What Is Wet Shaving? And How It Subtly Differs From Traditional Shaving

what is wet shaving Last Updated: March 6, 2017

I think you will agree – wet shaving is growing immensely in popularity for men of all ages.

From trending subreddits like /r/wicked_edge to vibrant communities like Badger & Blade, wet shaving is going through a renaissance of sorts.

But here’s the deal:

Newcomers are having a hard time understanding what exactly is wet shaving.

Well, by the end of this article you will learn not only what is and isn’t wet shaving, but also all the glorious details about this age old grooming ritual that men are rediscovering.

So if you get tripped up by terms like blade exposure, cushion, open and closed comb, don’t worry – we got you covered.

We promise that by the end of this article, you will know exactly what wet shaving is all about and the proper tools to get you started on the right path to a better shave.

So, without further ado, here’s a few basics on wet shaving:

safety razor comparison

What Is (and isn’t) Wet Shaving and Traditional Shaving?

Wet shaving by very definition is when a you use a razor to completely remove the hair from your face while using water.

Of course using just a razor blade and water on your face won’t be too comfortable – therefore, men will incorporate shaving cream (and a slew of other products) for a much more satisfactory shaving experience.

More on this in a minute…

Wet shaving can be conducted by a variety of tools including electric, cartridge, disposable, straight, and double edge safety razors – as we talk about in great detail further below.

Beyond wet shaving, you will also see the term traditional shaving used almost interchangeably.

However, there is a subtle difference between the two:

Traditional Shaving

While there is no formal definition that we could find that classifies traditional shaving, most wet shaving enthusiasts would agree that traditional shaving as the reliance on age old products that were used by men in the 1950s and earlier.

This means a reliance on a straight or double edge safety razor, traditional shaving cream, shave brush, and aftershave.

Therefore, you won’t often see electric, cartridge, or disposable razors mentioned in tandem with traditional shaving.

All Of The Razors That Can Be Used In a Wet Shave

While we talk about all the different types of razors in a man’s arsenal – here are the footnotes.

When it comes to deciding on tool to remove your whiskers via a wet shave, you have the 5 options:

  • Straight Razor
  • Double Edge Safety Razor
  • Disposable Razor
  • Cartridge Razor
  • Electric Shaver

Super brief primer on each of the 5 razors above:

Straight Razors: by and far the oldest, these razors require both an incredible amount of time and care in order to achieve a close shave.  There are two types of straight razors, the traditional ones crafted from a single piece of metal, and those that are shavettes that feature an ejectable blade.  A traditional straight razor can last you a lifetime assuming you properly hone it and strop it on a regular basis.  This type of razor is reserved for the shaving aficionados that really love to shave and have time in their schedule to dedicate to the craft.  This razor is always used in a wet shaving environment.

double edge safety razor

Double Edge Safety Razors: First introduced in the early 1900s, Double Edge Safety Razors (commonly known as DE Razors or Safety Razors) feature a single razor blade that is available for cutting on either side of the head of the razor.  With their universal blade fitting, men can easily swap between razor blades and aren’t stuck to a proprietary fitting.  Their incredible low long-term cost has made them go through a renaissance period when compared to other market alternatives.  This razor is always used in a wet shaving environment.

Disposable Razor: Disposable razors are the razors that you see at the grocery store check-out that come in packs of 10 and usually have a relatively affordable price tag.  Their disposable nature makes them great for travel purposes or when you need to shave in a pinch.  For daily shaving, they will only last a few shaves before they must be replaced.  Disposables can be costly over the long term compared to other options on the market. This razor is always used in a wet shaving environment.

Cartridge Razors: These are the types of razors that most people are familiar with.  Coming at a much higher long-term cost – these razors usually feature 5 or 6 blades that will offer a close shave through their ‘lift-and-cut’ technology.  While providing a close shave, skin irritation may be pronounced for some men that use this razor.  This razor is always used in a wet shaving environment.

electric shaver

Electric Shavers: Coming in either rotary or foil heads, electric shavers are built for speed and convenience.  While usually not providing nearly as close as a shave as any of the above methods, electric shavers will undoubtedly do an effective job at plowing through whiskers. Many men are often surprised to learn that newer electric shavers are capable of being used in a wet environment – hence their inclusion in this list.

Now that we covered all the different razors above, as stated in the descriptions, each one can be used in a wet environment – yes even most electric shavers (assuming it’s capable – check mfg. for more information).

Now electric shavers that are not used in a wet environment – then this is just simply called dry shaving.

shaving cream for a better closer shave

Shaving Cream Is The Cornerstone Of Wet Shaving

Shaving cream can come in all different shapes and sizes – from tubes to tubs a quality shaving cream makes a world of difference in a wet shave.

Here’s the deal though:

99% of men reading this are likely relying on an aerosol can for their go to shaving cream.

While cans can be incredibly cheap and convenient, chances are, they aren’t doing justice to your shave – even if you are using a cartridge or disposable razor.

Why’s this?

The biggest problem with aerosol cans it that they often come packed with cheap ingredients and colorants that wreak havoc on your skin.

These inferior ingredients, when compared to those in top-notch shaving creams, will usually dry out your skin and leave you with ashy cheeks long after you shave.

Contrary to aerosols, a rich shaving cream that comes in a tube or tub will usually rely on ingredients (in most case natural) that will be effective emollients to retain the moisture of your skin.  This ensures that your pores remain wide open while you shave and the hair follicle to swell – ultimately making for a smoother and closer shave sans the dryness post-shave.

While all aerosols can be applied with your hands, nearly all quality shaving creams will require a shave brush for application (covered below).

