Your First Time Wet Shaving: What to Expect
It's funny—there is a LOT of material on the internet about shaving, and probably thousands of instructional shaving videos, but there aren't really any posts that let you know what to expect when you wet shave for the first time. Most sites show what to do, but they don't really tell you what to expect. And that's an odd thing, because wet shaving truly is a unique experience.
So we thought we'd write a post that'll help you anticipate some of the things you may notice during your first time wet shaving. We've included some of the observations and insights new water shavers have, and included a tip or two on how to get the most pleasure out of your first experience.
The first thing you may notice is...
All That Gear Takes Up a Lot of Room on Your Countertop
One of the most surprising things about wet shaving is all the equipment involved. For a "back to basics" habit, you need a lot of tools: pre-shave oil, soaps and/or creams to make a lather, a mug or bowl or scuttle, safety or straight razors, a shaving brush, an alum block, aftershave, and so on.
And that's actually one of the nicest aspects of wet shaving: all that gear looks dope. The bottles of pre-shave oil are rustic and old-timey medical-looking; shaving cream tends to come in elegant and detailed containers; and the shave brush is somehow inherently manly. It's a very satisfying, and very masculine, way to set up your bathroom sink.
All the gear takes up a lot of your countertop, so plan on it. And, because things tend to go best when you have everything set up in front of you, you may need to realize that...
Your Wife's / Romantic Partner's / Roommate's / Parents' Stuff Is Going to Get in the Way
Unless you live alone, chances are very strong you're going to be sharing sink-top real estate with someone else, and chances are also very strong that that person has some items lying around on the countertop. Because you're going to need so much room, you may want to 1) come to an agreement, wherein nobody leaves items on the countertop, and keep all your shaving kit in a kit or case, and bring it into the bathroom when you'll be wet shaving; or 2) remove all items from the countertop before shaving, add your wet shaving items while you're using the sink, and then add all those items back when you're done.
If you are one of those lucky dogs living the dream and have your bachelor pad set up just the way you like it, we envy you 🙂
Pre-shave Oil is Fantastic
It really is. It truly does add a bit of protection to your skin when using ultra-sharp wet shaving razors. If you're new to wet shaving, and you want to ditch the pre-shave oil because you've never previously used it and never had a problem, please reconsider. It's fantastic.
And it smells incredible. Sandalwood, pine, cinnamon, tea tree, lavender, you name—WONDERFUL.
You Will Travel BACK IN TIME
They say that smells are strangely effective at invoking powerful memories, and the smells associated with your first wet shave are incredible. If you are an older millennial, or if you're a Gen-X'er, you may actually remember the smell from when your grandpa shaved. It's a trip.
And for whatever reason—it's difficult to put a finger on it—the masculine smells tied with wet shaving are deeply comforting. Exploring and finding a favorite is a really pleasant task, and perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects about getting involved in wet shaving.
Shaving Brushes Hold a Lot of Water
A lot of guys submerge their shaving brushes in warm water during their shower, so that when they get out, the bristles are saturated and warm. When you flick all the water out, you'll be surprised at how much water the brush holds. Even "beginner" brushes hold a lot of moisture.
That's a great thing, because the brush will transfer that moisture to the shaving cream or soap, and allow you build up a nice lather. It's also a nice thing, because if you see your romantic partner walking by outside the bathroom door, you can playfully douse them with water. Ahhhh, love.
Building a Lather is Surprisingly Difficult
During your first time wet shaving, building a lather would seem like the easiest part—put a dab of shaving into a bowl, take a wet shaving brush, and twirl it around—but it's surprisingly hard to get that right. Sometimes it comes out to runny, and sometimes it comes out bubbly and thin. You're shooting for something with the consistency of yogurt, and it takes a little experimenting to figure out how to get your lather there. There's an art to it, and that comes as a bit of a surprise to a lot of men.
A Little Dab'll Do Ya
We've used that phrase—"a little dab'll do ya"—a number of times in a number of posts, and we've never been quite sure what it means. Turns out it's from an advertisement aired decades before we were born, and it was for Brylcreem, whatever that is. Not sure where we picked that up.
