The Shaving Glossary

You may think you have your morning routine down pat, but how well do you really know your shave? The daily whisker removal process is a science unto itself—with all the specialized nomenclature to prove it. What's the difference between a cream and a gel? What’s ‘low lather’? What, exactly, does aftershave do? To help answer these and other pressing questions, we present a short cheat sheet.

Cream: Shaving creams offer extra hydration before and after your razor work: Pre-shave, they soften facial hair, which makes shaving easier and helps prevent ingrown hairs. Post-shave, they keep your skin moist, leaving a smoother, softer end result.

Foam: The most common shaving lube, foams are also the most affordable and easiest to use (they typically come in a can). The drawback? The low-end formulas can dry out your skin. Men with dry or sensitive skin should opt for something more moisturizing.

Gel: Shaving gels fall somewhere between foams and creams: They’re more moisturizing than a foam, but lighter than a cream. And gels of the clear variety are your best for sculpting facial hair—they let you see where your blade is headed before it's too late.

Preshave oil: Preshave oil is a smoothing base layer on top of which a cream, gel, or foam can be added. It’s an extra step, but it's worth it to protect your skin and allow for a cleaner shave, and it is not necessary every day. Thinner oils go on smoother, and won't clog up razors, which can be a risk with thicker consistencies.

Aftershave: Aftershaves typically fall into one of two camps: Those that contain alcohol and those that don’t. The main purpose of the burn-inducing aftershaves of yesteryear was to disinfect—and while more modern formulations may contain an antiseptic or menthol to freshen you up, their key role is to hydrate your skin post-shave. For a deeper dive, check out this video about aftershave myths.

Grain: Simply put, this is the direction your hair grows. One of the great shave debates revolves around “with” versus “against” the grain. Shaving against the grain will give you the closest shave, but it’s also more likely to result in razor burn and ingrown hairs. The answer: Do what works best for your skin.

Ingrown hair (or razor bumps): A common post-shave symptom—especially if you have curly hair—ingrown hairs are caused when hair reenters the skin and often take the shape of small, pimple-like bumps. If you’re prone to ingrown hairs, make sure to use a sharp razor and exfoliate, which helps lift hair away from your skin.

Lather: A lather is achieved by mixing shaving cream with a small amount of water and frothing vigorously. This process helps detangle and add weight to your whiskers, allowing for a cleaner shave. Certain shaving formulas offer a low lather alternative to the standard froth, with a richer feel that doesn't require as much air to activate. The difference is one of degrees, although the additional weight adds extra protection and results in smoother skin.

Razor burn: Another unfortunate side effect of a bad shave, razor burn is a combination of ingrown hairs and general irritation. If you want to avoid razor burn, steer clear of products containing alcohol, try a single or double blade, and skip the second pass.

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