Face: The Final Frontier

After three long years of learning how to shave, constantly pushing the envelope, putting my cheeks on the line daily, I realized that I'm sort of an astronaut of cosmetology, and in a moment of enlightened self-actualization coined the term, "cosmetonaut." Both the reader and I know very well that I was forced to learn on-the-fly, by nature of my poor complexion and the sorry state of the art, as eroded by capitalism. The small indulgence was simply meant to compensate the terrible waste of my mind. Let me have this.

Today, my exploration of the somatic surface is increasing mankind's understanding of the crud behind our ears, clogged nose pores, and the dark side of the mouth.

wash behind your ears

It is sort of made of cheese, your face. Bacteria feeding on dead skin and sweat thrive in every crevice and crater, it seems. Food and spit can make anyone foul-mouthed. But Mom was right: the ears are the worst. I don't know what it is about earwax, or maybe the irritation from the earpieces of my eyeglasses, but that &#!% stinks. We have intelligence that the scourge can spread, also. It must be eradicated.

Scrubbing with a washcloth may actually be fine for the back of the ear, but what about the inside? I applied what I learned from the preshave problem: the principle of oil cleansing. A bit of TP held over the inverted mineral oil bottle absorbs enough to make a brilliant wipe, while a Q-tip dipped in same gets to the bottom of the problem.

out, damned spots

I've already alluded to cold cream being useful in conjunction with a wire loop tool, to take blackheads out of the nose. ("Sebaceous filaments," whatever. They're green, and they're gross.) You could, if you subscribe to my theory that preshave and oil cleansing are the same, consider this a skin prep proving ground. Actually, I like soap better. I don't lather it, just wipe a wet finger on the bar like I was loading a shaving brush. As in shaving, I apply tension behind the stroke with a dry finger, and use the mechanical advantage of lubrication to align it with the axis of the clogged pores.

Most people probably just press down, hurting themselves, the same sort of problem as cartridge razors. So I guess nobody will ever figure out how to do this right, either.

If you do manage to not break the skin, my secret razor burn cure happens also to be the ideal nose moisturizer: "Psoriasis" cream from Dollar Tree. Not only does salicylic acid calm irritation, it melts some of the remaining green goo and keeps oil flowing while the pores are shrinking down to a more reasonable size. Sunscreen seems to have the most powerful crud-liquefying power of all, for me, but I wouldn't do this procedure in daytime for fear of scarring and pigmentation effects.

are you pulling my oil?

Have you seen this? Have you heard about this? People are taking a couple teaspoons of coconut oil and swishing it around in their mouths until it is milky with oral detritus, up to 20 minutes. You're not supposed to swallow it afterwards, and you're not supposed to clog your drain pipes with it. You're supposed to spit it into the trash.

Gross! I say again: GROSS! Such unspeakable acts are obviously meant for the privacy of the bathroom. But ain't nobody cleaning that wastebucket! Actually, what made me think to write this article is the excess shaving oil I have in my medicine cabinet at the moment. There is no problem washing liquid oils down the drain, as proven by countless shaving missions.

But how does it taste? Three drops of the grapeseed/mineral/olive oil blend... on a TOOTHBRUSH, like a civilized human being... not terrible. Leaves a very clean feeling, and, as in shaving, less irritation. There is some question of whether the teeth can withstand abrasion under the softening influence of oil. Well, I'm not doing it for 20 minutes; that should help!

And, my teeth are already pretty beat from 45 years of toothpaste. I have grooves along the gumline of my bicuspids where the enamel has been worn away by toothpaste grit, and abfractures all over the place, which I suspect indicate that my teeth enjoy glycerin about as much as my skin does. So I'll take the chance, and try to come up with a more tasty blend.

Which reminds me -- Shave Secret: way too perfumey. Don't try that one. :P

"The Shaving Cream Racket" Revisited

I've finally gotten to the bottom of my little shaving oil squeeze bottle. This was my third bottle of shaving oil, actually: olive/grapeseed and pure canola were precedent. It was 50/50 argan/castor, but I added a drop of glycerin to the last milliliter to see what that would do.

Not surprisingly, it sucked the oil into my skin. I think the preshave allowed me to shave deeper without follicle damage. It wasn't as dramatic as shaving after yard work, where the skin is infused with sweat, natural fat and urea, but I envision individuals adjusting their oil to suit. I have way too much glycerin on hand for my personal needs.

