Tools of Men is reader supported. We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

What is Pre-Shave Oil?

Pre-shave oil is a helpful product for some men, especially those with mildly sensitive skin.  A pre-shave oil may allow you to get a more comfortable shave with your razor while enhancing the shave experience.

The purpose of this article is to help illustrate exactly what pre-shave oil is and is not.  Additionally, you will learn other important nuances to see if it makes sense to add a pre-shave oil to your grooming routine.

Let’s take a look:

What is pre-shave oil?

Pre-shave oil is used to help soften facial hair while also adding lubrication to the surface of your skin with the goal to reduce irritation while shaving. Pre-shave oil is applied underneath the shaving cream.

What is the difference between pre-shave oil, cream, and lotion?

The biggest difference between these pre-shave treatments is the viscosity or thickness of the product itself when you are applying them.  Naturally, pre-shave oil will be the thinnest whereas both creams and lotions will be slightly thicker and may leave a light residue on your face.  Additionally, creams and lotions may clog a multi-blade cartridge or disposable razor if not worked in thoroughly prior to shaving.  Oils, creams, and lotions all provide you with similar results.

Where can pre-shave oil be used?

Pre-shave oil can be used to prep the skin and hair on any part of your body.  Given that many pre-shave oils are scented, you may want to consider an unscented pre-shave oil, especially if you plan on using it on sensitive areas of your body such as under your arms, groin, etc.

What is pre-shave oil made of?

Pre-shave oil is primarily derived from natural ingredients including carrier oils, essential oils, and vitamin oils.  Here’s a brief overview of each:

  • Carrier Oils: These will make up most (98%+) of the pre-shave oil.  Carrier oils come in many different varieties including castor oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, etc.  By themselves, these oils have a very light aroma and are nearly unscented.
  • Essential Oils: Often claimed to provide additional benefits such as anti-inflammatory, blood flow, etc., these oils are primarily added for scent.*  Common essential oils include sandalwood oil, cedarwood oil, eucalyptus oil, etc.
  • Vitamin Oils: Often claimed to help fight the signs of aging while also adding both nourishing and protecting properties.**  The most common that’s added to pre-shave oil is Vitamin E oil.

* Most essential oils have not been scientifically proven to be effective (source).  Therefore, you should put very little weight on a company’s claims.

** Many claims about Vitamin E oil have not been evaluated by the FDA (source).  

Can you make pre-shave oil at home?

Given that pre-shave oil consists of only three ingredients, it is easy to make at home.  By making this yourself, you can specially formulate the oil to your preferred scent and performance requirements.  

A cheaper alternative to making pre-shave oil is to simply just buy a bottle of castor oil and use that in lieu of a marketed pre-shave oil.

How are pre-shave oil and beard-oil different from one another?

Pre-shave oil and beard oil (also known as a beard conditioner) are very similar.  Both of these grooming products rely on the same three core ingredients – carrier oil, essential oil, and vitamin oil (optional). Their core difference is in the ratio of these oils.  Beard oils tend to have more essential oils which lead to a stronger scent.  

Additionally, the scents found in pre-shave oils tend to be more classic (sandalwood scent) or invigorating (eucalyptus scent) whereas beard oil is more natural (tea tree oil) or earth-focused (pine tree oil).

In most instances, you can use a beard oil in place of pre-shave oil, especially one that is unscented.  If your beard oil contains fragrance, then you should do a patch test first to see if your skin reacts negatively.

Is it necessary to use pre-shave oil?

Pre-shave oil enhances the shave experience but is not a necessary product.  While it can help to increase comfort and allow for a closer shave, if you are currently experiencing severe irritation, you may want to look at your grooming routine as a whole.

Irritation from shaving can be caused by many factors including the razor system itself, shaving cream, dullness of the blade, and most importantly, technique.  While we recently wrote a detailed guide on how to prevent razor burn, make sure that you aren’t using a pre-shave oil to cover up a larger problem. 

What razor systems are compatible with pre-shave oils?

Pre-shave oil can be used with the following razors:

  • Cartridge razors
  • Disposable razors
  • Safety razors
  • Straight razors
  • Electric shavers *

* You will want to verify that the electric shaver can be used for wet shaving.  Using a pre-shave oil with a dry shaving only electric shaver may break the device.

If you plan on using a pre-shave oil with a multi-blade razor, be aware that clogging may be a problem.  Therefore, you will want to apply a thin coat to your skin prior to shaving.

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. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

Ask a Question