Xerosis Barbae

This post isn't really addressed to my regular readers, more of an appeal to broader interests. I did my philosophical computations, concluded that I have to just forget my problems with the contemporary shaving culture, and try to help you ignorant bastards. This should go over about as well as Penn Jillette's conversion to Christianity.

First, a little testimonial on my faith, in shaving "sensitive skin."
This summer's just been okay for me. It's still not my favorite season. My butt is dragging, and if I didn't enjoy swimming, I'd probably die. The garden is a weed patch (my hope is that this confuses the rampant pests) but there are some veggies in there somewhere. Still, there's no doubt that shaving has been a gateway to better health for me personally.

Probably the main gain this year has been in my feet. After dragging them into my struggle to understand exfoliation, I recently pounced on my fungus with Dollar Tree cream and a vengeance. Currently driving my attack merciliessly home to the thick calluses, I'm starting to understand that such leathery flesh isn't natural to me. I've also been using scar gel, in conjunction with glycerin, to address long-standing defects in my facial skin, mainly atrophic scarring. Now, this is sort of the reverse model of what I have in mind for you. I took advantage of the atmospheric humidity to safely make the skin surface perpetually moist at night, which amps up the gel. I think I'm finally seeing some change in my embarrassing midline shaving scars.

All About You

Autumn skin hardening approaches, for those of us north of Atlanta. I'd like to help my skin-digging, straight-stroking, shaving brethren take advantage of this transition to exfoliate and moisturize in a more healthy way, that doesn't involve shaving. I'm guessing winter isn't your favorite season, the way summer isn't mine. Dry, tight skin plagues your postshave as seborrheic ooze once plagued mine.

If it seems like I'm crawling up your ass here, and giving unwelcome advice without the necessary license or experience, consider this. How many absolutely vapid, duplicative, dead stupid videos and blogs exist, telling people like me, whose skin simply does not require external moisturization, how we should only shave with the grain? And use oil or other goo to basically avoid skin contact with the toxic shit you guys use to shave every day? It's as if I were to say to you, "Your condition is called 'lifeless skin.' Stop using glycerin." Problem solved -- dee de-dee!

Would you not march, open combs and anchor heads held high like pitchforks, to insist on the translucent suppleness of that leather you call skin? Well, that's how I feel about simple, classic soaps, and Gillette-type razors that don't dig at my thinner stratum corneum. Commercialism divided us, and conquered you! In order to achieve a mutual understanding, and at the same time help you gain freedom from your special cosmetic hell, I propose these areas of common ground:
  1. Let's meet at the middle on soap. Italian Barber's shaving soap "for sensitive skin" (I think it's rebranded Tcheon Fung Sing) works for me straight, despite its inclusion of byproduct glycerin. I can use completely inobtrusive, cured Witch Hazel to make even higher concentrations of added glycerin tolerable in summer. Therefore, YOU should be able to use the same glycerin-neutral soap for quick shaves, and employ Witch Hazel to tolerate even drier soaps during winter.
  2. Skin needs its blood supply. Contrary to popular belief, that counts as "moisture," the source of lactate and urea -- and not least, water. I'm sorry, but if you see "weepers" when you shave, you're shaving wrong. You should be able to shave every day. That's kinda the whole point of these old fashioned razors, in my opinion. Pick one that actually works for you.
  3. Your ashen flesh may be better at hiding damage and nerve endings, but reducing alcohol concentration is probably just as important in solving your problems, because alcohol displaces water. You could dilute splash in a cloth, like I do, or find better alternatives.
  4. Declamate, don't exfoliate. Or, change your definition of exfoliation. Use a chemical "exfoliator" at night. Pumpkin juice is the bomb! There are enzymes in the stratum corneum that do the job naturally, but unfortunately, those depend on hydration. Witch Hazel, rose water, even bentonite powder, are some of the things that my sensitive skin has found capable of tapping into internal moisture. I'd suspect that mineral water and micellar water hold potential.
  5. Your skin doesn't need glycerin-based moisturizer. That's where they hook you. In the winter, glycerin is a false biochemical signal of "wet" environmental conditions, making the skin more porous. Use an emollient lipid like cocoa butter instead, or to the greatest degree of substitution that you can tolerate. (There's probably a bunch of other good ones. Not really my area of expertise.)

Pushing Limits: At the Not-so-Cutting Edge

The smooth Racer edge seems not to be very complicated. Just good metal, a good finish, and not especially acute. It has just a little bevel at the very apex, so it doesn't kill you on the first shave, but otherwise seems like a simple wedge profile. I like it a lot when I'm coming off a long run with a sharper blade, but have never safely gotten beyond a week or so with this brand. I imagined the sturdy inflexibility that I called "smooth" came at the cost of longevity, and it really couldn't cut hair after that.

The Gillette Slim that I acquired at the flea market suggested this week that there probably isn't any such thing as "couldn't cut hair." Closing the gap to various degrees, you can think of its settings sort of like the power settings on a microwave oven: 1 = 10% of a normal Gillette razor gap, etc. Except it's more like 11%, because 9 is the "full gap." This account won't gibe with many people's experience, because there is a higher range available, where all settings exceed 100% gap, reached by depressing the spring that "clicks" the dial, where most adjustables in today's shaving culture wind up.

Today is one week and one day, according to my post list, the 8th shave. In honor of the classic era, and to see how it would do with my cured Witch Hazel prep, I shaved with Barbasol (Aloe), which actually takes more time to hydrate than it would take to whip up almost anything, except maybe Williams, or, from what I hear, Mitchell's Wool Fat. The set up reminded me of Mr. Roy, father of my dad's second wife, who let me watch him shave once, with a Gillette President, I think; which razor I would twirl open and shut when no one was around. He would not have used a brush, but I find it the natural tool for applying the needed water (and the foam, too, for that matter).

