shaving 101

Shaving 101: Pre-Shave Skincare

In 2016, we surveyed more than 3,000 men about shaving, and we discovered something surprising: most men are dissatisfied with the shave they are getting.

That’s rather shocking, considering that there has been a flood of new shaving products – and grandiose promises of performance – on the market in the last few years. Entire websites, forums, and stores are dedicated to men’s shaving, so what gives?

We’ve written extensively about shaving before here on GG and in our extensive Shaving Guide. The Shaving Guide is a magnum opus contains a 288-page eBook, more than 70 video tutorials, and 150+ product reviews. Today, we’d like to share some of the Shaving Guide’s great content with you.

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We realized that the answer to the question of how to get a truly great shave is simple: go back to square one and start at the beginning. Sometimes the answer to a persistent problem that hasn’t been solved by tweaks here and there is to start afresh.

To start at the beginning, we will cover how to set yourself up for a great shave BEFORE your even get your razor out.

Sven Raphael Schneider preps for a shave at home

Sven Raphael Schneider preps for a shave at home

Shaving 101: The Challenges of Getting a Great Shave

Shaving 101 addresses one of the key challenges that come up BEFORE you begin to shave. Namely, many men don’t address the needs of their skin before they start shaving. In our survey, here’s what men had to say their biggest concerns were:

  • Getting a close shave
  • Finding the time to shave properly
  • Managing sensitive skin
  • Dealing with thick or coarse beard hair
  • How to prevent and treat nicks, cuts, and irritation
  • Shaving around face angles
  • Managing costs
  • Missing spots
  • Making a mess
  • Poor lighting
  • Lack of surface space

Sound familiar? Many of these issues stem from pre-shave prep rather than the shave itself.

Setting up for a great shave

Setting up for a great shave

Setting Yourself Up for a Great Shave: Pre-Shave Skincare

Like so many things, the preparations made before starting a task can hugely affect the end result of your work. With shaving, the prep work is often neglected as a discussion point.

Before pulling out your razor, it’s worth taking a step back to assess your preparedness. If a great shave is the goal, your skin needs to be ready so you can focus on the job at hand. Chances are, some of the aforementioned shaving “challenges” are bugging you. Setting yourself up for shaving success begins with addressing persistent skin issues that affect your shave, specifically acne, irritation, razor burn, and your regular skincare routine.

Skincare Basics

Shaving removes facial hair as well as the top layer of skin to reveal the skin beneath it, so it makes sense to take good care of your skin. Shaving will become an easier task if your skin is well looked after. Many of the challenges that come with shaving, such as dealing with skin surface irregularities and ingrown hairs, can be greatly eased with good products and a consistent routine. That’s right, a routine isn’t just for the ladies – if you don’t have one, you need one.

Skincare is as important as your shaving technique and tools

Skin care is as important as your shaving technique and tools

The goal of having a good skincare routine, for the purposes of this guide, is to prep your skin for a close shave. Skincare can do many other things, such as protect you from the effects of the sun, pollution, and aging, but here we will stick to the key shaving-related steps. Even if you have great skin, there are a few basic steps that every man needs to follow, regardless of skin type or age: cleanse daily and moisturize.

Cleanse Daily: Cleansing removes the dirt and oil from your face which we all inevitably build up from contact with our hands, the air, clothing, and pillows, among other things. You may not have acne or any visible dirt on your face, but the chemicals, grime and natural oils in the environment settle invisibly into your pores and have the potential to do harm over time. Furthermore, if you apply any products to your face, the residual should be removed at the end of the day. When you shave, the skin at risk of being nicked, so it’s always best to start with a clean canvas to prevent further irritation.


Moisturize: Cleansing removes the skin’s natural oils, which help hold in the skin’s moisture. Using a moisturizer adds the moisture back into the skin and helps alleviate the dryness that comes hand in hand with your skin type, shaving, or dry air. Note that moisturizer should cover the whole face, and not just the area you shave. Our tip: Buy a daily moisturizer with sunscreen to help protect against daily sun exposure, and avoid fragrance (as an ingredient), which can irritate skin.

