I am so excited to write this article, because this topic has totally changed my life. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, I haven’t made a career switch or bought a home because of this, but wet shaving with a double edge safety razor has definitely greatly improved my hair removal experience.
Shaving with a double edge razor (a type of safety razor, also known sometimes as a three-piece razor) used to be the standard method of shaving, back in the early to mid-1900s. It was only in the ‘70s that fully disposable cartridge razor heads started becoming popular, to the point that they completely surpassed double edge razors as the norm. Nowadays, as part of the overall hipster affection towards anything vintage and sustainable, shaving with a safety razor has made a big comeback, albeit almost exclusively with men.
It is no surprise, then, that the person to turn me on to the idea of shaving with a double edge razor was my boyfriend. One day he brought home a beautiful Merkur stainless steel razor, a shaving brush, and a round tub of shaving soap, and I was intrigued.
I watched him sweep the brush through the soap, create a lather, and begin shaving. Afterwards, he raved about how smooth his skin felt, and how easy the whole process was. He was also thrilled at the complete lack of irritation or razor burn.
I had always had problems with hair removal – no matter how much I exfoliated, waxing still gave me terrible ingrowns, while shaving irritated my skin. I tried shaving my legs with his razor (I replaced the blade and cleaned it well, but I still have to admit it wasn’t completely hygienic).
The experience was night and day from using my regular Venus Razor, and I was hooked. I went out and bought my own set, and I haven’t looked back since. If you think you might also want to make the switch, I have here the complete guide to wet shaving for women (or anyone else who would like to shave their legs, bikini area, underarms, etc.).
But first, I want to talk about the three important elements that make up the perfect formula for wet shaving for women: the double edge razor, the shaving cream or soap, and the shaving brush.
What Is a Double Edge Razor?
A double edge razor is a tool normally made of stainless steel that consists of two or three pieces: the handle, and the one or two parts of the head. A single blade is fitted unto the handle of the double edge razor, with the bottom part of the head shielding it from below, and then the top is screwed above. Both ends of the blade are uncovered, so the razor can be used from both sides of the head.
How Is a Double Edge Razor Different from a Cartridge Razor?
The double edge razor is usually heavier than the cartridge razor, and the only part of it that is disposable is the very light and thin blade. Additionally, nowadays most cartridge razors have between 3-5 blades that go over the skin at once, while a double edge razor only has one blade end glide over the skin at a time.
Why Is a Double Edge Razor Better?
Double edge razor, how I love thee, let me count the ways.
• At every pass of the razor, only one blade comes into contact with the skin, instead of 3 or 5. While this means you might need multiple passes to get a totally smooth feel, it is a much gentler method that is less likely to irritate the skin – especially if you utilize the technique I outline later on.
• Double edge razors are much more sustainable, since only the tiny titanium blade gets discarded, instead of the full head which is made of a mix of metal and plastic. Additionally, the razor itself is a lifetime investment that won’t have to be replaced ever.
• Since the razor is made of metal, it is a little heavy, so you utilize the natural weight of it to shave, rather than having to exert pressure.
• The long-term cost of shaving with a double edge razor is much lower than that of a cartridge razor.
• Since the cost of replacing the blades is extremely low, you are likelier to replace the blade more often. This means you are always shaving with an adequately sharp razor, which gives a gentler and smoother shave.
• The double edge razor looks super classy sitting on your bathroom shelf, especially if you get it with a nice stand and a classy looking shave brush.
How Do I Find the Perfect DE Razor for Me?
Since most of us women are not shaving our faces, we have to hold the razor a little bit differently. Instead of holding it like a microphone, we hold it like a pencil instead. A razor with a longer handle normally makes this easier, although a standard sized razor can certainly also work.
If you are looking for a quick, excellent razor, the blue handled Jack Black Double Edge Safety Razor, available at Nordstrom for $125, is totally gorgeous and high quality. However, great razors can be purchased for as little as $15, on Amazon.
Just make sure to read reviews and stick to trusted razor brands. Gillette actually makes excellent double edge razors. Other trusted brands include Merkur (this is the one I have), Maggard (who have an excellent starter kit especially for women, with a longer blade), Muhle, Edwin Jagger, and Parker.
What Is the Difference Between Regular Shaving Cream, Shaving Soap, and High Quality Shaving Cream?
So let’s start with the problem: aerosol shaving creams. These are the shaving creams that come in a can at the drugstore. Aerosol already has been properly vilified for its terrible impact on the ozone layer (frankly, I am not sure why it is still okay to sell aerosol cans at all), but it also has negative impact on the skin.
