Do you have any advice or testimonials for someone new to wet shaving?
January 25, 2012 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Do you have any advice or testimonials for someone new to wet shaving?

I am a 26-year-old male. I have used Gillette Mach 3, Fusion ProGlide, etc., razors since I started shaving about ten years ago. I have started looking into wet shaving. Men often swear by it and claim they would never go back to the cartridge razors and gel-in-a-can shaving cream. I have read that it's a closer shave, better (albeit more time consuming, which I'm fine with) experience, and an ultimately cheaper way to go.

Understanding that YMMV, I was wondering if any manly MeFites can (1) attest to the following products (Amazon MeFi affiliate IDs within) / setup, and (2) offer any advice to a newcomer.

razor (Merkur)
blades (Derby)
brush (badger)
soap (Proraso)
pre/post (?) cream (Proraso)

Are there any other essential types of products I am missing? Has anyone made the switch and found it life-altering (or, conversely, not all it's cracked up to be)?

I appreciate your time and help!
posted by Jeff Morris to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
or, conversely, not all it's cracked up to be

I went with a similar badger hair brush from Amazon and a different soap. That said, when I ran out of the stuff once (the soap disappears pretty quickly), I used some gel soap my wife had in the shower. Just put a dab in my hands, added water and shaved with it. Felt like the same basic result. Once I did the math on the costs involved, I gave up on the brush and soap routine. I appreciate why people do it, but it was more of a hassle (the badger hairs fall out fairly often at least early on) and expense than I was willing to put up with.
posted by yerfatma at 12:36 PM on January 25, 2012

I switched some time ago, and I find it a much better experience. I still have a Mach 3 that I use when traveling, but at home it's the safety razor all the way.

The Art of Manliness has a good article on shaving "like your grandpa" (there's also one about shaving "like your great grandpa", if you want to use a straight razor), and it includes a few handy extra links at the bottom*.

You seem to be on the right track as far as products go. I'd suggest also getting an alum block (read about it in the gourmet shaving experience guide). And while Derby blades are probably a good bet (I like them, as do most of my friends), I'd still get a sampler pack and figure out what blade is best for you. Even if you end up using Derby blades, at least you know that's the right fit.

My one piece of advice is be patient. It takes a little while to get used to the change from cartridges. You are going to have a few bad shaves to start. You might feel like you're scraping your face off. Go easy on yourself. It's worth it.

* And you get them here, too!
- Badger & Blade
- A guide to the gourmet shaving experience
posted by cardioid at 12:38 PM on January 25, 2012

I am pretty much in the same camp as yerfatma. I totally love my safety razor and that a pack of 10 blades goes for about 5$. But have migrated back to just normal shaving soap/gel for the same reasons...cheaper...easier...and I really didn't notice a major difference in shave quality using the soap/brush method.
posted by Captain_Science at 12:40 PM on January 25, 2012

The forums over at Badger and Blade are going to be a HUGE resource to you.

At a glance it seems like you've got a good start with regards to equipment. You might want to be careful with regards to what safety razor you actually choose as some are more aggressive than others and aggressive means cuts, potentially serious, if your technique isn't up to par.

The blades are a good starter brand though opinions vary on a personal basis. I use Derby blades fwiw.

Your choice of brush seems to be a good moderate, entry level badger brush. I've actually found that, counter to most wet shavers, I prefer boar bristle. YMMV.

Your soap is a good start though newbies that have never worked up a lather might actually prefer a cream since it may be easier to generate a nice lather. Avoid cans of 'cream' that you've used up to this point. Learn to build a nice lather, it's a must.

I don't use a stand at all, though I kinda wish I had one at times.

A mug is a mug is a mug when it comes to most beginning peeps, so it's mostly style.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:41 PM on January 25, 2012

FWIW, I've always had the best success shaving in the shower.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:43 PM on January 25, 2012

I regularly shave with a 'safety razor' or 'double-edge razor' (DE). I have been for over a year now.

The Merkur razor you linked is the one I use, and I like it. You may be better served finding one on eBay or at a flea market.

Most people will recommend getting some kind of sampler pack of blades, as different manufacturers have different hardness steel, angle of the razor blade, material tolerance, etc. Badger is the 'nice' brush, I use a cheap synthetic I got a a drug store.

