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"I have coarse hair and sensitive skin"

Wet shavers, what's your take on your hair / skin compared to other folks?

  • I think my hair is coarser than average

    Votes: 18 22.8%
  • I think my skin is more sensitive than average

    Votes: 13 16.5%
  • I think my hair / skin is more or less "normal"

    Votes: 37 46.8%
  • I don't really know how I compare to others

    Votes: 15 19.0%
  • Other...

    Votes: 8 10.1%

  • Total voters
    79
Recently, I made the mistake of venturing back on to social media. As a result, my attention was drawn to posts in my feed from wet-shaving groups, and to the fact that almost all the requests for help from newbies (and many of the responses from folks that consider themselves knowledgeable) preface their comments by saying “I have coarse hair and sensitive skin.”

I am sure in some cases it is accurate, but I must admit that whenever I see this my first thought is usually, “You probably have average hair / skin and bad technique.”

Why the cynicism? Well, this view seems to be so ubiquitous that I can't believe it is true for everyone that says it! Instead, I think that a lot of people struggle with typical newbie issues and assume that, because they are having problems, they must be dealing with some unusually difficult whiskers or skin. After all, only half of the guys out there will truly have hair that is coarser than average, or skin that is more sensitive than average.

I am curious to know what veteran wet shavers think about this. Do you think shaving is more difficult for you than for other guys because of the properties of your hair or skin? Is that what drew you to wet shaving?

Putting aside folks with genuine dermatological problems, my position is that if your technique and routine are sufficiently developed “coarse hair and sensitive skin” are not a serious impediment to getting a good shave, or even something that imposes serious restrictions on what gear you can successfully use. In fact, the better your technique gets, the less you tend to believe that your hair / skin are a significant factor in the quality of your shave.

That said, I can't put myself in another man's shoes, so I wonder if other experienced wet shavers share this view, or if this simply reflects my own experience?
 

EclipseRedRing

I smell like a Christmas pudding
Many studies have found that as many as 90% of drivers consider themselves to be of above average driving ability and the same probably applies here. At first glance it sounds absurd but it is important to be clear if the average is the mean average or the median average - I will leave that to the mathematicians. That said I suspect that were they to improve their shaving technique, many with sensitive skin would notice a coincidental improvement in their skin health. Beards are apparently so tough these days that many men require an absurdly aggressive razor; it makes me wonder how the humble tech managed to keep so many millions of men cleanly shaven since the 1930s. I suspect it is a lot of silly macho nonsense 😉🤣
 
Well, hair and skin properties are basically genetically determined and in this we are not all the same. Given that, average is somewhat meaningless.

I think people just become more aware of their particular hair and skin when they start off wet shaving. The "course hair and sensitive skin" thing is a trope. Occasionally, someone will say things like "I have fine, sparse hair" or "I couldn't grow a full beard if I tried."
 

luvmysuper

My elbows leak
Staff member
Many studies have found that as many as 90% of drivers consider themselves to be of above average driving ability and the same probably applies here...
...I suspect it is a lot of silly macho nonsense 😉🤣
This.
So many people say it so frequently that it becomes mathematically impossible to be true.
I voted "Other".
I believe that my hair has become a little coarser over time, not necessarily "tougher", but that's because of aging and the change to gray hair.
My skin has never been sensitive in any way.
 
Many studies have found that as many as 90% of drivers consider themselves to be of above average driving ability and the same probably applies here...I suspect that were they to improve their shaving technique, many with sensitive skin would notice a coincidental improvement in their skin health. Beards are apparently so tough these days that many men require an absurdly aggressive razor; it makes me wonder how the humble tech managed to keep so many millions of men cleanly shaven since the 1930s.

Exactly my thoughts.

For what it's worth, it's taken me most of my adult life to notice that I probably do have genuinely "sensitive" skin (I shall vote accordingly).

