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Shavelation for fragile skin

I've told my story a couple of times here, suffice to say that I have fragile skin and the last year has seen my beard grow coarser and faster, inspiring my membership at B&B. Thanks to the membership here I've managed to settle upon the tools I need to achieve long term comfort in my daily shave. I'll preface the rest of this post with a caveat; if you don't have fragile or otherwise sensitive skin you may not find much of this info useful. Oh, and apologies for the thread title, I was trying to be clever. :)

Here is my current set of tools and routines, after that I'll describe why I came to settle on each.

1) Warm shower for less than four minutes. The very first thing I wash is my face using Radox 'Feel Extreme' Shower Gel. SWMBO like it, I don't really care.
2) Fill a sink with warm water. Fill the shave bowl with hot water and soak the Chubby 1 Super. Wet a face towel in the sink and put it aside for post-shave.
3) Wash my face again at the sink with Mitchell's Wool Fat hand soap bar. For this part I do a little finger scrubbing just to make sure I've broken down the bristles a bit. Takes about two minutes to wash and rinse. Leave the face wet.
4) Prepare lather. Mitchell's Wool Fat Shave Soap is the current favourite, shake water from the Chubby and load from the untouched puck for about 20 seconds, then add water in the shave bowl until the consistency feels right.

5) Once the lather is ready I work it into the beard for about a minute. Finally pasting it around against the grain.
6) Load a Rapira Platinum Lux blade into either the Rockwell 6S plate three/four or the Timeless 0.68 SB. Choice depends on time and purpose.
7) First pass is predominantly with the grain except for the lower neck. This area doesn't really get attacked much with a pure WTG stroke and it just seems to cause more irritation. First pass on the lower neck is across the grain from the collar bone.
8) Second pass is all across the grain. Above the jaw line it's from ear to chin, upper neck is towards the ear, lower neck is towards the point of my shoulder.
9) Third pass against the grain in the conventional way according to my beard map. With a wet hand, buff if required.


10) Using the now cool face towel folded in half, clean off the remaining soap with one side, then gently wipe face down with the clean side.
11) Apply Witch Hazel.
12) Clean up the sink, brush, bowl, razor and towel. Pack everything away and dry my hands. By this time the Witch Hazel has dried on my face.
13) Apply balm level one.
14) Brush my teeth.
15) Apply balm level two.

Now, I appreciate that you're probably wondering why the mysterious post-shave balm levels. All in good time. :)

Why this pre-shave routing?

Not long ago I realised that long hot showers had become the source of the first layer of irritation to my face. I'm of a mind that this is due to over hydration, but it's possible there's another cause and may simply be a water temperature thing. Not sure. Suffice to say the only part of the shower routine that's changed is the temperature and duration. Long hot showers were setting the scene for a disastrous shave regardless of what happened next.

The face wash step is harder to quantify. Early on I remember reading that this was essential so it stayed in the routine. Initially I used what ever soft wash was at the sink, but after discovering Mitchell's Wool Fat I decided to give their hand soap bar a shot and found it to be both simple and pleasant to use. Because it takes a little rinsing off, this time adds up to roughly the same amount of time I would have spent soaking the beard in the past.

One of the most important ingredients to this routine has been the warm/tepid wash water. Initially I'd use hot water and soak the beard with the towel for a minute or two, which I later discovered - like the hot shower - was causing irritation before I even started. I've also experimented with cold water and while this was also successful I didn't find that it helped any more that warm water. Being winter in the southern hemisphere at the time this was also slightly uncomfortable. No doubt in summer it will become more relevant.

The search for the ultimate shave soap/cream has been short because it looks like I found it early in the search. Of the dozen I've tried Mitchell's Wool Fat has turned out on top for simplicity and aesthetics, and equal first purely on performance. There are a few I still want to try (Haslinger, Sudsy Soapery, Mystic Water, Cold River Soap Works, et al), but I don't really see the need presently.

And the hardware?

Each to their own, of course, but I've found that a system of blade and razor that allows me to do more passes in comfort has been the best formula. Yes, I can shave with a Tech and Feather blade, but with those tools I need to pay extremely careful attention to how many times any given area receives the blade. Using the Timeless or Rockwell and RPL blade I can focus on beard reduction and not worry so much about damaging myself with the blade.

The RPL blades are not ultra-sharp, granted, but this isn't the most important feature of a blade for me. It seems to me that the parameters that really define a blade are sharpness, durability and comfort. Durability I couldn't care less about. When I used cartridges, I'd get three or four shaves before pitching them, so if I have to pitch a DE blade after only one use, I simply don't care. Sharpness for me is a question of how much damage I'm prepared to do, or how careful I'm prepared to be. I have a stash of Feathers, but that don't see much use. Comfort, now this is the big one for me! Can it mow down the whiskers without causing too much damage? Can it achieve the requisite number of passes to remove the whiskers without removing the skin? So far, the quest for the ultimate comfort blade has landed on the Rapira Platinum Lux.

