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The Case For Cold Water Shaving

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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.

First Reactions

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:

  1. Better shave
  2. Reduced irritation
  3. Increased circulation
  4. Reduced swelling
  5. Tougher skin
  6. 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: 

Better Shave

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.

Reduced irritation

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.

Increased circulation

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.

Reduced swelling

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.

Tougher skin

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:

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  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.

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26 thoughts on “The Case For Cold Water Shaving”

  1. This is a very interesting article. Cold water is often used after shaving the face to help close the pores of the skin. Many people use warm water to soften their facial hair prior to shaving. Have you experienced that your facial hair has been easier to shave with cold shaving?

  2. I tried the Cold Water Shaving and it just didn’t do it for me. Maybe because I have been wet shaving for years, and once you are set on a method it is hard to break away from it.
    I prep the same way I always do. I used Castle Forbes and loaded my Kent BK8. Lather was good.
    The shave felt rough, pulling, and uncomfortable. I used a brand new Gillette Silver Blue and my Gillette President.
    It was a good experiment, but this old shaver is sticking to his routine.

  3. Matt, thanks for a great article. I am going to give this a try and report on it.
    Do you think the kind of cream/soap one uses could influence the result of the “Cold Shave”?

    1. I don’t think the type of soap will affect the cold water shave. If you load your brush and lather with cold water it may reduce the strength of the scent you can perceive and it may take a fraction longer to work up a lather, but (IMO) that should be about it. However, there is nothing wrong with soaking your brush in warm water as usual and just starting with a cold water rinse between passes and when completing your shaving ritual. Let us know how it goes for you.

  4. Great article. I’ve shaved with hot water for 45+ years (with the exception of a couple of mindless migrations to electrics … ugh!). After reading your article on the benefits of cold water shaving, I thought … “Why not give it shot?” This morning was my first cold water shave. I washed my face with warm water, but rinsed with cold. I face lathered with a badger brush that was soaked in cold water and filled the basin with cold water to rinse my DE. I rinsed my face with the cold water in the basin between passes. Wow! Lathering still worked just fine. The cold sensation was refreshing. The first thing I noticed about the shave was a different audible feedback … much louder. The shave was smooth and irritation free. BBS over the entire face, including my neck. I’m going to keep at it. Might be a convert.

    1. Greg, I’m happy to hear you gave it a try and even happier to hear it worked for you. At the very least it’s another option for your daily routine. I’m glad you enjoyed something it!

  5. Hi Matt, that’s a great article. However, I think that cold water shaving is for those with normal skin. Personally, if I shave with cold water, my face will probably need 2 weeks to heal. I had experience with cold water shaving, but none of the shaves was even close to pleasant. I don’t think it’s a very good idea, especially if your skin is very sensitive. What do you think?

    1. I don’t have overly sensitive skin, but have had multiple people express that it has helped tremendously with sensitive skin issues. I don’t claim cold water is a cure all, but it may of been factors other than the cold water. I can only recommend getting your most trusted set-up and giving it one more try. If it doesn’t work hen you can cross it off your list and try something else

    2. That was my experience as well John. After a cold water shave I thought I might has well have dry-shaved. I didn’t like it at all, had more irritation, and didn’t have any positive effects that the article mentions or other articles I’ve read on it. Everyone’s facial skin is different so we go with what works, but I’ll stick with the traditional hot water shave / cold rinse.

      1. Kerry, I will agree with you as well as with Matt. For some people, cold water shaving could work as long as they have the right set up. We might as well give it one more try and see if it works. After all, its not that we won’t have the chance to shave again 🙂

  6. Thanks for the article Matt. I’ve been cold shaving for a couple of months. It really makes a nicer shave. I still prep with a hot towel, and the brush starts out hot, but the rinse water and subsequent passes are cold.
    Should I skip the hot prep altogether? I’ve never tried it and was wondering your opinion. Thanks.

    1. Give it a try and see how it goes. There are definite benefits to heat as well. I bloom my soap with hot water enjoy a hot shower with a blast of cold for a little wakeup pop.
      Let us know how it goes, everyone is a bit different.

  7. I am glad to read cold water shaving is getting more and more popular as well as finding new wet shavers positive about this way.
    I have always shaved with cold water and, in my opinion and with my skin, it is just great! Not to mention, cold water is also a good skin toner.
    I also sometimes rub an ice cube on my skin after the third pass, once again, a good skin toner!

  8. Been shaving for 50 years and never really had a good shave until I got a straight razor (and learned how to use); it spelled the end of ingrown hairs, most redness and the sometimes bad irritation on neck and cheeks.
    Since I first saw The Dirty Dozen I assumed shaving with cold water was a punishment. Based on so many recent favorable reports, however, I gave it a try about a year ago – lukewarm- to cold lather, a lukewarm post shave rinse and then several good doses of the coldest water that will come out of the tap (it’s well water, by the way – usually pretty chilly). Cold water mae for smoother shaves and has totally ended any hint of redness on my neck and throat.
    I am a fan.

  9. Great article, Matt! Very thorough. Although I’d heard about this before, you’re the first to convince me. Despite my aversion to cold water, I’ll be trying it out tomorrow!

      1. Almost forgot to update – I’m converted! I had the best shave ever. No problems at all, even going ATG on my throat, which is usually a surefire way for me to get cuts and irritation. Thanks again Matt!

  10. Good article, but I couldn’t disagree more on extreme temperatures. I shave with ice water every day (I add ice to the basin), and its a better shave than just using cold water.
    Plenty of research out there that shows that ice cold water is good for your skin.

    1. I don’t think that going extremely cold is as bad as going extremely hot. However I wouldn’t consider ice water to be overly cold. As always is comes down to what works for you. I happen to finish off all of my showers with a blast of cold water and enjoy it immensely.

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