Why do I think this? I get strong reactions to many soaps that are wet-shaving staples (Arko, Tabac, Cella) and pretty much anything with a strong fragrance. I am prone to flare-ups of eczema and dermatitis from allergies. In my younger days, I required topical and oral medications to keep it under control, and I still have to resort to them occasionally. I have finally realised that, of course, this isn't typical, so probably my skin is on the sensitive side – a better term might be “reactive”.

However, despite being able to say with some justification that my skin is "sensitive" and therefore avoiding problem products, what causes me actual shaving-related irritation is crap technique!

Occassionally, I have asked others claiming sensitive skin whether they have any of the problems I have, in the hope of being able to offer better advice (which can be summed up as: avoid fragrances and balms). Turns out they don't really have any skin problems or allergies - they just get irritation when they shave. Conclusion: it's technique that is the issue.

Edit: As for coarseness, I really have no idea as I don't go around feeling other guy's beards. I know it's tougher than it used to be, due to getting old and grey, but I suspect it's nothing out of the ordinary and not particularly dense either.
 
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The whiskers near my mouth and just under my jawline are fairly coarse and have gotten moreso as they've changed to gray. Fortunately the density drops off as you move past the goatee area that helps. I would say 2/3rds of my face is "normal" whatever that means.

I used to think I had sensitive skin but it turns out I'm mostly sensitive to lanolin and certain fragrances. If I avoid those I'm good to go.
 
It’s very difficult to know because this can vary a lot from person to person. While there can be a lot of “sensitive” skin that’s just bad technique I can say for sure that there is real sensitive skin out there and it’s definitely not an exaggeration.

Ask a dermatologist and you’ll see. There’s people out there that can’t even wash their face with water without having a reaction. Yes, water. People that can’t tolerate almost any skin products, no matter how mild they are.

Imagine that same person dragging a blade all over the face. How would you explain someone having a reaction to a soap? Or a sunscreen? Yes sometimes it’s pure allergy, but sometimes it‘s just the skin being over reactive, in other words, sensitivity without any further diagnosis.

Both sides are real. And very difficult to judge by an online post.
 
One thing that doesn't get talked about as much is the density of the growth. Within my own family, it varies a lot: dad's is very coarse and dense; my two brothers are not very coarse but the one is fairly dense and the other is not. And my nephew has average coarseness, I would say, but it is *very* dense. As a result his beard is challenging even though the individual whiskers cut just fine.

And no, I don't go around doing ordnance surveys of guys' beards but the discussion came up with my nephew as were talking honing and shaving.
 
I suspect I have easy-to-shave whiskers since I have good luck using a wide variety of blades, razors, soaps, creams, etc and ending up with good results. My troublespots have far more to do with face geometry than my whisker construction.

That said, I find all my shaves go <much> better with proper prep. I once said I could shave with an Uno card if I prepped enough, and I was only mostly kidding.
 
It’s very difficult to know because this can vary a lot from person to person. While there can be a lot of “sensitive” skin that’s just bad technique I can say for sure that there is real sensitive skin out there and it’s definitely not an exaggeration.

Ask a dermatologist and you’ll see. There’s people out there that can’t even wash their face with water without having a reaction. Yes, water. People that can’t tolerate almost any skin products, no matter how mild they are.

Imagine that same person dragging a blade all over the face. How would you explain someone having a reaction to a soap? Or a sunscreen? Yes sometimes it’s pure allergy, but sometimes it‘s just the skin being over reactive, in other words, sensitivity without any further diagnosis.

Both sides are real. And very difficult to judge by an online post.

I absolutely don't dispute that some people have genuine problems ranging from fragrance allergies (see my follow up post - my skin reacts to lots of well-loved soaps that are staples in other people's dens) to serious dermatological issues that require medical support, and which could impact their ability to shave comfortably. However, folks with serious complaints are usually able to go into specifics.

