. Find what works for you.
The Scents Available to You
Over the last decade or two, there has been an explosion in the number of companies that make shaving products, and that's a wonderful thing, and we're thrilled about it. Shaving companies have thrown a lot of money into research and development, and they've discovered that when it comes to shaving products, men really, truly appreciate having a wide range of scents to choose from.
Believe it or not, there's an area of science totally dedicated to scents, and perfumers—the men and women who create new scents—organize those scents into different "families." The following scents in the following families are all common in aftershaves:
Woody scents, like sandalwood and cedar;
Floral scents, like rose, jasmine, and lavender;
Oriental scents like vanilla;
Aromatic scents like sage, rosemary, and mint;
Citrus scents, like lemon, lime, and sweet orange; and
"Chypre" scents, like oakmoss, bergamot, and patchouli.
It's interesting to note that the way scents are organized has changed over time, as we've discovered—and synthetically developed—many new scents over the last 100 years.
In additional to the scents we listed above, there are also other plant fragrances that are common in aftershaves, and those include scents like menthol, tea tree, green tea, eucalyptus, and cucumber (and to be honest, we're not sure where they fit in the scent structure, but they smell great—particularly menthol and tea tree).
Then, in addition to that, there are fragrances that are not derived from plants, but are also natural. They would include scents such as whiskey, rum, and some of the "leathery" scents you'll find.
And, finally, in addition to that, you'll find scents that are a composite of many different scents, both natural and synthetic. Most often these scents are named in a way that evokes the "spirit" of the scent, and they're often unmistakable. Calvin Klein OBSESSION for Men has that sort of scent—you can't really say what it smells like, but you know when you experience it.
This is all to say, you've got quite a few options, and we'll dive deeper into our favorites below.
The Best Smelling Aftershave Is Whatever You Think It Is
We feel the need to point this out—there's no "best aftershave fragrance." Scent is highly personal, and everyone experiences it differently, and has different memories associated with each scent. So don't be too concerned with what's "best"—find a few you like, maybe make one your "signature" scent, and go from there. Whatever you like most is the best aftershave.
Best Splashes: Picks
We write a lot of "product review" posts, and usually, we like to go deep: we'll write a really long review, and detail each and every aspect of the product. But that's kind of difficult to do when you're writing about aftershaves and their scents. Either you know the scent or you don't, and there's really not too much else to discuss—most splashes feel the same, as do most balms, and for the most part, the big difference really is smell.
So we'll keep it simple and brief and simply list each best smelling aftershave that we've used, and what we like about them. Some are very new, and others are old-school originals.
Aqua Velva Classic
This may be the aftershave that started everything: Aqua Velva Classic Blue Aftershave. It's been around since 1917—more than a century, if you can believe it—and it's got a light, refreshing scent. It's one of those "classic" American fragrances (along with Stetson, which we'll talk about in a second), and it's old-school and traditional without being musty. A good "back to basics," manly smell. Plus, it's manufactured in a break-free bottle, which is a good thing when you're all slippery after shaving.
Stetson Original Aftershave
The Stetson Original Aftershave is another classic scent, and we've always thought it has a sort of "Americana" feel. Stetson had a lot of commercials in the 80s that featured cowboys and rugged-looking men doing work outdoors, and that's the idea the scent is trying to convey—masculine, tough, but appealing. It's not too overwhelming—well, actually, it can be if you use too much of it, but that's true for all aftershaves—and it's got a unique list of ingredients: it's a mix of jasmine, nutmeg, clove, and orange flower. A great "throw-back" scent, and fun to use every once in a while.
Proraso Aftershave Lotion
If Stetson is the traditional American aftershave, Proraso Aftershave Lotion may be its European counterpart. Made in Italy and produced by the same family for more than six decades, it actually feels a little bit thicker than a traditional splash, and that can actually be a good thing, because when you use more "water-y" splashes, you'll find that a lot of the product goes down the drain. It has a clean, fresh scent, in our experience, it doesn't last too long, which is also a nice thing—long enough for the drive to work, but not long enough to bring into the office. A good option (and Proraso also has a great sensitive skin aftershave balm, which we'll talk about below).