Fine-tuning the Slim, I narrowed it to 5-6-7 for the three passes, making the second and third a bit more comfortable, but of equivalent reach as yesterday. I think the adjustable advantage really boils down to this comfort. It felt like a smashingly good shave, with no short strokes WTG, no picking when skewed ATG, and hitting home nicely on direct ATG. But in the end, my face still had the somewhat green look of stubble, despite being perfectly even and close. I conclude that traction control can't make up for the edge's deficiency in ultimate performance, but it can milk a blade that doesn't really suit for a series of very adequate shaves.

I followed with dilute DG "Classic" (Brut-like) aftershave, this time watering it down in my palm instead of the cloth. It turned milky, but still seemed to work. That was awfully dry, though, so I moisturized immediately, wiping that off as a final wash. Feels pretty good; Barbasol is back in the rotation!


If you expend a good deal of your shaving energy mentally, as I do, trying to anticipate the biological effects of the applied cosmetic potions (under penalty of pain), then this video ought to BLOW... YOUR... MIND!


The food coloring is powered by one of shaving's very own moisturizers, propylene glycol. I strongly suspect that any alcohol would do. This is obviously the vaguely remembered "water displacement" from my biology class in slide preparation. Evaporation in the video stands in place of liquid diffusion, but just about everything we do to our skin has to do with the general principle.


Why do sensitive-skinned (or, simply, if you prefer, "adequately moist") shavers prefer cold water? Surface tension is temperature-dependent: the "mass transfer" that ultimately brings pain is thus limited in the most general way.

Why does pure glycerin sit harmlessly on the surface of my scars at night, but wreak holy hell on my nerve endings when combined with soap? Soap makes the solution miscible with oil (the "waterproofing" of the skin barrier) by drastically lowering its surface tension.That's why soap is called a "surfactant." And, why does glycerin make shaving soap easy to lather? It is specifically mentioned in the wiki: "the Marangoni effect stabilizes soap films."

Finally, I note the probable root of witch hazel's effectiveness: the way my cured Witch Hazel beads up in my cup and my hand, it seems that it would increase interface surface tensions within the epidermis. In other words, it isn't counteracting the glycerin, but the soap!

The Book That Launched a Blog

I'm not sure how I hit upon it in the same session of googling, but this seems like a good time to temper our enthusiasm. Just the wiki is a thought-provoking read.

I've been thinking of the direct-stroking, glycerin-infused school of shaving as "incommensurate" with my own. It isn't just because of how I've been treated on bulletin boards, or undue respect for the market in books and glycerin soap, that I don't criticize ridiculous assertions like Leisureguy's recent: "conventional razors [...] cut purely with compressive force." In today's three shaves per blade, dehydrated skin paradigm, an old razor instruction pamphlet wouldn't seem to falsify that statement.

But, as Veritasium also pointed out, social media aren't science. The very real problem that the false "paradigm," which is really just corporate destruction of culture, cannot solve, is us: the so-called "sensitive skinned." Our position clearly calls for further philosophical consideration along Kuhn's lines, even if it is a cliched bastardization.

Today, my Gillette Slim did something that even Ruby could not: tamed the Racer. Taking a hint from the slant, I used 5-7-9 (factory) settings, cured witch hazel and Williams. Gillette adjustables fall cleanly within the classic paradigm, not the neotraditional, as I suspected at first.

Farts In The Wind

All we are is farts in the wind... School's starting up again (real life), and my pathetic efforts on this blog are depressing me again. Despite great leaps in apparent robot readership: every time I post, I get 5 views instantly, with worldwide reach. Maybe I'm being translated? That would be cool. To be like Cheap Trick at Budokan...

Seriously, thank you very much for reading, and please don't take my mood as a lack of appreciation. Luckily, I stumbled across some heartening videos as I was playing with YouTube's screen casting function.
That practically proves that I am the greatest thinker in shaving! I also love that at least half of what I learned in college was wrong:

This should come as a relief to the students of an ad hoc subject, an art, like shaving. You probably should remain skeptical and disregard practically everything you read, or hear in videos, with a perfectly rational basis for doing so. But behind the screen, there is a burden, the cognitive dis-ease, which is not to be taken up lightly.

We're All Somebody From Somewhere

Steven Tyler's fleeting crossover hit noticeably disturbed the droning of a country music award show, one night in my living room. It seemed to address American racism (so, some great targeting, there), but the title was confusingly adapted by NBC to its olympic advertising. I think we were supposed to believe that our athletes didn't always enjoy the best social support, which is kind of ridiculous; the message came across more as, even the privileged and self-absorbed can represent human pathos. Like white people can comprehend racism. Okay... I guess I can get behind that.... (?) I was oddly drawn from my midnight Fringe bingeing by the games, so I guess it worked.

I wasn't a very competitive swimmer in high school, but I have one special, olympic insight to offer. When you're completely hammered, such that you're still wobbling at 6 a.m., I know, the pylons in the construction zone do seem to have been placed by incompetents. I've made that "false report." The poison doesn't just affect the person drinking it, unfortunately. Is it right to defend the integrity of a drug-using society by shaming individuals who can't use the drug?

Huh. I guess I'm talking about glycerin again. Didn't even mean to, that time.

The Final Five

With the Rimei disqualified by blood testing, my makeshift Lord Sterling (a Travel Tech with aluminum Yingjili handle) got promoted to the bathroom mirror cabinet. It cranked out an easy BBS ("cotton-picking close," I should say) with nothing but Palmolive Classic. So it's Ruby, Super Speed, Travel Tech, Slant, and Slim that made the team, and I guess the Merkur OC is watching from the stands in the closet, along with my shavettes.

Rimei Reexamined

The $20 IB slant cast a lot of shade on my first and long-time favorite razor, by giving me good exposure without the risk I had associated with that feeling. Even with heavy glycerin treatment yesterday, I noticed a degraded skin texture from the Rimei in the evening. Why -- HOW -- the hell did I ever shim, or use a DEvette? The Rimei now represents the most extreme exposure, the dangerous razor that I use for fun, or a test of manly skill.