Which razor do I like best? They both work well but each has a different purpose. The Rockwell sees the most use during the week because it's almost care-free and very happy to give me a DFS in a hurry, or BBS if I have the time, it's very benign. The Timeless gets used on the weekends or evenings when I can take my time and really appreciate a closer shave. It's definitely a better razor for me, but like any real sports car, if you're not paying enough attention it can just as easily wreak havoc.

Just how many post-shave balms do you need?

And here's the key ingredient to ensuring any shave is comfortable for the rest of the day: ensure that your skin can heal before the next shave. Working in an professional office setting and having a scruffy/untidy looking beard I really don't have a choice but to shave daily. Ensuring my face can recover before the next shave means I have the room to experiment with hardware and software. Here I'll outline what ingredients I've tested that work for me... and why I include brushing my teeth in the shave routine.

Dickinson Witch Hazel: Until the last few days I used an Alum bar to give me feedback on my shave, but having nailed down most of the routine I no longer feel it necessary. Witch Hazel is fast and an equally effective stringent now that I'm not damaging my face so much. I have some Thayer's to try when this bottle runs out.

Palmers Aloe Vera Formulae: The family has been using this as after sun care for years. It contains propylene glycol and Witch Hazel along with the Aloe Vera and my skin loves it. 'nough said.

QV Skin Lotion: Again, the family has been using this for years to alleviate dry skin. It's one of the few we've found that doesn't set off the contact dermatitis my wife and I suffer from. I think it's a fragrance thing as this has practically none.

Faulding Essentials Lanolin Cream: I could probably find something better, there are a few things in there I don't like such as Bees wax and mineral oil, but so far, I've had no adverse reactions and Lanolin has proved to be invaluable for skin repair.

Proraso White Sensitive Aftershave Balm: Honestly, I'm unsure if this really helps, but it does no harm and I *love* the fragrance.

Post Shave Balm Level 1
After straight Witch Hazel, I need something soothing. I found a recipe which is a basic three-part concoction and this is what I've been using. Equal parts Witch Hazel, Aloe Vera and QV in a 20ml squeeze bottle. A peanut-sized portion spread around the shaved area is quite soothing and leaves almost no residue.

This is when I stop to brush my teeth and let the balm dry. If I don't let it dry the next balm seems to get tacky, but once dry it glides over quite smoothly.

Post Shave Balm Level 2
This one is designed to protect my skin and allow it to heal properly. Having applied a soothing balm my skin already feels like it's ready for the day, but I've found this addition helps it recover more quickly. If you've ever felt that slight tenderness after a few hours which prevents you from touching your face with anything, this balm has completely removed that problem for me. I can comfortably touch myself all I like. ;)

Making it requires ever so slightly more effort in this case. Into a 20ml squeeze bottle I put 2ml of Lanolin cream and 5ml of QV, them place it into a cup of boiling water just deep enough to cover the level of the ingredients. Because the Lanolin cream is quite thick the heat allows it to mix better. Once it's runny I shake the bottle thoroughly for 30 seconds and allow it to cool. Once cool I fill the remaining ~13ml with Proraso White and shake for 30 seconds again. Viola! Proraso White with Lanolin.

That's it, my recipe for a comfortable daily BBS shave for fragile skin. Take from it what you will and add to it if it pleases you. Sorry if this is a bit epic, I've written this for myself as much as anyone else. :)

Some questions: (1)have you ever tried shaving before you shower; and (2) doing a cold or cool water shave?
Very nice write up of your journey. I'm sure it will be very useful to members who have sensitive skin.
Yes and yes, in short. Neither really helps though.
How bout just splashing cold water as after shave on consistent basis...also, just cold shaving once or twice may not be effective, you may need an aclimation adjustment period of few more times
I've done enough experimentation to know that the problem - or at least one of them - was hot water. After lots of trials the conclusion was that warm/tepid or cold water don't have a negative impact, where hot water does. As the shave progresses the sink water gets cooler and ends up slightly cooler that my face and the towel put aside at the start is considerably cooler again, but running a new sink of warm water made no difference either. In short, it wasn't a case of warm water is good and cold might be better, it was simply that hot water was doing damage. Once the hot water problem was removed the actual temperature is no longer relevant.

It's still winterish here and I have no doubt that the cold water shave will become relevant in summer. Right now, however, it's of no benefit and is not comfortable. Think water from the fridge poured down your back uncomfortable.

On another note, for anyone struggling with irritation during and after shaving, try removing all of the scents you can and trialling individual components separately. Aftershaves have always been a disaster for me, but I also managed to isolate two different items used everyday that had scent components which cause a skin reaction when combined with a freshly shaved face; one soap and one post-shave balm. Question everything!
Wow, that's quite the coincidence. I was just reading this recommendation in another thread and decided to give this idea a shot. Well, you can be sure I'll report back on that one.
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