I had been thinking about shaving on oil alone, also. As a shaving crackpot myself, I gave Jeffrey Tucker another read. This time, the promise of shaving in 20 seconds really stood out! And I am kind of a sport shaver now, with my continuing experiments in blade sharpening. If anyone can do it...

It ain't me, babe. My latest, freshly-ground edge didn't even catch hair! I opened a new one. Man, I really had to pitch that down, too. The shave, though not particularly speedy, was pretty relaxed. As promised, I never felt my skin was at risk due to excessive drag or tugging. Didn't feel like I needed aftershave... for a minute or so after rinsing. Then the hints of burn set in. I looked closely at my skin in the mirror. All chipped up, just like Procter & Gamble's microscopic movie of a cartridge in action. Cold cloth and Florida Water to the rescue!

I think I'm ready to solve the puzzle. Shaving on oil is like shaving with a cartridge. It's a sharpness limiter, a safety bar applied to the edge, forcing an inappropriate pitch angle. Still, l might give it the full week Tucker suggests. As a crackpot courtesy.

Day 2

I tried more oil and more hot towel prep. For a moment I thought I had confused my two (Yingjili) blades, as the new blade from yesterday failed to catch beard on the first stroke. Well, some was cut, but not enough; this result under normal circumstances would prompt me to toss the blade. But today, it only hardened my resolve. I went full ATG for a one-pass shave, with some visual touch-ups.

The result is most comparable to an electric shave. The same skin flakes are evident (yep, still not flat). I took more damage around my chin and mouth, in the form of weepers. (I would get neck bumps with an electric.) Still, I skipped the antiseptic and just went with cold water, since I had boils from yesterday's damage anyway. I expect I'll be revisiting that until nightfall, when I can safely apply  some pumpkin juice.

As razor burns go, though, this is pretty light. It's not the feeling of the skin completely compromised, of a million invisible fractures. To a degree, the oil prep is successful in improving skin elasticity.

Day 3

I used cold cream last night instead of pumpkin juice,  and woke up feeling pretty greasy, like I might have been able to jump the gun and shave with nothing. Instead, I let the feeling influence my recipe for the shaving oil refill: 60/40 grapeseed/mineral oil, a few drops of essential oil that I use in black tea (lavender/bergamot) and 10 drops glycerin in a 10 ml dropper bottle. This was visibly thinner than my usual, in line with Tucker's suggested straight mineral oil, but with the penetrating spirit of a preshave.

With this blend, I caught myself making the weepers around my mouth and tried to shave more casually, with lighter and longer strokes. Closer shave, but same burn as yesterday, which cleared up about lunchtime. I did my right cheek last, and that feels better than the left. Also, my skin looks less distressed overall, so there is some (small) hope. I think the new mix is pretty good -- post-shave just feels like soft skin, not coated or treated. I may tone it down eventually with olive oil.

Day 4

Still can't stop hurting myself around my mouth and chin. In the buttresses, I noticed WTG was a closer stroke, but was still surprised to see the blood a couple minutes later. I shouldn't have been. Take a moderate pitch, and DE is just like a cartridge -- can't shave close. Oil may seal damage better, but does nothing to prevent it.

I might have blamed the glycerin in my new oil, but then I saw it uselessly globbed up in the bottom of the bottle. Will shake it up tomorrow, and try steeper strokes exclusively in the difficult area.

Day 5

Four spots make a symmetrical abrasion pattern on my upper lip and chin creases. Out of ideas, I refer to the Shave Secret website, and lo, there is a video... of a total greybeard shaving fast and light with a BiC Sensitive, cutaway from a few strokes ATG under the chin to the finished shave.

I just don't see these shadowy areas "toughening up" or whatever in the next couple days. They're already plenty tough, places I never damage normally, places that withstand pretty severe, moderate-angle strokes on a regular basis with soap. I rather suspect that the shaving on oil alone philosophy is simply an offshoot of the "some people just can't get BBS," constant-30 degree school.

Day 6

To stop the bloodshed, I settled for a shady shave in the "no pressure" style, and was embarrassed to speak with one of my (two) repeat customers at the flea market with my face in that condition. Another shopper, with a perfectly hairless countenance, took pity on me and confided that he shaves with hair conditioner, lol. Believe me, sir, if you're reading this: I'm thinking about it.