Perhaps my skin has thickened, but not in the way I expected. Blood vessels and nerve endings seem to have been the primary beneficiaries of my shaving aptitude, more than the stratum corneum. I only recently noticed that both approach the surface within dermal papillae (drawn exaggerated in a chapter on heat transfer). In other words, when you have a weeper, it means you removed the entire thickness of the epidermis. And the epidermis is thinnest at those points. You can't win!

Unless... you continually assault the intruding circulation and innervation, with amputation under the blade, and chemical warfare in the form of alcohol splash. Is that what my first few years of shaving were really all about?

Not really. Glycerin at least swelled the tissues to minimize the damage. Today I turned the same gear to the mixed moisturization of KMF-VdH croap, and skipped the pumpkin juice. That's a setup I would gladly recommend to a beginner, and one I would have used regularly as a beginner. Jojoba and cured Witch Hazel provided some protection, and I got the full depth again, but I caught the edge on a bad stroke near the corner, for a nick.

Exploring blades for the first time, I considered Racer to be the dullest blade I could safely use. I can now appreciate that the hair softening isn't really optional in that setup. By present standards, as far as skin condition went, I was probably banging my head against the wall most of the time, with the Rimei as well. On the other hand, I was wont to bend its baseplate to suit, which recourse is still available to me now.

Or, maybe not

A couple whacks with the rubber hammer cracked the hardened steel baseplate like brass, and I have another DEvette. But it's a half-sider: one side held, so I can at least see what it does with a narrow gap. For fellow Rimei owners' reference, I lifted the bar closer to the blade, such that when the cutting head is viewed from a narrow end, the curve of the support looks truly parallel to the plate; whereas before, the vertical aspect of the crimped edge was more true. Update to come in the morning...

Update: That modification knocked the Rimei cleanly back to the casual, low-angle side of shaving, where the GEM and Merkur OC safety razors reside. Even with double pumpkin juice, before and after the preshave Williams emulsion, I wouldn't think of scooping into the follicles with the guardless edge. And the closely-guarded side wouldn't reach that deep if I wanted it to. I only got a close shave near the midline and under my eyes, where the long-forgotten steep angle proved useful. I suppose I could have tugged my skin around and attempted the same elsewhere, where it would have been more difficult, but I'd much rather let Ruby do the work tomorrow.

I guess that proves I've jumped the shark, as far as the real traditionalists are concerned. Sorry, men. Even though the intact (possibly increased gap) razor could reach the bottom of a follicle, at great peril, it just wasn't a good experience. For a close DE shave, TTO and slant are legitimate technological advancements. (Strikes gavel, exits.)

Gung-Ho About Glycerin

So I was trying to figure out what made glycerin so tolerable in high humidity, and becoming rather exasperated with hygrometrics as a whole, at least as presented by wikipedia. All anybody seems to care about is the perception of hot and cold; the skin is assumed to be a constant, integral detector, not the fragile, temperamental thing we know it to be. That's when I started typing things like "glycerin is evil," "glycerin skin destruction," etc., in the search box. And surprisingly, some (light) criticism of the substance from the health and beauty perspective does exist.


Leaping out of that page is the relevant fact: glycerin only draws water from the air at 70% relative humidity. (Some say 65%, I don't think that's a hard number.) But if you read the material from last post, you will recall that we can't feel relative humidity. I saw that at the lake, enjoying the atmosphere near the water, watching my kids' cotton candy liquefy.

All we really care about, suffering without air conditioning, is the dew point. It's all too confusing for me to explain, but I think that as shavers we can take a shortcut right there and just say, glycerin, once incorporated into the stratum corneum, effectively lowers the dew point on that patch of skin, for the obvious reason that water vapor will be absorbed before it condenses. Similar to how a Jamaican perspires more without breaking a sweat, because he has a greater number of sweat glands. I personally have a parallel sedentary ability, to steam up car windows from great distance in the wintertime. So I think having moist skin is a two-way street, in low atmospheric humidity.

More presently, the reason I've been tolerating glycerin so well lately, even beyond the witch hazel preparations, is because the atmosphere is supplying water that otherwise would have had to come from inside my living skin (which could otherwise cause the explosive pain that I'm usually bitching about). Mystery solved.

Tora! Tora! Tora!

And so I'm going to use up as much of that expensive bottle of vegetable glycerin as I can in the next month or so, before the expected autumn skin hardening. I've read that it's good on scars and acne, so I dotted my skin last night before bed. I couldn't absorb the substance, but the skin surface stayed wet in those spots... yeah, I can see how that would help healing. Water: elixir of life. One zit that I had already popped suppurated some deeper pus. Nice!

This morning I broke out my Rimei, Pre de Provence, and Humphreys (in the oil cleansing role), with a new Racer blade (not very sharp) and pumpkin juice, of course, for a deeply excavating shave. I splashed with Witch Hazel, U.S.P., and passed the cotton ball test, without too much late morning ooze.

Disclaimer: I might be cheating on the cotton ball test, since I use the same old cotton ball, tossed behind my soap bowl... more of a cotton "wad" at this point. It's been wiped clean of free lint, I think.

The Hippopotamus Man

Headed to the lake today, I hit my face with some inadequately labeled witch hazel "solution," followed by Kiss My Face moisture shave, lavender and shea. That apparently negated the feeling of congestion I've come to expect from KMF.

Though the day was overcast, I nonetheless applied pumpkin juice very strategically, as is my new habit: following the oil cleanse AND a preliminary smear of lather, backed off with a wet cloth. This seems sufficient caution, as I did get some color late in the day, and the shaving area was not burnt inconsistently compared to untreated areas. This blade wouldn't have shaved without it.

Then I finished with Humphreys. And on our way to the water I commented to my wife what a good shave I had, as it came into a natural feeling after an hour, seemingly from the dry side. About that time in the morning I would have headed to the lav and washed off my goo residue, as an office worker in the old days. That scenario is known to the cosmetics world:
But they blame alcohol where I blame glycerin. Then again, glycerin is an alcohol.

