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Shaving Challenges for Older Guys

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[Updated October, 2020] From a purely physical perspective, getting older generally sucks. Seriously, can you name any body part that improves with age? When was the last time you heard, “My hair’s darker and thicker now that I’m 60” or “My knees improved a lot when I turned 70 and now I’m running my fastest 5k’s.” Could happen, but the odds are on a par with winning the lottery.

More than skin deep

Age changes our faces, too. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, noted that the changes aren’t just superficial: “With age, collagen and elastic fibers in the skin weaken, leading to sagging and wrinkles. At the same time, the skin gets thinner and more sensitive to external trauma.” Those are not good developments for shavers. “The skin tends to be more sensitive with age and more likely to develop irritation or razor burn after shaving,” he added.

Robert Anolik, M.D., FAAD board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, shared similar insights. “As we age, some things do happen to our skin that can affect shaving,” he explained. “In particular, our skin, especially on the neck, can become more lax and thin. This can create greater areas of tension or pull by the razor on the skin, as in the skin can give way too much until it can’t give anymore and greater friction occurs between the blade and the skin at final contact.”

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, here are 2,000 words worth of text to illustrate the doctors’ points. The first photo shows a young man’s neck; the second is an older man. Which neck would you rather shave?

Dr. Kristina Vanoosthuyze, Senior Manager, Scientific Communications at Gillette, also cited the skin’s loss of elasticity and firmness due to the breakdown of connective tissue such as collagen and elastin. In addition, she said the skin’s outer layer, the stratum corneum for you dermatology fans, is more damaged, which weakens the skin’s natural barrier function. This decreases the skin’s ability to hold on to moisture and leads to dry and tight-feeling skin. Another change really is skin-deep: The texture of the skin changes and the surface of the skin is less smooth and more irregular, and lines and wrinkles start to appear, she noted in an email response.

If you’re over 60 you’re likely familiar with the impact of these changes. Dr. Vanoosthuyze explained that as the skin surface changes and becomes rougher and drier, it becomes a more difficult terrain for the razor to move across. This can lead to older men experiencing more irritation and redness after the shave, especially in the neck area. Now I know why my neck has turned into a shaving minefield.

Maybe DFS Is Good Enough?

A BBS-shave is an aficionado’s goal, but older guys might want to settle for a good shave instead of a perfect one. For instance, I asked Dr. Zeichner for his thoughts on the three-pass method of with-, across-, and against-the-grain. He’s not a fan. “If you have fine, straight hair then this approach might be fine,” he said. “But for those who have coarse or curly hair or for people who tend to get ingrown hairs, I do not recommend shaving in multiple directions. Plus, for people who have sensitive skin or easily develop irritation, I recommend single strokes in the direction of the hair growth. Remember that shaving is an interaction between the blade, the hair and the skin. Multiple passes over the skin may lead to irritation.”

Here’s a sobering thought: Even if you want to reach BBS status, it might not be possible after age 60. “It is true that many older consumers prefer to shave every day and achieve a clean-shaven look,” Dr. Vanoosthuyze wrote. “This stems from the societal and professional norms in their 20s, 30s and 40s, which expected them to be clean-shaven, especially at work. However, as men get older, it may be harder to achieve that ‘baby butt smooth’ look. This is not because they can’t shave the hair close, but because the skin is no longer as smooth and looks rougher, drier and duller.”

All three sources agreed on the need for good pre-shave prep, skin lubrication, plus good shaving technique combined with post-shave recovery treatment. You’re reading this article on Sharpologist so you’re familiar with that advice. For razors, Dr. Vanoosthuyze suggested that men “use a good quality razor with technology that is designed to protect the skin from irritation and nicks such as the razors of the Gillette Fusion5 family.” She highlighted the success of Gillette’s new two-blade SkinGuard razor in reducing razor bumps among users who shaved daily with the blade over a 12-week period.

Dr. Anolik also discussed razors. “If you’re using the right technique but still experiencing razor bumps, razor burns or ingrown hairs, consider switching razors,” he suggested. “For some men, multiblade razors can work too well, or shave too closely to their skin. Try using a single- or two-blade razor instead and do not stretch your skin taut while shaving.”