Soap and aftershave/moisturizer is intensely personal. I prefer unscented glycerine or lanolin based soaps, but a local producer is making and selling sheep's and goat's-milk soaps, and I will probably try one soon. I have a whole bunch of moisturizers (Nivea, Jack Black, Anthony For Men) that I go thought, since my mother never knows what to get me for Christmas.

Stand and mug are nice, but aesthetics over function. I don't use a stand.

Get a styptic pen(cil), or alum block, to help with nicks. I use intensely hot waater, and let my face take the weekends off. I can shave my face with me DE just as fast as I could with a cartridge razor.

Shaving with a DE is a little different, as the weight of the razor head is what does the work, NOT you pressing down. Shave With The Grain (WTG) on the first pass, then Across The Grain (XTG) on the second. You will make fewer razor passes, so your skin will be less irritated.

For the first few times, really use your fingertips and get a sense of how the hair on your face grows. Showers are great for shaving too.

Reddit's r/wicked_edge is teh shaving sub-reddit, and has lots of good info.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:44 PM on January 25, 2012

I was able to get a much nicer shave if I was willing to put in the time to do it right. Right now, I'd rather sleep in for an extra five minutes than have a luxurious shave, but you won't know if it's worth it to you until you try.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:47 PM on January 25, 2012

Definitely get a sampler pack of blades. I went through 11 blades and was just about to give up, and then I found my Astras.
posted by sanka at 12:50 PM on January 25, 2012

Second'ing the "shave in the shower" vote. It'll take easily less than a tenth the total time and the shave will be just as nice. I gave up on fancy shaving soaps and such long ago. I use a bar of any soap with a little moisturizer and a non-patented pivot head two-blade cart razor. I can get a picture-perfect shave in ten to fifteen seconds (including clean-up) and my costs are a literally few pennies a shave. (At some point someone gave me a gift of a plastic mirror that sticks to the shower wall. It's lasted about ten years so far, so I've never bothered to factor in its cost.)
posted by introp at 12:50 PM on January 25, 2012

Oh I forgot to mention aftershave and a styptic pen (as man of twists did above). Those are GREAT purchases for a newbie shaver. I like the Clubman line of after shave splashes but be warned they are intense. There's much milder products (like Thayer's Witchhazel) for the more discerning face.

Preshave oil is an option but plain old olive oil will suffice as well. It's mostly to make your skin supple, not slick.

Technique is key, don't get discouraged, a few weeks at a minimum for the full learning curve to pan out. (then, on to straight razors!!)
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:51 PM on January 25, 2012

One last thing, then I'll quit. Old gear (mostly the razor itself, but also brush and so on) is quite often just as good or better, depending on who you ask, than new gear.

At the very least it might save you some of your startup cost, and it just feels cool to shave with a DE that's 80 years old that you bought for $15 and is 95% as good a shave as the brand new Merkur in the cabinet.

Keep it in mind. The marketplace forum at B&B has always served me well in this regard, but if you're more of a risk taker ebay might save you a few bucks.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:56 PM on January 25, 2012

Previously, but Shave Secret really changed my shaving forever.
posted by duomo at 1:16 PM on January 25, 2012

You have picked high quality stuff. You will want to add a styptic to take care of nicks and cuts (even experienced shavers get them every now and then) but that's pretty much it. I prefer using an alum block over my face because it really tightens the skin, but pens work too.

Personally, I've been wet shaving with a merkur, badger brush and shaving cream (taylor of old bond, proraso, etc) for a couple of years now. It's cheaper and shaves closer than any cartridge razor ever will. I will never go back to cartridge razors, even if I still occasionally cut myself and it takes longer time to shave.

But depending on some basic factors, wet shaving might not be the best grooming option for you. If, for instance, you have ingrown hair and coarse facial hair, you're better of growing a beard or maybe using an electric shaver. Similarly, if you prioritize a fast shave, an electric shaver is by far the fastest shaving method (wet shaving for me takes 10-20 minutes). Yeah, they don't tell you these things on the wet shaving forums but for a lot of men, wet shaving simply isn't the most comfortable/fastest way of managing their facial hair.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:18 PM on January 25, 2012

Search YouTube for videos by Mantic, and watch them all.