Ingrown hair graphic

An ingrown hair gets trapped under the surface of the skin, leaving a bump

Ingrown Hair & Razor Burn

An ingrown hair has had the unfortunate misdirection to grow back into skin instead of out through the follicle. Shaving creates the perfect environment for ingrown hairs. The hair has been cut off below the surface level, allowing for skin cells, dirt and oil to trap the hair under the surface of the skin.

Razor burn

Razor burn – ouch!

Razor burn is an immediate reaction to shaving that can last for a few hours up to a few days. The skin becomes red, hot or bumpy after shaving – it looks and feels painful and itchy. It’s simple – your skin doesn’t like how it’s being treated! This condition can seem similar (and is a precursor) to ingrown hairs, so the treatments are similar. There are several reasons why shaving can cause razor burn, namely a lack of proper lubrication and using dull razor blades. To prevent razor burn, a shave should be as gentle on your face as possible. Any friction, tugging, or pushing will irritate the skin. To avoid razor burn, use the following guidelines:

  • Pre-shave prep should soften the beard as much as possible for easier removal. Splash the face with hot water, use a hot towel, or shower prior to shaving. Employ shaving cream or soap in combination with a shaving brush to prep, lubricate, and lift the hair away from the face, making it easier to cut.
  • During your shave, use a clean, sharp blade with barely-there pressure in the direction of the grain of your hair. Dullness is the enemy of a good shave, and it is probably the biggest contributor to razor burn.  A dull blade will force you to make multiple passes. More passes = more razor burn. A cartridge razor has multiple blades, so when the blades are dull the dragging effect against the skin is multiplied by the number of blades. A double edge (a.k.a. the safety razor) is recommended for frequent sufferers of razor burn since it only employs a single blade, therefore reducing the amount of blade contact needed to shave. A safety razor also has a little heft to it, so you don’t need to use pressure to get it to work – just gravity.
  • Post shave, splash your face with cold water to close the pores and minimize the potential for ingrowns. Finish with a post-shave product that includes soothing ingredients (such as aloe vera) and Salicylic Acid (an exfoliant) to help keep hair follicles clear of buildup. Finally, clean your tools thoroughly.

Ingrown hair is the ugly cousin of razor burn. The easiest way to prevent ingrown hairs (and razor burn!) is to avoid hair removal entirely, but that’s not why we’re here, is it? The next best way to take good care of your skin and prevent ingrowns is through your daily skincare and shave routine, making some adjustments to your shave process, and then through careful removal.

Acne on the face

Acne on the face can be exacerbated by shaving – treat it first!


Let’s be honest – acne sucks, and it’s a beast to treat and prevent. It can strike at any age, come and go, and then reappear at the most inconvenient time. For men, covering up acne is still taboo, so it’s even more important to treat and prevent it as best you can. To get the best shave possible and to look your best, getting acne under control is a top priority. Following the basic skincare management steps outlined above are especially crucial for acne sufferers. Shaving also adds a layer of complication to the mix, because it scrapes closely across the surface of the skin and will interact with any bumps or bacteria present as a result of acne, which can often make the issue worse.

Acne graphic

Acne traps bacteria under the skin, and shaving can spread or worsen it

Acne is the result of dead skin cells and oil clogging the pores, which produces an environment in which the otherwise mild-mannered Propionibacterium acnes bacteria flourish. The result is inflammation that is visible on the skin surface in the form of a pimple.