Canned shaving creams contain ingredients called ‘propellants’. Propellants are the flammable ingredients that force the shaving gel to adopt a mousse consistency after it is expelled from the aerosol can. These ingredients are very drying to the skin.
Often times, companies combat that by adding mineral oil to their formula, so that the shaving cream doesn’t feel so drying. The problem with mineral oil is too powerful and occlusive, and in the shaving process, it prevents the skin and hair from absorbing any more water. So save your skin, save the planet, and skip canned shaving creams.
Instead, you have two options. The first one is easier, but also a little pricier: non-pressurized shaving creams in tubes. The benefits of shaving creams are that they are extremely moisturizing to the skin, and are generally much more user friendly. Simply squeeze out some product, apply it to the area you will be shaving, and go to town.
Other shaving creams will actually lather once whipped up with a shaving brush (more on that in a bit). The drawback of shaving creams is that they tend to run out faster, and are a bit on the pricier side.
One excellent, non-lathering shaving cream choice is Shaveworks Pearl Souffle Luxurious Shave Cream. Its smell is gentle and feminine, the formula is rich and creamy, and there is also a bit of glycolic acid in there, to prevent ingrowns and dead skin build up. It’s available at Sephora for $22.00.
Shaving soaps will give you the true, classic wet shave. While they do mandate a shaving brush, they can create a wonderfully moisturizing lather, and last a long time. A good shaving soap is made of a mixture of saponified and unsaponified oils, and will normally come in a round container.
I think shaving soaps are an excellent choice for any of us who have large areas to shave, because they are just so economical. However, since wet shaving for women hasn’t become standard yet, most shaving soaps are marketed towards men.
I believe that a great product is a great product, regardless of marketing, so I’m still happy to recommend the Imperial Barber Grade Glycerin Face & Shave Soap Puck, available at Nordstrom for $12.00.
It is rich in oils that will make the skin feel smooth and allow the blade to glide, but it also contains a lot of glycerin, an ingredient that attracts much needed water to the skin. It is unscented, so you won’t have to worry about the masculine fragrance present in many products marketed towards men.
All About the Shaving Brush
The final element of the perfect wet shaving for women is the shaving brush. Shaving brushes are short handled – they actually remind me a little bit of Kabuki brushes. The brush hairs are usually made of badger, but horse, boar, blends, and synthetic brushes are also available. These brushes are fairly coarse, so that they can whip up a lather out of both shaving creams and soaps.
To use a shaving brush, you simply get it a little wet, and then rub it over the soap or shaving cream, to create the lather – I’ll go into more details on this soon. Aside from being able to create the perfect cushion to the blade, shaving brushes can also help lightly exfoliate the skin before shaving, and lift up the hairs.
Lastly, shaving brushes provide a really pleasant old-time experience. The only issue is that perfect shaving brushes for women are not widely available. Most shaving brushes are made for the face, and are a little too small to be perfectly comfortable for leg shaving. However, using them and enjoying their benefits is still worth it.
What Is Wet Shaving?
Wet shaving is the full, traditional experience of shaving with an abundance of hydration. The philosophy behind wet shaving is that having well hydrated skin and hair allows for a smoother, gentler shave. Technically, wet shaving could be done with any type of razor blade, but as you’ve already heard, I greatly prefer double edge blades.
Wet shaving is done when the skin is well hydrated, usually during or after a shower. Thanks to the water that has been absorbed, both the skin and hair are more pliable. After that, any shaving aids used, whether it is a pre-shave oil or a shaving soap, are designed specifically to maintain the presence of moisture in the skin (something that your average store bought shaving cream does not do).
The Ultimate Guide to Wet Shaving for Women
1. Make sure your skin and hair are saturated with a lot of water. I find the easiest way to ensure this is to simply shave in the shower, or immediately after one. Nothing is worse than trying to shave when the skin is dehydrated, seriously.
2. Prepare your skin for the shave by washing and exfoliating it. You might also want to use a pre-shave oil, to create an extra layer of cushion.
3. If you are using a shaving soap or cream that needs to be lathered, you need to prepare the lather. Start by soaking your brush in hot water, and wringing out the excess. Figuring out the perfect amount of water might require some trial and error.
4. Next, either pour a bit of shaving cream into a bowl or cup, or simply unscrew the shaving soap tub. Vigorously swirl your brush through the cream or soap, in order to load it up. It will take between 30 and 45 seconds to adequately load the brush up with the amount of soap that will work for one leg. With a cream a few seconds will suffice.
5. Next, create the lather itself. The traditional wet shaving method calls for building a lather in a bowl, although in my opinion, building the lather directly on the skin is easier and also helps to remove dead skin. Rub the brush against your skin in circular motions, while exerting a bit of pressure.