Anyway, when wet shaving, a little dab WILL do you, and do you just fine. Instead of using gobs and gobs of shaving cream from a can, you take a spot of Taylor of Old Bond Street shaving cream and whip it up into a lather; instead of over-doing it on the pre-shave oil, you use five or ten drops and your face is fully protected. There's a right amount of each of these things, and the right amount is usually "very little."
One of the best aspects of wet shaving is that you use better products, and less of them.
Applying Lather via Brush is Very Pleasant, and...
It's a very different experience than applying it with your fingers. Brushes tend to expand and cover your face with lather quickly and efficiently, and you need to use a little more precision when applying it. Using a shaving brush is a little more efficient than using your fingers, because you don't have to keep washing your hands. It seems like a small thing, but it's actually a fantastic aspect to wet shaving.
Prickly Ain't Bad
When you learn more about shaving brushes, you hear a LOT about badger hair brushes, as they're widely regarded as the best brushes you can find. They're both sturdy and soft, and that's a tough combo to find in nature. A lot of men get very excited when talking about how soft brushes can be, but the truth is that prickly shave brushes (like pure badger hair brushes) are really satisfying, as well. There's something about the opposite feelings of warm lather and prickly bristles that's a nice combo.
Let's Be Honest: The Razor is Intimidating
Not only is that sucker sharp, it's—wait for it—razor thin. If you've used a disposable all your life, you don't really understand the phrase "razor thin" until you load a razor-thin blade into a safety razor. It's unbelievably sharp, and it's bendy, which can be slightly creepy, for some reason.
Don't worry if that razor makes you 1 or 2% nervous. That's normal. It just shows you understand the power of the thing, and respect it. Better that, than the opposite.
A Safety Razor Has a Really Satisfying Weight
Ever notice that there are things are simply enjoyable to hold? There are some things that are just heavy enough to keep your attention, while still being light enough to not be burdensome. An axe is a good example. Axes have a satisfying weight. A full pint of beer is another one. It's hard to put into words, but it just feels good to hold.
Safety razors and straight razors are like that. They're heavy, and they make you notice them. There's a heft to them, that keeps you involved. It's one of the most noticeable things your first time wet shaving.
It sounds weird, but trust on this one. The weight of a safety or a straight is a fantastic feature. If you go back to using a disposable after using a safety or a straight, that disposable is going feel like a cheap trinket. A joke.
You WILL Get Nicked a Couple of Times
You may have seen that photo on Tools of Men (a great site, by the way), where the author shares a photo of all the nicks he got while wet shaving. Honestly, if you're new to wet shaving, it probably won't be that bad. You may even get a small nick that you won't even fell until you run warm water over your face. That's quite a surprise.
So while you can expect a few nicks and a couple of cuts, you can mitigate them effectively, because...
Alum Block WORKS but It Hurts Like a Mutha
Alum is a natural mineral, and it's sold in blocks. It looks a little bit like a white marble. When you get a cut, you rub the block on your skin, and it stops the bleeding. It's surprisingly fast and surprisingly effective, and it has antiseptic properties, you can rest easy knowing your nick is probably clean.
But man, that stuff stings like a bee. It only hurts for a second, but it gets your attention.
Non-Aggressive Safety Razors Really Are Great for Beginners
There are plenty of safety razors that are a great starting point for new wet shavers. The Merkur Solingen is one of them. It's a non-aggressive safety that exposes only a small portion of the blade, allowing you slide it over your face easily. Again, you probably will get cut the first couple of times you use it, but you may be surprised at how easy and safe a non-aggressive blade (like the Merkur Solingen) can feel.
The Chin is a Tough Area
Shaving your chin for the first is very difficult. There are a lot of angles and curves there, and it requires some skilled handling of the razor. It can be tricky, and you may get some nicks (or just do a poor job). Keep practicing.