This shave is poor enough that I wouldn't want to leave the house after five, and neither is it especially comfortable. With stubble coming back in, the razor burn and the exposure, it's like I've been out shoveling snow all day, and gotten terribly chapped.

Day 7

My skin felt tight and dry when I awoke, too. I squirted the glob o' glycerine out of my inverted bottle (unforseen benefit of the dropper tip)  and put back a few ml olive oil. Today's was not a great shave, but it was tolerably comfortable, and back in the realm of socially acceptable.

So, am I ready for the big step, no oil at all? My skin has certainly undergone some sort of transformation, so I'm going to guess that I am. I don't know if it's a good thing, though. I saw some weird lesions in my right cheek. I think they've always been there somehow, just now my immune system is catching up, and I can see them better because of the oil.

On second look, with the evening cold cream, it looks like the 2mm round tumor is composed of little yellow striae, while the larger area is surface edema. I guess If I'm to continue in good faith, I will have to change blades again. I've seen these distress signals with dull blades before. Maybe I will see somebody about that globular thing, though.

Day 8

Seborrheic keratosis. https://www.dermquest.com/image-library/image/5044bfcfc97267166cd61af8 This patient even had the white patch, but mine and theirs are in reverse position and size. Something to look forward to? That's my skin type, no doubt about it.

Well, I still don't feel "liberated." It was nice to put the oily razor clogs behind me. Without oil, I was able to get a good close shave on my cheeks, but the chipped skin persists. The water gets cloudy with it. I wouldn't push it under the jaw, which still looks like an electric razor was there. It's an unusual post-shave situation, giving me a chance to use up some balm. As with splash, I apply a cold wet cloth to remove the bulk of it.

I chose my best blade, Personna, and still there is no indication of progress toward a 20 second shave. It's short strokes all the way, at least on the reduction. I can only go into the high-velocity mode to finish. This is a lot of trouble to go to, just to show that a DE has the capability of an electric razor; I won't be putting months into that goal. So I'm putting up a clock on this technique: when this blade gets dull or three more shaves, whichever comes first.

Day 9

Today I washed my face with a high quality, yellow soap, thinking perhaps Tucker's recommendation of a pre-shave shower could be significant. Nailed it -- just like electric! The odd missed bristles under my jaw, the powdery skin feel that turns to sandpaper when stroked the wrong way. Still taking way too long, though. It's four passes worth of strokes, for a one-pass result.

This is despite the fact I've broken down the first "pass" to be more efficient. Opposite the standard approach, ATG and XTG are used to keep the blade off the skin. When going close the second time around, then I can go WTG in my trouble spots from the oil transition. It seems especially important to keep the skin slack.

Day 10

Relapse! My curiousity about Shave Secret shaving oil finally got the best of me. My skin looked all red and irritated this morning, perhaps due to a chlorinated swim yesterday, so I gave my face a little break. However disingenuous I find their marketing, the price, for a "100% natural blend of essential oils," spoke louder of the manufacturer's integrity. If nothing else, I reasoned, I'd have another squeeze bottle of the design I prefer.

Shave Secret is even lower in viscosity than my recent high-speed mix, but pretty close. (I laid my bottle alongside on the packing card and tilted back and forth, watching the bubbles.) However, it contains no mineral oil, which I think is probably the most significant practical difference. The smell is simply delightful, more spicy than pumpkin pie, but just as appetizing. Neither scent nor oily film linger post-shave, leaving skin perfectly moisturized and clean-smelling.

Its shaving performance, too, commanded my respect, which you know is not easy to come by. Shave Secret applies well by the fingertip distribution method, four drops shared with the fingertips of the opposite hand and dabbed around the beard. Its absorbency isn't obvious -- it feels just as oily as homemade -- but one can sense the relatively superior ability to form an emulsion.

While these qualites do not put Shave Secret in the same class as quality shaving soap, I can see now how it interacts with modern blading technique to preclude lower-quality soaps and canned products. Using the methods I developed over the past week, it produced an entirely acceptable, close shave. Almost a very fine shave, with no skin damage. To the average Joe with a disposable, this could very well be as good as it gets. A gung-ho, low-angle shaver would be bound for disappointment.

Day 11

Went swimming again last night, but my skin seems to have gotten ahead of the curve with yesterday's reprieve, avoiding any burn today. I also employed a new "Hot and Cold" technique, where hot water is the cleansing, hair softening step, and cold prepares the skin. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, my best strokes have once again consolidated into a 2-pass shave.

