What's new

Article: What Works For Me

What Works For Me: Double Edge Safety Razor

This article chronicles my experience learning to use a double edge safety razor. My job (military) made me shave my face. Most of my career, I had been using multi-bladed cartridge razors. Small nicks were common, but I had just ignored it and continued shaving, not knowing that there were better options. Some days I ended up with quite a bit of cuts, but not knowing any better, I had continued to soldier on.
I started using a double edge safety razor (DESR) because several websites such as WebMD recommended it for men who have sensitive skin. This came partially as a desire to improve the look of my face, not to be vain, but because I was changing careers, becoming a therapist. The prospects of saving money and being more environmentally friendly also appealed to me.

Initial Purchase
I started of with a Van Der Hagen handle and blades. I watched several YouTube episodes about how to properly shave with a DESR. (Too bad I didn't notice this video at the beginning.) At the beginning, I was using shave gel, no brush, and no shave oil. I didn't fare well. This resulted in a lot of nicks and cuts. I still used Nivea Men Sensitive Post Shave Balm, a custom that I didn't change.
I then purchased Van Der Hagen shave oil and shave soap with a brush and started shaving with these. I saw a little bit of improvement, but not enough for me. As well, I was increasingly noticing that maybe my previous problems with shaving were technique. But I still couldn't get as close a shave as I wanted.



Chief Proraso
But then, talking to my Chief Master Sergeant at work, and another friend, I learned that it was my equipment that was causing me problems. So on their advice, I tried Feather Double Edge Blades and Astra Premium Platinum Double Edge Safety Razor Blades, and purchased Proraso Shaving Soap in a Bowl, Sensitive Skin and Proraso Pre-Shave Cream. I had to buy them online, which is sad because even in a large city, you can't find this stuff in stores. Walmart, CVS, and the local mall didn't really have anything respectable. CVS carries its own generic brand of blades and cremes, and they also carry all the Van Der Hagen equipment. But as many people, including me, discovered, Van Der Hagen blades are not good.
I had to order it through Walmart: the shave soap was delivered to the store, while the pre-shave came in by mail. While I loved Feather blades, their blades were more expensive than Astra. While Feather blades were 10% sharper and slicker than Astra, they were also twice as expensive. One of the few reasons blade cost matters is because WebMD and many other websites recommend frequent blade changes. So I bought 100 Astra blades after reading many reviews that seemed to have either Feather or Astra competing for the #1 recommendation (see below for links).

Technique is the area in which I had the most to learn. I came to realize very quickly that my usual cartridge razor shaving technique was probably the majority of the reason why I struggled to not cut myself in the morning shaving. I wasn't paying attention: my mind was mostly elsewhere, sort of like when your brain learns to tie your shoes. I was also going against the grain a lot. One of the other recommendations given by sensitive skin shaving articles included not going against the grain. I struggled with that, as I prefer to have a baby-smooth face. This almost OCD tendency led me to end up with nicks, cartridge or not. So I first had to let go of the desire to have a perfectly baby-smooth face in all directions. I was causing my own irritation.
After reading many articles on how to shave with a DESR, as well as asking my wife to map my face out on paper (which didn't work because she accidentally wrote it down backwards due to the mirror effect of perspective), I realized that only with time and experience would I learn. So I began.
Slowly over time, I learned to hold the DESR properly. I learned to not push, and let the weight of the razor do the work. This was one tendency that tied in to my babyface OCD. I had to trust that it was working rather than push to "make" it work.
Then I also had to learn what angle to hold the DESR at. Websites say between 30 and 45 degrees to your face. I can't argue with that because I'm new at this. A newbie would probably think the lower the angle, the better, because the danger of nicking or cutting one's self is lower. However, I found 45 degrees to work better for me, assuming that I'm not pushing. The Van Der Hagen handle I am using works great if I have a light touch and stick to roughly 45 degrees.
Finally, I had to learn over time, through experimentation, what parts of my face will let me eventually go against the grain or not. Not all parts of my face are irregular, and not all of them are sensitive. The two factors I think that influenced what parts of my face will tolerate against the grain are shape and location. Some areas seem to only handle with the grain. Some parts will let me shave perpendicular to the grain. Some will not even let me go perpendicular, so the best I can do is 45 degrees to the grain. It just depends on the part of my face. My neck has always been a problem area even before switching to a DESR, so I guessed that this would be the most difficult.
I noticed that even if I was able to shave some areas against the grain without cuts or nicks, that this still made that area likely to break out in a rash or acne. So even if against my will, I had to learn to be gentle with myself, which isn't always easy for a guy.

