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What Is Wet Shaving?

You keep hearing the term bandied about, but what is wet shaving, exactly? How is it different from regular shaving, and is it better? As it turns out, the term itself isn’t that complicated, but switching to traditional wet shaving can definitely improve your life.

What Is Wet Shaving?

Wet shaving literally just means shaving with water and (hopefully) some sort of water-activated shaving gel, cream, or soap. 

Some of you might read this and think, “isn’t that just shaving?” 

Well, you’d be sort of right. Shaving with a disposable Bic and shaving gel from a canister is technically wet shaving, even if it’s not necessarily the best shave you could have.  

What the “wet shaving” term really brings to mind is a more involved and traditional shaving process. Think safety razors or even a straight razor, a puck of shaving soap with a masculine scent, and a nice badger hair brush for creating a lather.

What Are The Benefits Of Wet Shaving?

Wet shaving, no matter whether you do it the traditional way or the modern way, has some worthwhile benefits. 

  • Water softens the hair, which makes shaving it down easier, and contributes to a smoother, more gentle shave. Adding a shaving cream, soap, or gel makes things even better, by adding a layer of lubrication.  
  • Manual wet shaving almost always gives a closer shave than dry shaving, thanks to the combination of water, slightly more exposed blades, and shaving aids. 
  • Wet shaving is a ritual that most men learn from their dads as teens. Adopting it at any point in life can be a meaningful way of practicing self-care in a masculine way. 

A lot of men (myself included) have made the switch to traditional wet shaving, for a few reasons. 

  • Overtime costs are lower because double-edge blades are much cheaper to replace. 
  • The impact on the environment is smaller due to significantly smaller disposable parts.  
  • No harmful incentive to overuse razor blades and shave with a dull razor. 
  • It can become a fun and interesting hobby. 

If you’re intrigued, I’ve put together a more thorough comparison of shaving with a safety razor vs cartridge razor. If you’re set on traditional wet shaving, you may also want to check out my safety razor vs straight razor showdown. 

Which Is Better: Dry or Wet Shaving?

To keep it simple, wet shaving is better for men who like a closer shave and don’t mind working on prep or dealing with soaps or shaving creams. Dry shaving is better for those who want to keep things quick and convenient and don’t mind if their shave isn’t super close. 

Other than the obvious question of whether water is present or not, the key difference between wet and dry shaving is that wet shaving is done with a manual razor while dry shaving is done with an electric razor. 

Dry shaving with a manual razor is almost always a bad idea (unless you’re using some sort of waterless shaving cream, in which case… it’s still a pain in the butt, but it’s doable).  

Wet shaving is a more involved process that requires a certain level of effort and attention. It can be a little messy, but it results in a close shave. When done correctly, it’s also pretty gentle on the skin. 

Another benefit is that diving really deep into traditional wet shaving, with old-school razors, beard prep, and aftershaves can be incredibly rewarding.  

Dry shaving is a lot more straightforward. It doesn’t require nearly as much prep as wet shaving, so it’s more convenient. For the most part, it also doesn’t provide as close of a shave (with the exception of some foil shavers). That’s not necessarily a bad thing – less close a shave means lower chances of irritation. Plus, who doesn’t like a five-o’clock shadow?

How Do You Do A Wet Shave?

There are a lot of ways to do a wet shave, but in this step-by-step guide, I’ll focus on the traditional wet shaving method with a safety razor and shaving soap.  

Set-Up and Equipment

Set yourself up near the bathroom sink, and make sure to have the following equipment ready to go:

  • Safety razor and blade
  • Shaving soap or cream
  • Shaving brush
  • Face towel
  • Post-shaving care products

Lather

If you’ll be using a soap or cream that has to be lathered up, start by prepping the lather. My guide on how to use shaving cream covers this in detail, and a lot of the information in there also applies to lathering up a shaving soap. 

You also have the option of lathering directly on your face, after you’ve softened your beard hair with warm water. 

Prep 

Next, prep your face with a splash of warm water. You can also take a shower before shaving, which will really allow the steam to penetrate the beard hair. 

If your hair is particularly coarse and you don’t have time to shower, you can soak a face towel in warm water and put it over the lower half of your face for 5 minutes or so. 

Then, apply your shaving aid to your face. Make sure to cover your face with a layer thick enough that you’re not able to see your skin or whiskers underneath. 

Learn to Hold the Blade 

With your face prepped and covered in a healthy layer of cream, you can start shaving. With a safety razor, you’ll want to hold the blade so it’s at a 30-degree angle against your skin, meaning that the flat or rounded top of the razor should be touching your skin slightly. Never hold the razor with the blade perpendicular to the skin – that’s how you get cut, and you don’t want that. 

First Pass

Now you’re ready for your first pass, which should be done with the direction of hair growth. On the face, most beard hair grows downwards, so that’s the direction you’ll want to shave in. Hair growth patterns are a little more random on the neck, so you may have to pull the blade upwards or to the side.  

Pass the razor over your skin in short strokes, and take your time. Don’t apply any pressure but instead let the weight of the razor itself exert any force needed to cut the hairs.

Flip the razor over whenever one side gets too clogged, and then rinse the head under warm water as necessary.

Second Pass  

Some guys are perfectly happy with a single pass, while others like to do multiple passes to get a closer shave. If you think you want to get closer or catch some missed spots after your first pass, lather up again.

You can do a second pass working your way against the grain for a super close but potentially irritating shave, or sideways to get a little closer while being kinder to your skin.  

Rinse

Once you’re happy with your handiwork, rinse your face with some cool water to get rid of any stubble and shaving soap residue. Cool water is a little more gentle than hot water, so it’ll also help to calm your skin a little. 

Aftercare

Once you’re done, give your skin some TLC. 

I recommend staying away from traditional, alcohol-based aftershaves. Instead, choose a gentle aftershave balm or face moisturizer. Shaving can be a little irritating and drying, so a lotion will help to fortify your skin barrier. 

If you like the sting you get from an alcohol-based aftershave, consider trying a toner for men, instead. If there are any nicks or cuts, you can use an alum block to constrict the skin and stop the bleeding.

Miles is a professional men's grooming analyst who believes that to look good a man just needs to take good care of himself. He’s all about wet shaving, sustainability, and evidence-based grooming - an obsession he’s ready to share. Miles is known for his in-depth analysis of men's grooming products, brands, and best practices you can't find anywhere else.