Water Softening The Hard Way

I am beginning to receive shaving intelligence from my second obsession, brewing kombucha, in return for the acid-toner insight from shaving that fueled my interest in the tonic beverage initially. When drunk and applied topically, kombucha ameliorates all my little skin dings, by lightening pigmentation and exfoliating. I can actually feel it tightening up atrophic scars above and beyond the skin-shrinking I get from Asquith and Somerset Citrus and Ginger exfoliating soap.

Skin Food For Real?

Some Kombucha acids are not merely a "peel" in the cosmetic sense, but a connective tissue strengthener, like hyaluronic acid and glucosamine joint pills. I've experienced that effect directly in my knees, through consuming the beverage, and having taken the pills in the past. I know I've said otherwise about cosmetics, but I suspect this stuff might actually be feeding the skin when applied externally, in a way. Not really, but like the vitamin D shaving oil -- there's a biochemical pathway in the tissue already, and this one happens to be constructive of collagen.

Of course, I'm not a scientist, and I could be totally wrong. Inhibiting inflammation and promoting exfoliation are powerful enough interventions, and might be the only supports to the repair functions here. But it sure feels that way. At night, when I think of it, I've been soaking a cotton pad, putting it on my facial blems like Stridex on a zit, then taping the same pad to that hyperpigmented scar on my shin, which I gave to myself by putting pumpkin juice on a scab.

Marangoni Effect Revisited

There's a curious difference between freshly-brewed "nute" (super-sweet tea, the food of the kombucha culture) and nute reconstituted from refrigerated concentrate (as in southern style iced tea). Boiling removes gas from the liquid, and it doesn't come back right away. This happens because steam bubbles passing through the liquid receive other gasses dissolved in the liquid, and move them out, more readily than they can return through the cool surface boundary. It's about equilibrium interacting with the "colligative properties" of the liquid -- just like the Marangoni effect I suspect of mediating the irritation of my thin skin.

In kombucha, the refrigerated nute doesn't sink my pellicle ("mushroom, SCOBY") that floats on the surface of the brewing vessel, but fresh does. Surface tension stops the cellulose matrix and its contents in the first case, and lets it pass in the second. Only when CO2 has built up again, due to the fermentation action of the yeast in solution, will more fibers rise to the surface (like a Cap'n Crunch plastic submarine, propelled by tiny bubbles), and form a new mat. Sometimes the old mother will rise, too, after a couple days, if enough of its mass is populated by living organisms.

The pellicle is like the stratum corneum of a kombucha culture. There are a bunch of fools on the reddit forum telling people to throw it away at the start of every batch, because it's just dead garbage. But in a continuous brew, it creates the selective environment that allows carbonation and ethanol to remain concentrated in solution (enough to flavor it, not to get drunk), instead of evaporating. It helps keep oxygen out, so the yeast get to work sooner, and you don't have to wait three weeks. The importance obviously decreases when it sinks every time, so I guess that's where these clowns are coming from.

Like people with soft water have an easier time with lather, perhaps. I boiled some water in a pot before going to bed, and filled my sink with it in the morning to shave, after it had cooled. It was obviously still "hard" in the sense of containing lime, because I could see it clouding up the water! Traditionally, the boiling effect is explained as removing the "temporary hardness" of calcium hydrogencarbonate. (Chemistry: still my least favorite subject.) 

I think it might be less deep than that, though. I came back to the boundary effect through a brewers' post about degassing (actually, I think the brewer was a scientist -- let's not give brewers that much credit):

To see how my de-gassed, temporarily soft (?) water would perform, I used my most critical shaving kit: Williams, PUR-tech, and Mimi (RM2001), with the same well-worn Ming Shi Diamond blade. Skin condition was poor, following an ill-advised Weishi shave with no shim, so I was looking forward to a gentle shave. And, I got it! The hair didn't turn to jelly or anything, but it did seem relatively easy to cut. Like the keratin itself was made fragile, rather than the structure of the hair being inflated with something.

Not that I waited around for it to be waterlogged: I didn't want to push Williams to dryness. But it held up better than usual. I face lathered directly, and didn't need to pre-treat the skin with a preliminary emulsion. It was a thin layer on second pass, and just some crema to rub in on third, with my small (or classically normal-sized) brush, but that's all I needed. Not only did it not dissipate, it stayed noticeably slicker than usual, with not a single skip. I did my final rinsing with hard water, because they say that's what it's good for. (Also, I forgot to set aside some clean, preboiled water in a mug.)