Here are our top recommendations for managing acne:

  1. Visit your dermatologist. As with many things, it’s crucial to get a professional opinion about your skin. Acne can be a blanket term for many conditions, and your doctor will be best able to tell you what exactly is happening and recommend treatments. Many prescription level acne treatments are stronger versions of OTC available ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide and retinol. If the prescription strength version is too strong for your skin, you can look for drugstore versions with lower concentrations of the same active ingredient.
  2. Establish a basic skincare routine (if you haven’t already done so). Follow the same steps: cleanse, moisturize, and add an exfoliation step. Each one of these steps should be tailored for acne sufferers by choosing acne-specific products, at least until you get the hang of deciphering ingredient labels. In general, the formulas will be lighter and oil-free, but can be quite strong, so adjust them for more/fewer uses depending on how your skin reacts.
  3. Treat and prevent future acne. In addition to your basic skincare routine, consider adding some specific treatments to target current breakouts and prevent future ones. Many products will feature multiple ingredients, so you won’t need to have a separate product for each function. Note that cleansers will only come in contact with your skin briefly, so while they play an important supporting treatment role, it likely won’t be enough to only use an acne cleanser to treat it.
  4. Persist with Trial and Error. Acne is a tough nut to crack, and it may take some time for you to find a personalized routine that really works for you. When things don’t work, persist with research, trial and error, varying the frequency of use, and different combinations of products and ingredients. Expect 6-8 weeks to show results. If you want to make a change to your regimen, change one product per 6-8 week period evaluate its effectiveness.
  5. Kick habits that can exacerbate acne. There are many other non-skincare things you can do to help prevent breakouts. Acne-prone skin is simply more reactive to bacteria, so do everything you can to keep it away from your skin. Clean surfaces that come in contact with your face often, such as sunglasses, cell phones, headsets, desk phones and hat bands; change your pillowcases and towels frequently; don’t pick at your pimples, it will simply spread the bacteria around.
Acne-specific products can help treat pimples before you shave

Acne-specific products can help treat pimples before you shave

Lessening acne should give you a smoother, less-nick and irritation prone canvas over which to shave. For a more thorough look at addressing acne, including suggested products, take a look at our full-fledged guide to How to Get Clear Skin here.


Once you’ve tackled pre-shave skin care a good result should be easier no matter the technique or tools you choose to use. In the future, we’ll be releasing more of the great content found in our Shaving Guide. If you are interested in taking the full course, check out all the things it offers here.

Shaving 101: Pre-Shave Skincare
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Shaving 101: Pre-Shave Skincare
Learn all about skin care basics and how to set yourself up for a great shave.
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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18 replies
  1. Richard says:

    I stopped reading after I saw him using a regular gillette razor.
    A traditional safety razor or a straight razor is the only way to go!

  2. Carmine Leopold says:

    I’m a young man (25) with a fair complexion and straight hair, alas european, so I have to shave relatively often but it is easy for me (compared with someone that would grow a thick, curly beard). I shave every two days when I head to the office.

    My routine is the following: fill the sink with scalding hot water, drop my bar of turkish shaving soap into it. Then I go into the shower, do my usual bit and exfoliate my face with a softish loofah (peelings are too rough on my skin and dry it too harshly, I’m a sensitive man). when I come out I comb my Hair out of the face and rub the soap between my hands, resulting in an okayish foam, wich I apply to my face against the grain with my soapy hands, repeat 2-3 times till everything is soaped up. Then I wash my hands in the still rather hot sink, drop the soap again, take a single blade disposable razor and shave the face with little strikes with the grain, discard the whiskers after 4-5 drags in the sink, continue till once around. Then I wash my face with the warm water from the sink. then I apply soap once again (lathe up in hand, distribute to face), this time it becomes super smooth and thick. now I go against the grain, again little drags and much rinsing in the sink. at the end I roughly trim my ‘stache and the sideburns and wash my face with cold water ( to close the pores). Afterwards I apply a unisex face lotion with urea to my whole face ( I loofahed my face before, remember) and presto. wash sink, discard razor, put soap into soap tub. Costs me around 6EUR a month.

  3. John W. Browning says:

    I too was astonished that he used a Gillette in his business. I was furthermore shocked that his customers want that. Nothing beats the treat of a luxury shave via straight razor by a skilled technician. While I am sure Mr. Allan’s establishment is top quality, I doesn’t seem to have the feel of a Barber Shop (judging by the website)
    I use both a a double edge (the Gillette Superspeed I started with many years ago) and a vintage John Primble Blue Grass straight (my Grandpa’s). Along with Grandpa’s shave mug, a puck of Taylor of Old Bond Street and a H.I.S. Deluxe shaving brush, I truly enjoy the act of shaving. If more folks would slow down and enjoy the act of shaving with a quality double edge like a Merkur or the sort, they would save money, get a better shave and get a little Zen in the process.

  4. F Gabriel says:

    One seldom sees a self-advertising piece so spectacularly backfiring as this one: besides the banalities about “how to shave”, the whole thing takes a decisive turn into farce when Mr Allan unveils his drinking habits while shaving. If the man really throws down a scotch (in the morning, Mr Allan?) in-between passages, then it is probably for the best that he shaves with a Gillette: God knows what could happen if he were allowed to use a proper, grown-up double edge razor. If he were to imagine himself more like James Bond than “Vito and Brando”, and go for a dirty Martini instead of a scotch, then besides the “Gillette only rule”, somebody should also remove the toothpick from the olive.

  5. Duncan says:

    My routine is quite similar – I usually shave immediately after showering, so I’ve already scrubbed my face. I fill the sink with very hot water (pre-heating my shaving bowl at the same time), moisten my chosen soap (I use traditional hard soaps from D. R. Harris or Taylor of Old Bond Street), then sit my brush (best badger rather than silver tip, sadly) in my bowl to soak the bristles. While it’s soaking, I apply a steaming hot flannel to my face – my beard’s already softened from my shower, but it feels too good to leave this step out. I then apply a few drops of pre-shave oil (from Truefitt & Hill), then work up a good lather in my bowl and apply it to my beard with a circular scrubbing motion. I shave with an Edwin Jagger long-handled DE razor and Astra Platinum blades. The first pass is with the grain, second pass against the grain, and the third pass is across the grain. I re-lather between each pass obviously – one tip here is to float the shaving bowl in the basin of hot water to keep it warm. After shaving I rinse thoroughly with hot water, then rub a natural alum block over the shaved areas. Whilst the alum dries on my skin I clean and dry my shaving tackle. Then I finish off with a cold rinse, pat dry with a warm towel, and apply a moisturising aftershave balm – currently I’m using Edwin Jagger’s Sandalwood. I don’t tend to use alcohol-based aftershaves on my face, but on occasion I might splash on a little something from D. R. Harris…

    The whole process takes me about 25 minutes.

    I would have to agree with John about the Gillette though – when I pay for a shave, I want the best, and that definitely means a straight razor. Although to be entirely honest, the actual shave is probably the least important part of a barber shave for me…

  6. Sven Raphael Schneider says:

    Thanks for sharing your routine Duncan. In regards to hot towels, I use a wash cloth, make it wet and put it in the microwave – very easy, quick and does the job.
    In order to keep the lather warm, I use a seperate bowl with hot water and put the mug in it. because it would not float in the sink. Besides sometimes sinks are too little.

    Personally, I would only pay for a shave with a straight razor. The best I ever had were in Turkey and Egypt – you get a massage as well, and they literally burn of the fuzz – it is quite an experience.

  7. Justin says:

    Like the others, I recoiled when I saw the Fusion being used. I think we understand that it’s stores only, not Allan’s personal habit.

    I was also taken aback somewhat by the plugs of his own products– it reminded me of those instructions on some food boxes where they recommend a particular brand of oil or eggs or something!

    I’ve lost almost all of my desire to get into straights since I started using my Muhle R41 tooth comb DE razor. This thing is considerably more aggressive than even a slant Merkur is. Yet it rewards the patient user with a shave the is absolutely amazing. I’ve managed to get almost 18 hours of baby-butt smooth from an R41 shave. I’m using Astra SPs, but have used Feathers (great blade, a litte too risky with the R41) and also Derbys (avoid– they are junk in an R41– not sharp enough).

