Monday, July 03, 2006

Sexy Skin and a Clean Shave

As I was sitting at the family picnic, I noticed some of the youngsters still had acne and bad cases of razor burn.

You see, a male teenager is happy to have enough testosterone in his system to need to shave, but he doesn't want to invest in learning how to shave because learning about body products is about as masculine as pink bunny slippers with the word "I'm" on the right foot and "cute" on the left foot. Thus, you are left with getting whatever shaving cream is available at the store (this is often up to your mother) and using whatever razor is hip and shaving quickly and randomly often at strange intervals. This continues through college; shaving just doesn't seem to matter that much. At least this is how it was with me.

However, sometime after turning 25, I started realizing that I have the power to clean up how my skin looks. I also realized that since I have to shave every day, shaving plays a major role in any skin problems I'm having, so (at least at first) I should focus there. Additionally, since I live alone, I won't be heckled too much about how I shave. Plus, most other people in my age were starting to have this realization too, so there really was not much demasculinating danger. On top of all of this, having soft smooth touchable skin that keeps from getting razor sharp and stubbly as long as possible will be very welcome to women that you court. For a 25-year-old bachelor like myself, that's almost enough reason alone to pick up civilized shaving practices.
So I started trying new products and procedures, and I think I've found a good system for my skin, so I thought I'd share. Before I do, I want to give a special honorable mention (a "nod of the head," if you will) to l'Occitane whose stores can be found in malls around the world. I really liked their shaving soap and their after shave balm. It had a nice fragrance that went with it too. It went a long way to reducing the redness in my face after shaving. Plus, I feel like I had the softest skin that maintained smoothness for the longest amount of time with these products. However, in the end I think that fragrance was just a little too harsh on my sensitive skin. I'm now of the opinion that there is no need to mix fragrances in with shaving products. Splash them on later (and in a spot other than the face). However, if I did not have such sensitive skin, I would be very happy to be a l'Occitane customer. I also want to give a "wag of the finger" to The Body Shop. Your shaving cream was not only the cheapest of all of the advanced creams I tried, but it was very easily the crappiest. I simply was not impressed. Are you sure it's a shaving cream and not a fruit topping?

Before getting into my product picks and procedures, I want to stress the importance of using a shaving brush (like the one pictured below) and a good razor (e.g., the Mach 3 series).
  • Initially, it is sufficient to get a cheap shaving brush from your local drug store (I found one at Walgreens). Eventually, you may want to upgrade to a nice Badger hair shaving brush. The Badger hair does a good job at holding lots of water within each hair. The purpose of a shaving brush is to help you apply your shaving cream or gel efficiently around your face. The brushes will gently apply the product to each individual hair so that you get maximum lubrication and conditioning. Also be sure to find a shaving brush stand that lets you store the shaving brush with hair down. This will let the brush dry such that it won't build up mildew and start to smell.
    example (Badger hair) shaving brush
  • In the old days, "a good razor" was synonymous with a safety razor (picture a razor blade and a holder) or even a straight razor (if you're really good). However, ever since the Gillette Mach 3 was released then even the most elite of shaving resources suggest using it over anything else. High-priced heavy Mach 3 handles can be bought at most places, but the standard plastic handle should be sufficient. Personally, I use the powered version of the Gillette Fusion. It is unclear if this is any better than the Mach 3, but it seems to work at least as well. Find a razor that works for you and learn how to use it in a way that is respectful to your face.
Most of the important shaving products that I use were introduced to by Sephora; however, most of these products can be found in many stores and certainly can be found on-line.

My preferred product line is the Anthony Logistics product line. I'd like to note that many of the ingredients of these products can be found in cheaper products that are available at your local grocery store; however, Anthony has put a lot of work into creating a nice mix of ingredients. Plus, a portion of their sales go to fight prostate cancer, the leading cancer among men. I respect that. However, feel free to look for the key ingredients of the list below in cheaper products that may work just as well for you.

Please keep in mind that I have sensitive skin that is more on the oily side of things. I will mention some all purpose options, but I'm highlighting a plan that works for my skin.

The plan:
  • Be sure to put at least 20 minutes between waking up and shaving. This will give the muscles of the face time to stiffen up. Otherwise, the hairs of the face will be buried in morning puffiness. If you work out or eat breakfast in the morning, then this should be sufficient.

  • Always shave in the shower or immediately after you get out of the shower. This guarantees that your skin will be soft and lubricated. The warm water will open your pores thus letting the hairs extend far out from the face.