The reward: unbroken skin. Just a little neck tingle with dilute Aqua Velva Musk. My skin did feel very dry and tight on drydown, albeit perfectly comfortable, so I went back and applied moisturizer.

I wonder if soft water is the key external condition that makes for a thick stratum corneum. It's pickle and jelly season, a good time to be boiling things in the evening, so I guess I'll keep it up for a week.

Sign From On High

"Shave comfortably, Man!"
I know I've got welding goggles around here someplace, but I made a pinhole viewer, just because we need another toy around here so desperately... and this is basically what we saw on Monday, August 21, 2017 (only, sharper in person). Having fun in these final days of summer, with heavenly approval, apparently.

The razor parts have aligned to set me up for another long run with a single razor blade, it seems. I missed a few hairs with the Ming Shi diamond blade in the Slim, yesterday, but shifted it over to the Tech for a surface-oriented shave, nothing but Williams, and I have to say, it's visually better. I can feel the hair tips, rubbing backward now, a couple hours later, but I would have called it BBS. Traction from the dulling blade made the Tech unusually efficient, while its new light plastic handle made high-velocity buffing a breeze.

Maybe I can have it all -- the classic comfort, optimal blade use, and three-pass closeness -- using some of the cheapest kit available!

Frankenrazor Face-off

In the bucket under the sink, a monster has spontaneously assembled: the Schmidt R10 cutting head on the overweight Baili BD-191 handle. They're just the spare parts of what I would currently consider the ideal beginner's razor, but they look great together.

(Aesthetic technique: match knurl pattern to guard.)

Anchor heads aren't my favorite. I have bad memories from early days, when I myself was persuaded by internet fora to buy a crooked piece of shit Maggard razor, instead of going to the antique store like I should have done. It's the new tradition, and reportedly, quality continues to improve. The R10 was the best of the type I could find, when I still cared. It went in the bucket when I found it relatively less amenable to my sliding technique.

What's making me resurrect it now? I still read as many "neck bump" posts as enthusiasm, from beginners. But I just had a damn fine shave with the Ming Shi Diamond in a Sedef shavette. I reason that, since I can handle that blade with no traction control (or much control of any kind), I should be able to handle it with the relatively poor traction control of a pressure-modulated DE razor. In so doing, I hope to better understand what, other than marketing and aesthetic appeal, inspires the fanboys.

My Champion

Instead of the Baili, which would also require the Diamond blade to compete, I'm going to make use of the less sharp Personna (U.S) blade currently circulating around the medicine cabinet, in a side-by-side shave. My own beginner razor, a Rimei, paired with a Razorock bulldog handle, represents my personal maximum weight, length, and blade flex. The aggressive limit of the "classic" paradigm... igm... igm... "Mimi!"


Mimi was stronger on first pass, but missed more on second, ATG, under the chin. Not so surprising, perhaps, given a relatively dull blade; but, being perfectly customized to my person, I was able to push it to a comparable result with extra touchups after the third pass. Meanwhile, however, the R10 was smoking ATG, and I didn't think I'd find anything to shave on third pass -- but I did. It was a great shave, easy BBS, and not eating nearly as much skin as the Ming Shi adjustable.

Decision: R10, by easier shaving and better postshave. What an upset!

XXX Formula Duro

With the blades switched, Mimi was amazing on first pass: efficient, comfortable, tugging just right. Both razors were less inclined to exfoliate, but the monster was perceptibly less comfortable. It only took about two seconds for me to shift to an auditory approach, because it was quite loud, even when not in close contact with the skin.

Ease of use was more equal on second pass, but things reversed quite dramatically on third, with Mimi disinclined to cut any further. Any other day, it would have been a two-pass shave. But the modern Prometheus turned in a third pass just as loud and apparently effective as the preceding two. So I pushed her again, anticipating a smell of blood which never came. It was detail-oriented work, taking my moustache and jawline down to the roots, but not too dangerous, with the blade so well suited.

Thus, Mimi fought to a draw, because while both shaves were slightly more comfortable than yesterday, and the heavier razor demonstrated superior ease of use, specifically facilitating hair extraction mechanically, the more technical shave gave a longer-lasting result -- a difference only apparent after six hours. Mimi delivered a 10-hour BBS, which I believe is my personal limit.

