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Classifying the Quality of a Shave

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I have read in Internet shaving forums of high-quality shaves being called BBS, which in the vernacular means baby-bottom (or baby-butt) smooth. For a time, I accepted this description at face value — that is, until I began doing daily shave evaluations for my blog articles.

Shave Nuances

Very quickly I realized that there could be many nuances to a baby-smooth shave. I also found it very difficult to objectively evaluate my shave outcomes to give my readers a clear picture of the actual shave quality or to compare the quality of one shave to another.
I soon began to question even what it means, specifically, to have a baby-smooth shave. Did this mean that no stubble could be felt when rubbing firmly in any direction like actual baby skin, or only when rubbing with the grain – or something in between? Did it mean baby smooth all over the entire beard, or just on the cheeks – or, again, something in between? These are relevant questions when one has a face with many contours, concavities, and areas of rather loose skin.
Further, the quality of a shave also depends not only on the closeness of the shave, but also on the degree of both skin irritation and presence of blood-letting wounds in the skin: nicks, cuts, and weepers.
To compare shaves, for simplicity it would be ideal to reduce the shave to a single number: say on a one-to-five or one-to-ten scale. The problem with the single-number approach is that the three main aspects of shave quality: closeness, irritation, and skin wounds, are unspecified, buried within a single-number summary.
So I would propose a three-number evaluation that separately rates shave closeness, irritation, and wounds.

Shave Evaluation Process

For closeness, I would drop the cute but imprecise baby-smoothness analogy altogether. Instead I would evaluate smoothness as an average of five separate evaluations for cheeks, upper lip, chin including below-mouth area, just under jawline, and neck. In each area, I would use the following numerical ratings:
5 – Smooth when rubbed against grain & other directions
4 – Smooth across grain but not against grain
3 – Smooth with grain only
2 – Not smooth to touch, but appears adequately clean shaven
1 – Not smooth to touch, and stubble apparent
So a typical really-good shave for me would have a closeness evaluation as follows:
Cheeks – 5
Upper Lip – 4
Chin – 5
Below Jaw Line – 4
Neck – 4
To evaluate skin irritation, I would suggest the following one-to-five scale:
5 – No perceivable irritation
4 – Minor irritation just after the shave, disappears quickly with time or applied balm
3 – Minor irritation that lingers for more than an hour but less than six
2 – Irritation that is perceived throughout the day
1 – Visible razor burn
A typical really good and close shave for me, with a closeness rating of 4.4, would be an irritation rating of 4. Rarely, if ever, do I get both really close and totally irritation free.
To evaluate wounds, again I suggest a one-to-five scale to keep things consistent and somewhat simple:
5 – Absence of any wounds
4 – Pinpoint weepers only
3 – A total of three or less nicks, small cuts, and larger-than-pinpoint weepers
2 – A total of four to six  nicks, cuts, and larger-than-pinpoint weepers
1 – Worse than 2, above (first aid, quick!)
For me, a good shave of closeness 4.4, irritation of 4, would have a wound rating of 4.
I would write that total-shave rating as follows:
Shave-quality rating: Closeness-4.4, Irritation-4, Wounds-4
Or I might abbreviate the ratings as they are more frequently used: C-4.4, I-4, W-4
I realize that is not as simple as a ball-park summary evaluation, but it does give more useful information. Since I’m all about useful information, I’m going to stick with this evaluation methodology, and encourage others to do so as well.
Happy shaving (and shave evaluating)!
About the author:
Douglas N. Hansford is a shaving hobbyist who writes a weblog entitled Shave Like Grandad.
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Doug Hansford

Doug Hansford

6 thoughts on “Classifying the Quality of a Shave”

  1. I have to say that I really like this idea.I believe correlating it with the products used would produce even more useful results in the long term. That being said, I have to admit that wouldn’t work for me. While I have tried to break my shave routine into distinct parts and track what works and what doesn’t I usually end up with a zip-lock full of sample blades, half a dozen soaps on the counter (1/2 of those being homebrew soap with cryptic labels like Batch1A1-2 and my notebook with the formulations being colored on by the kids).
    One other aspect that needs to be considered for me is skin “feel” afterwards. Some soap excel at “feeding” your skin more than others. Great article Douglas, thanks!