    SPECIAL HAIR NOTE: I have a lot of success with the Aussie Mega shampoo and conditioner products, and I'm getting some good results experimenting with the new dual personality shampoo and conditioner series, which is designed for more oily scalps and split ends. (note: I like the Aussie line because of how soft it makes my hair feel afterwards, and other men I know have similar good opinions of this line. Additionally, it doesn't build up in the hair (even the conditioner), so (unlike other shampoos) there is no need to periodically switch shampoos over and over again. I'm a big fan.

    Regardless of what you use, you may want to try applying some of your conditioner to your face. (it's debatable when you should do this -- before or after the next couple steps about cleansing) This may help soften up your facial hairs to make them ready for cutting.

    Also, men who are worried about hair loss should note that studies have shown that anti-dandruff shampoos do a good job at cleansing the scalp of the materials that can clog up hair folicles and cause hair to be lost. Using anti-dandruff shampoos can not only slow hair loss, but it can enhance the regrowth of hair. You should definitely consider looking into something like Head and Shoulders dandruff shampoo if you're worried about these things.

  • Before shaving (this can be done in the shower), apply a glycolic facial cleanser to clean the face. This particular cleanser combines aloe vera, glycolic acid, and vitamins A, C, and E. This will do all sorts of good things for your skin (including soothing, removing fine lines, and making skin ready to shave).

    It is important to apply these before any exfoliant. Exfoliants are primarily meant to scrape dead skin away from the face. They are not meant to cleanse the face. In fact, if used on a dirty face, the exfoliants can push dirt INTO pores thus causing more problems down the line. CLEAN first. SCRAPE later.

    SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT VITAMIN E: Also consider taking a vitamin E supplement. Not only will this help you with your skin, but (according to MensHealth magazine) it is the best supplement to take after a workout besides protein. By fighting free radicals, it substantially helps muscles recover from the damage done by the workout. Check out the endurox supplement drink -- it provides E, carbs, protein, and glutamine and has been shown to have great results when taken within 45 minutes after a workout. NOTE that you should talk to your doctor about taking vitamin E. It has been shown (especially for older men) that vitamin E may be associated with some heart problems.

  • Next, exfoliate. This can be done in the shower as well. Anthony offers a facial scrub with exfoliating spherical beads, aloe vera, algae, vitamin C, and chamomile. Anthony suggests that this scrub should only be applied twice a week; otherwise it's too hard on the face.

    It may be better (and certainly cheaper) to find a different facial scrub. Right now I am experimenting with the new Neutrogena Deep Clean Invigorating foaming scrub. I'm not sure if it works as well as the Anthony product, but I can use it every day, and immediately after using it it makes my face feel pretty nifty (due to menthol in the ingredients list).

  • It's almost time to start shaving. Be sure to cover your face in warm water. Again, this opens up the pores to release the hairs from the skin. It also softens the skin to prevent getting lots of cuts.

    Consider using a face cloth that has been soaked with warm-to-hot water. Drape the face cloth over the face and let it sit for a few moments to sufficiently moisten the skin and release the facial hair. (note: if you get out of the shower and shave (or shave in the shower), this probably isn't necessary)

  • You may want to try using a preshave oil that includes olive oil, castor oil, essential oils of eucalyptus, peppermint and rosemary combined with vitamin E and calendula. This oil will lubricate the face and each of the facial hairs to help prevent redness and burning after shaving. This product may not be necessary for all faces. In fact, those with sensitive skin (or maybe oily skin) may want to skip this product. I don't really know though. I haven't had a problem with it yet, but I don't really know how much it's helping. It's a little bit of a mess, so I wouldn't mind if I didn't have to use it.

    (you can apply this oil with your hands; it would be too difficult and silly to try using the brush to do this)

  • Use the shave brush to apply a shave gel to the face. To do that, wet the shave brush with warm to hot water. Apply some gel to the brush and massage that gel into the face using circular motions with the brush.

    Note that I use shave gel here. You may want to use shave cream instead. I use the gel because I have sensitive skin that tends to already be a little oily. The shaving cream adds a little more lubrication, but it is harsher on the face. If you do not have sensitive skin, then the shaving cream might be a better choice for you. If you need the gel but also need additional lubrication, try the preshave oil mentioned above. Regardless of which you use (gel or cream), you only need to apply a small layer on top of the skin.