But no, I still don't know what to make of this, uh... peak humidity experience? I did find some interesting reading, but the state of the science seems pretty poor.
If I'm reading that right, they define "wettedness" (also referred to as relative humidity of the skin) as heat transfer efficiency. That may be a well established correlation, but it seems circular when it comes back to studying comfort.

Even so, the 25% number "feels" right to me. When I say that KMF feels unpleasant in application, even though it doesn't penetrate and burn, like many other moisturizing soaps, I know we're talking about the same mechanoreceptors. If nothing else, this reference shows that intelligent beings, somewhere in the world, wouldn't consider me a disabled freak for complaining about pro-moisture formulations in cosmetics. I am not an animal!

(Ok, well, we are all animals, but you know what I mean.) It's interesting that being born in a temperate latitude takes away some of our sweat glands permanently, under the "use it or lose it" principle. I wonder if our male Olympic runners would have a chance against the Jamaicans, if they could bathe in Humphreys before the race, or something stupid like that.

More Than One Way to Not Skin Myself

I've been heavily into oil cleansing and toning as a preshave, to compact the lower layers of epidermis and make the hair stand up nicely. Recently I've grown more certain than ever in my criticism of skin-swelling glycerin, coining the term, "penetration error" to describe its uncomfortable effects.

But the summer heat showed up a weakness in my way of thinking. Moisturizer ironically turned out to be an excellent underarm anti-perspirant, when the atmospheric humidity became unbearable. Last night I tried an oil cleanse on my head and neck, just for comfort. While it reliably tightened my skin, it did NOT make me comfortable; I finally resorted to Florida Water before bed, just before the fog started rolling in at 69 degrees Fahrenheit. So this morning, my skin was thirsty as hell, driving me to rummage under the sink for Noxzema. Next to that jar, the Dove Men Expert Shave cream that I found too penetrating previously, suddenly seemed ideal. Both would "penetrate," but Noxzema's carbamide-paracellular approach would neutralize Dove's cosmetic glycerin onslaught. A very rare, posh shave for me, though I did sneak my pumpkin juice in between.

Meanwhile, on the hardware side, I put Ruby and the $20 slant head-to-head, switching the same old Personna Platinum Chrome (which I realize I've been mistakenly calling "Super Chrome") between the two. Not super easy to do, as the cream's hydration was being steadily absorbed by my face throughout the shave, but I'm pretty fast. Ruby took advantage of the slickness to shave both ways on pass 1, leaving only the direct ATG for pass 2; the slant squeegeed all of the lather dry WTG, but was perfectly efficient, and thus able to nearly catch up on second pass, and get touch-ups on water.

Both sides were pretty smooth. Ruby missed more stubs, but the slant didn't cut as deep. I then relathered (thinly) and allowed each razor to finish the other's territory. The slant couldn't find anything to clean up on the neck, but was good and loud on my cheek. Ruby quietly clipped little stubble tips everywhere.

When it was over, I used Humphreys instead of moisturizer, seemingly inflating the skin to maximum. But, like the shaving media, the ingredients were balanced and did not injure. Noxzema:pumpkin:Dove::witch hazel:aloe:glycerin. Confirmation came from my most penetrating aftershave, Aqua Velva Musk, which was simply absorbed with a sense of clean and dry, but no sting, or even prickles. Cotton ball test: passed.

Big Surprise

Everything I thought I knew, was wrong, again! It seems that by using the most penetrating, skin-swelling preparation, I enlarged every detail and aspect of my skin proportionally, so that damage was minimized. True, I had already conceived of that with respect to the stratum corneum: if you hydrate it and swell it up, then penetrating it by the same blade depth will remove fewer layers of corneocytes. But I think this has more to do with the microscopic contours of the lower strata, pressing back with less firmness (and impact, considering the horizontal dimension) against the edge.

So, penetration is not necessarily error. Careful chemical balancing, along multiple moisturization pathways, and assurance that the hair will also be softened are required, however. Though I better understand what the dry-skinned, fragile-haired people are doing everyday now, I'd still have to throw my lot in with the minimalists. I've pushed my skin so far away from its natural state, it will probably be trying to ooze itself straight until tomorrow! (UPDATE: one application of a wet cloth and some Florida Water.) It does look pretty smooth though.

As for the razors, I still don't think the slant can beat Ruby, on my face, but it gave her a good challenge. It suggests that I could benefit from a more aggressive attack on early passes.

Another Hot One

Or, as the elders say, "Today is a good day to die." No? Well, come talk to my cucumbers, then! I actually did my watering before 10 a.m. today, like they say you always should, but I only manage on the hottest day of the year. And, that'll about do it for my efforts today.

A cold shower put me in a good frame of mind to strategize about comfort. Shiver me timbers! Batten down the ventilation! With a nice, big, room-circulating type fan aimed right at my core, I put the pits on notice with a double shot of astringent: Witch Hazel and alum. Go ahead and try to sweat, it will be sterile anyway. My preferred form of menthol: Shave Secret shaving oil. Not as penetrating as jojoba, but I still need something to protect me from this slant, it seems, if not the Italian soap.

I noticed that XTG was about as close as it wanted to get to ATG on second pass, which, in light of its weird traction control, suggests that my Personna Super Chrome has had the radish. I will provisionally call that "Launderville's Rule" -- any objections? ;-) I'm moving the blade back to Ruby for confirmation, and will update here. [UPDATE: I think the rule is good, but I can improve prep in this case. Ruby says there's plenty of good shaves left, but with just Williams and moisturizer, split between a few BBS-spoiling stubs and light, very tolerable abrasion.] You can't really opt to miss the hair with the slant, so it seems the skin sets a hard limit, which is purely expressed as directional control. It should be noted that I skipped pumpkin juice.