What Works For Me
So because I have acne-prone sensitive skin but very coarse and dense facial hair, I had to experiment. Here's the routine that works for me. I almost always shower in the morning, so I stick my face under the shower head and get the water as hot as I can stand for the final 30 seconds in the shower. (If I didn't shower that morning, I would use the hot towel technique.) Then I apply Proraso pre-shave.
First, I had to (military) make an acronym out of this. SLOW: stretch the skin, light touch, only one pass, with the grain. So my first pass is always SLOW. This is my mental reminder in the morning. With my first pass, my entire face is lathered up, so I can't always stretch the skin, but I try to at least contort my face to make it work. I take only one pass, resisting the urge to be a perfectionist, instead focusing on perfect one-time passes over my face. Then I rinse with warm water.
The second pass requires me to focus on each section of my face at a time, so I apply lather only to the section I'm dealing with, one at a time. This helps me get traction with my off hand, which is busy stretching the skin.
First, I shave the upper half of my cheeks against the grain. This area is the least sensitive skin for me, and the only section I don't have to "sneak up" on 45 degree increments away from the grain line. (Note that I usually have to progressively shave at 45 degree increments going from with the grain to perpendicular from it if I want to not cause my skin to break out.) I then rinse this off because the rest of my frontal face technique grabs this area of skin to stretch the rest of my face. Then I shave the lower half of my cheeks down to the jaw line 45 degrees away from the grain (which is vertical). My chin area is problematic, so since the first pass was with the grain (which is not vertical here), my second pass is vertical (which is 45 degrees away from the grain). I stretch and contort my face a lot in this area. I usually get maybe one very minor weeper that goes away the moment I apply aftershave.
Then I shave right under my chin area vertically, which is 45 degrees away from grain. The hair on my face changes direction half way from the point of the chin to the point of the lower jaw line at the side of my face, so technically the half on each side after the chin point is being shaved perpendicular to the grain.
My Adam's apple has four different grain patterns and is pointy. So each of these I shave again, with the grain, stretching my face to get the sections.
Then I must carefully shave the rest of my neck. Both sides of my neck have a different grain pattern (not to mention the four other grain patterns where they meet the Adam's apple). So I have figured out how to carefully shave this area 45 degrees away from the grain. This is normally all that my neck area can handle: anything perpendicular to the grain or more extreme results in nicks and rash. However, there are two sections that, due to their location and angle, require a bit of focus. I couldn't find the proper name of this area, but basically it's above the beginning of the Adam's apple, maybe half an inch from the center line of my neck, under my chin, and it's on both sides. This specific area has a dense growth of hair and is also sensitive. I've learned that I can, if I am very careful, shave this area 45 degrees from the first pass, then very carefully shave it perpendicular. But I must be careful because this problem area will gladly erupt into a rash if I make even one mistake.
The area right under my chin, where a goatee would grow, is also very dense. I have to be very careful here. Some mornings I don't even bother risking it, and just shave it with the grain. If I am very careful, and work slowly and patiently, it will let me shave it perpendicular to the grain, but I must be very careful.
In terms of all these passes, I had to also learn that I should never shave an area without it having shave soap applied. At the beginning, I would be stuck in perfectionism trying to do the 45 degree and then perpendicular passes back to back without reapplying shave soap. I had some pretty spectacular nicks and cuts as a result. So I learned the hard way.
When I am done, I always rinse the razor handle and blade off with hot water, then towel both parts dry. This is to try to eliminate bacteria build-up on the blade or razor handle.
I also started washing my face before bed if it felt oily to the touch, to cut down on acne. And then I also started using a non-comedogenic (doesn't clog pores or cause acne) lotion on my face once a week. CVS brand lotion, by the way, claims to be non-comedogenic, as well as the AAFES generic brand, which works great. I only shave six days a week, skipping Saturday to give my face a rest. So Sunday, the first day back to shaving, I lotion my face.



This is a picture of the first time I was able to shave my entire face without nicking or cutting myself. Most mornings, I have maybe one or two small weepers, and in the same area, and maybe one is taken care of by the aftershave balm while the other requires a quick touch from the styptic pencil. In terms of styptic pencil technique, I learned to blot the area of the weeper first, then touch it with the pencil, and wait. If it keeps weeping, I again blot and then touch the pencil. I learned not to glide the pencil over the skin because then I was drying out a larger area of my skin, which only irritated the parts that were not bleeding. In fact, it's as if those areas were saying "what the heck, man?!"
My wife said she noticed a big difference in the complexion of my skin. She said it was a lot less "angry" or "upset." I noticed that shaving took twice as long in the morning, but my face felt much better. The front side of my face and chin are way smoother than before, but (again) I have to be careful not to get too OCD with pursuing a smooth face because it results in razor burn, at least for me.
I have included a link to Albatross Designs, a place you can send in your used safety razors to have them recycled. Basically, they take them and recycle them. You just mail them in.
As for saving money, by my calculations I am saving $37 per year. Saving money really depends on where you were originally buying your cartridge razors.

3 February 2019
Another thing I learned about my shaving habits is that I have ingrown hairs. It had been my habit to skip shaving on Saturday to "give my face a break." When using a four or five bladed cartridge razor, sure, that seemed to make sense. But in the end, I was giving my face a day to develop ingrown hairs. Thus, Sunday would result in my face basically "erupting" with razor burn.
I decided to try shaving only "with the grain" this Saturday morning. Today I shaved and my face didn't erupt in irritation and nicks. So I have learned that if I keep my facial hair shaved, even if only a single with-the-grain pass on Saturday, the results are much better.
Welcome radelahunt,

Glad to have a soldier here with this motley crew.

You'll likely find more than a few military guys here and I applaud how you have taken the right steps to getting the proper shaves.

When I was a young service man a cheap plastic disposable razor but I was lucky as I found my dad's old razor and that memory has never left me.

Welcome onboard soldier!

Great, thorough write up! Hard lessons learned about pressure and stroke direction, but the end results are worth it.

I hope you are now able to look at shaving as something to look forward to as opposed to a chore.
I recommend you use alum block after every shave religiously. It will help with skin healing after a rough shave and it gets rid of acne. Great stuff for a beginner DE shaver.

Welcome to the club. Glad to have you aboard. Be sure to check out the Foxhole Shavers club in the Clubs and Brotherhoods forum.
LOL at military and acronyms!!! I've been out since 1985 and I still do it. Drives my wife nuts (which is another reason to do it) but it's part of my nature now. 25 years from now you'll still be doing it. I still know all the cadence from basic.

Welcome to the forum.
Welcome and thanks for a great write up.
If you're not already using them, Witch Hazel and Alum blocks help a lot to keep your face clean and free of some of those nasties that cause acne and other problems.
Glad you've found us and Thank You for Your Service both military and as a therapist.
Top Bottom