Lucky Tiger After Shave and Face Tonic
We are suckers for throw-back artwork, and Lucky Tiger After Shave and Face Tonic does not disappoint: it features a baby-faced woman cuddling with a grumpy-looking tiger, on a background of rustic golden-green, in what looks like an old-school frame. If you're into marketing artwork—and we're kind of embarrassed about how many shaving products we buy just because they look interesting—it's a real find.
And, oh yeah, it smells pretty nice, too. It's got a lot of citrus-y notes (orange and grapefruit and tangerine), and it's a unique-but-inviting smell—and perhaps best of all, there's no alcohol in it (at least, there's no alcohol listed on the "Ingredients" section of the label), so it may not dry your face out as much as an alcohol-based aftershave would. That's kind of a unique find for a liquid aftershave, because most are chock-full of alcohol. We're big fans of Lucky Tiger—a nice smell and a gentle(r) product.
If we had to list our favorite companies related to shaving, Taylor of Old Bond Street would be at the top of the list, and their Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Aftershave is tied for our number-one, all-time favorite splashes (along with the Bay Rum aftershave, which we'll talk about in a second). Whereas many aftershaves mix multiple scents into one, this aftershave focuses on sandalwood, which is clean, refreshing, and invigorating—all while not being overpowering. It's used in a lot of more traditional shaving products, and that "clean" scent is probably why. This is a great "cool and cold weather" scent, and we look forward to using it in the fall, winter, and early spring.
Bay Rum Aftershave Splash
If the Taylor of Old Bond Street Aftershave is our winter go-to, our summer favorite is Barberry Coast Bay Rum Aftershave. It smells like citrus and bay leaves and a little bit of vanilla and clove. It's a fresh, spicy, and tropical, and it can feel light (but still invigorating) when you put it on your face. There are a lot of "summer"-type after shave splashes, and many of them market themselves to be fun, breezy, and light, but this is the original and best in our book. A great option, especially if you like to have a couple of different scents that you use at different times during the year.
Best Balms: Picks
OK! Let's talk balms. There are some balms we really like, and they're all pretty unique.
Burt's Bees Balms
Many of the products we review are high-end boutique products, but Burt's Bees Aftershave Balm is one of the mass-market shaving products we really like (and we're big fans of Burt's Bees in general). The scent structure is kind of unique—it's definitely less "chemical-y" and more natural than many other balms, but it's a little more "scattered." We'd describe it as... earthy? Either way, it's pleasant, and it's full of great, all-natural ingredients—sunflower oil and coconut oil to moisturize, and Vitamin E to fortify skin. As with most Burt's products, it's a good bet.
Calvin Klein Obsession for Men
If you weren't around in the 90s, it's kind of hard to describe how iconic the commercials for Calvin Klein Obsession were. It was a truly fantastic fragrance and would have been popular without all the buzz, but the marketing was fantastic. Kate Moss was one of the original models who advertised the product, and it (along with some other projects she worked on) pretty much launched her career. It became so well-known that even Saturday Night Live parodied it—they satirized the scent by making a commercial for "Compulsion," by Calvin Kleen, the "world's most indulgent disinfectant." It was kind of funny (but it didn't really age all that well, to be honest).
The fragrance itself, however, has aged really well, and it's still incredibly popular. The balm is lightly scented with the Obsession fragrance, and it feels light and moisturizes well. There's a reason why there was so much buzz around the product—it was truly original, and in our opinion, there still isn't really anything that compares with it (there's Calvin Klein Eternity and CK One, but those don't seem to have the same notoriety). A very intriguing fragrance, and one we've enjoyed a lot over the years—warm and inviting and kind of sensual, somehow. But maybe we think that because of all that marketing 🙂
Lather and Wood Sandalwood Aftershave Balm
When you review countless shaving products, you find that you have a couple of favorite scents, and it seems like we're obsessed with sandalwood. The Lather and Wood Sandalwood Aftershave Balm is high on our list of favorites. It's not an overwhelming sandalwood scent (like some sandalwood shaving creams) and it's actually kind of subtle. A little goes a long way when it comes to sandalwood, and that's another feature of this product we like—it comes in a push-top bottle, so you can squirt out just a liiiiiiittle bit of the product.
It's important to note, too, that there's a Lather and Wood Unscented Aftershave Balm that's also very good. At some point, many of us need to take a break from scents, and this can be a good one to reach for.