Getting Real

This advice led me to reassess my daily shaves and dust off a very mild safety razor that I had stopped using in favor of more aggressive models. It’s taking longer to shave my neck, too, because I’m using an even lighter touch on the handle in an effort to avoid nicking bumps and other skin imperfections.

Another solution I’m trying is the OneBlade CORE razor (Ed. note: Sharpologist is a OneBlade affiliate.) The CORE is my only razor that consistently shaves over the neck bumps and facial blemishes without nicking them, a result that’s become more important as my goal shifts from getting a perfect shave to one that’s acceptable but easier on the skin.

Your face can’t fight time unless you’ve got some really good genes. But the good news is that the advice you find here on Sharpologist and other reputable shaving sites is still on target and will help you get the best possible shave. The bad news is that the target—your face—will keep changing with age and you’ll probably have to adapt your routine as a result. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to buy some new shaving gear.

Author Profile:

Ed McCarthy is a semi-retired freelance writer living in rural Pascoag, Rhode Island, with his wife and too many pets. Despite numerous shaving experiments over the past 50 years he has somehow managed to avoid completely destroying his face.

Ed McCarthy

Ed McCarthy


16 thoughts on “Shaving Challenges for Older Guys”

  1. I thought that once I had to start on an anti -coagulant (Plavix) 3 years ago I would have to give up on Wet Shaving and go back to some barbaric method such as a Cartige razor or even worse an electric stubble massager.

    Nope, My DE and SE shaves became b e t t e r, s m o o t h e r and c l o s e r. I even bought a “GASP” Muhle R-41 2 months ago when I found them on sale at ******. No problems with the R-41 and I received a magnificent shave. The reason is, I just have to pay more attention and use even less pressure then before. (I NEVER lose situational awareness, even for a moment, with the Muhle.)

  2. The issue is not whether the 5 blade razor works, but is a 5 blade cartridge the most efficient and economical shaving tool? I say No.

    Saul suggest an interesting point, though, that the resistance to cart’s is often from those who are resistant to progress, or who dislike the chill wind of change.

    1. Brian Fiori (AKA The Dean)

      I think the issue is “What works best for the individual.” Sharing your experiences and preferences with others MAY lead them find something that also helps them. Thinking that if something works (or doesn’t work) for you, then that is some kind of universal truth is nonsense.

      I know the first razor I could use and get a great shave with, and not get ingrown hairs and razor bumps, was a Gillette Fusion. I still can use it and get a great, effortless shave. But I have moved mostly to DE shaving. Now I get great shaves with a DE razor. And learning the right technique actually helped improve my shaves with the Fusion. Some of the lessons on the DE were transferable to the cart. The Fusion is a bit more efficient for me, and I can get a decent quick one-pass shave with it, if I want. But the DE is far more pleasurable to use, IMO.

      FOR ME using quality products and good preshave prep is about 90% of the difference between a good shave and a bad one. I don’t get bad shaves anymore. But again, that’s MY story. I wouldn’t dream of telling someone else that is what they should do.

  3. I respectfully disagree with the “experts” in this article. In my personal case, the skin is not more prone to irritation, weepers, etc, than 25 years ago. The shaves are better with a DE than an electric. As a D R Harris-aholic, I agree with earlier poster that top shelf soaps/creams are critical. The lesser soaps yield inferior shaves for me — using the same razor and blade. I am a great believer in after-shave balms without alcohol — specifically Trumper Skin Food. Other age-related physical changes are noted regarding the rest of my body, but not regarding the face (except the skin is looser).

    1. Thanks for reading the article and commenting, Craig. I suspect that most Sharpologist readers are much better informed about good shaving practices than the average older guy. That would help explain many of the comments like yours citing personal experiences that differ significantly (for the better) from what the sources said is the usual impact of aging and shaving on the skin. I can tell that the comment posters, including you, have used their shaving experience to good effect. In fairness to the sources, though, I the science backs them up for the overall population and I imagine they see a lot of older men’s faces that are in pretty rough shape.

  4. I’m 27,009 days young and have been shaving for a period covering almost 22,000 days and have no problems getting a BBS shave every time I shave which is about every other day. I get almost no irritation and almost never a bleed. I’ve learned two things. One, I use only the highest quality shave soaps. Two, never use a DE or SE razor at any time. I use the 5-blade cartridge with the trimmer blade exclusively. Full disclosure: I have nothing to do with Gillette and don’t like the NE Patriots who play in Gillette stadium. Pre-shave oils help a little as do post-shave balms. Straights and DE have nothing going for them except that it soothes those who are afraid of progress. Big G didn’t just arbitrarily create the 5-blader. It was tested and experimented over years. It works because it works not just because your grandpappy didn’t use it.

