There is a surprising amount of variety in aftershave products, and many widely available aftershaves are actually pretty good (probably because many widely available razors and shaving creams are so bad). Let’s take a look at the different types of aftershaves and see which rise above the rest.
But What Is Aftershave?
Aftershaves are the products that are applied immediately after shaving to provide some combination of irritation relief, skin moisturizing, and protection from the elements. They can be divided into two broad categories: balms and splashes. Balms have a thicker consistency, 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 runny and generally contain a combination of toners, astringents, and hydrosols to cleanse and provide a degree of antiseptic or antibacterial protection to the skin. They’re 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. A moisturizer is not the same as an aftershave balm: an aftershave balm contains additional ingredients.
There are also a couple of other categories: milks and gels. An aftershave milk generally has a consistency between a balm and a splash, and usually have some specialized ingredients. An aftershave gel is (perhaps counter-intuitively) lighter-feeling than a balm as well and generally has a “weaker” ingredient strength (though this can be by no means a “bad” thing).
What About Ingredients?
A Humectant is an ingredient used to increase the skin penetration and activity time of another ingredient. They’re also used to minimize the dehydrating effect of some other active ingredient. Examples of humectants include glycerol, propylene glycol, sorbitol, lactic acid and urea.
A moisturizer is not a single ingredient but a combination of ingredients, like oils and humectants, working together. 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.
Toners and astringents are designed to cleanse the skin and 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.
Some common toners include alum, oatmeal, acacia, yarrow, witch hazel, distilled vinegar, and alcohol. Astringent preparations include silver nitrate, potassium permanganate, zinc oxide, zinc sulfate.
Hydrosols are the product of essential oils (Wikipedia. Here is another great article about essential oils from Better Mind Body Soul) usually obtained by steam distillation from aromatic plants. Hydrosols go by other names including floral water, herbal distillates, hydrolate, herbal water and essential water. Because hydrosols are produced at high temperatures and are somewhat acidic, they tend to inhibit bacterial growth but they’re 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 are known to be mildly antibacterial, while lavender distillates are mildly antiseptic. 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.
“Good” vs. “Bad” Ingredients
Ingredients to look for: aloe vera, chamomile, tea tree oil, calendula, witch hazel, lavender, jojoba oil, grapefruit seed extract, rose oil distillate, and various vitamins.
Ingredients to avoid: high concentrations of alcohol, camphor, or eucalyptus; parabens, grapefruit (if you’re going to be outdoors a lot), and lemon oil (if you have sensitive skin).
What Are Some Good Aftershaves?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are actually a lot of pretty good aftershaves out there. Here are some suggestions for specific circumstances. My criteria for selecting these products include:
- Superior performance (based on my own experience and what I have researched on review sites and forums).
- Available in a variety of scents (you won’t use even the best product if you don’t care for it’s smell) or no scent at all.
- Availability (from more than just a single artisan website).
- Time on the market, and price.
Low Cost Balm: Nivea For Men Post Shave Balm – Sensitive. This product is widely available and recommended as an excellent value (“best bang for the buck”) for performance. Additional Information. Worth Looking For: Pacific Shaving Company “Caffeine” Aftershave Balm. It’s becoming more widely available and conditions the skin exceptionally well. Honorable Mention: Dove Men+Care Post Shave Balm. Available in “Hydrate” and “Sensitive” scents. Additional Information.
Multiple Scent Balm: The Art of Shaving After-Shave Balm. Available in Sandalwood, Lavender, Lemon, and Unscented. The Art of Shaving sometimes takes some heat from the shaving “Illuminati” but their aftershave balms are actually pretty well thought-of. They have a lot of “good” ingredients and not so many “bad” ingredients, and works well for calming irritated skin.
Single Scent But Great Performing Balm: Baxter of California After Shave Balm. Consistently highly-rated and respected. Honorable mention: L’Oreal Paris Men’s Expert Comfort Max After-Shave Balm .
Single Scent Splash: Lucky Tiger Aftershave And Face Tonic. Sharpologist has discussed Lucky Tiger before, and this splash works very well as both a cleanser to pick up any lather residue after the shave and as a moisturizer.
Milk: DR Harris Aftershave Milk. Generally “below the radar” and perhaps not quite as good as it was before a reformulation a few years ago, DR Harris’ Aftershave Milk still has a devoted following.
Gel: St. James Of London Aftershave Gel. Available in Black Pepper & Lime, and Sandalwood & Bergamont scents. Honorable Mention: The Art Of Shaving Aftershave Gel.
Do you know of a great performing aftershave? Leave a comment below!