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What is Wet Shaving? A Helpful Guide

Updated On:

By: Adam Williams

Wet shaving can have a lot of different meanings for men. Some may interpret it as a traditional old-school barbershop shave. In contrast, others may interpret it as simply using a modern electric shaver with shaving cream – truth be told, both of these interpretations are technically correct.

Below, you will learn what wet shaving is and is not. Additionally, you will also have a better understanding of the nuances of this definition.

Let’s review the following:

What is Wet Shaving?

wet shave flow chart

Wet shaving is defined as when water is added to the shaving routine, specifically with shaving cream. Conversely, dry shaving is defined as a shave, typically with an electric shaver, where no water or additional lubrication properties are present.

Now, this may seem like a straightforward concept to understand – and it is. However, many different sub-categories, techniques, and tools can be used in a wet shave. This is where things can become confusing for some men.

Related: What is a Safety Razor

Tools for Wet Shaving

Here is a list of shaving tools that are used for wet shaving:

Straight Razors & Shavettes

looking at a shavette 1

Also known as the cutthroat razor, the straight razor is a single blade that has been around for over a century. This razor is often used with shave soaps that have an exceedingly slick texture. This razor should only be used in a wet shaving environment. When using a straight razor, the blade must be honed and stropped on a regular basis to ensure optimal performance.

The shavette, a straight razor with an injectable blade, is often used in barbershops for edging and making precise lines. Many times, barbers may use this in a dry shave – especially for detailed work. The reason that barbershops use these rather than a cartridge razors is that they can swap out the blade with each client to ensure sanitation and avoid cross-contamination.

  • Learning Curve: Straight razors take a long time to master. Not only do you need to know how to hone and strop the blade, but you also need to have excellent hand-eye coordination to avoid cutting yourself.
  • Cost: The initial investment for a quality straight razor and strop costs upwards of $200. However, given that the straight razor features a fixed blade, you will not have ongoing blade replacement costs.
  • Longevity: If properly cared for, a straight razor can last a lifetime.
  • Popular Brands: Feather, Boker, Dovo

Related: Best Straight Razors

Double Edge Safety Razors

safety razor top down

First introduced in the early 1900s, double edge safety razors (commonly known simply 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 lower long-term cost has made them go through a renaissance period when compared to other market alternatives. This razor should only be used in a wet shaving environment.

There are several types of double edge safety razors that can provide different shaving experiences. For example, the head can include a closed comb, open comb, slant bar, or adjustable settings. Additionally, the handle of the razor can include different materials and shapes. As such, safety razors can be personally customized to the individual users’ shaving needs.

  • Learning Curve: Safety razors are a great option for men who want to wet shave but don’t feel comfortable using a straight razor. With that said, they still require a bit of time to master and avoid accidental nicks. Typically it will take about a week or two for a man to get comfortable with this razor.
  • Cost: While DE razors can vary in price depending on the model, they are often the most economical wet shave solution. Expect to pay around $30 to $40 for a quality razor. Additionally, blades can be purchased for as low as $0.10 each ($10 for 100) and will generally last around 5 to 7 shaves.
  • Environmentally Friendly: Unlike cartridge or disposable razors, safety razors don’t contain plastic, lessening your impact on the environment.
  • Universal Blade Fit: All double edge razor blades will fit into any DE razor. As such, you are not beholden to a specific brand’s blade.
  • Longevity: Depending on the composition of the razor and how it is used/maintained, a DE razor can last several years to a lifetime.
  • Popular Brands: Merkur, Edwin Jagger, Muhle, Gillette, and Rockwell

Cartridge Razors

mach3 with cartridges

These are the types of razors that most people are familiar with. Cartridge razors feature anywhere between two and seven blades. They lift and cut (hysteresis) the hair with each pass. While providing a close shave, skin irritation may be pronounced for some men that use this razor. This razor should only be used in a wet shaving environment.

  • Learning Curve: Due to their focus on safety, cartridge razors are one of the easiest razors to learn how to use. The chance of cutting yourself is slim to none.
  • Cost: The initial investment for a cartridge razor can range from $10 to $30 depending on the brand. However, depending on the brand that you choose, the replacement blade costs can quickly add up making this one of the most expensive options over time.
  • Longevity: The handle of the razor is often made of plastic, rubber, or metal. As such, they are not built to last and will need to be replaced periodically.
  • Popular Brands: Gillette, Schick, Harry’s

Related: Safety Razor vs. Cartridge Razor

Disposable Razors

several disposable razors

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. This razor should only be used in a wet shaving environment.

  • Learning Curve: Similar in design to the cartridge razor, the disposable razor is easy to use and will not result in accidental nicks.
  • Cost: The initial investment for a pack of disposable razors can vary from $5 to $10 depending on the brand.
  • Environmental Impact: One of the main downsides to disposable razors is that they are not eco-friendly. Once they have reached the end of their life, they are thrown away and add unnecessary plastic to our landfills.
  • Longevity: Disposable razors are not intended for long-term use and will need to be replaced after only a few shaves.
  • Popular Brands: BIC, Schick

Select Electric Shavers

a man using an electric shaver

Coming in either rotary or foil heads, electric shavers are built for speed and convenience. While not able to provide nearly as close of a shave as any of the above methods, electric shavers will undoubtedly do an effective job of removing facial hair. 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.