To finish, a cleanse with moisturizer, wipe and rinse, followed by a spray of Florida Water (which took over the old Chloraseptic bottle). Armpits finished the same way, but without the wiping and rinsing. Glycerin, it occurred to me, is essentially an antiperspirant, because of how it makes the tissue suck moisture. Putting alum down first should make it last longer at the surface. I've been doing this for a couple days, actually: WH, alum, moisturizer, and it's not difficult to keep stink bacteria from colonizing under those conditions.

Indeed, this hot weather may be the ideal time to go on the offensive against all the little critters that feed on us. I do believe I caught the fungus living in my little toe trying to slime-mold away up my ankle, wiping a layer of dead skin off in the shower this morning. I've been using Witch Hazel as a penetration enhancer with Dollar Tree cream. I had to attack the calluses on the other side of each foot with a razor, but that was only because they were shrinking in size, becoming sort of sharp-feeling.

I think these things have a normal place in the biofilm, but cause trouble when they get organized and try to make an empire out of you. I notice that my hand calluses and earwax have the same yellow tinge. If you have yellow, sticky earwax, you are more likely to need antiperspirant, according to a (real) study. But don't take that to mean, the problem is internal and you can't change it. Because it seems like I'm right on the cusp of that split, and if I do some oil cleansing in my ear (Witch Hazel), I can suppress that, too.

Getting to know Oxalis

If there is an internal reservoir of microbes that are also out of whack, however, I think a tisane of wood sorrel might be Witch Hazel's counterpart for endothelium. I brewed some up the other day and let it chill. It does not taste like lemonade, rather greener than even green tea lemonade, and it has such body that you can't slug it like Gatorade. But the salt it contains, potassium oxalate, is extra refreshing that way, and I get the sense that yeasty things don't care for this substance one bit. I tried it in my hair, and though it was horrible as a conditioner -- difficult to comb, hair actually falling out at an accelerated rate -- all itching ceased immediately. (Maybe that's what I ought to be putting on my little toe.)

Then, watering down some grape juice, it occurred to me that the best juices -- orange, grape, apple -- just make you thirstier. Make your throat feel drier, in other words... Vitamin C is converted into oxalate by our metabolism. Vitamin C is the internal equivalent of glycerin!

A Good Start

I didn't comment too much on my post shave yesterday, partly because I had irritated myself with the razor, and partly because of a suspicion that I was overly defensive in my prep. It seemed like everything I put into it came back to me later, and the drag of the oil didn't help the blade glide any more lightly. I hadn't really considered the possibility that I should skip all the pre- and post-shave, something I'd only try with Williams.

So, that's kinda what I did today. Lathered in palm, what stuck to my hand was the preshave, and nothing but dilute Witch Hazel in a cloth after. The result was not perfect, but perfettamente facile. I got a thorough third pass in, and still the skin relaxed almost as soon as it was dry. The artisans have seemingly balanced everything in that soap perfectly without amendments, just by proportioning ingredients. One might suspect it's horribly superfatted, but no: I can clean my eyeglasses with it. The WH was just a tiny adjustment for my personal constitution. New favorite, can't recommend it enough.

And you know what? That $20 slant (with a smaller handle) might be the perfect starter razor! It fits with my "I learned everything backward" theory. It teases apart and equalizes the technically important tug sensations, while muting the distraction of exfoliation. The price is almost right, and you sure as hell wouldn't need to shim! While it represents the very opposite idea of the adjustable that most men want, it is dead center in the DE shaving galaxy, and ultimately unavoidable; so, try the ol' time-warp/slingshot maneuver in shaving exploration! Just watch out for the nebula of glycerin...

Shopaholic Relapse

Didn't even get my 24-hr chip! I cornered my wife into acquiescence during back-to-school shopping, and got her to pay my late dues at the fragrance counter. Sean John "3 a.m." probably isn't a fitting reference to insomnia, porn and blogging -- fresh! -- but the funky fig leaf seems to pick up where sandalwood leaves off, in my imagination. It certainly strikes my sinuses a lot deeper than what I got from Big Lots.

The Melting Pot

Thankfully, Italian Barber was also tracking my package, and informed me when it was delivered sooner than the P.O. projected, on Saturday. The anticipation has ended! In some ways, I got exactly what I was expecting: some fiddling to get the blade aligned, and an exfoliating shave. But overall, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by both the $20 slant razor and Sandalwood soft soap.

The Razor

I refuse to refer to it by name, because I resent having fallen for the little bait-and-switch ploy with Italian Barber's email notification program. There, the razor was pictured with a short handle (that would have been a perfect match to Ruby in my cabinet), and the name it is being marketed under is a reference to the shorter Merkur #37C. When it came time to order, however, the long, overweight "Mission" handle had taken its place, a substitution that was all too easy to overlook in my enthusiasm. The most appropriate handle in my possession is the good ol' Stirling 3P1, a standard Merkur clone.

The experience was what I really wanted though, and that did not disappoint. In short: shaving with a slant is like shaving with every type of DE razor at once. What a perfect retirement gift for my departure from the acquisition scene! Torsional rigidity brought a Tech-like, well-clamped feel to the blade, while a healthy exposure allowed flex of not-so-crazy amplitude. The large, flat contact surfaces endowed it with automatic, Super Speed-like traction control, yet without diminishing my sense of tension alignment. You'd think that having a built-in, fixed direction angle would interfere with my personal requirements of precise attack, but in use, that just didn't factor in at all. I was easily sliding the edge, just the same as I always do.

On the other hand, I can sympathize with those who claim that a slant is the nearest DE relative of straight razors. Chrome plated Zamak could be thought of as taking the supportive role of expert fingers on the blade, helping us to express our intentions for the hair. I had been practicing with an anchor head, expecting that I'd have to manually control traction with pressure variance. Quite the opposite... but that's also the drawback. You get exactly what traction you're gonna get, as a consequence of design, evenly applied everywhere. Your only control options are prep and blade choice. It is as unresponsive to what you're feeling at the skin surface, as another person.