  5. As someone over sixty I personally have much less irritation now than I did in my forties and earlier decades. This is without doubt due to my daily wet shaving habits using a single blade. The doctor from Gillette is yet another example of subversion of medical ethics for financial and corporate greed.

  6. I have been DE shaving since I was 14. I am now 78. I have no noticeble wrinkles. I almost always get a BBS shave and I shave every day. I tend to use milder to mid-aggressive razors and for me the gentle touch is the answer.

    If I use an aggressive razor I tend to get nicks on my neck. So, for me razors such as the ATT S1, Timeless SB .68, Karve with a C plate are my top choices. I also find that slicker soaps make a big difference for me. Soaps such as Tabac, DR Harris, Grooming Department among others give my skin sufficient protection while shaving. I also find that using a good quality moisturizer at night keeps my skin in top condition.

  7. I found this subject interesting as I’m 83 years old. I have shaved virtually every day of my life since the age of 15.

    The only shaving negative I’ve experienced in older age is my skin is thinner, and is more prone to nicks and weepers. The best prevention is good prep, to focus, and to SLOW DOWN. My skin has never rebelled against traditional 3 pass shaving or seeking a BBS result.

    A typical shave takes me about 23 minutes. I avoid multibladed razors. I prefer DE’s and Schick Injectors, and occasionally SE’s.

    My skin is in good condition. I’ve never used tobacco, alcohol, or even caffeine. I exercise vigorously outdoors daily in the sunlight, and I’m careful about my diet. I’m semi-vegan. However, heredity and good luck probably are additional contributing factors.

  8. Very negative and discouraging article. You, sir, will soon cross that barrier. I am already there, and experience non of the horrors that you wrote about, nor do I shave with the mild razors or limit my routine, as you suggest. I am 62, shave every day (3 passes), and have skin like a baby’s butt. I love life, take no meds, and dance circles around most guys half my age. So, if you feel that aging is synonymous with pain, limited motion, and restricted activity, perhaps you should look into what you can do, to be proactive, and improve your health and well-being.

  9. Brian Fiori (AKA The Dean)

    It’s odd. My skin actually improved quite a bit as I aged. I think keeping a full beard for 20+ years really helped my face. My late 40s through my 50s my skin was basically flawless and much easier to shave than when I was younger.

    I still have next to no wrinkles where I shave, thankfully. But yes, now that I’m into my 60s I can feel my skin is getting slightly less vibrant–nothing serious, though.

    It probably has more to do with experience than age, but I find getting a good shave (DFS) easier and easier as time goes by.

  10. I have become more Slant Dependent to counteract whiskers “hiding” in the wrinkles. Still getting a BBS with a downhill, and and uphill pass. I gave up on the sideways pass a year ago.

  11. Hi Ed,

    Thanks for writing about us geezers! I’ll be 69 next month, and what worked for me 15+ years ago, doesn’t work now. I would question using a five-bladed razor with a trimmer blade. (I hated trimming blades at any age). I shave everyday and find I do my best with a 3-bladed razor. The ones I find the best are the Defender, Feather F3, and the Dorco Pace 3. (A newer version, the Pace 3 Plus is available in the UK). I no longer use brushes. Pure and simple, they irritate my face after a few shaves. I favor brushless creams: Kiehl’s, Clinique, and Every Man Jack. Long gone are the days when I could use a can foam or gel. Way too much dryness.

    1. I know what you mean. I keep a 2 blade cartridge Dorco on the shelf for touchups. But I’m curious about your experience with shaving brushes. Do you have any idea how they caused the irritation? For instance, could it have been the tips hitting your skin or maybe an allergy to an animal hair, if that’s what you were using?

      1. Hi Ed,
        Although I’m not a vegan, I never felt just right about using animal hair brushes. I’ve used a wide array, from boar to silvertip badger. Enjoyed them but switched over to synthetics a few years ago. I believe Mantic said the best synthetic is still not as soft as silvertips. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Likely too much aggression between the brush and the blades. Best, OH

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