If it’s your first time looking to explore a higher end shaving cream, be sure to check out our detailed guide on the best shaving creams on the market.

In that guide we put the top brands head-to-head.  For just a bit more in price, a top-notch shaving cream is well worth the investment and can really ‘move the needle’ so to speak when it comes to increase shave comfort.

Sale
The Art of Shaving Shaving Cream, Sandalwood, 5 fl. oz.
  • The Art of Shaving Shaving Cream softens and lifts the beard for a close and comfortable shave, and protects the skin from irritation and razor burn.
  • Rich with glycerin, coconut oil and essential oils, the shaving cream leaves your skin smooth and moisturized.
  • It can be lathered up with a shaving brush or with fingers.
  • Sandalwood essential oil - Normal to dry skin
  • Softens and lifts the beard for a close and comfortable shave
proraso shaving soap

Shaving Soaps?  Aren’t They Just Shaving Creams?

Very, very, similar.

Shaving soaps come in a solid form, just like a traditional bar of soap, and will do a terrific job at whipping up a rich lather.

Shaving soaps do require a shave brush to use properly.

Shave soaps are favored by men for two reasons: cost and lubrication.
While shaving creams are great at providing a lubricating layer, shave soaps are constructed a bit differently and are perfect for men looking to fine tune their shave routine – and in some cases create a more lubricated base.

High end shave soaps are typically formed from a milling process.

These high-end shave soaps will have a uniform mixture of ingredients that will create an excellent lubricating layer that will be free of air pockets for a comfortable shave when whipped properly.

Shave soaps are also favored by those who use a straight razor as they can, in some cases, be more slick – making for a much more comfortable pass of the blade.

When it comes to price points, shave soaps do tend to be a bit cheaper, especially for the entry level options on the market  – however don’t be surprised if you see a triple-milled shave soap commanding a $40 price tag.

If you are a man that is looking to save a few dollars – you can’t beat the affordability of a DE razor and shave soap combo.

If you are thinking about picking up a shave soap – be sure to check out our roundup of the top brands.

Just don’t forget the shaving brush!

Crabtree & Evelyn Shave Soap in a Wooden Bowl, Moroccan Myrrh
  • Conditions and moisturizes skin
  • Cleanses skin
  • Refillable wooden bowl (refillable soap is also available)
  • Fragrance: A distinguished fragrance of myrrh blended with the lively notes of bergamot and cardamom with a warm amber base.
  • This traditional shave soap produces a rich, creamy lather for a close, wet shave.

shaving brush by eshave

Shave Brush Is The Quintessential Product That Defines Proper Wet Shaving

Shave brushes are critical if you plan on ever upgrading your shave cream.

Their uncanny ability to whip a rich lather that will let the razor blade sing is second to none.

But not only do they help generate that rich lather that will bring the most from your razor blade, but they also do a lot of things you may not initially guess.

Shave brushes are effective at providing a gentle pre-exfoliation to your face when applying the shaving cream.
The bristles (usually made from boars hair), will knock loose any dirt or pollutants that have found themselves wedged into the pores of your skin.

Secondly, boar hair brushes will be incredibly effective at having your whiskers stand on end.

When applying shaving cream with your hands, there is virtually no exfoliation process, secondly, your whiskers, especially when long, will lay flat against your skin.  This makes it tougher for the razor to get a clean cut on the shaft.

Pre Shave Oils Is An Effective Primer For Your Whiskers

Before the razor ever touches your skin, but after you are done with a shower, pre-shave oil helps in enhancing the wet shaving process.

A shave oil’s primary purpose is to act as a lubricating layer that will rest between the shaving cream and your skin.

Some men tend to swear by this stuff, while others think it is a bit unnecessary.

Therefore, it’s more of a ‘your mileage may vary’ scenario.

These oils are largely constructed of both carrier and essential oils that are often all natural and compliment the oil you produce on your skin (sebum oil).

Generally speaking, the price point for these oils are pretty low and are definitely worth giving a shot.

Finish Your Shave With An Aftershave

When Googling around, you will find that aftershave comes in many different varieties.

What further adds to the confusion is the composition of the ingredients within each product.

When going to an online retailer or your local drugstore, you will likely find any one of the three varieties of aftershave:

  • Splash
  • Lotion
  • Balm/Serum

In large part, you want to stay away from the splashes and lotions as they often contain alcohol.

While alcohol is a powerful antiseptic, it will dry out your skin which will lead to dryness post-shave.

Also alcohol in splashes and lotions can sting pretty badly if you experienced any nicks or cuts when shaving.

Instead, aftershave balms are chocked full of natural ingredients such as essential oils and witch hazel.

Essential oils such as tea tree oil are natural antiseptics that will help to clean out your pores.  Witch hazel on the other hand will do a terrific job at closing up your pores post-shave to ensure bacteria doesn’t seep in causing unwanted irritation.

Baxter of California After Shave Balm, 4 fl. oz.
  • Post shave moisturizer for men
  • Specially formulated to soothe and protect skin from shaving irritation and razor burn
  • Hydrates and nourishes skin as it combats dryness caused by daily shaving
  • Natural healing ingredients such as tea tree oil and cooling menthol further help to reduce shaving irritation
  • Alcohol Free

Wrapping Up On Wet Shaving

There you have it, the basics of wet shaving and how it subtly differs from traditional shaving.

If you, like most men, are looking for ways to improve your grooming routine, changing up the tools you use in the morning might be a welcomed addition.

Not only will you have a much more comfortable shave, but you will also be putting money back in your wallet with its lower long-term costs.

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