As you do, the soap and water will begin to foam up and create a lather with the consistency of whipped cream. Once the area you will be shaving is covered in lather, you are good to go.
6. You can now begin shaving. The best angle for shaving is usually at 30 degrees – that is the angle when the blade can get as close to the skin as possible, and in which no pressure has to be applied.
In the traditional wet shave, shaving is meant to be done with the grain (i.e. going in the same direction towards which the hair grows) for the first pass. This should be done in short strokes, and with no pressure. Going against the grain when the skin is thin and sensitive (bikini area, I’m looking at you!) can cause serious irritation and razor burn.
7. After every few passes, rinse the head of the blade to remove bits of hair and lather that get caught in it.
8. If you so desire, you can now do a second pass. Depending on how close you got with the first pass, and how sensitive your skin is, you might choose to do the second pass against the grain (gives a smoother shave, but has more potential to irritate), or across it (less smooth, but much more gentle on the skin).
Since the skin on the legs is a little thicker, and because I find it very awkward to try to shave the legs with the grain, I tend to only shave my legs against the grain. As long as you follow the prep correctly, stick to shorter strokes, and keep your pressure almost non-existent (and assuming your skin isn’t too sensitive, shaving the legs against the grain will likely be okay).
9. Once you are done, rinse off all of the lather, and enjoy the smooth feel of your legs!
10. As an optional step, you can apply an astringent that will help tighten your pores. Popular astringents include alcohol-free witch hazel, apple cider vinegar heavily diluted in water, or your favorite skin tightening toner.
11. Finish off with a nice layer of moisturizer, to lock in the moisture from your shower and strengthen and nourish your skin. Bonus points if it contains an exfoliating ingredient like glycolic acid, that will help prevent ingrowns, like the Cane + Austin Body Retexture Lotion, which is available at Sephora for $48.
Extra Tips and Tricks for a Perfect Shave
• Water doesn’t have to be hot in order to saturate your skin. In fact, hot water can be very dehydrating to the skin. The best temperature for wet shaving for women is lukewarm.
• If you suffer from ingrowns a day or two after shaving, try an aluminium block.
• If the problems with ingrowns persist, try a body lotion or spray with at least 2% salicylic acid (also known as BHA or beta-hydroxy acid). It exfoliates inside the hair follicle, thereby preventing dead skin from clogging it and blocking the hair.
BHA also has some antibacterial properties, so it can help prevent any infection from occurring. One option is Paula’s Choice Resist Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA, available at Nordstrom for $26.00.
• If your lather seems too sticky, you need to add a bit more water to your brush.
• If your lather is too runny, you will have to create new lather with less water on the brush or on the skin.
• If you are still struggling to create a perfect lather, or you find that even when shaving with a fresh blade and good lather the blade still seems to nick or irritate your skin, definitely apply a pre-shave oil or coconut oil, before applying the shaving cream/lather. Pre-shave oil can really help with the glide of the blade, but it does make cleaning the blade harder.
• If you can’t seem to make a perfect lather, no matter how much you try, the problem might be that you have hard tap water. Try creating the lather with distilled water, instead.
• You can easily nick your skin when trying to shave below the knee, or other areas where the skin is less taut. Pulling the skin taut before shaving will make things much easier.
• If you are struggling to create a lather straight on your legs, use a small bowl. After loading up your brush, swirl it vigorously around the bowl, until you have created a lather that resembled whipped cream.
• If you are getting a lot of nicks and cuts… well, you should definitely figure out what’s going on, since that shouldn’t be something that happens frequently. The occasional little nick is okay, but you should use a styptic pen to stop the bleeding and kill any bacteria that might cause infection.
• Some people recommend coating freshly shaved skin with an alum block, to prevent infection and irritation. However, this method is often too irritating to the skin, so I think it is better to stick to witch hazel or a BHA based toner or lotion.
How Much Does Switching to Wet Shaving with DE Razor Cost?
A double edge razor is a bigger investment initially, with great razors costing between $25-$75, but they last forever, and the blades themselves only cost a few pennies per blade. A shaving brush costs around $10, and high quality shaving soaps or creams cost between $10 and $20 for a 4-month supply. Initially it might seem like you are spending a lot of money, but after that initial purchase, you will only spend around $20-$30 a year for an amazing shave.
You don’t have to follow every single piece of advice here – a wet shave with a sharp cartridge razor can still work very well! I just hope I opened up your mind to this wonderful hair removal option.
Have you tried a double edge razor or wet shaving for women before? Think you might give it a chance now? Comment and let me know!
Don’t miss: How to Bleach Arm Hair