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An Introduction to Traditional Wet Shaving: Good for the Earth, Great for Skin!

Throughout the month of April, we’ve discussed eliminating toxins in the home.  We all know that less toxicity equals better health for our bodies.  When you add in the the happy by-product of better health for the earth, it’s hard to resist the appeal of eliminating toxicity from the routines of every day life.

Here at Simple Organic, we’ve discussed natural care for babies, for our skin, and even our nails, but I can’t help but to notice that we are neglecting a major demographic in the movement for more natural families.  We need to be careful not to leave men out of the discussion! So ladies, I think it’s time to talk about a topic that affects almost every one of the men in our lives: shaving.

About four and a half years ago, my husband was desperate to find a solution to a problem that had plagued him since adolescence.  He had tried every brand of razor and shaving cream on the market, but he could not seem to find a shaving routine that didn’t leave his skin raw, sensitive, and riddled with ingrown hair.  While most men looked forward to weekends for a break from the office, he looked forward to the weekends because it meant he wouldn’t have to shave.


Discovering the practice of traditional wet shaving was revolutionary for him. Gone are the ingrown hair problems, and the raw, irritated skin is a thing of the past as well.  Today I want to share some of what we have learned in the past few years about what traditional wet shaving is, why it is better for skin, and why it is more friendly for the environment than mainstream shaving practices.

What is traditional wet shaving?

Traditional wet shaving relies on a simple tools, skills, and techniques to remove hair, as opposed to mainstream shaving items that are often propellant-driven and require the use of disposable (and non-recyclable) devices.

How does traditional wet shaving differ from mainstream shaving techniques?

Human hair is elastic in nature.  Mainstream shaving practices – also known as “goo-in-a-can” – remove hair by first relying on a chemical reaction to weaken the hair, followed by a cartridge razor system which stretches the hair before cutting it.  When hair is stretched and then cut, it’s elastic nature causes the hair to spring back which is the culprit of the pervasive problem of ingrown hair.

Traditional wet shaving differs in that it relies on an alkali solution (soap) to weaken the hair’s protective covering (the cuticle).  When the cuticle cells are weakened, they swell and lift which allows water and chemicals easy passage to the inner layers of the hair.  When a hair blade is swollen, it is much easier to cut.  (Think about the difference between cutting a dried-out, overcooked steak and cutting into a moist, juicy steak.  It’s a similar concept!)

Because traditional wet shaving encourages the hair to be cut easily, there is no need for the stretch-and-cut technique employed by cartridge shaving. Hair can be easily cut with the single blade of a double-edge razor or straight razor.

How is wet shaving better for skin?

Nearly every shaving cream and soap designed to be whipped into a lather with a shaving brush contains glycerin.  Glycerin is great for skin, and many traditional wet shavers find that the addition of glycerin in shaving products greatly reduces problems with dry skin. Very few mainstream shaving products contain glycerin.

Additionally, traditional wet shaving allows for frequent exfoliation because of the way the brush is used to spread lather across the face.  Ladies, we all know the importance of frequent exfoliation for optimal skin health, but the men in our lives may not be familiar with the practice.  Shave brushes are an incredibly manly tool to use for exfoliation!

How is traditional wet shaving a more eco-friendly choice?

Mainstream shaving products result in an accumulation of waste.

My husband often went through a can of shaving cream a month before he converted to traditional wet shaving.  That’s quite a bit of packaging for not very much actual product.  In some areas, pressurized cans will not be accepted for recycling.  Disposable razors and disposable razors are also not recyclable.

Once you have invested in the primary tools of traditional wet shaving, purchases will be few and far between. Fewer purchases result in waste reduction.  A double-edge razor (or straight razor for the more daring) will last a lifetime.  A good quality shaving brush will last fifteen to twenty years.  A puck of shave soap will last anywhere from nine to eighteen months.

Razor blades for a double-edge razor are packaged with far less waste than mainstream razor cartridges.  The packaging for razor blades is often recyclable, and the blades themselves can be collected in a blade bank to be taken to the recycling bin when filled.

More reading to inspire the pursuit of traditional wet shaving:

(Special thanks to Jim of the Badger & Blade community who gave permission for the use of the photos in this post.)

Do any of the men in your life practice the art of traditional wet shaving? What questions do you have on the specifics of this practice?