Barberry Coast Bay Rum Balm
If you were worried that you wouldn't be able to find a light, tropical scent in an aftershave balm, fear not: Barberry Coast Bay Rum Aftershave Balm has the same scent ingredients as the splash (and those would be bay oil, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, and orange), and it has that same tropical feeling. It's got some fantastic ingredients—Vitamin E, shea butter, and menthol—so it's not just a "smells good" item. Worth taking a look if you have sensitive skin and need a balm, but want some of the "lighter," fresher notes of a summer-time splash fragrance.
Art of Shaving Lemon Balm
As long as we're talking about light, summer-time fragrances, let's talk about The Art of Shaving Lemon Aftershave Balm. The Art of Shaving creates a lot of fantastic products, and this is one of them: it's light and soothing and has a light citrus-y smell, and is manufactured to provide skin benefits: it's alcohol-free, contains no dyes, and features shea butter and grapeseed extract. It can be a great option for guys with sensitive skin, and if you find that you get extra dry during those withery winter months, it may be able to introduce a little moisture back into your skin.
Art of Shaving Lavender Balm
Here's another Art of Shaving product that's very unique and very fragrant: The Art of Shaving Lavender After Shave Balm. Lavender is a sweet and subtle fragrance, and if you find that you're not that into the stronger, more "cowboy-ish" smells, this can be a fantastic alternative. Plus, it's got all the "good stuff" you'll find in a lot of Art of Shaving products—grapeseed extra, shea butter, and jojoba oil. We've found it hydrates and moisturizes pretty effectively.
It can be a little hard to find aftershave balms that stray from the more "classic" scents, so if you like a fragrance that's a little different than the norm, it can be a good option.
For Sensitive Skin: Proraso Balm
Last but not least: Proraso Aftershave Balm for Sensitive Skin. Proraso is mostly known for their aftershave splash, but this balm is a great option if you want a "classic" aftershave scent. It's got more of a "lotion" feel rather than a "balm" feel, and despite all its moisturizing properties, does not feel too greasy. It's got oatmeal extract in it, which is believed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that are good for the skin—and it features green tea extract (also believed to be chock-full of antioxidants) that also fortify the skin and give it some "cooling" feeling. A good choice if you're looking for a "gentler" aftershave balm.
And there you have it! Those are our favorite splashes and balms, and we hope there's something in our list that does it for you. If there's something you love and we haven't written about it, jump over to our "Contact" page and send us a note. We try to update our review posts every time we find a new product we like.
Some Very Important Usage Tips to Keep in Mind
Aftershaves are a product that you can use incorrectly, and we've done so, on a couple of different occasions. To help you out, here are some tips you'll want to keep in mind when choosing and applying a nice-smelling aftershave.
Go Easy. This is more of a rule, than a tip: go easy. A little goes a long way, and "the guy with the aftershave that's too strong" is kind of a cliche. Don't be that guy. Most aftershaves have scents that last a decent amount of time, and much of the time, it's better to smell like a "hint" of something than a "heap" of something.
Don't Double Up with Cologne. We mentioned this earlier, but it's worth repeating: if you're using a scented aftershave, you can probably skip the cologne. Doubling-down is a great strategy for a lot of life, but not scents. If you want to use both an aftershave and a cologne, there are plenty of scent-free-but-still-skin-rejuvenating aftershaves you can find, and if you must, simply must, use an aftershave and a cologne, go easy on the aftershave, and try to find two scents that work together. After a friend / girlfriend / significant other / etc. their honest opinion on whether the combined scent works for you.
Find Your Signature Scent. This is a fun quest: finding the scent that you like so much, that you make it your signature scent. That's a fun journey, especially if you love different smells and fragrances, and it can be your "olfactory calling card." Just be sure it works for you—if you get negative feedback from a bunch of different people who you trust, listen to what they say.
Switch It Up Every Once in a While. Variety is the spice of life, no? It can be fun—and deeply satisfying, if you like the scents you own—to switch things up for a while, and it can be fun for your significant other, too. We have a friend who loves sandalwood aftershave, but switches it up with a bay rum aftershave on vacation. From what he tells us, his wife loves it. You can even switch it up based on event—we have another friend who saves Proraso Aftershave for weddings, and, according to him, it's the perfect scent for nuptials—clean and crisp but somewhat mild—and now the scent itself reminds him of weddings.
