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Be PREpared For Your Shave

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Traditional wet shaving and the products that people favour or champion can be subjective. There is a saying within the community that Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) which basically means your opinion or experience could be different to that of someone else’s. Did you know it also applies to the process of wet shaving too? More specifically the new old step of the pre-shave? Read on to find out more. 

To pre-shave, or Not to pre-shave That is the Question?

You can trace the art of wet shaving as we know it back to the ancient Egyptians and continued to evolve throughout the ages, but it wasn’t until the 18th century in England that the process of pre-shaving started with the wrapping of the face in a hot towel. From then until now there has been little evidence of how the pre-shave has evolved, but there is no doubt that the new old element of the shave is here to stay. With lotion’s, potions, oils and cubes (yes you read right, cubes) there is a plethora of different products you can use as part of your routine to make your shave slicker, smoother and even colder, but do they work and is it something that is for the masses, or for the select few? You may tell people you don’t believe in a pre-shave routine, it doesn’t make any difference, or anything in between, but the reality of it is, even if you wet your face before applying your soap/cream you are “pre-shaving”. I did a little bit of market research on this to see what the general consensus is.

Yes, no, or indifferent 

I put out a survey on one of the Facebook shaving groups to gain a high level overview of whether people use a specific product as part of their shave. The options were simple. Yes, no, or not every shave. Out of the 69 people who cast their vote (at the time of writing) 26 said yes, 23 said no and 20 said not every shave. With a bigger number of votes you may be able to see a clearer pattern, but I suppose you could say that more people use a pre-shave product than don’t, which shows that it is an important part of the process–for those people at least. 

My personal preference (and that’s only what it is), is to use a pre-shave with every shave. I have done it since I started shaving the traditional way and it’s unlikely that’s going to stop anytime soon. That’s for 2 main reasons. 1) I have sensitive skin that’s prone to razor burn and genuinely find that it helps with the shave, and 2) it’s part of my ritual/routine. I am a creature of habit and I don’t like to miss out a step. I actually have a 2 step pre-shave routine, a pre pre-shave routine if you like.  9 times out of 10 I will have a hot shower before shaving and use an exfoliating scrub, and then I’ll use a bonafide pre-shave product prior to applying my chosen soap, or cream. Some have been known to dunk their face in cold water before shaving; some use homemade scrubs. It’s all personal pretence and takes me back to YMMV.

What’s Your Poison?

Ed. Note: Amazon,, and PAA links are affiliate.

When it comes to dedicated pre-shave products there is more than one way to skin a cat as they say. As mentioned earlier there’s creams, oils, solid soaps, gels and scrubs. All of them aim to provide the same sort of effect in improving the performance of the shave soap or cream you are using and to ensure your shave is as comfortable as it can be. Let’s look at some of those options.


Probably one of the most well known cream type pre-shaves is the proraso range. They have versions for sensitive skin, a mentholated version, nourishing, and protective versions as well as scent variants in their single blade profiles. They are readily available, very fairly priced and perform well. Other options include the 3p pre-shave cream which has a traditional peppermint scent and can also be used as a post-shave cream.

Related Post: All The Colors of Proraso: A Rainbow Tour of Wet Shaving’s Best Known Brand

Sold Soaps

There are several options when it comes to a solid soap. Most are glycerin based and have a range of advantages from degreasing, giving a lather boost to turning standard soaps into a mentholated version.  You generally want to rub them against the grain and get a good coverage. One of the most unique offerings is from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements in the form of the Cube 2.0. It comes as you would expect in the form of a cube, but lasts for an absolute age. 


Another popular option is the pre-shave oil. Quite possibly one of the products that has been around for the longest in one form or another. It is exactly what it says on the tin, an oil. You massage it into the skin ensuring you get an even covering.  But a word of warning: use too much and you run the risk of clogging up your razor while shaving and also ruining your brushes over prolonged use if you don’t clean them properly. A little bit goes a long way so this is an economical option. Most companies have an offering so it won’t be going away anytime soon.

