June 9, 2009

Five Shaving Rules I Don't Know What I Did Without

Last week I was encouraging ladies to defy shaving rules, if they think it will help.

This week, these are the rules I could never dispense with:

Rule: Shave in or after a shower/wash your face with warm water/hold a warm washcloth for a few minutes to the skin before your shave.
Not that I am very good at shaving in the shower without a mirror, but the practice of prepping the skin with warmth is one of the main things that has improved my shaving and the overall health of my skin. Open pores are easier to clean, for one. And for another, it apparently softens the hair shaft for the blade to cut it more easily. According to some sources, the cut edge of the hair is not as sharp, and therefore not as likely to re-enter the skin and cause an ingrown hair. This practice hasn't eliminated bumps for me personally, but it has reduced them somewhat.

Exfoliate regularly.
Along the same lines as above, this skin prep however is not necessarily something you'd want to do right before or after shaving, especially on our face. It could irritate skin that probably already dislikes all the sharp things that are touching it these days. Still, using a facial scrub (or something similar) once or twice a week will remove any dead skin cells that might otherwise get into your hair follicles and cause infections. I find that it also keeps the path free for your shaved hairs to emerge from the skin without becoming ingrown. Again, this hasn't made my shave experience perfect, but my skin was a lot worse before I used it, so it must be helping. I prefer to use a scrub with a little salicylic acid in it, but others may find that too harsh drying. I also do a little once-over with a wash cloth every morning just to release those hairs from the skin.

Rule: Always use a fresh, clean blade.

Absolutely. The sharper the blade, the better the shave. A dull blade makes you press harder for that same close shave, or go over the same area again and again, giving you more irritation; and a dirty blade can work dead skin cells into pores, causing infections. The problem I had with this rule was that when a disposable blade loses its edge by the fourth or fifth shave, I can't always afford to replace it. That's at least six razors or cartridges in a month, and more garbage going to the landfill. Not great.

However, that sharp blade is something you really don't want to skimp on. While I was still in school I felt bad constantly putting "more razors" on the grocery list, and would use the same blade for two weeks. Ouch. Now, because my legs are far more hardy than my face, I'll often use a blade for one week on my face, and then demote the blade to the shower for use on my lower legs. It helps me combat the guilt of the wastefulness of disposable razors.

It's not the suds that count.

As you recently saw me discover when I experimented with mineral oil for the first time, it's not the lather that gives the best results. It's what's between the blade and the skin that counts, and that's really just a tiny, tiny layer of lubricating medium. I'm still trying out different shaving mediums myself, but I think everyone should know they don't have to be afraid to try a medium for themselves just because it doesn't lather.

Finish off the shave with a rinse of cool water.

I've found several advantages to this; it boggles my mind that I didn't think to try this when I first started. It feels very soothing, for one. For another, it closes up the pores again so it's more difficult for dirt to get inside. Cool water will also help stop any nicks from bleeding (depending on their severity, of course).

In addition, I read some things in that shaving article I linked last week that I had never heard of before. I've been testing them for the last couple of weeks:

Rule: Massage the skin to get the hairs to stand up.
There are muscles attached to the hair follicles called the arrectores pilorum. These guys are responsible for goose bumps, making hair stand up when cold or frightened. So if you stimulate these muscles, it apparently pushes the hairs on your face up and makes them easier to cut. I also read that a quick massage while applying the shaving medium encourages the skin to release its natural oils to stay soft. Definitely something I'm game to try if it helps.

Rule: Don't shave immediately after waking up.
It is suggested that body fluids need at least 20 minutes to redistribute. When you wake up, they are all on the surface and it is impossible to get a close shave because the skin around the hair follicles is swollen.

This is a hard one for me. When I set my alarm for half an hour early, my half-awake brain sees the time and knows it's not really time to get up yet. It figures that since I've got half an hour before I need to be in the bathroom shaving, I might as well spend it asleep. It may take a while to retrain myself. Coaxing myself to have a nice leisurely breakfast doesn't work; I'm not a breakfast person, because I'm not a morning person. Talking myself into a warm, pleasant shower doesn't work either--I know I showered the night before and I don't wanna have to dry my hair again.

In two days, I'm going to find out what my bloodwork reveals. At last. Those of you who've read backposts know this is news I've been anticipating for years. Next week's entry could be very exciting. To put a name to the cause, to say "I've woken up every day for the past eight years to cringe at my reflection because of this," ought to be a profound relief, no matter what it is. ...Right?

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