Also, the guys at Badger & Blade aren't nearly as nice or helpful as the ones inthe forums (fora?) at I hav received samples of suggested stuff in the mail, and there are "pay it forward" giveaways form time to time. Very nice people.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:35 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not much to add, other than not to get too caught up in all that's been written about wet shaving as some kind of Mystical Experience of True Manhood that can only be achieved through the use of a safety razor that's been hand-machined out of platinum, a $35 tub of shaving cream and a brush made from the hair of specially bred badgers raised in a secret location high in the Swiss Alps. Don't get me wrong; I think a lot of wet shavers (myself included) love the old-school accoutrements and ritual, but ultimately we're still just scraping hair off of our faces.

Definitely take your time and don't be discouraged if you have a couple of rough shaves early on. Unless it's really noticeable, avoid the temptation to go back and touch up a spot you've already shaved, even with more lather. I find that I almost always wind up irritating or nicking my skin if I try to go back for another pass. Styptic pencils are very handy, and seconding an old-school aftershave APPLIED SPARINGLY. I'll add another shout out for Pinaud Clubman; it's the quintessential old-school, barbershop, manly-man fragrance. It's cheap ("inexpensive", if you prefer a less pejorative adjective for your aftershaves) and readily available at many drugstores. It does go on strong, but it mellows out nicely.

Bay Rum is another classic old-school scent. Dominica makes a nice one.
posted by usonian at 1:44 PM on January 25, 2012

it needs to be said - DO NOT waste money on any disposable, plastic single-use razors.
posted by Abinadab at 1:45 PM on January 25, 2012

Also, the guys at Badger & Blade aren't nearly as nice or helpful as the ones inthe forums (fora?) at I hav received samples of suggested stuff in the mail, and there are "pay it forward" giveaways form time to time.

Not trying to start a fight here, and I have zero experience with, but this has not been my experience at B&B. I've won a PIF to get a free coo user-gradel DE razor and have participated in several good-will experiences involving sample blades/products. Everyone has also been more than supportive and nice along the way as well, doubly so with regards to any monetary transactions. I'd say experiences may vary but don't write off Badger and Blade based upon, what I'd call, someone's bad experience.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:54 PM on January 25, 2012

I've bought many of the lotions, brushes and razors mentioned above--my favorite blade is the katana-sharp Feather--but there's one product that launched wetshaving for me into the stratosphere:

This fogless shower mirror.

Wet shaving works best with a plentiful application of hot water in advance, and there's no better way to accomplish this then when in the shower, surrounded by steamy goodness.

Okay, I lied. For shower, substitute "bath."

If you're a daily bath-taker, shaving mid-way through your soak is transcendental. The fogless mirror mounts on the wall at eye level when you're seated in the tub. You start out with a leisurely soak; get your bath meditation on first. Then, after five minutes or so, your whiskers, immersed in hot water and steam, will be primed for trimming--more so than ever possible with hot water in a sink, a towel in a barber's chair, or even a hot shower.

Wipe off all moisture from your face with a hand towel, so that your shaving soap goes on as a cream, rather than bubbly suds. This is crucial for lubricity. Then, hit those follicles with your Merkur and Feather. The fogless shower mirror has never fogged in the bath for me; and I've never filled the reservoir with hot water as recommended. It just works.

At the end, the wash-up stage is so simple, it's almost ridiculous. You simply dunk your head in the tub, and the suds are gone. There's no messy residue of hairs and slime in a sink to offend your SO at the end of the day. Float the damn brush in the bath as well, then squeeze it out. You've got gallons of free water available for the clean-up.

Bathing and wetshaving. It's the best pairing ever, deserving of a patent.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:40 PM on January 25, 2012

I have that mug and it is huge. I don't like how big it is. Before someone gave it to me I just used a kitchen mug. I use a old Gillette DE and a basic badger brush. I don't use a stand and I don't use pre/post cream.

I use to make a huge pile of lather in my mug. Now I like to get the top of the soap moist, get a tiny bit of lather going in the brush and then create the lather on my face. I like this better as it is less of a mess and there is nothing to clean up.

If you see shaving bows like this shallow one and wonder why they are so small, it is because some people don't make mugs full of lather.

I find that I don't get as clean a shave as a cartridge razor but I definitely get a good enough shave to get me through a day or two. I have a mustache and a goatee and can shave the rest of my face in well under 10 minutes.

I didn't find the switch to a wet shave life changing but it was satisfying. I sort of don't like all the foam, gel or goop so a low lather wet shave where I don't have to get crap all over my hands and behind my ears appealed to me. I really like not buying $2 razor blade cartridges.
posted by bdc34 at 2:56 PM on January 25, 2012

Hey, I have the same razor! And Derby blades! I just happen to shave my legs with it, not my face.

One thing I was glad I did when I started wet-shaving was to buy an assortment pack of blades. It was great to have a chance to try all of them before committing to a large quantity. Even though most of the major blades all get lots of great reviews you'll find they vary enormously--some will be wonderful, some will feel like you're shaving with the wrong end of a table knife, and some will tend to carve you up like a Christmas ham. I've found Derby blades to be cheap and sharp, but not particularly long-lasting, and they tend to give me cuts. I much prefer Merkur blades, though they are more expensive.

Also, try the Taylor of Old Bond Street shaving creams. They're heavenly.
posted by Lycaste at 3:44 PM on January 25, 2012

Col. Conk's glycerine soaps are nice, and not too expensive. I've been using them for a while. I also have my eye on the same brush you linked; have been using a boar brush for years now, and it's broken in well but I want to see how the other half live I guess.

Feather blades are great. We had a huge stash of them at work (used in the lab to slice tissue) so I confiscated a few boxes to try and have been very happy. They are damned sharp though.

My mug is actually a Burma-Shave mug. Standard coffee cup, basically. It works fine, nothing more is really necessary. Don't spend more than you have to (which is why I went with wet shave, because a nickel a blade is way better than $15 for three crappy throwaway razors any day).

Go slow at first, do NOT push, watch Mantic's YouTube shaving series as suggested.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:19 PM on January 25, 2012

I've been wetshaving for about 4 years now and I recommend the following:

-Vintage Gillette SuperSpeed razors. They twist to open (TTO) which I think is WAY more convenient than the three-piece type. I got my first (40's SS) for about 12 bucks at and then my second...and third...and then a travel gillette...and then a GEM...well, you get the picture. Be careful you don't get RAD (Razor Acquisition Disorder)! I still get my best every day shave from that first razor.

-Custom Buckeye Burl Silvertip Badger from I will say that I did not pay $70+ for my brush. I got it on a Father's day sale for $30 and it is AMAZING. It's got a great loft and holds lather like no other. You can also get some great brushes at the forums of both B&B and TheShaveDen.

-Derby blades. I buy the 100 pack from amazon for 10 bucks and it lasts me about 2+ years (I shave 2-3 times a week). I would suggest a sample pack because you might not like Derbys. I got my sampler from Details for Men I would recommend trying the blades for at least a week at a time, and try several before you settle. I use the Derby's on a daily basis and get 2 wonderful shaves from each blade (I flip the blade over once). But then again, I use Feathers with my travel gillette when I want a SUPER SUPER close shave.

-I use and love Tabac soap. Just get a puck from Amazon and put it in the bottom of a coffee mug. The smell is AMAZING and the lather is wonderful. I also give a squirt of C.O. Bigelow shave cream in the center of my brush for the menthol cooling. To give you an indication about how long these things last, I bought my Tabac puck in 2009 and it's still not gone (I think I have about 1/3 of it left, if not more), and the big tube of Bigelow will last about 9-12 months.

-I use Nivea for Men Aftershave lotion that I buy at target, it works great, has little fragrance and is cheap.

-DEFINITELY buy a styptic pen or alum block. You can find them at the drugstore and they cost about a dollar.

I wetshave BECAUSE I get a lot of ingrowns and the DE doesn't yank those beard hairs out by the roots, rather, it cuts them cleanly at the skin. I get about 2 days from a shave, but my beard isn't super coarse.

Also, if I'm in a rush, I use Barbasol Red Can for a quick two pass shave during the week and get a MUCH better shave than a Mach 3 with Gillette Shave Gel.

I don't use a stand, I just stand my brush up in the middle of my mug. As for mug, I use a big cappuccino mug I bought at target for something like 3 bucks several years ago.

Definitely watch all of Mantic's videos, he pretty much taught me how to shave. He's also a super nice guy, so if you have any specific questions, just send him a message (I followed him on Twitter).

The shaving community at The Shave Den was awesome when I was more active, the folks there can answer all sorts of questions.

As for the products you linked above:
Razor- as mentioned, I'd shoot for vintage, if you're squicked out by used razors, just soak that bad boy in Alcohol and boil it up, nothing bad is going to live through that!
Brush- I started with a Conk's brush and was pretty happy with it, just get the best brush you can afford, they feel awesome on your face and do a lot of the work to make your lather.
Shave soap- as mentioned, I love Tabac and Bigelow combo. I found soap lasts a lot longer than cream. Just soak your brush and then shake it out ALMOST all the way and get the lather on your brush, then BUILD the lather in your separate mug (I store my soap in one mug and build the lather in my cappuccino mug)
Aftershave- 13 bucks is way too much for that product. I'd get some post-shave lotion from a drugstore or target. As for preshave, I just shave after a shower and use some plain hair conditioner on my face while I'm in there.
Stand- No need, if you rinse and shake your brush out really well after shaving, you can stand it up on it's handle. As for your razor, there are about a million ways to store your razors, just find a way that works for you. Maybe a stand will work! But there are some pretty cool how-tos on how to make a stand from a wire hanger with very little effort.
Mug- as mentioned, no need to buy a specialty mug. Just go to a thrift store and buy a 50 cent mug if you need one, otherwise steal one from the cupboard!

Welcome to the club! MeMail me if you have any questions!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:20 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Echoing ThaBombShelterSmith - If you can, get your hands on a 40's Gillette Super Speed razor. I've gone through a few different vintage and current razors, and this type has far and away given me the best shaves.

Proraso/Bigelow is a favorite of mine in warmer weather; otherwise, Cella or Razorock XXX provide great 'slickness' and are my go-tos. If you try this type of soap, check out this thread on Badger & Blade that provides *very* helpful information on properly building a lather with an italian soft soap.

Brushes - don't discount a good boar brush. Omega makes some affordable, high quality ones - consider the 10048. Boars require a little 'break-in', but once they have, provide strong backbone and a balanced bristle - not too soft, not too scratchy.

Otherwise, you're on the right track, IMHO. Hope to see you at Badger & Blade.
posted by pianoboy at 11:43 AM on January 26, 2012

Response by poster: Everyone: Thank you for your time and perspective. You guys (and gal) have been very informative and welcoming. This allows me to finally dive in and find out what I have been missing. Thanks again, and I look forward to becoming a part of your community. If I may extend a quick response to certain replies:

cardioid: The Art of Manliness article is excellent. It was, actually, what introduced me to wet shaving. I will be purchasing an alum block thanks to your suggestion. Patience will be key to my transition. Thank you for your handy links.

RolandOfEld: Thank you for your help in and out of the thread.

the man of twists and turns: I am incredibly grateful for you introducing me to to Reddit.

Foci for Analysis: That is definitely something to keep in mind. As I stated, the time factor does not bother me. I would like to think I am someone that prefers and adheres to "quality over quanity". If I put the time and money into this endeavour, I realize that I am also risking both. I'll never learn if I don't try, and - in my reading - the people who more praise its advantages despite its drawbacks seem to outnumber the number of people who more complain of its drawbacks despite its advantages.

wenestvedt: There is some really great content in your suggestions!

usonian: "...ultimately we're still just scraping hair off of our faces." I had never thought of it like that. It's important to keep all of this in perspective.

Gordion Knott (and others): I will eventually try the bath / shower & shave method. At first, though, I'm more interested in taking my time with a post-shower shave in front of big mirror with a large amount of counter space. I don't know that I'd be as confident, coordinated, or "in control" in my smaller, dimmer shower area.

bdc34: I like that shaving bowl much more. I wondered if that original mug was a bit too big or much.

Lycaste: Thanks for the female perspective! I didn't mean to exclude the lovely ladies of MeFi. :-)

ThaBombShelterSmith: Rather than addressing each point or piece of advice, I would like to extend a general and more personal thank you for your thorough post - especially in regards to your replies to each piece of equipment I had picked out. Thank you.

pianoboy: As with a lot of suggestions made within this thread, I will have to keep an open mind and understand there are a variety of products for each type. Thanks for the anecdotes on different soaps and boar brushes.
posted by Jeff Morris at 9:09 AM on February 1, 2012

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