After a few months of wet shaving I heard something that ran contrary to everything I had learned about the basics of wet shaving. This mind blowing piece of information was to try using cold water instead of hot water.
My first reaction was an internal monologue that went something like this “Whoaa there cowboy. Don’t you know that hot water helps soften your whiskers, and don’t barbers place hot towels over your face for prep, and who doesn’t LOVE the feel of warm lather, and , and ,and it’s just WRONG! What a ridiculous concept.” Fast forward a year or so and I start seeing this topic being brought up more frequently and with more and more supporters. People start bringing up how it helped them with irritation, how they got a better shave, and how they liked how it felt.
I was admittedly intrigued, but still not convinced. I was still in awe of people who had an electric kettle at the sink for their scuttles. (I still am, but only because they have so much real estate around their sink to be able to squeeze it on there.)
Time passed and as my razor and soap collection grew I had a particularly bad shaving week and chewed up my neck pretty bad trying to get a third pass. After a few days of healing, my neck was almost back to normal and I decided this would be a good opportunity to try out cold water shaving. I got my tried and true Bengall straight razor and used cold water for my brush soak, lathering generation, and facial rinse. Surprisingly, I had a nice shave. More surprisingly still I enjoyed it as much as a “hot” water shave.
My first cold water shave was about six months ago and I haven’t looked back. As time has gone on I have wondered more and more WHY this seems to be effective. So, being curious I pulled together all of the information I could find on the benefits of cold water shaving.
Proponents of cold water shaves make the following claims:
- Better shave
- Reduced irritation
- Increased circulation
- Reduced swelling
- Tougher skin
- Closed up pores
*Just a note, but you wouldn’t believe how little fact or even strongly supported opinions I could find on this subject. There is a lot of personal experience that is recounted, some of it based on solid observations. However, the overwhelming majority of information on the effect of water temperature on skin and facial hair is laughable. Most of the information seems to be the same old beauty “secrets” about opening up pores and flushing toxins, or waking up tired blood cells…. *
Lets get down to it and examine the supposed benefits a little more closely:
Many people state they get a better shave using cold water. This seems to be caused by two different factors. First of all, when the skin contracts due to the cold a greater portion of the hair follicle is exposed. This means that a greater portion of the hair follicle is able to be cut on each pass. Secondly, the hair follicle absorbs water and becomes softer to cut. When hot water is absorbed the hair becomes softer to cut and slightly limp. When cold water is used the follicle becomes softer and the cold causes the follicle to maintain its rigidity. This rigidity causes a cleaner and smoother cut of the follicle and thus a better shave.
While shaving, you may feel a slightly greater resistance and greater audio feedback due to the rigidity of the hair follicle caused by the cold water.
As described in the “Better Shave” section above, when cold water is applied to the skin it contracts ever so slightly. This exposed a greater portion of the hair follicle and as such allows the follicle to be cut lower on the shaft. This reduces the number of passes needed for a good shave, and therefore reduces irritation. This reduction in irritation is also specifically helpful for individuals who suffer from razor burn, irritation or Rosacea.
This reduced irritation has helped many individuals be able to use aftershaves on a regular basis.
The cold shock causes the blood vessels to contract and then expand as the shock subsides . This causes greater flow of blood in the capillaries which improves the oxygen and nutrient supply to the skin’s surface.
You probably won’t see a huge change in skin health, but every little bit helps.
Cold water has long been known to reduce swelling. This has long been employed to help with muscle injuries, but is also useful to help with the bags under your eyes and any puffiness of the face.
This is helpful for those of us who are starting to deal with the signs of aging.
Another common benefit that is touted is “tougher skin”. Many people report that their skin seems to thicken or toughen up while using cold water. This toughening of the skin reduces irritation from the blade as it passes over your skin. Many people state that this is the only way they can achieve a third pass while shaving.
Personally, when I use cold water it feels as if the razor is a little more forgiving.
Closes up pores / tighten skin during shave:
I’m sorry to burst the bubble, but pores don’t “open” or “close”. Pores are nothing more than tiny openings in your skin. They don’t have muscles, and that means they can’t open or close. However, water temperature does affect how taut your skin is. This causes your skin to expand or contract which can make pores appear larger or smaller.
As you can see there are many potential benefits of cold water shaving. Besides the tangible benefits listed above, many people enjoy cold water shaving for other reasons. Many individuals in warmer climates prefer a cooler shave to alleviate the heat and many minimalist prefer cold water shaves (kinda fits in with the minimalist theme). On a personal note, I find I get my best shave after taking a warm shower and then performing a cold water shave. The combination of warm water followed by cold water seems to work the best with my skin and whiskers.
A quick word of caution. The terms warm and hot do not mean the use of boiling or freezing temperatures. Extremes of water temperature will do more harm than good. Moderation is the key.
A few other good cold water shave articles:
Wet Shaving Academy: Cold Water Shaving
Sharpologist: Shaving with cold water
Art of Manliness: The case for cold water shaving
About the author: My name is Matt Broderick and I am a husband, father to twin terrors, and a wet shaving enthusiast that runs the blog www.whyiwetshave.com. Between work, husbandly duties taking out the trash and killing spiders, and spending time with my kids I get a bit of time to pursue my shaving hobby.