I find playing barber entertaining, myself; today I got to use my "pushing skin toward the blade" move, on that perfectly N-S spot along the jawline, which is always fun. Or, like I said, I could have enjoyed a two-pass shave. But I'm not going to discount the value of an easy BBS, either. The statement of luxury made by the sculptural Baili handle doesn't seem so extreme, when backed up by that kind of shave.

Decisions, Decisions

Far from narrowing the field to a single razor, I find my discovery of the Ming Shi blade leaves me with even more, tough choices. In lathering, too, I'm slipping from palm lathering and prepping the skin with what sticks to my hand, to just whipping up an overwhelming mass of lather with larger brushes. Could I become the kind of shaver I normally enjoy making fun of?

$1.50 Razor Review

For so small an investment, I could not deny the insistence of certain redditors that the Yingjili 8306L Gillette Sterling knockoff was a great shaver and beginner's choice. I ordered late, but now join the chorus.

At first, I was disappointed that, despite the airbrushing in the source advertising, mine was indeed stamped "YINGJILI" on the top cap, similar to the "Gillette" imprint on late Techs. I've pooh-poohed this cutting head before, I think, in the form of the Yingjili aluminum-handled Tech clone. Again I could immediately spot the wavy blade, a "V" deformation inverse to a high point on the baseplate, caused by the diamond stamp. (That original razor ended up as a DE-vette, and eventually the head went into the trash, while the handle serves my Travel Tech.)


I considered this first impression so inauspicious, that I reverted to a Personna blue and a special preshave prep: fiber-loading with flaxseed drink before an oatmeal breakfast; and Shave Secret to meet the fiber and swell up my hair with gel, facilitated by a hot potassium bicarbonate soak and wipe. Cold Williams lather took up the residual oil, with my small PUR-tech brush looking just slightly too classy for the classic setup. The brush has been growing on me; my unbranded white cashmere has been sent to the travel bag for specific application with small lumps of soap. Synthetic brushes hardly "break in," but the tiny degree to which the fibers splay more easily makes a difference.

That shave was so good, it prompted an identity crisis of sorts. It was very much a revisitation of the "perfect shaves" documented in my post archives, the best representation of how I typically shaved until very recently, when I turned to "everyday BBS." The hair was simply wiped off my face, as in shaving fairy tales. The clone was as screaming fast as my real Tech, allowing easy, long strokes. And I actually thought I had the BBS, until an hour or two had passed, and a comfortable velvet arose.

Suddenly I perceived that my "classic" technique really formed around that blade. It's not that the Ming Shi I prefer now is any more perfect; it just does something different. I didn't need much aftercare with the Personna -- actually made a balm with Skin Bracer, one of my harshest aftershaves. Having a velvety shave is like having a beard, without the look or the heat. I couldn't stop stroking it.


But, to know this razor better, I loaded a fresh Ming Shi and went "neotraditional" for its second outing. Big honking BC Plissoft brush and Fresco Verde from Italian Barber, no special preshave, other than a hot bowl lather. I was surprised to find less edge distortion just from the blade change; I always thought Personna was a battle tank. I then loosened the handle a little bit for efficiency, and the distortion all but vanished. There was a lot of spring force holding the blade still, and with the light components, no chance of coming loose like the heavier Baili razors.

Yep, the razor is completely capable. The lightness and handle length was a bit dangerous feeling in the thick whisker areas under my chin; on the other hand, I can't remember a more effective ATG stroke on my moustache. I lost some stratum corneum, but much more hair -- no shadows. I nursed my tender face with alum and cocoa butter, at about the same time the velvet appeared in the prior shave.


Just based on the feel of the tool in use, though, I'd say the classic shaving style is more natural. It actually took me further in that direction than I had ever been, in a way, because the handle length doesn't allow my typical grip. Instead, I found myself sweeping the razor in a three-finger grip from the side of the handle. It felt like an artist's paintbrush, and I liked myself as the artist. But when it came to applying brute force, the stroke was not as well controlled as with a heavier, short razor. Furthermore, without the real gap adjustability, that is so important for a good low-angle shave, you're really asking for it if you go for BBS. (A criticism that applies to all Tech designs.)

Now I want all the razors of this type, and will probably end up paying more than I would have for a really nice razor. Rapira and Gillette both make them. This handle will definitely get tried with my Travel Tech in the meantime.

Great beginner razor? Absolutely!