Before you shave, you need to know the basic rules of the game. They go like this:
- You need a good razor with a fresh, sharp blade. The multi-blade cartridge razors are great, but you can still get a great shave with a disposable if you do it right.
- You need a shaving brush, preferably one made of badger’s hair, because that’s the only fiber that will carry water from the sink up to your face to give you the best lather.
- You need hot water, which you apply to your face for some time before you start shaving. The best way to do this is to wash your face in the shower, then soak your face with a hot, moist facecloth for a minute or two before shaving. You also need a bowl of hot water to refresh your razor as you go.
- You need to shave with the grain in short strokes of no more than an inch or two, between which you wet your razor in hot water.
- You need to make sure to reduce friction between your razor and your face as much as you can. Even though you should never hold your razor hard against your face, the best shave will leave you feeling as though the razor is gliding effortlessly across your hair follicles — like a Lawn-Boy rather than a push-mower. This last rule explains why we use shaving cream, but it also explains why most shaving creams, foams and ointments let us down. If you can feel the razor rubbing against your face, your shaving cream has failed in its singular task — to lubricate your skin.
The answer of how to get the best shave is, in my experience, counter intuitive. It’s the cheapest method, but has also remained for me the most reliable. Even as every year I experiment with a new cream or gel to see if I can improve upon it, nothing exceeds old reliable. My magic bullet? A bar of Ivory soap. Other soaps work well, too. In my experience, they each provide a superior shave, because soap, by nature, is slippery as hell, and if you want a quality shave, you need slippery skin.
In order to shave with soap, you need to follow the basic rules (see page one). When you come to the mirror, your face has to be wet and your follicles have to be soaked. Your brush and razor, meanwhile, have been soaking for a few minutes in a sink full of hot water (I fill my sink before I get in the shower). From here, the directions are simple:
- Wet the soap in the hot water and let it soften for a moment.
- Rub the wet bar of soap into your beard against the grain so that your face accumulates a thin layer of soap.
- Lather this layer of soap with your brush, dunking it frequently to make sure your face is as wet as possible. Immediately, you should notice that it is a warmer, wetter foam than you achieve from shaving cream and that it is not as easy to wipe away. This is precisely what makes it effective: It stays on your skin, lubricating constantly.
- Shave, enjoying the easy glide of your razor across your face.
The lather from a bar of soap is different than what you’ve experienced with shaving cream. It’s no less fluffy or full (you get the Santa Claus effect), but it is heavier and will run down your neck and chest if you leave it too long. The reason for this is that it’s water-based, which also means it warms and softens your hair as it goes.
This is simple advice, but in the seven years since I received it, it has completely changed my shaving experience. Each time I try a new shaving cream (the last was a tube of European ointment I spent too much money on), I’m amazed that it can’t compete with the lather from a simple bar of soap. At this point, I’ve decided to give up sampling the competition. I’ve found the route to the best shave — and it’s also the simplest.