If you’re new to classic wet shaving you may have heard of people that use a pre-shave oil in their shaving routine. You may have also heard people swear by it as an essential item to ensure an extra close and comfortable shave, especially if you have sensitive skin.
They’re not wrong! A pre-shave oil is one of the most underrated items in the wet shaver’s arsenal, particularly if you have sensitive skin, as the inclusion of it in your routine could be the missing piece of the puzzle for irritation-free shaves.
What is shaving oil and how is pre-shave oil different?
A shaving oil, quite simply, is any oil that’s applied to the skin for the purpose of shaving with. It adds slip and a layer of protection between the blade and skin so you can safely shave without too much friction. The main benefit of an oil over a traditional lather is that it’s transparent so you can see what you’re shaving. It’s particularly useful for shaving around a beard, for example, as it allows you to more easily shave neat lines.
On the other hand, when we refer to a pre-shave oil, we are more referring to the way it is used in our shaving routine. A pre-shave oil is one that you use in combination with a traditional creamy lather. You add a layer of oil to your hairs before applying a layer of lather on top.
Benefits of using a pre-shave oil
Why use a shaving oil and a foam/lather together? Well, shaving oils are great for protecting the skin for a really comfortable shave but they are also known to be quite viscous which tends to clog up the razor. Furthermore, they can be tricky to fully wash off, leaving the skin feeling greasy afterwards. On the other hand, shaving soaps are mixed with water so they tend to be a thinner consistency, allowing the razor to more easily glide across your skin without getting clogged, but they can also be quite cleansing (because it’s soap) which runs the risk of leaving the skin feeling dryer post-shave.
By combining them you are able to get the best of both worlds; an easy shave with excellent glide and protective properties that leaves the skin feeling moisturised.
It’s worth mentioning that the quality of shaving soaps has sky rocketed in the past few years and many of the best artisan soaps may not require a pre-shave oil because they’re able to generate such a rich, moisturising lather anyway.
But as a general rule, adding a pre-shave oil to your routine won’t hurt and it’s worth doing if you have particularly sensitive skin.
Extra benefits of using a pre-shave oil:
- Great for beginners - If you’re just learning how to use a razor (perhaps you’ve finally made the excellent decision to go single-blade), the extra protection that the oil provides gives you a buffer from your unrefined technique so you can make a strong start to your new shaving style with fewer mishaps.
- Softens the hairs - A soft and saturated beard is much easier to shave than a dry one. If, for some reason, you can’t fully hydrate your beard with a shower before shaving then adding a pre-shave oil and giving it time to soak in will help in its place (although we would always recommend a shower or hot towel before a shave).
What’s in a pre-shave oil?
Usually made up of a combination of different oils, either synthetic or naturally sourced, each chosen for their benefits and feel on the skin.
Synthetic oils, often referred to as ‘mineral oils’, are made from highly refined, purified and processed petroleum. They’re cheap to produce, non-allergenic, have a long shelf-life and they’re particularly effective at locking in the skin’s moisture. Despite this, they’ve lost favour in recent years due to environmental concerns on how they’re produced.
Natural oils are those produced from plants, typically from pressing the seeds until the fat inside is released. Oils derived from different plants have their own characteristics such as the viscosity, comedogenic rating, vitamins, and noted skin benefits, all making for an oil that’s unique to each plant it’s made from.
How to use a pre-shave oil effectively
1. Cleanse the skin with a quality face wash and/or scrub. This cleans away any sebum, dirt or oil that is clogging up your skin and exposes the hair follicle so it can easily absorb water to soften.
2. Apply a few drops of oil onto the area to be shaved and gently massage it in. Less is more here because you’re going to apply a lather on top anyway. You don’t need to cake your skin in oil, just apply enough to provide a thin base layer. This is the step that is easiest to get wrong because there’s no exact amount you should apply for optimum results. As always, everyone’s experience is different so you need to experiment with what works best for you. Try 3-4 drops at first and then adjust up or down depending on how your shave goes.
3. Leave for a full minute. This allows your freshly cleansed and thirsty skin/hairs to absorb the oil to keep it soft and generate a barrier to protect the skin. What should you do during this minute? Start building your shaving lather, of course!
4. Apply shaving lather directly on top of oiled skin and start shaving (check out our full how-to-shave guide here)
Should you add more oil in between passes?
Once you’ve shaved in one direction and rinsed ready for another pass, apply another drop or two of oil to the skin before adding your lather again. This time though, you don’t need to wait for a minute because you’ve already let it absorb once. Just keep shaving.
Adding a pre-shave oil to your shaving routine is a great way to enhance your shaving experience, particularly if you have sensitive skin. It only takes a second to apply and almost guarantees you come away with a comfortable shave.
As part of our shaving club, we’ve tried lots of fantastic quality shaving oils. Some of our favourites can be found here.