Well, maybe 1 1/2. Hard to tell; but certainly, no 20-second shave, and still not particularly close. Advantage, electric.


Dry shaving, oil shaving, shaving under the shower with nothing but water, and shaving with today's plastic razors form a distinct category of regressive, moderate-angle, skin-planing, and usually, not very close shaving. This distinction is the result of high drag and low contact behind the stroke, compared to the mechanical advantage low friction provides, allowing the top cap of a better-designed DE razor to be pressed into the skin. When oil is employed, it does not function as a lubricant, so much as an impediment to deep cuts, much like the safety bar of a DE razor, or the plane surface of a modern razor. But it adheres subtly, directly to the edge of the blade.

For the vast majority, who are incompetent with straight edges or restricted to commercially distributed offerings, this approach may actually yield the best possible shave. Particularly on a non-daily basis, using a quality shaving oil. Foams and gels would invite unwelcome, deeper skin planing, under these circumstances.

Neither is this standard, which I characterize as "modern shaving" as entirely dysfunctional as a competent, classic shaver might think. It is advantageous in the avoidance of intrafollicular damage, ingrown hair, tension distress and prior injuries. Also, to selectively raze skin surface irregularities, without chemical insult or the need to invest in abhorrent, modern tools.

The key discovery of this exercise, for me, was that modern shaving employs ATG on first pass below the jawline, and XTG around the mouth and chin, not for closeness, but to minimize skin-blade contact relative to WTG. Using the most efficient reduction stroke would produce too much drag, forcing edge(s) into the skin. Since this method frequently appears in narratives from experienced, older shavers (in my own family, no less) it was previously difficult to discount entirely.

Now, however, I shall do so with glee, returning to my beloved Stirling in time for the weekend flea market!

Back on the Chain-gang

I expected my tight, unclean-looking face to take a baby-butt-smooth shave like never before, but it rather felt as though I were scraping off a week-and-a-half's worth of microscopic scabs. Where I tried to carry over the ATG/XTG on pass 1, I suffered a mild, acute burn. One more time, the balm seemed appropriate.

Still, to be smooth again -- what a relief! I'm writing at midnight with the beard I would have had before dinner yesterday... and I shaved early.

Dear Mr. Tucker:

I do not believe my beloved Stirling soap, proven to be gentle and superior to all other soaps over the past two years, to be so insidiously powerful as to be able to chemically degrade, within 2 minutes of application, the skin-strengthening effect of shaving without it for an entire week which you purported in the article, "The Shaving Cream Racket."

Yet I have experienced, firsthand, how material change of the shaving substrate necessitates significant technical adjustments. Therefore I suppose your experience of improved skin condition, following cessation of shaving cream use, to be predicated on an original failure to develop a technique suitable for lather.

With utmost respect, I recognize that you are not alone in that experience. I have dedicated an entire blog to rectifying what I perceive to be the educational failure of so-called "traditional shaving." We agree that commercial motives only serve to alienate us from the successful accomplishment of our simple task.

I would merely challenge you to give quality lather a second chance, with a classic DE razor like the Gillette Super Speed or Tech. At any rate, I thank you for your contribution to my understanding of modern shaving.

Your Fellow Crackpot,
Thad Launderville

Cold Cream vs. Cold Cream

Segue from the theme of my hillbilly roots, lol. I grew up around dairy farms, and so when I see the words "cold cream" in old shaving references, I tend to think my fellow agrarians across time are talking about the real deal, skimmed off a vat of raw milk and chilled. Sour cream and yogurt are touted as post-shave treatments for razor burn, after all.

But Wikipedia says Greeks were whipping up emulsions of beeswax and water with oil since at least the 2nd century, and gives English sources using the modern term earlier than any shaving book I've seen, so I'm officially changing my presumption.

Still, wouldn't most men think of this strictly as ladies' makeup remover? It seems we've been thrown off a double curve. I'm not sure this helps, either:

Lots of us Dollar Tree shoppers have been dipping our brushes in this (completely latherless, don't do it) "shaving cream" of late. I mean, come on -- look how well it matches my Semogue 620! But no, it only has about as much to do with shaving as my equally stylish water spray bottle.

It is cold cream, and it sucks for shaving, though it is possible. I prefer Dermasil as a pre-shave option. This is not to say it's a bad product. I like cold cream! It's oil cleansing, lite. Very refreshing before bedtime, in this hot sticky summer. I totally decimated my nose pore clogs with this and a loop tool, wielded like a razor. And in this clever disguise, you won't have to turn in your man card to use it.