I am talking more about constant stream of folks who say: "I have been wet shaving for three months but I am not happy with [newbie shaving problem]. Please can you recommend me products to solve [newbie shaving problem]. I have a coarse beard and sensitive skin."

My point is that far too many people say this for it to be true of them all, and a lot of what people perceive as problems caused by "a coarse beard and sensitive skin" probably boils down to issues with technique...maybe?
 
I absolutely don't dispute that some people have genuine problems ranging from fragrance allergies (see my follow up post - my skin reacts to lots of well-loved soaps that are staples in other people's dens) to serious dermatological issues that require medical support, and which could impact their ability to shave comfortably. However, folks with serious complaints are usually able to go into specifics.

I am talking more about constant stream of folks who say: "I have been wet shaving for three months but I am not happy with [newbie shaving problem]. Please can you recommend me products to solve [newbie shaving problem]. I have a coarse beard and sensitive skin."

My point is that far too many people say this for it to be true of them all, and a lot of what people perceive as problems caused by "a coarse beard and sensitive skin" probably boils down to issues with technique...maybe?
I've been wet shaving since 2010, and what I think I've found is that as my technique improved my favorite products didn't get any better, but a lot of the products I found not as good slowly got much better to me and approached my top-tier favorites. I also decided that I really didn't have tough whiskers.

I still have a few products I dislike, but my main dislike for them is usually just comfort-related. All of them get rid of whiskers, but the journey to get to that point is the issue :)
 

Phoenixkh

I shaved a fortune
I almost took a photo of myself with 7 days growth this morning and posted the photo on my journal thread as a frame of reference. I can grow a full beard with no missing patches in around 4 weeks, but I don't consider this abnormal.

I will say, like Phil/ @luvmysuper , my whiskers have gotten more coarse as I've aged. I used a Gillette cartridge system (when I didn't have one of my off and on beards) of some sort since 1973 until Feb. of 2022. I started out using what the manufacturer called a "mild but efficient" razor. I posted about it ad nauseum when I first arrived here on March 1st of that year. It took a few weeks to get comfortable using a single edge razor, but that was mainly due to my skin being used to a Covid/retirement beard.

Not long after I started wet shaving, my face did start breaking out in these red bumps that required a trip to my dermatologist. Metro Gel fixed those up immediately. But I did find, my face can't tolerate the ingredients used to add fragrances to soaps, creams or croaps. I did have one burn from a well regarded soap here that lasted almost 3 weeks before it healed completely. The dermatologist was the one who informed me that is what was causing the problem.

Since I know I have those old man whiskers, I do spend a bit of time doing pre-shave prep to soften them. That seems to make a world of difference for me. I use unscented soaps most of the time. I still have one menthol soap left that I love and couldn't part with along with one other that has a very mild scent but doesn't claim to be "unscented". Those two are the Acca Kappa Barbershop and the Baume.be cream. I don't have any reaction from the Baume.be but I can only use my Acca Kappa Barbershop once in a while...never twice in a row.. without a reaction.

Most newbies, my included, have to run the gauntlet when they start out. It's all so new.... everything it new... what razor? what blade? What???? there are over 100 different types of DE blades? How in the world will I find the right soap without spending a fortune? Why can't I get a blood-free shave with this razor everyone else on B&B seem to love?

The shaving masters here tell us newbies: Settle down, Grasshopper.... take it slow. One thing at a time... over and over. Do most newbies listen? I tried... I really did. I managed to stay with just one razor for 5+ months. I didn't do it intentionally, mind you.. it sort of just happened. But I did start a brush buying frenzie... later a razor buying frenzy... Soaps? I didn't buy too many of them, but I did have to give away all my scented soaps that I had carefully selected based on two shave masters here: @Tomo and @APBinNCA . They were lovely soaps but as I mentioned above, my face couldn't tolerate the scent ingredients.