If you want to start very, very slow, shave the area beneath your ears and near your jawline. It's flat, and it's relatively easy to shave over without getting cut.
You Will Develop a Much More Detailed Knowledge of Your Face
When you're using a disposable, you can shave away with a care in the world, and be on your merry way. But when you start traditional wet shaving—that is, shaving one pass with the grain, one pass across the grain, and one pass against the grain—you develop a much more detailed understanding of your face. You develop a sort of topographical map of your facial features, of which way your individual whiskers grow, and what your more challenging areas are. In other words, you'll get to know your face in a new face, and that's a fascinating process.
And if you don't get to know your face in a new way, you're going to get a lot of cuts 🙂
A Soft Touch Really Gets the Job Done
This is another stark contract to "regular" shaving: wet shaving blades are so crazy sharp, and the safety razor / straight edge razor is so heavy and dense, that you really don't need to use much force at all. Your tools do the work for you. That's a surprise for a lot of guys.
We're not sure the science of this—maybe disposable razors, with all their plastic and needless extra blades, eat up sound—but wet shaving is SURPRISINGLY loud. You'll hear the blade cutting the whiskers off your face. It's kind of crazy.
Longer Hairs and Whiskers are Going to Jam Up Your Razor
You may have thought that was only an issue with disposables. Nope! Those hairs and whiskers will also get caught in safety razor. Safety razors are better than disposables in every conceivable way, but they're a bit similar in the respect. The good thing is, those hairs are easier to remove—simply loosen the head, and wash them away with water, and they ALL come out.
Wet Shaving Slows You Down
Or, it should, anyway. There's something about mindfully using a severely sharp blade that makes you take notice—and that's a good thing. Scientists have found that when you slow down and actually notice what you're doing—when you're mindful of your actions and movements and thoughts—you're much happier.
So let it slow you down. That's part of the joy of wet shaving. Take is slow, take it easy, and enjoy your quiet time by yourself.
"ATG" Can Be a Little Intimidating
If you're used to doing one pass with a disposable, completing three passes—one with the grain (WTG), one across the grain (XTG), and one against the grain (ATG)—seems like a lot. But not only that, those last two passes—across and against the grain—can be a bit scary when you're first using a safety razor, especially on the neck, at the chin, and on the upper lip. A little intimidating at first. Uncomfortable.
No worries. Take it one day a time, and build your comfort level. Plenty of other do it, so can you.
Passes Make a Big Difference
You really do get an incredible shave when you do three passes. If you have doubts, feel the skin under your chin after your first pass, and compare to the skin underneath your chin after the third pass. Baby-butt smooth really is a thing, and the first time you experience it (especially after using disposable razors or electric shavers), you'll be amazed at how close a shave you can get.
If You Go from Bearded to Beardless, You Will Resemble a Baby
If you're shaving off a beard, you're going to look like a different person, and that difference person is a baby. You will go from a very, very masculine looking man, to a somewhat masculine-looking man with a very small chin.
It's kind of shocking, really, but don't let it get you down. When you have a beard, it exaggerates your jawline—a sign of masculinity—and when you get rid of that beard, the juxtaposition is pretty severe.
Don't worry. You can always grow it back.
YOU'RE GONNA BE OK
There's a lot—a lot!—of anxiety in men who make the jump from shaving with a disposable to shaving with a safety razor. That's totally normal, and if you're careful, you'll probably be fine.
It Really Is Enjoyable
If you're tired of hearing wet shavers blather on endlessly about how enjoyable the process is, you may finally understand what they're talking about. Wet shaving really is a pleasant and pleasurable activity, even if you get nicked up a little bit and feel like you don't know what you're doing.
That About Does It For Our "First Time" Post
Thanks for reading—this was a ton of fun to write! If you're about to wet shave for the first time, enjoy yourself. And if you have any insights to share, stop back and tell us about them. Have fun, and be good!
Michael Morris is the head writer here at Rough and Tumble Gentleman. He's got a ducktail beard and loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He's married to the woman of his dreams and lives in Brooklyn, NY.