    Also note that shaving with a true shave gel is very different than conventional shaving. The gel doesn't lather up like a cream does. This makes it more difficult to see where you've shaved. Just be sure you shave with plenty of light and use the hair on your face as a marker for what you have shaved.

    If you try using a shaving soap instead and you want a little more lather, try wetting your shave brush again and running it over top of the existing layer of soap on your face.

    The Anthony shave gel has aloe beads, elm, glycerin, and sea kelp.

    The Anthony shave cream has eucalyptus oil, squalene, aloe vera gel, hops, and vitamins A, B5, C, and E.

  • Now it's time to shave. Run your razor under hot water. Your razor should always be clean and warm when it is applied to the face. Thus, you should make short, slow, smooth strokes and rinse frequently. If you do nothing else in this list, do this. You should never have a razor gunked up with hair. You should rinse after nearly every stroke.

    Avoid shaving against the grain of the hair. In other words, shave DOWN. Avoid shaving UP at all times. Most razor burn is caused by shaving up. If you follow all of the steps here (including the following steps), then most likely your face will be sufficiently smooth after shaving down.

    You may also want to try using one hand to "lift up" on the skin of your face in order to create a flat shaving surface for your razor.

    If your face is still not sufficiently smooth (I can't figure out how to shave very well using down strokes alone) then you might try shaving in whatever direction is needed to get rid of that extra hair. However, be very careful and do not do this much. Additionally, keep in mind that after you do the following steps, some of those extra hairs will recede back into your skin so a rough face during shaving might be smooth after shaving.

  • After shaving, it is very important to douse your face with handfuls of cold water. Take some time to do this. Be sure to get your neck too. Rinse and rinse and rinse. The cold water will help close up your pores and will even have an impact on any bleeding that may have been caused by the shaving.

  • Dry off most excess water off the face by dabbing face with a towel. Don't get crazy. Let evaporation finish up for you.

  • Consider using a styptic pencil to help repair any nicks from shaving. However, this may not be necessary if the astringent after shave (next step) is used. Keep a styptic pencil handy just in case you get very large nicks. If the pencil isn't working, apply a little styptic to a piece of toilet paper and use the wet toilet paper to close up the wound. Remove the toilet paper when it's dry and the bleeding has stopped. (this drastic toilet paper step should probably occur after all of the following steps)

  • Next, apply a witch hazel astringent as an after shave (it's a good idea to apply the astringent to the WHOLE FACE, including the forehad and NOSE). Anthony has an astringent after shave product that includes witch hazel extract, aloe vera, an antiseptic camphor and vitamin B5 in a low-alcohol solution. This makes this especially good as an after shave. It helps close up pores and works to heal any nicks that may have accumulated while shaving.

    You may also want to try a more classic astringent solution: Dickinson's witch hazel astringent cleaner. This is much cheaper than the Anthony product, it's non-drying, it has relatively low alcohol content, and it probably works nearly as well as the Anthony product. Definitely consider this alternative. For some people, simply adding Dickinson's after their normal shaving routine is enough to fix all of their problems.

    Regardless of what you use, it is a good idea to apply the astringent with cotton balls. I usually use the front and back of two of them to cover my whole face (again, including forehead and NOSE and neck). I think this helps prevent overuse of the astringent. However, the big reason I like it is that it ends up carrying away bits of hair that I wasn't able to rinse off. This goes even further to prevent ingrown hairs.

    I like to apply the astringent here, after shaving, as well as just before bed to wipe some of the grease from the day off.

    You should probably wait a moment while your face dries before moving on. Don't wait too long. Just wait for the excess stuff to evaporate off. Due to the magic of vapor pressure, this won't take that long.

    NOTE: If you notice any stinging, it's probably because you nicked yourself and you don't realize it. If you had a completely clean shave, this should go on without much stinging at all. Witch hazel is very gentile. Stinging just means that it's helping you heal. It's not a bad thing. (of course, if you break out afterwards, consult your doctor)

  • You may want to now try massaging razor burn repair into your face wherever you shaved. Personally, I am not convinced that this is actually doing anything good, but it's too soon for me really to tell. It contains marshmallow, aloe vera, chamomile, st. johns wort, ginseng, vitamins A, C, and E.

    If you do everything else in this list, I think that this product might be redundant. I'm not sure though. Give it a shot and see what you think.

    Again, give it some time for your face to dry a bit before moving on. No need to get gunky.

  • And finally, apply an after shave balm to every place that you shaved. The Anthony line includes natural plant extracts (including witch hazel), allantoin, benzocaine aloe vera, and vitamins A, C, and E.

