Even if you use a DE or straight razor, nothing quite matches the luxury of a proper barbershop style shave quite like a hot towel treatment beforehand; it creates a sense of relaxation and calm that you can’t always get from a shower.
In this guide we’ll show you numerous ways you can easily recreate a proper hot towel shave at home as well as some tips and tricks to elevate it into something truly special.
The benefits of a hot towel shave
The reason we use a hot towel or take a shower before shaving is two-fold:
1. The hairs in your beard absorb the water, expanding them and thereby making them easier to cut by roughly 30%. This is desired because it reduces the potential of the blade tugging at the hairs, which can be painful as well as create an inconsistent shave. Heat is important because hot water is absorbed more easily, in fact steam that you see in the shower or coming from the hot towel will absorb into the hairs the fastest due to vapour molecules being smaller than water molecules. It also reduces the wear on the blade as it doesn’t have to work as hard to cut through all your hairs, which in turn means the blade will last longer and you may get an extra shave out of it before it goes blunt. Win-win.
2. The heat relaxes the skin and “opens” the pores. By relaxing the skin you create a more even surface for the razor blade to glide over for that super close and smooth feeling. The term “opening and closing” of pores is actually a misnomer as they don’t open or close. What does happen is the heat makes it easier for any dirt or sebum to be dislodged from within the pore. This is important for a cleaner complexion but also it clears away anything that could have been coating the base of the hair and preventing it from fully absorbing water.
The specific benefits of using a towel before shaving is that you don’t have to shower which can be far more convenient. Many also find that they get a better shave from using a towel. In theory, providing your hairs reach full absorption, it shouldn’t make a difference to the quality of the shave but as a hot towel is a direct attempt at softening the hair, it can be easier to do a better job of it. In the shower you may focus more on the larger job of cleaning yourself and actually the time that your face spends under the hot water isn’t a full 3 minutes.
What type of towel should I use?
Pretty much any small towel will do, as long as it’s clean. Hand/face towels are ideal. If you are enjoying the hot towel shave it can be worthwhile to pick up a proper barbers towel. These are designed to hold more water and retain their heat for longer meaning you can get the job done a bit quicker!
For that added bit of luxury, you can add essential oils to your towel such as lavender, sandalwood, argan, tee tree etc. If you have a scented shaving oil, you can just sue that instead. Add a few drops onto the towel while it is still dry before making it hot.
The 3 methods of achieving a hot towel
Before moving forward with the below techniques for creating a hot towel, it is worth mentioning that common sense must be used. Please DO NOT apply a scalding hot towel to your skin at any time!
Remember that your hands are probably less sensitive to heat as your delicate face is so if you find the towel painful to touch with your hands, it will most certainly be too hot for your face. If the towel is too hot, take it out of the sink (or let the water drain away) so that it can quickly cool down to a safe temperature.
When you think the towel is ready, tentatively place it against the underside of your chin to gauge sensitivity and then (assuming it is the correct temperature) proceed to wrap it around your face. You’ll want to cover the areas you want to shave so cover everything below the nose, and then you can fold the ends of the towel that are hanging loosely back over.
If you are standing, you can just hold the towel pressed against your skin.
The idea is a luxurious hot towel shave, the towel should feel hot but in a nice way. It most certainly shouldn't be painful!
- By far the easiest way to create a hot towel is to place it under your tap in the sink. First wait until the tap is as hot as it will go and then place the towel underneath. It should only take about 15 seconds to fully absorb the water and reach temperature, at which point, wring out the excess water and then apply to your face.
- If your tap doesn’t reach a particularly hot temperature then the next best method is to boil a kettle and pour it into the sink with the towel. Use the hot water from the tap to bring the average temperature down to a safe level to handle.
- The most effective method for creating a hot towel is to use a microwave. If you’ve ever been given a hot towel shave before you’ll find that this is how the barbers do it as well. First soak the towel and then wring it out so that it is damp but water is no longer dripping from it. Put it in a microwavable dish and in your microwave on full power for 30 seconds. Be very careful! This towel will now be incredibly hot and you will likely need to wait a minute or two before it becomes safe to touch with your hands. The downside to the microwave method is that you probably don’t have one in your bathroom meaning you’ll need to start in the kitchen. The other issue is that you will likely need to repeat this step at least twice because the towel will have cooled down before your beard will be fully softened,
As previously mentioned, it is important that your hairs fully absorb water to reap the benefit of a more comfortable shave. It takes roughly 3 minutes for the human hair to reach maximum water capacity and so you may find that you need to repeat the above process of applying a hot towel 2 or 3 times to get the desired effect.
If you have them, prepare multiple towels so that as soon as the first goes cold you can move on to the next.
When done right it feels incredibly relaxing and adds an extra touch of sophistication to what is already a classy way to shave.