Aftershave is a topical solution that is primarily used to prevent infection of small nicks and cuts and is applied once you are finished shaving. Additionally, some aftershaves may contain nourishing agents that will help to restore the skin’s natural moisture barrier.
In this guide, we will provide you with an overview of the three main types of aftershaves, common ingredients found within, and touch on a few main questions about this grooming product.
Types of Aftershave
When researching aftershaves, you will find that they are available in three primary forms: splashes, lotions, and balms. Here’s how each of them differs from one another:
The most traditional of the three, aftershave splash typically contains alcohol (more on this in a minute) and is used as a disinfectant and astringent. Due to the inclusion of alcohol, aftershave splashes may sting for a few seconds to a minute after application depending on the severity of the cut.
Aftershave splashes are widely available and can be purchased online and locally at most drugstores.
Lastly, splashes often contain a strong scent that is intended to be applied in lieu of a cologne.
Aftershave lotions may or may not contain astringent properties which makes it difficult to classify this product into a single category.
This aftershave product has a thicker consistency which makes application easier.
Unlike aftershave splashes, lotions will usually have a milder scent – which makes it easier to pair with your favorite cologne or body spray.
An aftershave balm differs significantly from most aftershave splashes and lotions. Balms contain nourishing and moisturizing properties that focus on repairing your skin once you have finished shaving. Balms can help to reduce mild irritation, dryness, and tightness.
Typically containing a very mild or unscented fragrance, aftershave balms work well for men with sensitive skin. Given the lighter scent profile, an aftershave balm can be easily paired well with cologne, if necessary.
Aftershave balms vary in consistency from being lotion-like to a thick-bodied cream.
Common Aftershave Ingredients
As alluded to previously, aftershave may contain a variety of ingredients in order to achieve desired results. Here are a few of the more common ones that are responsible for the key properties in most aftershaves:
Alcohol-based aftershave will often rely on specially denatured (SD) Alcohol 40 or simply denatured alcohol. These alcohols work as an astringent and antimicrobial agent (source). This ingredient can help to stop bleeding and clean wounds in order to prevent infection. When applied, this ingredient will cause a stinging sensation for an extended period.
Derived from a flowering plant, witch hazel is a natural ingredient that has astringent and anti-inflammatory properties (source). Witch hazel is often paired with other ingredients including aloe vera and glycerin to prevent your skin from drying out.
Additionally, a witch hazel derived aftershave doesn’t sting on contact when applied to surface cuts or wounds.
Many aftershaves may contain a variety of natural oils including both carrier and essential oils. Here are some important things you should know:
- Carrier Oils: Derived primarily from seeds or nuts, carrier oils are found in a variety of men’s grooming products. Carrier oils emit a very mild scent. The most notable reason for inclusion is because of their moisturizing properties.*
- Essential Oils: Primarily added to aftershave for fragrance. Many companies may make bold claims of their effectiveness for treating other ailments such as acne, dark spots, dry skin, etc. These claims should be given very little weight.*
- Vitamin E Oil: Is often claimed by companies to fight the signs of aging and to fortify the skin due to its antioxidant properties. The inclusion of Vitamin E oil may give the appearance that this product is a premium/luxury offering and carry an increased price tag.*
* Many natural ingredients such as carrier oils, essential oils, and vitamin oils have not been scientifically proven to be effective (source, source). Furthermore, common oils such as tea tree oil may in fact cause irritation when applied to the skin (source). Therefore, it’s recommended that you put very little weight on company claims regarding their effectiveness.
Other Common Ingredients
Beyond the popular ingredients listed above, here are a few additional components that are often associated with aftershave:
- Aloe Vera: One of the few natural ingredients that have been scientifically proven to be effective at treating burns, acne, and dry skin (source).
- Glycerin: Like aloe vera, glycerin has been proven to be an effective humectant (source). Glycerin is also added to make the aftershave feel slick.
- Bay Rum: Originally made from rum and bay oil (derived from bay leaves) in the late 19th century (image – original source), bay rum is no longer actively made as an aftershave in its pure form due to tax and legal reasons (i.e. would need to be sold at liquor stores). Companies that presently make bay rum aftershave rely on denatured alcohol and bay leaves to create a similar experience.
Can You Make Aftershave at Home?
Should you be a tinkerer or one that likes to craft your own goods, then you will be happy to know that it is possible to make your own aftershave at home. As noted in previous sections, aftershave will typically rely on only a select number of ingredients.
While we haven’t tried this ourselves, there are countless videos and articles available online that should provide guidance.
Which Aftershave Works for Your Skin Type?
If you are considering using aftershave, then you may want to consider your skin type prior to purchasing. Here are the suitable skin types for each aftershave type:
- Aftershave splash (alcohol/witch hazel based): Suitable for normal to oily skin types.
- Aftershave lotion (non-alcohol based): Suitable for normal, dry, and combination skin types.
- Aftershave balm: Suitable for all skin types including sensitive skin.
Is Aftershave Necessary?
Whether or not aftershave is necessary depends on your habits and skin type. If you shave daily, then aftershave balm should be strongly considered as it will help your skin retain its moisture. Should you have dry or sensitive skin, a moisturizer-focused aftershave can be helpful in providing post-shave relief such as razor burn.
Related: How to Prevent Razor Burn
In lieu of aftershave, a quality face moisturizer can deliver many of the same nourishing properties as an aftershave balm. However, any astringent, anti-inflammatory, or antimicrobial properties will be absent.
Should you shave infrequently, then an aftershave may not be necessary – use a light face moisturizer if possible instead.
If you are thinking about working an aftershave into your grooming routine, then we invite you to read some of our detailed reviews of the best aftershave brands currently available. There we provide you with a detailed, no-nonsense overview of select aftershave splashes, lotions, and balms.
Can You Use Aftershave Elsewhere?
While aftershave is normally associated with face use, there is no reason it can’t be used elsewhere on your body. Prior to application, it is important to do a patch test to ensure that no irritation occurs.
Furthermore, if you do plan on using an aftershave on your body, consider only using an unscented aftershave balm rather than a strongly-scented aftershave splash.
We hope that this overview of aftershave was helpful in your research and understanding the subtle differences between all the varieties available.
While you are here, be sure to check out some of the other great shaving guides we put together for you.
Shawn Burns is the founder and senior editor of Tools of Men. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. Shawn’s expertise includes in-depth product reviews and how-to articles. Shawn was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise.