You’ve probably seen a lot of videos about shaving. But what about after the shave? There is a surprising amount of variety in aftershave products, and many widely available aftershaves are pretty good–probably because many widely available razors and shave creams are so bad. But that wide variety of aftershave products can be confusing, especially with all the different terminology that gets spewed out without much explanation. So lets look at a general overview of aftershaves with some rules of thumb. Details can be covered later, based on your questions and feedback.
But first let me clarify what I mean by “aftershave” because it can mean different things to different people. I am not talking about products you might use after shaving that are mostly alcohol and some kind of scent component, almost like a cologne. I am talking about the products that are applied immediately after shaving to provide some combination of irritation relief, skin moisturizing, and protection from the elements. Select an aftershave based how that combination addresses the needs of your skin.
Aftershaves can be divided into two broad categories, balms and splashes. Balms are heavier-feeling on the skin and typically provide more irritation relief and more moisturization to the skin, particularly in cold or dry climates. Splashes are more watery feeling and generally contain a combination of toners, astringents, and hydrosols to cleanse and provide a degree of anticeptic or antibacterial protection to the skin. They are more popular with those with oily skin or in hot, humid climates. Both balms and splashes often use some kind of humectant to increase the effectiveness of other ingredients. There are also some other “cross-over” ingredients that might be used in a balm or a splash. By the way, I am often asked whether a moisturizer is the same as an aftershave balm. No, an aftershave balm contains additional ingredients, which I will get into in a moment.
A Humectant is an ingredient used to increase the skin penetration and activity time of another ingredient. They are also used to minimize the dehydrating effect of some other active ingredient. Examples of humectants include glycerol, propylene glycol, sorbitol, lactic acid or urea.
Moisturizers are ingredients specially designed to make the external layers of the skin softer and more pliable by increasing the skin’s water content. It does that not by putting water into the skin, but by reducing evaporation. A moisturizer is not a single ingredient but a combination of ingredients like oils and humectants working together
Toners and Astringents
Toners and astringents are designed to cleanse the skin and (temporarily) shrink the appearance of pores. Astringents are the strongest form of toner, containing a high proportion of alcohol, 20-60%. Mild astringent solutions are used in the relief of minor skin irritations like superficial cuts, rash from allergies, insect bites, or fungal infections like athlete’s foot. They can also help heal scars. They are commonly recommended for oily skin as they are drying, but keep in mind that the removal of oil from the skin can lead to excess oil production as the skin tries to compensate and prevent moisture loss. Topically applied astringents cause mild coagulation of skin proteins and will dry, harden, and protect the skin. Astringents are best applied only to problem areas of skin to prevent excessive drying (except pure witch hazel distillate which can be applied broadly to the skin).
Some common ingredients include alum, oatmeal, acacia, yarrow, witch hazel, distilled vinegar, and alcohol. Astringent preparations include silver nitrate, potassium permanganate, zinc oxide, zinc sulfate.
Witch hazel is especially note-worthy for its properties and uses in the wetshaving world and deserves its own, seperate treatment, which will be coming soon!
Hydrosols are the product of steam distillation from aromatic plants. Hydrosols go by other names including floral water, herbal distillates, hydrolate, herbal water and essential water. Hydrosols are produced in the same manner as essential oils but essential oils will float to the top of the distillate where they are removed, leaving behind the watery distillate. In the past, hydrosols were considered a byproduct of distillation, but now they’re considered an important co-product. The science of distillation is based on the fact that different substances vaporize at different temperatures.
So hydrosols contain diluted essential oils. Because hydrosols are produced at high temperatures and are somewhat acidic, they tend to inhibit bacterial growth (but they are NOT “sterile”). Hydrosols can also help the skin get back a normal pH by being more acidic, where shaving soaps and creams may be more alkaline. The traditional hydrosols most associated with shaving are rose and lavender. Rose distillates, such as Art of Shaving’s Hydrating Toner are known to be mildly antibacterial, while lavender distillates are mildly anticeptic. Sometimes these two hydrosols are combined into a single product, such as QED’s DaVinci Water. By the way, its a good idea to keep hydrosols refrigerated, like milk. They’ll last longer, and they can feel nice in the heat of the summer.
Now that you have some background on what aftershaves are composed of, how should you use them? The answer to that depends partly on what kind of skin you have. How do you know what type of skin you have? Here are some guidelines.
Dry skin appears rough, dull or cracked with lines and wrinkles, and prone to peeling. A moisturizing shave balm would work well here. Using a moisturizer just before bed might be useful here too. Be sure to use a gentle face wash and if you use a facial scrub, use it only a week. Make sure you drink plenty of water.
Oily skin looks shiny, particularly on the forehead, nose and chin (the T-Zone), and feels, well, oily to the touch. The skin appears to have large or open pores and prone to blackheads, whiteheads, spots and pimples. An aftershave splash with a toner would probably be your best bet. Oily skin attracts dust and dirt so it might also be useful to use a facial cleanser twice daily, a facial scrub 2 or 3 times a week and use an oil-free moisturiser.
Sensitive skin will itch, sting or break out in a rash when you use certain shaving and skincare products. You’ll need to try to use products specifically made for sensitive skin.
Combination skin will have a central greasy area around the forehead, nose & chin but dry aroun
d the cheeks. Its also prone to blackheads, especially around the nose. The best way of dealing with combination skin is either to use products designed specifically for combination skin, or to simply apply the correct products to the relevant area of your face – dry skin products for the dry areas, and oil-free products for the T-Zone.
Normal skin appears evenly-textured, smooth, clear and healthy, with barely visible pores and without blemishes or spots. You could probably use any mild splash or balm in this case. To maintain clear skin be sure to use a good quality facial wash with a facial scrub once or twice a week.
“Good” vs. “Bad” Ingredients
Some ingredients to look for in aftershaves: aloe vera, chamomile, tea tree oil, calendula, witch hazel, lavender, jojoba oil, grapefruit seed extract, rose oil distillate, and various vitamins.
Some ingredients to avoid: high concentrations of alcohol or camphor; parabens, grapefruit (if you’re going to be outdoors a lot), and lemon oil or eucalyptus (if you have sensitive skin).
Applying multiple products
This could not be simpler: apply the thinnest product first followed by thicker products.
This post just touches on the high points of skin care. Here are some additional resources:
Ape To Gentleman
Skin Care For Men
The Dermotology Blog
Thread about Aftershave Recommendations on Badger & Blade