How to Sharpen a Razor Blade

When I was a boy, an older neighbor kid by the name of Craig Heavey shared a piece of broken whetstone that his grandfather had passed down, and showed me how to sharpen my jackknife. I spent a ridiculous amount of time making a pest of myself at the country stores, ogling jackknives. Whittling was about as far as it went; some fish guts were involved. Recently, my mother released this artwork from her collection, claiming it belonged to me:

Provenance: plausible. I remember the chipmunks that lived in the Heaveys' oak, and the trauma I experienced when I saw one of the pathetically maladapted creatures smooshed in the road. (At the age of coming to terms with mortality. I had no sympathy for the skinned animals in Craig's clubhouse.) Examining this piece closely, I do vaguely recollect the sewing pins in the eyes.

My edges seem to have withstood a lot of abuse. I was terrible at sharpening, though, which may explain why I cannot be seduced by the straight razor. By the time I was a young adult, I possessed a razor-shaped jackknife, but my cousin, Dan Cookson, pronounced it unusable, and I wisely took his word for it. Dan is the man who taught me the beginner's exercise in paragraph seven of "The Missing DE Instruction Sheet."

The problem with the old-timey, one-stone approach is the ridiculous amount of time it takes to set an edge. If a stone is useful for sharpening, it isn't coarse enough to efficiently grind away that much metal. As a youngster, I would certainly have compensated my lack of patience with pressure, making my angle inconsistent, thus doing the first thing wrong. Same old story... good thing they make pocket folders for disposable utility blades, right?

Maybe. The funny thing is, I finally learned how to sharpen knives, generally, by foolishly attempting to maintain DE blades. The edge only lasts about one shave, if that. On the other hand, it doesn't take any investment, not even of time, because the metal is so soft. So skip the straight razor community, and learn it like every boy should have: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSzq45W0LTk

The exposed ceramic on the bottom of a mug is the equivalent of a grinder or cinder block; the meat of your palm under the pinky finger is a leather strop. The bulk of the work is done on a piece of newspaper laid on the countertop and anchored by your free hand on the edge. This is the equivalent of a hone, stone, or brick, but folding it twice over gives it the strop-like quality of never missing the edge. (A pasted strop.)

Ten strokes at a low angle and five strokes at a steep angle, for each face of both edges, take about two minutes. I'm not sure all brands have amenable metal. I've had luck with Yingjili, Lord, Feather, and Polsilver.

Welcome to the Age of Enlightenment

Yes, I am talking to myself, primarily. And that's okay. I promoted my meticulously self-edited explorations of shaving from Posts to Pages, and further condensed what I've learned into an instruction sheet. Every blog needs a free download... I hope you enjoy these new features. I look forward to writing posts of limited scope, in a more relaxed style, from now on.

After a couple years trying to sell inexpensive DE razors at local flea markets, it has finally dawned on me that in real life, nobody cares about shaving. If one doesn't like having their skin planed by a cartridge every day, they can just let it grow along with the hair for a couple days, or have a shadowy shave with a disposable so calibrated, such as BiC Sensitive. With just water, under the shower. I get it. (Dad.)

Likewise, I am no match for the ceaseless scrolling of bulletin boards and other "communities." I did think about doing a YouTube. The only person I've ever seen shave in a manner similar to the habits I've gotten into is Steve Faragher, when he used a Merkur blade for nearly a month of shaves in a slant razor. I'll never join @#*!! Facebook, though. I'm not that stupid. I'd basically be obligated to tell off half my family in response to bigoted political spam. I remember AOL.

I'm about to turn 46; I remember mainframes! I got in trouble on them, too. In high school, I was a pornographer, even before the internet. Odd bragging point; but, the truth is, I am smarter than most, and that does make me "better," in the way that matters to stupid folk.

I find it interesting that that, too, was for the sake of art, and not money. From the other side, as a have-not, I have to concede, money also makes people "better." I've never wanted to admit it, my whole adult life, but it's true. Visiting various state parks to swim this summer, I estimated per capita income in relation to cigarette smoke. It is more pleasant to associate with people whose needs are previously satisfied, because "expedience is the beginning of disorder."

I like to think that Chinese people still realize there are three other steps from expedience to virtue; which is why they can sell perfectly functional razors for a dollar.