    I make do with an inexpensive Semogue and some Proraso mixed with Mitchell’s Wool Fat. I think it’s rather luxurious at a pretty reasonable price. MWF is some amazing stuff.

    I’ve only been using an R41 for about 10 months, but I’m very pleased and not interested in other options.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Justin, thanks for sharing your two cents! I think the eggs are a good comparison and I was surprised to read it as well. As with so many things in life, there is not just one way to achieve things.
      I have not heard of the Mühle R41 but I wonder why it is more aggressive. Have you tested it side by side with the slanted Merkur HD?

  8. Jamie says:

    Having just come across this article, I thought I’d share my routine and the issues i have with shaving.
    Since i started shaving in the early nineties, i got caught up in the ‘blade wars’ offering closer and closer shaves with more and more blades on each razor. Id always suffered quite badly with ingrowing hairs and I beleive this only made the situation worse. It led me to spend most of the naughties scratching my face every couple of days with a beard trimmer so I didnt have to endure a wet shave at all. Not an ideal situation but a compromise for comfort.

    However, now my job now dictates that I actually look reasonably presentable in the office and since im pushing the mid thirties, I need to make myself look a little more diginified. I have an issue though.

    As a rower seriosuly into his sport I spend a great deal of time on the river and while the summer months are not so bad, in the winter the combination of cold temperatures and sweat can play havoc with your pores and skin. Also having morning outings to complete before work means that shaving can sometimes decend into a bit of a scrabble.

    My solution is a result of expediency and habit. Its led me to a workably happy medium beween looking groomed and spending the half hour I have between water session and work equally on my ablutions and breakfast.

    I fill the sink with hot water (this also serves to warm my hands as well when the mercury dips below zero). I thoroughly massage my face with the hot water to soften my beard, sometimes using shaving oil as well if I feel my skin is raw from the elements. Following this, I dip my badger hair brush in the water and lather up from the trumpers soap I use. Its my one concession to ‘luxury’ thorughout the process. I use the cheapest bic blades – usually the five for a quid variety. I find I can actually get a pretty smooth shave from them and I also dont feel bad when they go blunt.
    I finish off by splashing my face with cold water before dabbing dry with a towel.

    Id be very interested to know what sort of blade you might recommend for someone who needs a quick safe shave.

  9. Kral says:

    I have tried electric razors, I would have been better with tweezers. I tried cartridge razors and was unhappy with all the in-grown hairs. I also had that issue with the DE razors but to a lesser extent. I went full circle and now roll with a full on straight razor and couldn’t be happier. To anyone looking for a relaxing ritual I say go for it and bring the edge of skill and danger back to your ritual.

  10. Colin Richard says:

    I believe people are severely mistaken when assuming that using a safety razor takes extra time for a shave. I am in the military and some mornings only have minutes for a shave due to work and such. The time it takes me to attain proper lather using a brush and cream in a bowl, apply on my face, and shave, is only a matter of minutes. If i am stretched for time even more so I will apply the cream to the brush directly and build the lather on my face. Doing either of these presents me with a very good shave in no more than 10 minutes, 5 if I am hurrying. The key is practice, after but a few weeks of shaving with a safety razor I had attained the same speed as I would with any modern razor. Now on weekends I will admit that I spend more time and care taking multiple passes to assure the absolute highest standard of shave, but you can make the activity available to any working man stretched for time.

  11. Paul Breslin says:

    My method is simple. I wash my face thoroughly and rinse with clean water at least twice. Using hand soap, I lather my face and then shave – nothing fancy just a safety razor. Then rinse with good hot water followed by cold water. Then I clean my razor and blade with an old toothbrush to remove all residuals. I never cut myself, always have a clean shave, and never have any skin irritation.

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