Shaving

Background

Shaving is the removal of hair, by using a razor or any other kind of bladed implement, to slice it down to the level of the skin. Shaving is most commonly practiced by men to remove their facial hair and by women to remove their leg and underarm hair.

Before the advent of razors, hair was sometimes removed using two shells to pull the hair out or using water and a sharp tool. In some Native American tribes, at the time of contact with British colonists, it was customary for men and women to remove all bodily hair using these methods.  Although back around 3000 BC, when copper tools were developed, copper razors were invented. The idea of an aesthetic approach to personal hygiene may have begun at this time, though Egyptian priests may have practiced something similar to this earlier. Alexander the Great strongly promoted shaving during his reign in the 4th century BCE to avoid “dangerous beard-grabbing in combat”, and because he believed it looked tidier.

Shaving can be done with a straight razor or safety razor (called ‘manual shaving’ or ‘wet shaving’) or an electric razor (called ‘dry shaving’).   The removal of a full beard often requires the use of scissors or an electric (or beard) trimmer to reduce the mass of hair, simplifying the process.

“Traditional” wet shaving

Safety razor, shaving brush and shaving soap. The brush is used to make lather from the soap. There are two types of manual razors: straight razor and safety razors. Safety razors are further subdivided into double-edged razors, single edge, injector razors, cartridge razors and disposable razors.   In the twentieth century, Gillette razors were the most prevalent. Double-edge razors are currently readily available and are manufactured by Merkur in Germany, Edwin Jagger in Great Britain, Kiwishaver in New Zealand, Parker in India, Feather in Japan, Hart Steel and Weber Razor in the United States and Weishi in China. Double-edge razors are named so because the blade that they use has two sharp edges on opposite sides of the blade. Current multi-bladed cartridge manufacturers attempt to differentiate themselves by having more or fewer blades than their competitors, each arguing that their product gives a greater shave quality at a more affordable price.   Before wet shaving, the area to be shaved is usually doused in warm to hot water or covered for several minutes with a hot wet towel to soften the skin and hairs. A lathering or lubricating agent such as cream, soap, gel, foam or oil is normally applied after this. Lubricating and moisturizing the skin to be shaved helps to prevent a painful razor burn. Many razor cartridges include a lubricating strip, made of polyethylene glycol, to function instead of or in supplement to extrinsic agents. It also lifts and softens the hairs, causing them to swell. This enhances the cutting action and sometimes permits cutting the hairs slightly below the surface of the skin. Additionally, during shaving, the lather indicates areas that have not been addressed. When soap is used, it is generally applied with a shaving brush, which has long soft bristles. It is worked up into a usable lather by the brush, either against the face, in a shaving mug, bowl, scuttle, or palm of the hand.   Since cuts are more likely when using safety razors and straight razors, wet shaving is generally done in more than one pass with the blade. The goal is to reduce the amount of hair with each pass, instead of trying to eliminate all of it in a single pass. This also reduces the risks of cuts, soreness, and ingrown hairs. Alum blocks and styptic pencils are used to close cuts resulting from the shave.

Electric shaving

The electric razor (electric shaver) consists of a set of oscillating or rotating blades, which are held behind a perforated metal screen which prevents them from coming into contact with the skin and behaves much like the second blade in a pair of scissors. When the razor is held against the skin, the whiskers poke through the holes in the screen and are sliced by the moving blades. In some designs the blades are a rotating cylinder. In others they are one or more rotating disks or a set of oscillating blades. Each design has an optimum motion over the skin for the best shave and manufacturers provide guidance on this. Generally, circular or cylindrical blades (rotary-type shaver) move in a circular motion and oscillating blades (foil-type shaver) move left and right. Hitachi has produced foil-type shavers with a rotary blade that operates similarly to the blade assembly of a reel-type Lawn mower. The first electric razor was built by Jacob Schick in 1928.   The main disadvantages of electric shaving are that it may not cut the whiskers as closely as razor shaving does and it requires a source of electricity. The advantages include fewer cuts to the skin, quicker shaving and no need for a water/lather supply. The initial cost of electric shaving is higher, due to the cost of the shaver itself, but the long-term cost can be significantly lower, since the cutting parts do not need replacement for approximately 18 months and a lathering product is not required. Some people also find they do not experience ingrown hairs (pseudofolliculitis barbae, also called razor bumps), when using an electric shaver.   In contrast to wet shaving, electric shave lotions are intended to stiffen the whiskers. Stiffening is achieved by dehydrating the follicles using solutions of alcohols and a degreaser such as isopropylmyristate. Lotions are also sold to reduce skin irritation, but electric shaving does not usually require the application of any lubrication.

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