As more and more men are becoming interested in looking after their skin, companies have created a dizzying array of products to deal with the increased demand. From eye creams and skin toners to retinols and face masks, we have more choice now than ever before.
Perhaps the most common item in a man's skincare arsenal is the aftershave balm; a cream or gel that is similar in appearance to a moisturiser but it has "shave" in the title so it's automatically considered more manly.
But what does it actually do and what makes it different from any other skin cream on the market? Could you just use a regular moisturiser instead?
What about aftershave splash or just regular aftershave? Often the terms are thrown around interchangeably so it’s not obvious which is which and what they’re for.
The different types of aftershave:
Because they’re used after a shave, there’s a few different products that are often referred to as an “aftershave” which can be confusing.
Aftershave - Most commonly, aftershave refers to perfume such as an eau d’toilette, which is usually a scent mixed with alcohol and designed to make you smell nice. The high alcohol content means it is quite irritating for your skin and should never be sprayed onto a freshly shaven face.
Aftershave splash - A lightly scented, antiseptic, astringent that is splashed onto freshly shaved skin to disinfect the shaved area as well as constrict the blood vessels. This is the product that gives people the iconic stinging feeling when they splash it on, due to the high alcohol content.
Our understanding of skincare has come a long way since these types of products were first introduced and we wouldn’t recommend them to be used in a shaving routine as it will dry out your skin in the long term and won’t help the healing process.
Aftershave lotion/balm/gel - A hydrating cream or gel that helps to soothe inflamed skin and speed up the recovery process after shaving.
A lotion usually has a runnier consistency, often due to having a low percentage of alcohol in it. Counter intuitively, the low percentage of alcohol isn’t considered drying or bad for your skin but actually helps the ingredients get absorbed. Can give a slight stinging feeling though.
A balm has a richer consistency which makes it more hydrating and doesn’t sting when applied to freshly shaven skin.
Finally, a gel has - you guessed it - a gel consistency, due to the lack of oil in its ingredients, and is generally lighter and more easily absorbed.
We like to refer to these as “post-shave” items rather than “aftershave” to avoid confusion with the above mentioned perfume and splash, that are often referred to as aftershaves.
For the sake of brevity, we’ll be talking about post-shave balms for the rest of the article, but the below information also applies to a lotion or gel.
Do I need a post-shave balm? What is post-shave balm for?
If you’ve ever come away from a shave with sore and irritated skin then you’ve probably been desperate for anything to help relieve the discomfort. Of course, prevention is always better than the cure so we’d recommend you try switching to a single blade razor to prevent irritation in the first place. But, once a bad shave has already occurred, what can you do to relieve it?
Reaching for a post-shave balm is the best thing you can do after you’ve suffered from a painful shave. They’re specifically designed to soothe sore and irritated skin as well as aid in the healing process.
Does that mean you should only use it when you have irritation? No, even if you have a nice comfortable feeling shave, there are still lots of tiny micro-cuts and abrasions that occur on the uppermost layer of your skin. After all, you have just run a razor sharp blade over it! That’s why it’s recommended to use a post-shave product even if you don’t feel any discomfort. It will help the skin to heal and ensure you continue to have comfortable shaves every day.
How is post-shave balm different from a regular moisturiser?
Whilst there is often some cross-over between balms and moisturisers, they are very different products.
Moisturisers are meant for hydrating and softening skin to keep it in its best condition for the long term.
Post-shave balms are about soothing and healing the skin in the short term. That means the ingredients they use are more focused towards immediate relief.
Some balms may include ingredients that hydrate the skin as well, just like moisturisers can sometimes include soothing ingredients, but it’s much better to use 2 specialist products rather than 1 jack-of-all-trades.
If you don't have a post-shave balm, a moisturiser is an acceptable substitute after a shave. Just don't expect it to work wonders if you're suffering from irritation.
How much post-shave balm should you use?
It can sometimes be tempting to slather balm onto freshly shaved skin, especially if you’re suffering from irritation, but less is more. Particularly if the balm includes powerful ingredients and a strong scent, you don’t want to irritate your skin further by overloading it. Furthermore, applying too much balm can result in greasy feeling skin, and then you’ll have greasy and irritated skin!
Post-shave balms aren’t an instant cure so they won’t make a bad case of irritated skin disappear but they will lessen the severity of symptoms and can help speed up the healing process so you don’t have to suffer as long.
You want to apply just enough balm to ease the affected area, usually a pea-sized dollop is enough but pay attention to what your skin needs.
How to use a post-shave balm in your shaving routine:
1. Immediately after shaving, rinse your face with cold water.
2. Ensuring face is still damp (but not soaking wet), take a small dollop of post-shave balm and gently massage into the freshly shaved skin.
By keeping your skin damp, it allows the balm to go further, so you don’t end up greasy, and ensures your skin is hydrated as well.
3. Once that’s fully absorbed, follow up with a quality moisturiser if you have one. If you don’t, a little extra balm will help fill in the gap.