  2. I think BBS is pretty well defined: no roughness felt regardless of the direction you rub your shaved face. If you feel roughness in one direction, then that is not BBS (assuming that a baby’s bum doesn’t feel rough when rubbed in a particular direction).
    However, to judge the quality of a shave merely by the result seems a mistake to me. My shaves some years back with a cartridge and canned foam generally had a smooth result, but (important point) I hated shaving. The shave was not an enjoyable experience, and (in my view) for a shave to be good it must be enjoyable as well as produce a good result. In this comment I discuss briefly some of the characteristics and benefits of a good shave (and there’s a whole section in the Guide devoted to this issue).
    Once you accept the idea that being engaged in the experience in a mindful manner is part of a good shave and that the enjoyment and flow the experience provides is essential if the shave is to be considered “good” (beyond the result), some interesting things follow. For example, having 3 of each component (3 brushes, 3 soaps, 3 razors, 3 aftershaves) gets one involved in thinking about the shave right at the outset, as described in this post.
    Obviously, any shave that does not produce a result that is smooth and free of nicks and irritation cannot be considered a “good shave,” but those characteristics are just the minimum—the ante, as it were. They are necessary but (IMO) far from sufficient.

  3. I like the idea of rating the shave as objectively as possible. Compiling number of passes, and using different methods of smoothness measurement can provide more precise measures, but in reality if everything is evaluated with a consistent method, you’ll get the same relative result. Your attempt to combine three factors for an overall shave is interesting and provides general measurements, but, in my humble opinion, ignores the details contributing to the overall score. In my quantitative attempt to evaluate hardware, software and my technique, I rate each element of hardware, software, alum impact, closeness, and irritation separately on a scale of 1-5 with odd-numbered decimals too. I have been able to objectively and selectively determine the superiority of certain blades and soaps and aftershave, while also improving my technique. To ensure I get the strongest ratings, I only rotate a couple of elements of my shaving kit every 2 weeks. I also note comments on things like scent, so a soap may be a great performer, but if I’m not a fan of the scent, I’ll rate it lower knowing it’s a personal factor that reduced it.

  4. The Dean makes some good points, particularly about using cotton vs hand. Another point to consider is how many shave passes, and in which direction are they made?
    Typically, I only do one pass shaves with the grain. This gives me very nice and close shaves … I would rate them as 354 using Doug’s scale. Arguably, using only one pass it would not be possible to attain anything higher than a 3 or 4 on the closeness scale.
    Do I go for a “BBS” shave every time? No. For me it’s the process that counts. Good results are a side effect. But with my thick beard, I’m very happy with 3 or 4 on the scale above for closeness. Besides, as soon as I turn away from the mirror the beard pops back in. 🙂 A 5 for me would probably happen with laser hair removal.

  5. I’m not quite sure why anyone would go to this kind of trouble to evaluate or classify their shaves. But if one did, I suggest a more objective measure of smoothness. IMO using your hand is far too subjective and not really a consistant measure. Using a cotton ball, however, is a bit more unwavering in its evaluation. Move the cotton ball across your face to determine if the surface is really smooth. If you get any pulling, not completely smooth.
    I know that some of my shaves are better than others, but they are all fine. No blood (not even weepers) and very rare minor irritation, easily taken care of with some alum, a bit of witch hazel and some facial moisturizer. But in some areas my skin is rough, so even though it looks perfectly shaved it wouldn’t pass the cotton ball test. And in other areas, where the hair is particularly dark and course, it can feel as smooth as silk, but still look (at least to me) to maybe need another touch-up. Though I have found, no amount of touch-ups can get rid of the darker look on that part of my face. I am seeing the hair below the skin surface.
    So, at least for me, shaving for a BBS seems absurd. It’s just shaving, for goodness sake. I try to enjoy the process and get a nice, comfortable, shave as a result. But I know others may enjoy obsessing over the details and evaulations.

    1. Your thoughts are valid and make sense to me, but if one is trying to evaluate gear and process for publication or to compare the quality of one shave to another, the cotton-ball test is too binary: it only reveals perfect or not perfect. More evaluation data is needed. Hence this method is suggested.

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