Notable Mentions 

Some of the less well known options are the gels, sticks, jellies and hot towels. They all work in the same way as the aforementioned, but the application is different. Some may find that a solid soap is just too harsh for their skin so an oil, or gel might work better. It’s very much a matter of preference which is the case with any grooming product.

Related Post: Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave: A Review

Finish Strong

I’m a champion of pre-shaves. My skin is sensitive and I find that using something prior to shaving helps soften the whiskers, helps with glide and makes the shave slicker. I also find that the post shave feel is improved as a result. Obviously this might not be the case for everyone. You may have tough rhino-like skin that can handle the harshest of razors and laugh in the face of some of the less hydrating soaps. 

Whatever your shave routine and whatever works for you, this is a form of shaving that has many forms and has many advocates of many different processes, but the pre-shave is one of those steps that I think is here to stay. If you’ve never tried a pre-shave, give one a whirl. What’s the worst that can happen? It may improve your shave experience even just slightly, it may not make any difference at all, but at least you can say you’ve tried it. Try everything at least once. AW

Andy W

Andy W

6 thoughts on “Be PREpared For Your Shave”

  1. Good article!

    One popular pre-shave approach was left out, though: using bloom water (for those not familiar, this is the water you use to soak your soap before lathering it – usually [though not solely] with a hard puck).

    I don’t often use a pre-shave, and use a separate product even less (I have a shave oil that I use on rare occasions with some less slick soaps / creams). But I do use the bloom water on those occasions when I bloom my soap. I just pour some into my hands, rub them together briefly, and then apply to my face, really working it into the stubble.

    Does it have any noticeable effect? I’m not sure; after all, it is the very same product that will next be applied via the brush. But it feels better to me than just using tap water. And seems less wasteful than just pouring it down the drain.

    1. I never could understand why people bloomed their shaving soap, since I found no benefit whatsoever when I tried it. But I recently learned that it apparently helps those who must shave with hard water. I’ve been lucky enough to live where the tap water is soft (and when I lived in a hard-water area I had a water softener).

      So I was limited by my experience (as is often the case). Blooming is redundant for soft water, but helpful for hard.

      1. I only bloom hard pucks, to make it easier to load the brush quickly. And I only have a few of those. Soft soaps, creams and sticks (the vast majority of what I have) I see no point either.

        (My water is a bit on the hard side, but not overly so.)

        1. With soft water the blooming step is totally unnecessary. In this video I load a soft synthetic from a totally dried-out puck of Mitchell’s Wool Fat shaving soap — not triple-milled, but pretty hard (and I get the same result from triple-milled shaving soas). Loading time is 10 seconds. I suppose cutting the time in half would save 5 seconds, but that’s less than the time to bloom the soap.

  2. I have tried a fair number of different pre-shave treatments, but most had no effect so far as I could tell after using the product a week, skipping it a week, then using it another week. The one that did make a difference, Musgo Real Lime Oil Glyce soap (MR GLO), I have used for years: wash stubble at sink following the shower, rinse partially with a splash, and lather.

    Recently, however, I found quite a different sort of pre-shave that is stunningly effective, though only with tub soaps and creams — for shave sticks, I still use MR GLO. It’s Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, which I learned about on Sharpologist. It is, in my experience, fantastically good. The stockists include one in the UK: Slickboys. They seem to be currently out of stock. (Production was interrupted recently due to illness, but has resumed.)

  3. Excellent article! Thanks for sharing your experiences and the comments from others. Interestingly, you note that you have sensitive skin, but use a pre-shave exfoliate almost every time you shave. Is this too much aggression? I have recently started using a mild scrub (Kiehl’s Pineapple), two days a week, when I don’t use a brush. Seems to be good so far. What scrub or exfoliator would you recommend? Thanks

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