Make Sure You've Gotten Everything Off Your Face. Application is key, and the one bit of advice we'd give about application is to make sure that every product you've used up until your aftershave—pre-shave oil, shaving cream, whatever—is off your face. And, you want to make sure there are no errant whisker bits or hairs on your face, either. Aftershave should be the last step in your shaving routine, and once you put it on, you don't want to rinse it off, so make sure there's no residue from anything else left on your face. It can cause irritation or itchiness if there's anything left on there.
Go for the "Feel" You Want. Certain scents evoke certain feelings, and you can choose your aftershave on the feeling you want to experience. If you want a fresh wake-up call, a menthol or minty of tea tree aftershave can be a nice option; if you like something a little soothing, sweeter aromas like lavender and jasmine can be very relaxing. The more citrus-y aromas feel summer-y and fun, whereas the deeper scents, like sandalwood and sage and oakmoss, somehow feel a little more "manly." We don't want to sound too "new age-y," but scent is kind of mysterious that way—it can evoke different memories and moods.
Remember that Fragrance Has an Expiration Date. Honestly, most fragrances—and that includes after shaves, but also colognes and perfumes—don't last all night. They start strong and fade over time, so that's something to consider. Splashes tend to fade more quickly, but they're made mostly from liquid and feature a lot of alcohol (which evaporates quickly), and aftershave balms tend to have a "smaller" scent, but last longer because there are more oils and moisturizers in the mixture. The lasting power of the fragrance isn't the first consideration for a lot of men—and in fact, from what we can tell, many men are not concerned at all—but we thought we'd mention it.
The Real "Pro" of Aftershave is Skin Care. We tend to associate aftershave with scent, and that's because they smell so darn good. But the other job of an aftershave is to provide support for you skin after you've scraped a razor blade across it. Many splashes do a great job of constricting little cuts, and many balms moisturize very effectively. If possible, choose one that'll help your skin.
Aftershave vs. Cologne: What's the Difference?
This may seem like a simple one, but we get this question a lot, so we'll provide a quick answer. The confusion between cologne and aftershave may occur because both products are usually scented, and are worn specifically for their scented properties, but:
A cologne is a fragrance with one purpose: to provide your skin with a pleasant scent. It can be worn by men or women (but it's primarily worn by men), and it's typically made from a wide variety of both natural and synthetic components. It doesn't have any restorative properties for the skin, and it's usually not used in conjunction with any part of the grooming process—after you're showered and ready to go, you apply a small amount of cologne to your pulse points (usually at your neck at the end of your jaw and beneath your ear, and on the insides of your wrists), and you're off. It's used for fragrance, and that's it. And, fun fact: the term "cologne" is taken from its place of invention, which is Cologne, Germany. Now you know.
Aftershaves also have a wonderful scent, but they're also a post-shave treatment used to restore the skin. Modern shaving—that is, taken a razor-sharp blade and dragging it over your skin multiple times—is a traumatic event for the skin, and many men experiences nicks, cuts, and bumps every time they shave. Aftershaves provide post-shave benefits to the skin by closing small cuts made by the razor (that would be aftershave splash), killing bacteria (also splash), and providing needed moisture to skin after the shower and shaving process (and that would be aftershave balm). Most of them have deeply satisfying, wonderful scents, but remember—they're also basically a skin care product that is supposed to provide some therapeutic help for your skin after a shave.
There's one other thing we'd like to reiterate: you can wear an aftershave and a cologne, but chances are you won't need to. Many of the grooming products we use are scented—we use scented soaps, scented deodorants, scented shaving cream, and so on—and you simply don't need all that. In fact, often times, all those scents combine to be somewhat overwhelming and a little bit confusing. If you're wearing a scented aftershave, you usually don't need a scented cologne—there are hundreds, if not thousands, of aftershave scents, and they provide a pleasant fragrance that can be overpowered by cologne.
Enjoy the Search
This post was a lot of fun to write—one of our favorite aspects of wet shaving is all the different scents involved in the process, and this allowed us to review some of our favorite aftershaves (and to make a few purchases we had been putting off). So, thank you! This was a lot of fun, and we hope you find something you truly enjoy.