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What Is The Best Pre-Shave Face Wash?

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8 face washes
[Updated May, 2023] Pre-shave oils get a lot of the buzz these days, and there are some good ones, but it is too easy to use them as a crutch for proper shave preparation.  Cleaning and hydrating the skin properly before shaving is an essential part of a good shave in my opinion.

Sharpologist has discussed pre-shave cleansers before: “Get Ready! 5 Pre-Shave Soaps That Really Work” is consistently one of most popular articles on the site even though it’s an old post.  I have always been a big fan of Lucky Tiger’s face wash and I also quite like ACH Brito Glyce Lime Pre-Shaving Soap.  But these are more “specialized” products that are less commonly available.

The “Mass Market”

[Note: Amazon links are affiliate.]

Some common skin cleaning soaps can actually dry out the skin, stripping away too much of the natural skin oils needed for shaving–“body bars” and “deodorant bars” are notorious for this.  And some people think they need specialized products to get the job done right.  With that in mind I tested eight products you can find in grocery stores, druggists/chemists, and “mega-mart” retailers (though I have inserted Amazon links so you can get more information and other reviews) to see how they work as a pre-shave cleanser.

Neutrogena Men “Razor Defense” Face Scrub

neutrogena razor defense face scrub
Neutrogena’s “Razor Defense” Face Scrub was one of the first “drug store” products I tried when I first started wet shaving with traditional kit (when it was called a “daily scrub”), and marketed specifically as a shaving-related product (part of Neutrogena’s “Reazor Defense” product line).  Like other face scrubs it’s a cream but contains “grit” or “sand” to help scrub away dirt and debris.  Unlike other scrubs I have tried though, Neutrogena’s product has far less grit than typical.  And that’s good, as a typical scrub would probably be too harsh for shave preparation.  This product is low-lather, cleans and hydrates well, does not have a scent that I can detect, but does take longer to rinse because of the gritty texture.  I have used this product for several years with good results.

Dove Men+Care Face Wash (Sensitive)

dove men+care face wash
After a bit of a rough start, Dove’s Men+Care line seems to be hitting its stride with the mass market.  The Men+Care Face Wash is another low-lather cream that is very mildly scented, cleans and hydrates well, rinses easily, and is acceptable to use just prior to shaving.  I’m hearing rumbles that this product may be reformulated soon so “stay tuned.”

Nivea Men Original Moisturizing Face Wash

niveo original
Nivea’s “Original Moisturizing” face wash marches to a slightly different drummer.  It’s a thick gel that somehow applies quite evenly when rubbed onto the face.  Like most of the other products here it’s low lather, scentless, cleans well, and hydrates the skin adequately for shaving.  It rinses quite easily and quickly.

Nivea Men Sensitive Face Wash

nivea sensitive
Like the “Original,” Nivea’s “Sensitive” face wash is also a thick gel and rinses quite easily.  However it left my face a bit “tacky.”  It didn’t seem to make a difference if I was shaving with a modern cartridge razor but DE razors skipped along the skin a bit.

CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser

cerave face foam
The new kid on the block and getting a lot of buzz in men’s grooming circles, CeraVe’s Foaming Facial Cleanser (one for dry-to-normal skin and one for normal-to-oily skin) is getting a reputation as an exceptional pre-shave wash.  A lot of people are reporting noticeable improvements in skin condition and shave quality.  Unfortunately for me there’s an ingredient in it that seems to irritate my skin (particularly the neck) so I had to stop testing it on myself.  Mrs. Mantic59, on the other hand, tried it and loves the stuff.  She didn’t have any problem “stealing it away” from me!

Noxzema Original

nexzema original
Noxzema’s “Classic Clean” face cleanser cream from the jar has been around for ages and is widely known but a lot of men have never considered it for a pre-shave wash.  It should be considered.  This stuff is very mildly-scented (and dissipates quickly), cleans well (low-lather), hydrates well, rinses quickly, and performs exceptionally well “underneath” shave lather.  In fact I have read of men who use it as a shave product in a pinch.  It’s also exceptionally inexpensive.  This was probably the biggest surprise of the group to me.


Any of these products will do a fine job of cleaning the face gently.  But for use immediately before shaving, Noxzema’s original “Classic Clean” in the jar and Neutrogena Razor Defense Scrub are the stand-outs for me.
Amazon links are affiliate.

Have you used any of these products?  What do you think of them?  Do you use something else?  Leave a comment below!


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

19 thoughts on “What Is The Best Pre-Shave Face Wash?”

  1. I have found that applying Noxzema classic to a dry face, leaving it for a few minutes, then rinsing works great. I used to shave with just Noxzema, but I haven’t done that in a long time,

  2. I have experimented with original Noxzema for the past few days. I have found it to be a nice balance between a traditional face wash and face scrub. It does a very good job of deep cleaning and providing good shave preparation. I think I will permanently switch to it. It’s price cannot be bested either.

  3. I’ve used both the CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser and the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, and both work great for me.
    The Hydrating Cleanser is similar to a lotion in consistency and has no suds at all. I think it’s gentler on skin and works well if you are thorough with your washing; it doesn’t seem to be as deep-cleaning as the foaming cleanser.

  4. I’ve been using Thoroughly Clean Face Wash by Desert Essence for years, not specifically for pre-shave but as my daily face wash. I’ve got pretty sensitive skin, and can’t stand products that leave my face feeling oily (which most do), and this is the one thing I’ve found that gets my face really feeling clean. I’m wondering if anyone has used this as a pre-shave face wash (I wouldn’t buy it through their website though, you can get a 32oz. bottle for around $10 at Whole Foods), and with the first 2 ingredients being castille soap & glycerin, it seems to be similar to others listed here.