  • Oh, and you should probably take care of your lips too. Anthony has citrus and vanilla options. The citrus will probably feel more natural, but I have a feeling you'll get more attention with the vanilla.

    There are a number of other good lip products out there. You may want to consider getting something with an SPF of 15. However, be careful because this turns some women off. Experiment to see what works best with your lips. Give some of the waxy products a shot. They might be your best bet.

    Soft tasty lips are an asset all women will appreciate.
I want to stress that none of these products include any fragrance. If you want fragrance, put it on after shaving, and try applying it to the base of your neck or your chest. Perhaps try applying behind your ears. Personally, I think the possibility of some female sniffing out my scent source and finding it behind the ears is pretty sexy. If that's not a first-kiss opportunity, I don't know what is.
It's unclear to me which fragrances are best. Of course, fragrances are primarily for attracting women, and studies have shown that women prefer the smells of their fathers. In fact, some suggest that the first time a man meets her parents, he should visit the bathroom, see what scent the father wears, and splash some on in the hopes that she'll be interested in jumping him later. (that's a little devious, and dad might notice and pick up on what you're doing; dads are smart like that) However, l'Occitane makes some nice scents for men. These scents are noticeably "girly," so the wearer might face some ridicule from his friends and might simply confuse the women he's meaning to attract.

I see similar murkiness in picking a body wash. I have the feeling that traditional sporty body washes produce the most effective scents. However, having smooth skin may be a good thing. Maybe try using an exfoliating body wash after long dirty days, use a cocoa butter (or similar) body wash to smooth skin when you think you need it, and use something standard otherwise. Clearly, I haven't figured this one out yet.

If you have trouble sweating a lot and are looking for a good deodorant/antiperspirant, you may want to separate the two. Find a good antiperspirant and then use some sort of pure deodorant spray (or one of the fragrance options mentioned above). If you have a major problem sweating, you should consult your doctor, and ask about the Certain Dri product (note that they also have a scented refresher meant to be used in parallel with the antiperspirant). I have only used this stuff once or twice, and it's so effective that it's scary. It eliminates sweat for sometimes as many as 3 or 4 days at a time. I think it's intended for bigger sweaters than me though, and I'm worried about the long term effects of that aluminum exposure. However, if you talk to your doctor, he'll probably be able to assuage any fears you may have (or make them worse?).

Also be sure to moisturize your hands. A great product is fragrance free Cetaphil moisturizing cream. Dermatologists suggest using the cream instead of the lotion, and I agree with them. If you've ever had a problem with exzema or other skin irritations, this cream will take it away and soften your skin.

If you have a problem with getting allergies when the seasons change (e.g., seasonal rhinitis), you should also think about getting a saline nasal spray. Go to your local drug store and by the generic one. Every morning, blow your nose hard. After your shower, use the nasal spray by tilting your head back, hold one nostril closed, position the spray under the other, and breath in deeply as you squeeze the nasal spray. Repeat this 3-4 times per nostril. Then leave your head tilted back for about 20-30 seconds. After all of that, blow your nose really hard. If your ears pop, that's a good thing. Saline acts as a natural decongestant (I think it has to do with osmotic pressure of your body and all that crap). This ends up being a great profilactic against colds and sinus problems. Do this about 20 minutes before you go to sleep too. Blow your nose (hard) just before you do it and also just before bed. Again, if your ears pop, that's a good thing.

And finally, take an interest in hair product. Try some new things with your hair. If you have short hair, experiment with adding texture. Some texturing pastes/pomades/etc. will be a little too chunky for you because they are designed for chunking up longer hair. I have had some good luck with the got2b playful creme pomade. Not only does it let me texture my hair without the greasy chunky look, but it has a nice smell to it. You can find it at most grocery or drug stores.
The nice thing about learning about hair is that you can start appreciating the effort that women put into styling their own hair. This appreciation goes miles in helping you to construct meaningful compliments to a woman's hair, and if she's taken a lot of time in preparing that hair, she'll really appreciate those compliments. When I was younger I tried to tell someone that her hair looked nice, and I lacked the proper adjectives to describe how I felt, and I used the word "frizzy." Because I had never gone through the hair product isle, I did not know that there were hundreds of products with the word "anti-friz" on them. Needless to say, she was very upset with this comment. So go ahead, watch Blow Out. It will be a good investment.

As I learn more grooming tips, I'll let you know.

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