This particular "barber" took just a little flesh, raising one, momentary weeper on my chin. Like the experience, the shaving result is kind of an average of the best shaves that all the other DE designs can provide. "BBS," but only in the shallow sense, of not having missed a single hair. I'd still destroy cotton balls. I can dig deeper with Ruby, or a Super Speed, and only scoop a teeny bit of stratum corneum from inside the follicles. Which is still not really good for me, but is less uncomfortable than this. The Rimei finds cutting angles just as easily, but doesn't shave as close.

Italian Barber Sandalwood Shaving Soap for Sensitive Skin

The soap was really interesting to me because of the absence of glycerin in the ingredients, which are listed as prior to saponification, and extremely simple. This may actually have a stronger claim to the description of "pure soap" than Williams, in the colloquial sense. Though chemically, the included byproduct is not technically "soap." I guess you could say, it's glycerin-neutral.

But here again, I was disappointed on the marketing end. When I selected "Italian Barber" from the pull-down menu, a bunch of PAA soaps were foisted upon me, while the RazoRock house brand was segregated elsewhere, this Sandalwood being offered under a separate label "for sensitive skin." All of which speaks terribly of the RazoRock brand and soap marketing philosophy, without detracting from this particular product. I didn't need any more reminders that I'm not one of "the cool kids," and reject the idea that chemical burns from glycerin shaving soap reflect a disability. I piss on your pity, Italian Barber! (But I'm not making any obscene gestures.)

Even if your sense of dignity would not be offended, your sense of smell would still want to know that the Sandalwood scent of this soap is perfectly suitable to the application and not some kind of weak derivative of allegedly better options. Yes, I thought the dry puck a bit boxy smelling, but that's just because it's a wood scent. The isolated, undeveloped note was exactly what I wanted to experience, because I've already smelled bath products containing a sweeter "exotic" blend. Once released by lathering, sandalwood reminded me of elephant ear fungi (not a real name, probably piptoporus betulinus), and summer as a small child in a dear aunt's backyard. In the 70's, people around here collected them. Given what I've read about Middle-Eastern perfumers favoring fungal "oud" as well, it now makes sense why the bath products I'd encountered had illustrations of desert things on them: palm trees, camels, pyramids, and whatnot.

Oh, Canada!

Not many products can satisfy me intellectually, but Italian Barber rang all my bells. I even appreciated the soap container: is that the exact regulation size of a hockey puck? Great display of Canadian pride, there. It leads me to believe that the great American melting pot has relocated to your country, and is actually filled with Zamak, or shaving soap. You're probably going to miss the next revolution, too (hopeless ass-kissers), but I think that's definitely okay, as far as shaving goes. If anyone can lead the world backwards, it's you. ;-) Love ya!

Arko Is Not Better Than Williams

This week, I took a pass on the most interesting possible antique brush. Like my grandfather's, but nearly new. It was really nice to see it in original form, marble white instead of butterscotch; bulb shaped, not a nub. I thanked the proprietor, but bid farewell without purchasing; and also at a couple of other places that I've regularly looked in on over the last year-and-a-half.

Believe it or not, I think I've finally reached the acquisition turning point. My last razor purchase may be in the mail as we speak: the $20 slant from Italian Barber, representing the only general kind of DE I haven't tried, and seemingly appropriate to my recent prep advances. I figured I might as well try a sandalwood soft soap to justify shipping. I tracked my package today, after putting off shaving as long as I could. Gah, Monday -- I would have driven to Rochester, rather than wait all weekend! (No, not really.)

Anticipation... An-ti-cipa-a-tion... what a great ketchup ad that was, eh? Thankfully, Pandora and the passage of time have brought the artist, Carly Simon, back to the foreground in that instance of mental fornication. Both she and the advertisers surely knew that there is more to anticipation than waiting. Something shavers need to recognize, too, especially when accumulating massive quantities of soap and cream. What are you waiting for?

Arko is not better than Williams

Without directly addressing the contemporary soap marketing machine, or even the moral hazard that is glycerin (this time), I think the logical heart of acquisition disorders can be addressed on this point. Williams is the purest shaving soap, to which Arko is often compared. Arko is easier to lather and more slick. Comparing ingredients, it seems to be sort of pre-dissolved, with "stearic acid" instead of the usual stearate salt, and maybe a higher proportion of water. It also features mineral oil. If you treat your skin with some oil as well, a lipid bilayer forms that even the beginner's blade can hardly penetrate. For similar reasons, Arko takes longer to dry out than Williams. It's all good, especially for noobs.

But once you've gotten into the swing of things: found suitable hardware, aligned your attack on the hair and gotten traction under control -- I think the balance of judgment shifts. I can glide an edge more easily through Williams' aqueous lubrication than Arko's thicker emulsion. It rinses cleaner, for a drier, more comfortable post shave. Furthermore, when lathered properly, Williams is more cushioning; to the touch, and to the blade. Only in its opaque appearance may Arko be considered thicker.

Yes, even in hard water. I still cannot kill the remnant of Williams in my little medicine-cabinet bowl. Looking at the thick outer edge of the ring, I guess it may be some months still. Just for this post, because I know I am vastly outnumbered by puck soakers, I tested a puck fresh out of the box. I, too, thought perhaps the old soap had been chemically altered, over time. Nope; it's simply different than other soaps, in that it is the least adulterated.

Why would I say that?

I love both Arko and Williams. My point is, Williams isn't really any more difficult to lather. It merely defies expectations that thwart learning... which are difficult to overcome. For my failure with the first puck, I blame the producers themselves. Lathering this soap has jack squat to do with putting water in a mug. Yeah, the internet may be bullshit, but I would never have turned to it in the first place, if advertising hadn't already betrayed me.

By my second puck (this one), I had already moved on to popular glycerin soap and creams that could be lathered any which way: wet, dry, with air in them... applying what I learned to Williams, I could get "a" lather, but not the full potential. To have the best lather, you need to expect it, and work for it. What could any reasonable person expect, after hearing what the ignorant, spoiled shavers of today have to say about Williams?