  5. Noxzema works great. I have been using it for a while, and I find it improves the shave and also improves my skin after regular use. The generic Wal Mart version is just as good, and very inexpensive.

  6. I’ve been using Noxzema Classic. It’s terrific as a preshave lotion. It works as well as my all-time favorite, Edwin Jagger Preshave Lotion, and it’s literally 1/10 the price. Slight cooling but significant lubricating. The razor just glides with all the shaving soaps I’ve tried.
    EJ feels a bit more luxurious going on, but not much. I’ll be buying more Nox when this jar is empty, sometime in the 2020s.

  7. Let me recommend an inexpensive glycerin soap that is every bit as good as MR GLO. I get it at Whole Foods and it’s called 365 Brands. It comes in a number of great scents as well as unscented. For $1.89/bar it’s a bargain and works great. In addition, if after rinsing it off you guide the bar against the grain of your beard you’ve replaced the need for any pre shave oils.

  8. Last week on a whim I got some Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint bar soap at Trader Joe’s. I’m liking it as a wash soap. Had a good shave with it, but the menthol cool feeling might be better for summer time.
    I also picked up some Shea Moisture Utility soap from Walgreens as I liked the ingredients/smell and I really like that one as a wash/shave soap. As it’s marketed towards African Americans it might not be widely available like it is in St. Louis.

  9. Has anybody tried scrubs from Bath and Body Works? I have used Dr. Bronner’s soap (spearmint scent) with good results as a pre shave soap and as a shave soap. The visible lather isn’t great but my DE slid over it very nicely.

  10. I’m a wetshaver and a dermatologist, and I also care about taking care of our planet. Wetshavers often talk about the environmental benefits of not creating so much plastic waste from disposable cartridges. I would encourage shavers to consider their face washing products similarly. Lots of unnecessary plastic packaging with all these face washes. I’ve tried many over the years, and none seem to work any better than a good bar soap designed for facial use. There are many to choose from, and fortunately many formulated specifically to be gentle on the face or for sensitive skin. So I would encourage shavers to use bar soaps, such as MrGLO, which is excellent, or any number of artisan facial soaps that are now widely available. The packaging for these is much more environmentally responsible than these face washes. The other advantage of these soaps is that they have far fewer preservatives (and many have none) than these mass marketed face washes. I even make my own soap at home, using either olive and coconut oils or rendered lard from my local hog farmer. It’s easy, economical, and fun, and I get excellent soaps in whatever quantity I need, with whatever fragrance I want, with no preservatives and no wasteful packaging. And I don’t have to torture myself with the awful mega-mart experience.

  11. One to add to the list would be Cetaphil, the gentle cleanser works great as a preshave wash. It is gentle yet cleans the face well and really helps to soften the face in preparation for shaving. Used it for years both day and night.

  12. I am a fan of the Neutrogena Daily Scrub, it breaks through that “waxy” coating that my skin produces overnight and leaves my face clean without being tight.
    I have also used my daughter’s St Ives Apricot Scrub, but that is like rubbing sand on your face – not a daily use product. That is for the times you have been doing serious outdoor work (shoveling dirt or mulch) and you have used the Lava soap to clean your hands and need an equivalent for your face.

  13. Tried it on your recommendation long ago and agree Neutrogena razor defense is nice. Like others I find it difficult to extract the last 1/4-1/8th or so out of the tube without cutting the tube completely open. I also have found that in many tubes the beads are not distributed evenly so early samplings can have a higher concentration of beads. I have tried to squeeze the tube to distribute them more uniformly but it does not help that much. Although I find the product performs quite fine problems above notwithstanding it is actually not readily available in stores in my area for some reason so I have to special order it.
    If you can I would suggest you give Aveeno Active Naturals Men’s face wash a try. I find it to be in the same category as the products you tested. It is similarly gentle on the face, fragrance-free, always a uniform mixture of scrubbing agent, and importantly for me, it is readily available in many stores in my area.
    Of course, thanks for taking the time for the thorough testing and review of the above products. Most of the options you tested are also available in my area. I just wanted to mention the Aveeno product because I stumbled upon it when I failed to find the Neutrogena razor defense locally and have found it to be a good substitute. You might also investigate which of any of these contain microbeads that are considered harmful to the environment. There have been some recent reports of microbeads in some cleansing products that find their way into aquatic critters.

    1. Just an update to my own comment. Many people have noted that in the glycerin soap category Whole Foods 365 facial bar soap is a favorite. I don’t have a Whole Foods nearby as I live in a small town. We do have Safeway, KMart, and Walgreens as notable stores. Much as I love MR GLO, it is expensive and inconvenient to special order it when needed. Just wanted to post a vote for Neutrogena’s glycerin facial cleansing bar soap as a readily available, cheaper alternative ($3 for a bar the same size as a MR GLO, sometimes with 2 or 3 for 1 sales at Walgreens). It’s unscented, pleasant, and performs just the same as MR GLO. It also lacks the mild sting of the MR GLO, perhaps indicating I have some sensitivity to the lime oil in MR GLO.

  14. My goto’s are either the Daily Face Wash and Facial Scrub from Baxter of California, or the Advance Clear Skin Facial Scrub and Facial Cleanser from Rebels Refinery.
    Both of these washes are good for all skin types, are low lather with mild scents, and do an excellent job of cleaning without stripping moisture out of the face.
    As well as both of these scrubs are excellent, as compared to the “mass market” available ones. Personally though I do not like a scrub that disintegrates and disappears while scrubbing, because I find it doesn’t do a good enough job of lifting the hairs on my neck before a shaving (based on the amount of ingrown hairs I would get from the “mass market” brands compared to either of these two). However, with the natural ingredients for exfoliation that doesn’t break down by comparison in these two, some might find them too abrasive.

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