When browsing subreddits or forums dedicated to wet shaving, you will often see hotly contested debates between both witch hazel and alcohol and what one you really should use after you are finished shaving…
…and with good reason!
Both sides of the debate are completely valid as both alcohol and witch hazel can deliver the results that the man is looking for after they are done shaving.
So, in order to help you on your quest to a much more comfortable, and simply just a better shave, we thought it was important to put together this showdown of sorts that compares witch hazel versus alcohol.
Today we will examine both of these post-shave solutions a bit more closely in order for you to get the best results possible once you are done shaving.
So, let’s dive in first to alcohol (metaphorically speaking of course):
Alcohol Has Been A Key Component In Shaving For Centuries
You don’t have to look far into the shaving archives to see manuals like this proclaiming the usefulness of aftershave lotions in order sooth the skin.
While the above guide does makes mention of witch hazel, it also eludes to the fact that a man can use bay rum, a popular solution that was developed in the West Indian Islands, as a way to clean your skin once you are done shaving.
Now, you don’t have to think far back to when you may have scraped a knee as a kid or simply had a minor cut and remember your mother pouring alcohol on to the cut in order to fully disinfect it.
Yes, alcohol is incredible at cleaning out the harmful bacteria from a cut.
While its powerful as a disinfectant, the biggest gripe men have with this solution, and the aftershave splashes or lotions that carry this ingredient is…
Yes, you guessed it:
I don’t know about you, but when I am finished shaving at 6:30 in the morning and dealing with a small surface cut, the last thing I want to do is rub alcohol on that cut and experience the horrible stinging sensation.
Cutting yourself was already bad enough…
…and rubbing some aftershave splash on that cut sure as heck isn’t going to be that fun either!
But as we mentioned, when it comes to post shave comfort, if you can get over this initial ‘hump’ of pain with the aftershave splash, the benefits far outweigh the cons of having your mild cut become infected.
Another ‘fact’ that is often proclaimed with aftershave splashes containing alcohol, is that men with oily skin will see terrific upsides to using an alcohol-infused splash daily.
However, this would be a misplaced fact as we will discover in just a minute.
Before we do that, let’s take a quick look at the other popular post-shave solution:
Witch Hazel – The All Natural Post Shave Solution
Now, for some reason or another, men tend to think that natural products will automatically mean inferior products…
…I used to think the same exact thing as well!
I mean come on, how can a plant (how witch hazel is naturally found), outperform a synthetic, lab-derived alcohol splash?
Here’s the deal though:
Witch hazel not only exhibits many of the sought after qualities found in an alcohol-based aftershave splash including being a natural disinfectant…
…but another key factor, and perhaps the most important one that men like about both alcohol and witch hazel:
Their astringent properties.
Astringents are solutions that help to constrict the blood vessels.
This means that if you have a mild cut, this property will help to stop the bleeding much quicker than if you were to simply splash cold water or use a piece of toilet paper (please don’t use a piece of toilet paper – instead read this guide for better solutions on how to stop a razor cut).
This makes witch hazel compare with alcohol tit-for-tat when it comes to post-shave performance.
Oh, but there is a catch…
…a big one…
…you see witch hazel…it doesn’t sting.
Yes, you read that properly, it doesn’t sting at all.
So why the hell don’t men use this instead of aftershave splash?!
To be quite honest, here is our best hypothesis:
Us men are creatures of habit.
I’m severely guilty of it…and I am sure, that if you look closely to your own grooming regimen, you might be too.
For one reason or another, we find ourselves always using the same trusted razor for far too long, same brand of soap, and of course, same aftershave solution.
Whether we inherit it from our fathers, or learned about it from reading some article online (currently having a self-existential crisis as I write this), we tend to get stuck in the same routine.
Now, I get that you might still be apprehensive about using witch hazel…
…let me sweeten that deal for you a bit more:
Witch Hazel Is Better For Your Skin
If you find yourself getting ashy cheeks (the cheeks on your face) in the cold winter months, or perhaps find even some bit of mild flaking, witch hazel will help with that.
Unlike alcohol that will dry out your skin, witch hazel won’t exhibit this same property.
Furthermore, witch hazel is commonly revered by skin care sites far and wide as being a terrific natural toner for your skin.
This means that if you are fast approaching your mid-to-late 30s and beyond, regularly applying witch hazel in place of your alcohol-based aftershave will help to naturally reduce any splotches or dark spots on your skin by giving it a much more even tone.
Now, as far as the comment we made earlier about alcohol being better for men with oily skin – yeah that’s busted.
You see, regardless of your skin complexion (oily, dry, combo, etc.), applying alcohol to the surface will cause immediate mattification (yay – no more shiny forehead!), however, your skin will instantly try to counteract this by producing more oil…
Secondly, regularly applying alcohol will also cause your pores to enlarge.
So, if you exhibit large pores on your nose or cheeks, the alcohol is only making matters worse.
So, what does this mean at the end of the day?
Well, your overcompensating skin will likely lead to more blemishes and discomfort.
Therefore, its best to completely avoid alcohol aftershave splashes and lotions completely.
Note: Alcohol contained in aftershave splashes and lotions are simple alcohol (denatured, SD, or even isopropyl). These are the alcohols you should be avoiding. Fatty alcohols such as cetearyl, lauryl, etc. are ok to apply to your skin and found in many skincare products – they don’t exhibit the same qualities as the simple alcohols.
Does Your Razor Matter At All?
Whether you shave with a safety razor, straight razor, cartridge, or even electric razor, you still will want to try and use witch hazel as an aftershave rather than a traditional aftershave splash.
Now if you were putting our back to the wall, we would probably say that using witch hazel will be most important with a cartridge razor compared to all other systems, here’s why:
Unlike safety or straight razors that cut the whiskers with just a single blade, cartridge razors have multiple blades that do the job cutting.
When passed along your face, the blades on cartridge razors are susceptible to clogging and may help the spread of bacteria.
Therefore, using an aftershave regularly even if you don’t cut yourself, will help to keep your skin clean and prevent any general skin irritation.
How To Spot The Right Aftershave For You?
As we fully dissected in our comparison of aftershave splashes, lotions, and balms, we found that aftershave balms are typically going to be your safest bet.
Splashes and lotions nearly always contain denatured alcohol (the bad simple alcohols we have been talking about), and won’t be good for your skin long term.
Most balms we found generally contained witch hazel and a plethora of other natural skin care ingredients including carrier oils (jojoba or argan oil mostly) along with natural fragrances (sandalwood).
Furthermore, we found that aftershave balms aren’t too prevalent at local drug stores. Instead, many of them are sold by smaller companies and can be found at popular online retailers.
For guidance, we would recommend checking out this detailed guide that will help in aftershave balm selection.
Of course you could just pick up this bottle of Thayer’s and call it a day.