Science behind beard softening?

Discussion in 'General Shaving Discussion' started by Rustonrazor, Apr 15, 2012.

  1. Is there any hard evidence that it is effective? Is it just a personal preference and YMMV? Just wondering because it seems that my beard doesn't know if I splash my face before the shave or spend 20 minutes with shampoo and conditioner. Could it be that your face is more receptive to the blade when it has been washed, as in no longer dirty, not softer? I can go with that. Just wondering if anyone else could go without the "beard softening" step due to a lack of a perceived or actual benefit.
  2. might interest you. As I understand it, the goal is to get water into the hair. Soaps and creams are basic, and so tend to neutralize the naturally acid layer of oil on the skin and stubble. Then the water can get into the hair to prepare it for cutting.

    Edit: might be worth a look too. Published by Gillette, so it is a mix of popular science and marketing. But there are some interesting bits, and a few footnotes.

    I do not use shampoo or conditioner on my face, but I certainly notice the benefit from letting the lather sit on my face for a few minutes.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2012
  3. I've found softening my stubble before shaving significantly improves my shaves. By softening, I mean letting the lather sit on my face for a minute or two before a blades touches my face.
  4. Personally, I found conditioner in my whiskers to be counter productive. Probably because conditioner tends to strengthen hair as well as soften/moisturize it.

    Like dannymayo, my best results so far have come from using shaving lather as a preshave.
  5. luvmysuper

    luvmysuper Moderator Emeritus Contributor

  6. For awhile, early in my "career", I used two shave brushes during shaving. I had my heated lather bowl, and a second bowl set on another heating element. The second bowl was full of hot water, close to hotter than comfortable. So, one brush for lather, and another brush for hot water. It took forever to shave, but it was done purposefully to test the effect of prep. I was especially interested in the ease of shaving when whiskers were hot versus skin temperature.

    While shaving I lathered my face to maintain wetness. Before shaving a section, I rewet that section with hot water, and relathered. Then, immediately shaved.

    My conclusion is that when whiskers are quite hot, they are very much easier to cut. Unfortunately, I concluded that after about 60 seconds, the whiskers cooled down and were harder to cut. And, after about two minutes, the whiskers were about the same difficulty to shave as whiskers that had been covered by lather for 15 minutes or longer.

    But, don't misunderstand. Proper prep, with good water penetration, renders the whiskers easier to cut, even if not hot, even if the lather has been on the whiskers some minutes. Prep... good!
  7. One thing that I verified about a year back is that when your skin is in bad shape, all else being equal, you will get a worse shave than if your skin is in good shape. The Gillette paper indicated that. Good article. I have found that before I go to bed if I use a high quality hand cream on my face the shave the next morning is predictable superior.

  8. Recently I saw some links posted here (couldn't find them just now) to some Youtube (National Geographic?) videos that, among other things, showed how water molecules insert themselves into the keratin sheath around a whisker, weakening the hydrogen bonds, allowing the blade to separate the strand into two pieces with less force.

    It was pretty convincing.
  9. The science is actually quite basic:

    Dry hair has a hardness similar to that of copper wire. This hardness decreases significantly, however, once water is adsorbed. To get water into the hair, however, you must first remove the oil that coats the hair shaft. This oil is produced by your body and its primary purpose is give the hair a water repellent property. The easiest way to remove this oil coating is to wash the hair with soap and water. You can also achieve this by lathering, removing the lather with a wet towel and then relathering. Hot (or warm) water works best, but you can remove the oil with cold water as well.

    Once the oil coating has been removed, the air will adsorb water and become less hard and thus, easier to shave. The main purpose of lather during the shave is to hold water against the hair, preventing it from drying out. The application of oils (such as preshave oils, conditioners etc) will also help hold water into the hair, but this must be done after the hair has been hydrated (i.e. washed with soap on water).
  10. Thanks for all the info. More than likely the effect is there, but imperceptible to me. Either way, I get a great shave and was just curious.
  11. I can easily tell a difference in tugging/pulling of my hair when shaving after a shower vs. splashing water on face for a couple of minutes. Blade life is also extended considerably.

    I won't even attempt (for any reason) to shave without showering first. Also, if for some reason my face is not able to be kept continuously wet then lathered within a minute or so after emerging from the shower, I don't bother shaving. (Such as having to get out of the bathroom because someone "needed" to get in, left something needed outside the bathroom where I had to leave the steamy environment, etc.) I won't even open the bathroom door until I at least have lather on my face to keep it moist.

    In the past when I was married and the ex had to go and I was forced out of the bathroom, I've actually taken a 2nd shower as soon as she was done and the air cleared, just to re-hydrate & re-introduce humidity into the bathroom.
  12. phillylion

    phillylion Contributor

  13. They're not mutually exclusive. Effectiveness can vary as not everyone has identical hair/beards.
  14. I have found that the less I prep, the better the shave. I attribute this to the fact that excess washing with soaps removes the natural oil from the skin, which, when left intact, lubricates and protects. Perhaps, too, soft, wet whiskers are harder to cut compared to stiff ones, which do not yield before the blade, offering a better cut with a sharp blade.

    Whateevr the reason, I now do no other prep except splash hot water on my face for about 30 seconds and then lather up. Couldn't be happier with the shave.
  15. Gave this a try after reading this thread and the modernmechanix article. Leaving the lather on my face for an extra minute before shaving did help soften up those tough whiskers on the chin.
  16. The scientific term is "pogonotomy". I love that word...hehe

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