Putting the wet in wet shaving

Ever stop to think about why wet shaving is called wet shaving? Okay, electric shaving is dry. But a disposable Bic and a can of Rise also require the use of water.

Well, here's my take on the matter. One of the keys to a successful shave is a wet lather. I don't mean just that it's made with water. I mean, it ought to be WET. Pretty much all the water it can hold without running down your face. Lots of people like a big ol' lather. That can be useful -- a more voluminous lather can hold more water -- but whipping air into the lather for the sake of it is a waste of time. It looks cool, kind of that "lather porn" look, but it is creates too much friction to be optimal for shaving. 

Ever bake or make whipped cream? "Beat until stiff peaks form," or until soft peaks form. Well, you are after the soft peaks. Or at least softish. It's kind of gross to have lather running down your shirt, but honestly it's not too bad to shave on.

Not that a big lather is useless. You can get more water in it, and this alleviates a big problem: the lather drying out. Especially in the winter or in a dry climate. It's not as big a deal in humid conditions. Here in the east, any lather will start to get dry in about five minutes in the winter time. If your lather becomes unacceptably dry, it will compromise the shave. The solution is pretty straightforward: put a little water on your brush, then extend the lather.

After the first pass, the ratio of water to soap tends to increase, and the dry lather thing is not as big a problem -- at least initially. However, there's also less lather, and less volume of water. So it will dry out even faster than on the first pass. Again, just add water and, if needed, some more soap or cream, and you are good to go. Incidentally, cream lathers are usually a bit better than soap lathers at retaining water. But I still prefer soap. :-)

If you are a fan of a big, dry lather, try out a wet lather. It is not only quicker and easier to make, you will get a better shave. And, oh yeah, use hot water.

The Best Way To Use Shave Oil

Pre-shave oil is not the most popular item with wet shavers. I too have put some on prior to shaving and felt that it did little to increase the protection of my skin while slowing the velocity of the razor. The problem is that oil and water do not mix, so the oil can't do it's job.

There's an easy solution: soap. Soap is soluble in water, and oil is soluble in soap. Use a very high quality facial soap without too many additional ingredients (creams and the like), soap up your hands, then add maybe a quarter sized amount of your shave oil. This doesn't have to be anything fancy, any light oil pretty much will do. I use almond oil. The combination of soap and oil will affect the shave, so as with most things in wet shaving, some experimentation is in order to find what works best for you.

In any case, the solubilized oil quickly penetrates and hydrates your skin. It becomes much more supple, and the razor is less inclined to cut you. Your soap or cream will lather just fine -- maybe a slight loss of volume, but it's worth it.

An assist goes out here to Charles Roberts, the much maligned creator of method shaving. I don't buy into the system, but this much at least works really well. He claims you must use a certain kind of soap, but I haven't found that to be true. In fact, I get results with one of those low foaming facial cleansers, unnamed, as I don't endorse products. Soaps other than olive or palm oil soap or whatever else he recommends definitely work, if you are lathering a conventional shaving soap or cream over them with a brush.

If you want to use shave oil or have been frustrated by poor performance in the past, give it a try. I don't always bother, but it works pretty well.


Our backstory

What makes us tick? Hint: it's not about money.

I've always been a gear head, going back to childhood. Even as a kid, I studied things before making a selection, always aspiring to get the best. I was one of the first to own an aluminum baseball bat. During adolescence, photography was an obsession. I couldn't sleep at night without understanding why one film developer yielded finer grain, but slightly less sharpness than another, and the other developer yielded the reverse.

At one point, I developed an interest in improved materials for loudspeaker design. Speaker cabinets resonate, and I was out to ameliorate this problem -- resonance cannot be entirely prevented owing to the laws of physics. I hit upon so-called foam composites as a solution. The composite I began to explore in depth was a metal matrix composite, micro scale particles of ceramic embedded in a matrix of soft metal. Without getting too deeply into detail, the boundary between the two constituents causes friction and hysteresis. The resultant material is also quite stiff and light. Acoustic energy is dissipated in the form of heat, and cabinet resonances are reduced both in amplitude and distribution.

It turns out that metal matrix composites also have significant military application, and I landed a job subcontracting for NASA. I am bound by secrecy not to disclose anything about this work, but it was fascinating, and considerably deepened my knowledge of materials science. I have also applied my knowledge of materials to the design of woodwind instruments.

How does this fit with Paradigm and the titanium razor? The materials connection, seen in the selection of titanium, is self-evident. The rest was a matter of obsessing over the design, from both an aesthetic and a functional point of view. Our goal is to design the very best safety razors possible. 

Don't chase the BBS

There's an expression which will be familiar to community involved wet shavers: BBS. It stands for Baby Bottom Smooth, a shave which is so good that you are as smooth as a baby's bottom. While not as futile as "chasing the dragon," it can be a bit tricky, and generally involves the risk of irritating or cutting yourself. When you get one, it's great. The next day, the bathroom is a little cold, or your lather is not quite right, or your technique is a bit off, and the results are less than perfect. But they are good enough.

The moral, of course, is don't push it on days when things don't feel quite right, and don't push it too far even on days when they do. As I sit here, I'm nursing a really gnarly case of razor burn, the result of over-enthusiasm with a new razor. Naturally, I'm trying to get perfect shaves out of it. Mistake. Over the course of days, I have stirred up a trouble spot along the jawline, which I know better than to stir up. But I did it anyway.

This is the kind of mistake that only newbies should make. So what's my excuse?

The burden of high expectations. My technique is flawless, I think, mentally puffing out my chest. I can get that little patch of stubble which I imagine is hiding under my jawline.

Problem is, it's not really there! Say, what again? Yes, reader, that patch is an illusion. I only notice it when I rub my right thumb pretty hard against a particular spot. I'm feeling below the skin level. And if I wanted to shave there, I'd use a multiblade, which seems purpose built to mess you up in this way. If you are old enough, you'll remember the Gillette ads: the first blade tugs the hair out the follicle, while the second shaves it off. Voila, a recipe for, if not irritation, then ingrown hairs.

I'm not alone in this chasing the perfect shave, and letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. (To paraphrase Voltaire.) A lot of experienced men make the same mistake, to judge by the occasional thread on shaving forums.

Profit from our experience. Learn to respect problem areas. Shave aggressively against the grain only if you are not going to irritate yourself, that is, when you are getting one of those shaves where the stubble seems to just wipe off your face. You are after a shave, not a masterpiece. During those periods in which I wise up, I find that I still get very good results, and the minute bits of stubble which remain behind almost seem like friends. The valuable compensation is that I don't get hot face, nor do I nick myself. I look better. And nobody but me would possibly know that, once again, perfection has passed me by.