Reading Time:

4 minutes

 

 

 

39 Comments

  1. Megan

    My husband has been using this method fir over a year. Not because of any Eco-conscious mind set (that’s my thing) but because it doesn’t tear up his skin and it is cheaper. I think in the past year we have only spent about $15 or $2o on his shaving supplies. You can buy the materials at walgreens and he found an old mug at an antique shop to put the soap in. I suppose my question would be how do I go about shaving in a healthier manner. I’m still stuck using expensive plastic razors and a paraben cream. What do others use to shave legs and underarms?

    • Helen

      Just recently I started using backing soda and my regular body wash as a shaving “cream”. The baking soda acts as a mild exfoliant which is great since I only need to shave once a week or so. I still use a cartridge razor but check into the double edged razors. I say if it’s good enough for husbands face it’s good enough for my legs.

      • Megan

        I applaud your willingness to take on learning a double edge! There is some technique involved, but I would bet once you navigate the learning curve, it would be just as easy as the shaving you are used to.

    • Megan

      I have to admit it can be a little bit trickier for women.

      I personally just lather up a little Dr. Bronners for shaving, but I know not everyone likes Dr. Bronners as a body wash. I like Helen’s idea of mixing baking soda with body wash! I’ll have to try that.

      As far as razors goes, well, I confess that the choices seem limited to learning to use a double-edge razor or sticking with mainstream cartridge styles.

      Does anyone know if there is an eco-friendly cartridge style razor on the market? I would love to hear about it if there is one!

      • Helen

        Perserve makes cartridge razors made from recycled plastic. They also offer a recycling program for their razors and toothbrushes.

        http://www.preserveproducts.com/

        • Megan

          Awesome! Thank you, Helen!!

        • Kara

          The only downside to Preserve is that the razor handles are the only bits recyclable. The cartridges still have to be trashed.

    • Rachel

      I use a venus disposable but I leave the blade part in a yogurt cup with enough olive oil to cover it. When I want to shave I let most of the oil drip off and then just start shaving, no shave cream or soap just wet skin. I rinse it and then dip again for the second leg. I only shave every other day or so and I get about a month use out of a cartridge. When I can find a cryogenics treated cartridge they last about 2 months.

  2. Leigh

    Growing up this is what my Dad did, with disposable razors, so it is what I do (though I just use soap for my underarms in the shower). When I got married this is what I bought for my husband and he is happy with it (apart from trouble finding the right razor). I find it a much nicer experience and it smells nicer too.
    Body Shop has some nice stuff too.

    • Megan

      Is your husband still having razor issues? The gentlemen at the Badger & Blade forums might prove to be a good resource for helping to troubleshoot. They have an excellent “newbie” forum for helping others work out the problems that come up.

  3. Emily @The Pilot's Wife

    I’m going to pass this along to my husband because he hates shaving and it always breaks him out and gives him ingrown hairs.

    As far as my shaving practices, I’ve been using the Venus Breeze for a few years and really like it. The shave gel is in the razor. It’s still a disposable cartridge, but I’m buying less packaging. Plus it’s faster than shaving with regular shaving cream so I’m taking a shorter shower.

    Not sure how friendly the ingredients in the gel are? Skin Deep didn’t have anything on it.
    .-= Emily @The Pilot’s Wife’s last blog: Skip Hop Zoo Pack Giveaway =-.

    • Megan

      Well, that’s odd that Skin Deep didn’t have anything. I know they have Barbasol on there and it’s not great. I think it’s like an 8 or something. Does it have anything on the packaging?

      • Emily @The Pilot's Wife

        Well, all the other gillette creams were like a 5, but this is like a bar of soap at the end of the razor so I’m thinking it’s not the same. I’ll have to look on the package!
        .-= Emily @The Pilot’s Wife’s last blog: Skip Hop Zoo Pack Giveaway =-.

  4. Lora Lynn @ Vitafamiliae

    My hunky hubby has been shaving this way for years. He has one of the fancy razors, but mostly it’s just useful for cutting our kids (I still have no idea how they always manage to find it, reach it, and slice themselves) so he’s gone back to regular old disposable cartridges. But he loves his badger brush and foamy shaving stuff. The Cheeky Maiden (www.cheekymaidensoap.com) is still working on just the right natural shaving stuff for us, but she’ll figure it out soon. I just use the conditioner I use to wash my hair with.

    • Megan

      Oh! Keep me posted on The Cheeky Maiden developments!

    • Aiming4Simple

      I also use conditioner when I shave. It is very moisturizing.
      .-= Aiming4Simple’s last blog: Ladybug Games =-.