There are some things you just have to experience for yourself... though the whole process can be shortened dramatically if you find a shaving mentor/brother who shares your needs, likes and wants. You make fewer mistakes that way. Still.... as has been noted: I've shaved a fortune. <eg> evil grin :devil:
 
I have coarse hair and what I'd guess is average sensitivity.

If you have doubts about your hair's coarseness, ask barbers when they're done shaving you. I have a tradition where I get barbershop shaves when I'm on vacation. I always ask them to rate my coarseness on a scale of 1 to 10. The lowest I've ever heard was 7. I've heard many 10s. 8s and 9s are common, but I think they might be trying not to hurt my feelings.
 
I absolutely don't dispute that some people have genuine problems ranging from fragrance allergies (see my follow up post - my skin reacts to lots of well-loved soaps that are staples in other people's dens) to serious dermatological issues that require medical support, and which could impact their ability to shave comfortably. However, folks with serious complaints are usually able to go into specifics.

I am talking more about constant stream of folks who say: "I have been wet shaving for three months but I am not happy with [newbie shaving problem]. Please can you recommend me products to solve [newbie shaving problem]. I have a coarse beard and sensitive skin."

My point is that far too many people say this for it to be true of them all, and a lot of what people perceive as problems caused by "a coarse beard and sensitive skin" probably boils down to issues with technique...maybe?
I agree. When I read 3 months, I have a suspicion that is purely technique. Maybe it isn’t, it’s not a mathematical certainty.

But when someone says they’ve been shaving for quite some time, having tried a lot of equipment and they have sensitive skin, I tend to believe.

Of course, it’s not clear as water, but more believable.

Nice thread and discussion by the way. Interesting topic.

Have a great day Sir.
 
I think the oft heard "I have a coarse beard and sensitive skin" from someone new to the art stems from an assumption that by presenting a worst-case scenario they'll get advice that will flatten the learning curve, a curve they are probably not even aware of. I'm not ruling out legitimate allergies/sensitivities, or legitimately coarse beard hair, because obviously those things exist. That being said, I wonder how one knows if one's beard is "coarse"? Coarse compared to whose, or to what? It seems to me that logic dictates the majority of us fall within a range of average in both departments, like it or not. I do believe most issues are far more likely to be related to technique than coarseness of beard or sensitivity of skin. There are exceptions of course, there always are, but someone brand new to wet shaving having issues? Yeah, I'm going to assume it's a technique issue first.
 

Phoenixkh

I shaved a fortune
I think the oft heard "I have a coarse beard and sensitive skin" from someone new to the art stems from an assumption that by presenting a worst-case scenario they'll get advice that will flatten the learning curve, a curve they are probably not even aware of. I'm not ruling out legitimate allergies/sensitivities, or legitimately coarse beard hair, because obviously those things exist. That being said, I wonder how one knows if one's beard is "coarse"? Coarse compared to whose, or to what? It seems to me that logic dictates the majority of us fall within a range of average in both departments, like it or not. I do believe most issues are far more likely to be related to technique than coarseness of beard or sensitivity of skin. There are exceptions of course, there always are, but someone brand new to wet shaving having issues? Yeah, I'm going to assume it's a technique issue first.
I probably have normal old man coarse whiskers. I haven't done any testing. I could go around, asking to feel old men's faces, I suppose.... Somehow, I don't think this would be well received. <eg>
 
I have an incredibly difficult time shaving my chin, as the stubble there is like copper wire. I also have fair skin and freckles, most likely from a combination of my Greek, Italian, German and Irish DNA. This makes shaving somewhat of an Olympic sport for me.

I’ve been focusing and improving my shaving technique for that last 4+ years now. When I can get my chin buttery smooth without any short-term irritation, I take note of the details because it’s not easy, and not all hardware and software will get me there. DE’s in particular have been largely a waste of time along with tallow-forward soaps.

The Gillette Guard and any British cream and badger are the best combination for me, but still not perfect, because my hairs just do not want to be cut down and my skin doesn’t like a blade dragged across it.

You can guess how I voted.
 
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