[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.”
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.
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.