Only after being practically forced to lather it in my palm for an extended period, because of how my overall technique was developing, could I finally "get" it -- which is to say, how to lather shaving soap. The same story, in various stages, is repeated all over the internet, and in reality, it's tragic. It's as heartbreaking as Carly Simon.

The simplest remedy, in the form of free advice, would be to insist that you must learn to lather this soap. One other solid soap would be allowed prior to Williams, or a few drops of Humphreys may be applied to Williams for a short training period. After that, if you can't figure it out, you lose. Grow a beard.


But of course, failure is not an option. Because I think that what you're really looking for in your acquisitions, what we're all looking for and cannot be denied, is a shave that leaves your face completely unharmed and natural-feeling. Williams is absolutely your best shot at that. I will therefore describe my method to the best of my ability.

How To Lather Williams

Wet the brush moderately (dip only the canopy for synthetics and badger; wet more, but less than dripping, for boar). Holding the puck in your other hand, gently melt one of its surfaces with the brush tip, as if it were watercolor paint. Little to no water should be running off the puck, unless you overloaded the water. Lift the resultant soap solution into the brush, also like paint. Then reapply to the puck (like paint) repeatedly, until all the water, now a thicker fluid called "protolather," is consumed by the brush. Don't add any water to the puck, or any air to the brush.

When the puck has thus been cleaned of liquid, move the contents of the brush to your palm and start whisking, carefully mixing any thin fluid trying to escape from the side of the (synthetic) brush. Add water incrementally, looking for a sheen that persists after thorough mixing. More importantly, feel for the brush-tip sensation to recede markedly, and rub your thumb and finger together to check that you cannot feel your fingerprint. Then, just whip it up to the airy thickness that you like. It really can compare to canned cream, though I don't think that helps it to endure.

What will help it last longer is to presaturate your skin with whatever sticks to your hand, after the brush is loaded. Place a soaking wet cloth over that, and wipe. Now, when the lather is applied, no part of it will try to migrate into your face, causing the lather to break down.

Steak Cosmétique

Some weeks ago, during one of my more fruitless google sessions, I noticed that Witch Hazel had some government's clearance as a food additive. I think it had something to do with London broil, but that may be a Clavinism. IF that were the case, I think they would have got it backwards. Glycerin, not Witch Hazel, shows the greatest potential as a steak marinade.

I should note, the wife and I love steak, but I'm not an expert by any means, and allow her to handle the cooking of this particular item. I stick to the backyard brazier, surest way to get the desired residue of sizzle, dark crystals of sugar-fat flavor. Broiling in the oven, too often the juices run and pool, washing the flavor away.

Glycerin should certainly help that! The history of modern cosmetics begins with the discovery of glycerin. Reversing the natural flow of skin moisture from the blood to the atmosphere makes most people feel that their skin has been enhanced somehow. Working carefully around its hazard, razor burn, I've very recently learned to appreciate how it leaves my skin dry at the surface. And with steak, that could be a very good thing. My brother, a better cook than I, gets his cuts from the "dry aged" case at a smaller shop, and I've heard it said specifically by TV experts that the flavor crystals depend on dry heat for their creation.

Test 1

Method. Four drops glycerin and maybe a quarter teaspoon of baking soda were mixed in palm, diluted in water enough to be spreadable, and rubbed on boneless chuck steak. Corn oil and salt (normal prep for steak) were rubbed on immediately after. Left to come to temperature in briefly lit oven, 20 minutes before actual cooking. The idea was to tenderize with the baking soda, something I've used in shaving also. Result. Indeed, this steak was incredibly tender, despite not being aged at all. The only chewy parts were well-ensconced in fat, where glycerin would not have particularly wanted to go, following the water. But the sizzle on this steak was not what I had been aiming for. More of an overall brownness, and quite a bit of drippings were found in the pan still. Good flavor, good texture... no thrill.

If I had to put my finger on it, I'd guess that it was the fat ingredient missing from the mix in the sizzle. I maximized the Maillard reaction, but stopped short of caramelization, which would have put up more of a physical barrier against fluid egress, and given the salt somewhere to stick. Okay, so now I know what Witch Hazel has to do with it, as I've felt it release the oil from my skin. That must be the real secret of good marinade: optimizing ooze to create the caramel. Sorry, steakhouse:

The secret formula will soon be MINE! HA HA HA HA HA!

Test 2: Witch Burger

Method. Cured Witch Hazel (>18h shaving leftovers, ~3ml) applied directly to hamburger patty just before final forming, to the surface of the disc, without mixing it in. Result. Extra sizzle relative to preceding (kids') burgers. Even when removed from pan, a spot of apparently boiling oil remained in that spot. It apparently enhanced browning, too, because my wife said it was not cooked in the center. I have to admit that I sometimes make that error anyway; but the kids' (non-experimental) burgers were fine.

How the hell did ground beef get back into my routine? I switched to turkey more than a year ago. I hate the pan full of grease, what a waste! (Could that be where artisanal "tallow" comes from?) ;-) I solved that one, though: took the remainder of my weak-flavored beans and mashed them into bean-burgers.

Test 3: Rare Treat

I bought a decent, thick cut for a change, and just gave it a splash, like I would my face, before putting a little oil in the pan, and none on the meat. It browned very nicely, but there was still one chewy part in the fat. I cooked it low and slow (another tip from brother), and while one with some roasting experience would expect that to result in cooking through, it ended up being super rare. Fine by me!

Test 4: Just like the "Mr. and Mrs."

Exerpt from another post: ... using baking soda as a light dry rub (having some sense of its mild flavor, at this point), and a splash of Witch Hazel. Talk about sizzle! Oh, and tender: hardly lost a drop of juice until I oiled and salted it, after the turn. This combo essentially said to the steak: I'm going to thermally expand the water in you, now, but you can't change volume, except by sending oily flavor precursors to your surface. Very close to optimizing the caramel, now.

