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A Barbershop Shave

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1915 Barber Shop
Ad writes: “This week I went to a barbershop for the first time. I hadn’t shaved for a few days and I wanted to try a barbershop shave. Strange enough, it didn’t feel as “babybutt” as it does when I shave myself at hom with a DE razor. I thought: an open razor gets closer to the skin then a safety razor. I was expecting at least the same or rather a better shave then when I shave myself. But it wasn’t. I shaved myself two days later and it really felt BB. Now since it was my first time at the barbers, maybe my expectations were to high, is it about the barber’s skills, or am I just a great shaver? You’ve done this before, what’s you opinion about this?”

I have discovered barbershop shaves are a crap-shoot: it very much depends on the skill of the barber. I have had some great shaves from local guys in regular shops and ghastly shaves from high-end “spa” barbers (and vice versa). I have learned that it pays to discuss the shave before it actually happens–if they know your expectations they are more likely to take more effort or pass you to another barber who is more experienced at shaving.


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10 thoughts on “A Barbershop Shave”

  1. I agree with a lot of what’s being said. I too have had several barber shop shaves with varies results. I too find that I get a better DE shave at home than I do at a barber shop. Here in Ca. there are several factors of why I feel I don’t get as good of a shave as I do when doing it myself.
    Factor #1 Barber shops in Ca. cannot use a straight razor anymore. They have to use a Shavette with who knows what blade of choice. At home I get to use my DE with a persona red. Persona red my personal favorite.
    Factor #2 Barber shops in Ca. cannot use a shave brush for sanitary reasons so they can only get hot cream out of a machine and apply it to your face by hand. At home I get to use a brush to exfoliate my face hair and get a really nice lather.
    Factor #3 “Products” You are at the barber shops mercy on what products they are going to use on you. At home I get to use the finest of products that best suits my face and needs.
    Factor #4 Direction of hair growth. If you do not frequent a barber shop for a shave and go to the same barber every time then a new barber won’t know your pattern. At home I know it with my eyes closed.
    I just realized all this talk brought up a good question to ask. Is it appropriate to bring your own razor, brush, razor blades and products to your local barber shop and have the barber use them on you?
    All in all I highly suggest everyone to try a barber shave for the experience. Not only that but I love the feeling of being vintage The feeling I get from a barber shave gives me that manly feeling and making me feel like I was back in time when men were men!

    1. I have received many true straight razor shaves in California. A quick Google search reveals many shops that still use the traditional straight razor. I took a quick perusal through the California Code of Regulations for Barbering and Cosmetology and could find nothing specifically prohibiting either straight razors or shaving brushes. In fact, there is a section specifically listing illegal Instruments and neither straight razors nor brushes are among them.
      Here’s the table of contents from the regulations:
      Here is a sections that discusses the sterilization process and illegal instruments:
      Now it is very possible I missed something. It is also possible there are regulations above and beyond the state regulations in certain localities. But I have heard/read the following explanation repeated by barbers in person and on message boards:
      During the aids scare of the 80’s and 90’s, barbers stopped using straight razors and barbering schools stopped teaching with them. So most barbers have not been properly trained in the use of a straight. The sterilization process required further inhibits the use of straight razors (and probably makes the use of a shaving brush nearly impossible) But, I’m hearing there are few areas, if any, that actually specifically prohibit the use of these items. If this is mistaken, it would be interesting to actually read the regulation that governs this.
      Maybe one good sign is this bit from the California Barber Practical Examination, Candidate Information Bulletin. The section on Shaving with a Straight Razor goes through the steps involved in the testing. No mention is made of changing a blade—then again there is no mention of stropping.
      And I have brought my own products to a barber shop a few times. Not a brush, but soaps and creams.

      1. I had a chat with my local (Toronto Public Health) about this, after my local barbershop pointed out some issues. The problem is sterilization of the straight razor, to prevent transmission of blood borne diseases (HIV, Hepatitis B & C*). The only good ways are to autoclave it (but very high heat can damage handles, also lots of ongoing paperwork) or to use chemicals (seldom used, as potentially hazardous fumes.) There is an incorrect perception out there that barbicide is fine. The upshot is that using straight razors won’t be forbidden, but there will be a lot of safety hoops – so probably won’t be worth doing. Safer to bring your own straight razor!
        *Reason for concern – sometimes HIV, Hepatitis B or C gets picked up, and there is really no clear answer as to how, or when, it happened.

  2. It’s also worth discussing blades with the barber (since in many jurisdictions, they can’t use a true straight, they have to use a shavette style for sanitary reasons). I changed barbershops for getting wet shaves, once i switched from cartridge to DE shaving, because the original place used Derby blades… compared to a cart, I got great shaves from Derby’s… but once I tried a few brands of Blades myself, I found them to be one of the worst for my face… Once I switched shops to somewhere that used blades more compatible to my face, the quality of the barbershop shaves increased dramatically…

    1. I have had barbers tell me they were not allowed to use straight razors due to the law. I found out later, from barbers in the same vicinity, that there was no law that strictly prohibited straight razors in their area. But rather the sterilizing procedure required simply made it easier for some barbers to just use shavettes.
      I’m not suggesting there are no locations where it is illegal to use a straight. But I think that widespread belief might be mistaken in many cases.
      I prefer a good straight shave, but a well performed shavette shave is fine, IMO.

  3. I’ve been dying for a great old-school barbershop shave. I tried one once many years ago. I don’t think the barber was experienced at all. He cut me to ribbons.

  4. I learned long ago that a barber shave is seldom as good as you can do yourself at home. When I have a barber shave it is for the experience of the hot towels and great products more than for a good shave. I learn as much as I can from the barber, from the equipment he is using to the products he is using and why. For me the few dollars spent is worth the experience.

  5. I agree with The Dean… It can be hit and miss. Like everything else, you need to find “a guy” (just like you would find a tailor, a butcher, etc.), and then as best possible stick with them. Just as a stunt driver needs to drive around for a few minutes in a new car, before they can really push the limits, the barber needs a couple of shaves to get the hang of your face, before you start getting to the really good stuff… As mentioned, they will probably learn faster than you do… they are professionals (just as with the stunt driver example…), so it’s just getting familiar with some of the tricky contextual areas of your face, that they need to learn…
    You can also facilitate the process a bit, by going to a barbershop with a reputation for shaving, so that you avoid the guy (or gal) who only does a couple shaves/month… The more experienced they are, the quicker they should learn. That said, if they mangle my face, I won’t give them a second chance, but if it’s a pleasant experience, even if my face isn’t quite as smooth as I get shaving at home, I’ll give them a few tries to master it… Tip them well, and be friendly so that they remember you and your face, so that you can keep getting good shaves whenever needed…

  6. I’m with you 100%, Mark. I have also had quite a few barbershop shaves, with varying results. But except for the very worst experiences (which fortunately there are very few) I enjoyed the experience, even if the shave was not BBS. As long as the barber does a nice prep, and there is a bit of pampering involved, I feel pretty good after the shave–even if it isn’t “perfect”.
    Another thing I find is, the more often a barber shaves me, the better his/her shaves get. They need to learn your face and beard, just as you did. As they have more experience, they should learn more quickly, but it still might take a couple of shaves to get it down. My approach is, if I enjoyed the experience and the shave was decent or better, I go back and things typically improve.
    I now steer clear (way clear) of barbers who make it clear they don’t give many shaves, or haven’t given one in a while (“But I will do it for you.”) I made that mistake twice.
    Those of you who are perfectionists, obsess on a BBS shave, micro-analyze every stroke, etc. might be better off passing on a barber shave. What are the chances it will come up to your exacting standards?

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