  5. Pamela O.

    Thank you for this post and the links. My hubby and I were just discussing this the other day and I wasn’t sure where to begin. Hopefully now I can help him find what he needs to switch over.

    • Megan

      Let me know any questions you might have! I’m sure my husband could help find some answers.

  6. Hannah

    Mmm, this must be the hand of Providence at work. I had been racking my brain for what to give my husband for his upcoming birthday. All he wants is new biking gloves — BORING (although he’ll be getting some). I think I might outfit him for wet shaving — he’s the kind of guy who would go for this non-mainstream elegance. 🙂
    I’ve always loved the old-fashioned look of a shaving brush and bowl anyway!
    .-= Hannah’s last blog: We Went to the Beach =-.

    • Megan

      Oh, there are some really nice brushes and razors that would be WONDERFUL gifts. Many of my husband’s Christmas and birthday gifts in the past few years have been additions to his shave gear collection. 🙂

    • Megan

      You’re welcome, Adam! If you decide to pursue it further and have questions, you know where to find me!

  7. LM

    My hubby keeps his shaving soap/brush in his travel kit (with disposable razors)–much easier to fly with!

  8. Tanya

    My husband has been wet shaving for years now. He started after his electric razor had the biscuit. I got his original shaving gear from the Body shop and have found a few local soap companies who make shaving soap. Rocky Mountain Soap company’s Glacier Ice shaving soap looks fab too. We love the convenience of it while travelling and that there are fewer chemicals involved. I just use disposable razors myself and regular soap for me~ I need to look into the Preserve razors though….they sound fantastic!

  9. Loretta Tschetter

    My husband uses just an electric razor and no gel. He has a horrible problem with ingrown hairs. I’d like to see if I can get him turned on to this because I think there is something incredibly sexy about the whole lathering up the soap and using an actual razor. He’d probably call it too time consuming (he likes to sleep until the last minute).

    • Megan

      You know, my husband used to be a sleep to the last-minuter, too, but he found the trade-off for non-irritated skin was worth it. I mean – he had BAD skin problems. There is some learning curve in the beginning, but once he got the hang of it, it really didn’t take up THAT much more time in the morning.

      (I think it’s pretty sexy, too!)

  10. Nicole aka Gidget

    so does this soap method not work for women? I was reading your comments and it sounds like most people use other methods. My husband and I both like Trader Joe’s cream shave (it’s around $3-4 and lasts a long time) but I’m not sure how safe it is.
    What I’d really like is a good alternative to my disposable Venus razors. Even though I love it, I hate throwing those things away.
    .-= Nicole aka Gidget’s last blog: food-related lovin’ =-.

  11. Pamela O.

    I’m back again looking at this post to see if you recommend any places to get a starter kit. I saw Simple Organic’s post about Father’s Day gift ideas and realized I never followed through on getting this. Maybe you could direct me to where I could find a nice but not 100’s of dollars set?

  12. rachel whetzel

    I’m also interested to know how well these work on heads? My husband maintains a bald head, and I worry about getting him one of these, and him having trouble cutting himself.

    • Megan@SortaCrunchy

      Hi Rachel!

      My husband shaves his head, too, and has found that while the shave soap works just fine for his head, he does do better with a conventional razor for his head. I think he uses Mach 3 or something. Since he only shaves his head with it, the blades last much longer than when he was shaving both his head and his beard.

      Hope that helps!

      • rachel whetzel

        YES! That’s exactly the information I needed! Thank you!

  13. Glenn

    Great article! Thanks for sharing your wonderful thoughts about wet shaving.

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  15. Steven

    I think you’re a little confused about wet shaving. Wet shaving is just keeping a layer of water on your face, underneath whatever lather you choose to use. Wet shaving isn’t cheaper, has nothing to do with what razor you use, or what shaving cream/gel/soap and/or brush you use.

    The benefits you list in razor cost come from switching to a double edged razor.

    The benefits you list in treating hair better by plumping it up come from a person’s choice in lather and other treatments.

    A person shaving with a nasty can of Gillette gel, a terrible proglide fusion 5 edge cartridge, and no shaving brush, is still wet shaving as long as he/she maintains a layer of water on his skin.

    I think the confusion comes in because most wet shavers happen to also use a DE razor and brush, but that’s not what makes it wet shaving.

    Hope I could clear some things up 🙂

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