Test 5: Coconut Oil

Refined organic coconut oil is fairly flavorless and takes high heat. Prepared like Test 4 except for the oil, melted in the pan. Great sear, but seemed like it could have used more flavor. Maybe because I allowed some pungent vegetables to touch it before serving... maybe just needed salt. I think I'll rub a little of the standard corn oil on the steak and use less coconut oil in the pan. Interesting side effect: easiest pan cleaning ever!

Comment Below And Check Back For Updates

Project Pancakes Update

My betta test subject for oxalic acid vs. hard water, who seems to be recovering from air bladder damage, is off his ventral fins, but unable to lift off entirely. Will he go belly up, or be sailing freely soon? Nobody knows... pray if you don't believe in my "science," but I think he looks healthy. He's certainly hungry. My daughter fed him a few pellets this morning, and at lunch he just flared at me again, like, "That wasn't enough, dude! Let's make a run for the border!"

The bean thing actually didn't work out for him. He masticated one piece, then spit it out immediately. (Spinach juice did, however, make my old beans cook faster, such that when I went to check on them, the skin peeled back when I first blew on the spoon. I think I had a little pumpkin in there, as well. Could have been richer tasting; probably need to dilute the spinach more.)

I then tried soaking his pellets in spinach juice. Unfortunately, we don't have the floaty kind anymore, so that didn't work, either. I've just been hitting the water with some drops at feeding time on occasion, in the hope he ingests some by accident before it dilutes completely. I guess it's now time to make the investment, to try and accelerate him through this awkward stage.


An oxalis -- wood sorrel -- patch miraculously appeared in my yard, just as I was becoming interested in them. It is in the form of a circle, apparently where I had a brush pile for burning last year. So there you go, soap artisans: just pile some brush near the edge of a lawn, somewhere that wood sorrel grows naturally. Let it kill the grass, then have a bonfire (in a different spot) before snowfall. Next spring: instant sorrel patch, ready for experimentation. I bet it smells better than Arko!

Let's Try Again

If you missed my late-appended link from the last post:

I think vanishing cream really was perfected in the form of modern moisturizers. So here, in my opinion, is the best current representation of the archaic Ponds vanishing cream. Following an oil-less shave, splash with somewhat evaporated Witch Hazel, to get the alcohol content closer to the specified ~5%. (Remember, too, how Theron and the medicine man originally favored 3% in the extract.) Finish with Men's 3-in-1 Lubricating Moisturizer from Dollar Tree.

I'm backing off each of the applications with a wet cloth, while you probably won't have to. But that does give me a dry finish -- the counterintuitive effect of glycerin -- balanced by the tissue integrity and comfort of Witch Hazel. Normal people (should we call them "muggles"?) may also need to account for the chemical contents of their personal shave overall, to avoid going overboard with any one thing. On the other hand, I do recollect a video from Sharpologist.com, where the barber in Vegas advised against immediate application of moisturizer generally.

I would assert that the "penetration error" does generalize to normal people. In the preceding post, we traced it back to its unfortunate historical root. Here, we have translated to modern terms -- moisturizer -- and corrected that specific problem.

Unraveling The Capitalism (Lies): 19th Century Edition

I believe I actually live in the natural range of the witch hazel shrub, or some near relative, as I've seen the "winter bloom" in my backyard when I went to make a Xmas wreath. But I think the idea of curing Witch Hazel, U.S.P., overnight, allowing the ethanol to evaporate, is exponentially superior to annually harvesting and boiling twigs myself, because it's available locally -- and probably globally -- for only a dollar a pint.

Even if I only really get 86% or less of that volume because of the preservative, it seems the better value, because the extract would also have to be more useful than the distillate already is. Shavers know it and love it as an aftershave splash alternative. Arguably, most shavers are idiots, also heavily into skin planing and glycerin. But I've found it to be an ideal preshave, amplifying the skin-compacting benefit of oil cleansing, and preventing the glycerin burn, bane of my existence, before it even happens.

No frickin' way am I going to believe that a 14% ethanol solution could accomplish what I've seen Witch Hazel do firsthand... though, if I ever got the chance, I'd be happy to test that. I think the reason we still hear that kind of noise today is due to the fascinating history of Witch Hazel, having come to us via patent and alternative medicine, which the medical establishment resents greatly. I've been Googling awhile, but I guess I finally poked in the right terms today, coming up with these insightful accounts:


No idea what that first site is, nor have I confirmed the print source, but it sure rings true in its identification of the principals. An anonymous, native medicine man simply desiring to put the medicine into a form that could be shared or traded easily. Theron T. Pond, the entrepreneur synthesizing the ancient knowledge with modern technology, too soon excluded from product development by his own demise. And Leon T. Hurtt, the technician who actually perfected the product. Then, all the crooks... this is just like the Gillette story, only a hundred years prior!

What stuck with me from the second article is that when the market was tapped out -- well, as far as capitalism was concerned -- around 1910, the descendant company turned to glycerin and mineral oil. A stupid, corporate decision that, in the form of the cosmetics industry, is still ruining our lives today.

Just for giggles, I gave the vanishing cream concept a try in today's shave. I saw exactly how it could fit in where I was using moisturizer: withhold all glycerin until after the blade, then rub 3 drops jojoba, ~3ml cured witch hazel, and two drops of glycerin briskly in my hands. Apply, wait 30 seconds, and wipe excess from face with a damp cloth. All of that oil didn't "vanish," like stearate (soap) cream would have, but I'm sure a little was sucked in.
Period advertising from the second article suggested that ladies should powder after applying the vanishing cream. I powdered with bentonite, hoping that all trace of stubble would be eliminated by the swelling skin and adherent clay. No such luck. As glycerin applications go, it was comfortable enough, thanks to the Witch Hazel. But it wasn't long before I was back to the cologne again! It just feels like more cosmetics to me.