"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

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