  • Learning Curve: Electric shavers are very easy to use and require no additional lubrication.
  • Cost: The initial investment for an electric razor can vary from $30 to $200, depending on the brand. Additionally, replacement heads and blades can be expensive and may need to be replaced every year or two.
  • Longevity: Similar in design to cartridge razors, the electric razor is not built to last and will need to be replaced periodically.
  • Popular Brands: Braun, Philips Norelco, Wahl

Related: The Different Types of Razors

The Necessary Accessories

When using any of the shaving tools covered above, you’ll need to have a few key accessories on hand to make the experience as seamless as possible. Here are a few of those essentials:

Shaving Cream or Shaving Soap

shaving brush in a scuttle

While sure, a canned foam or gel can work in a pinch; they are no substitute for a quality shaving cream. Some of the best shaving creams will provide a slick barrier between your skin and the razor blade. This barrier prevents nicks and cuts while also providing a smooth glide for the razor.

With that said, there are two types of shaving creams that you’ll see on the market:

  • Traditional Shaving Cream: This type of shaving cream is often sold in a tube and can be applied with your fingers or with a shaving brush. Traditional shaving creams often have a higher concentration of lubricating oils and glycerin for a super slick shave. However, with that comes the trade-off of often being more difficult to rinse off completely after the shave.
  • Shaving Soap: Shaving soaps are similar to traditional shaving creams but are often sold in a puck form. They must be used with a shaving brush to create a lather before application. Typically, those who use shaving soaps claim that they provide an even better shave than traditional shaving creams. However, the main downside is that they often require additional time and effort to create the perfect lather. We outline all the steps to take here.

Consider using a scuttle or shaving mug to help generate the lather.

Related: **The Different Shaving Creams **

Shaving Brush

shaving brush on a counter

Shaving brushes may appear like an unnecessary tool for your shaving routine. However, men who use a shaving brush enjoy some unique advantages. Most notably, shave brushes provide a gentle exfoliation to the skin that can remove dead skin cells and other pollutants. When using a shaving brush in tandem with shaving soap, the lather will be much thicker (close to a yogurt consistency) than if you used your fingers. This thicker lather provides better cushioning and lubrication for your razor. However, it’s important to know that many different types of shaving brushes are available on the market. Which include the following:

  • Badger Hair: Badger hair is the gold standard when it comes to shaving brushes – especially for those with sensitive skin. Badger hair has superior absorbent properties than other natural fibers like horsehair. This means that it will retain more water and produce a richer lather. Badger hair is often classified by the quality of the hair. The most common grades include: pure, best, and silvertip badger.
  • Boar Bristle: Boar bristle shaving brushes are the most budget-friendly option on this list. They may lack some of the softness that badger hair offers, but they certainly get the job done. Boar hair bristles have a stiff backbone that requires a little more pressure when applying the bristles to your face.
  • Horsehair: Horsehair is the happy medium between badger and boar hair. Like boar hair, horsehair has a stiff backbone that offers some exfoliation benefits. However, unlike boar hair, horsehair is much softer on the skin. Horsehair is also more absorbent than boar hair, but not as much as badger hair.
  • Synthetic: Synthetic shaving brushes feature man-made fibers designed to mimic badger hair’s properties. While they may not provide the same luxurious experience as badger hair, they are a fraction of the cost. Synthetic shaving brushes are often vegan-friendly and don’t require animal products to be used in manufacturing.

If you’re unsure what kind of shaving brush is best for your needs, check out our in-depth guide to the best shaving brushes for men.

Pre-shave Oil (Optional, But Helpful)

oil and dropper

A pre-shave treatment can help prepare both the skin and the facial hair before shaving. Whether applied as an oil or a cream, a pre-shave treatment provides additional lubrication to your skin and hair to decrease irritation. You can learn more about pre-shave oil in our comprehensive guide we recently published.

Some men find pre-shave oils helpful, while others find that using traditional shaving cream or soap is enough lubrication for their skin. We’d recommend a pre-shave oil for those who often experience skin irritation or dryness when shaving.

Aftershave (Optional, But Helpful)

man putting aftershave balm in hand

As we recently discussed, aftershave comes in many different forms, including splashes, lotions, and balms. Some may sting (contains alcohol), and some may not. Aftershave helps reduce burning, tightness, and general post-shave irritation. Additionally, some may be scented, which provides a nice aroma. For men with sensitive skin, unscented aftershave balms are often the best option.

Facial Hair Grain

shaving against the grain

As you learn about wet shaving, you’ll often find many references to the “grain” of your facial hair. The grain is the direction in which your facial hair grows. When wet shaving, it is important that you know which direction your facial hair grows in order to avoid nicks, cuts, and razor burns.

There are three different directions that facial hair can grow:

  • With the grain (WTG)
  • Against the grain (ATG)
  • Across the grain (XTG)

As a general rule of thumb, you should always shave with the grain (WTG) first. This will help to avoid any nicks, cuts, or razor burns. Once you have shaved with the grain, you can then go across the grain (XTG) and then against the grain (ATG) for a closer shave. However, it is important to note that shaving against the grain (ATG) can often lead to irritation or razor burn. Therefore, it is important to really have a handle on your technique before attempting to shave ATG.

We put together a guide on mapping the grain of your facial hair that you can check out here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need to prepare your skin and facial hair prior to wet shaving?

In short, yes. One of the unique things about wet shaving is the prep, as it can be done in a few different ways. This can include taking a warm shower, applying a damp hot towel, or simply splashing a liberal amount of warm water on your face. Not only are these key steps in preventing razor burn as we covered previously, but it helps to provide a more comfortable shave.

Is wet or dry shaving better?

To determine if wet or dry shaving is better is highly dependent on a variety of factors. This includes the sharpness of the razor blade, shave cream, technique, and skin sensitivity. Generally, a wet shave can lead to closer or smoother results. Dry shaving with an electric shaver will not cut the hair nearly as low – which may help to reduce irritation for some men.

Ultimately, you should experiment to determine which provides the results you are most satisfied with.

Do safety razors cause razor bumps or ingrown hairs?

Safety razors on their own do not cause razor bumps or ingrown hairs. The reason why is that they never cut the hair follicle below the skin’s surface.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more.

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