Do you really need pre-shave oil?

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Written By Dominic Howard

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Pre-shave oil has become an increasingly popular product among wet shavers in recent years. Walk into any upscale barbershop or browse the shaving aisles at high-end retailers and you’ll likely spot pre-shave oils prominently displayed. Brands market these products as delivering a smoother, closer shave by softening the beard and allowing the razor to glide effortlessly across the skin. But with a good shaving cream or soap and quality razor, do you really need to spend extra on a pre-shave oil? Let’s take a closer look at what pre-shave oils are, who they might benefit, and whether they’re a necessary addition to your shaving routine.

What Is Pre-Shave Oil?

Pre-shave oil is applied before shaving cream or soap to help soften the beard hairs and prepare the skin for shaving. The oil creates a layer of lubrication between the skin and razor, allowing the blade to glide smoothly across the face and help prevent nicks, cuts, and irritation.

Pre-shave oils are made from various plant-based oils and often contain essential oils and skin conditioning ingredients like vitamin E. Common carrier oils used include olive, coconut, jojoba, grapeseed, and almond oils. Some oils feature “dry” formulations that evaporate quickly while others leave more moisture behind.

Who Is Pre-Shave Oil Good For?

Men with coarse, thick, or curly beards may benefit the most from pre-shave oil. The oils help soften tough whiskers that could otherwise tug and pull when shaving. Guys who struggle with razor bumps, ingrown hairs, or general skin irritation may also find pre-shave oil helps provide lubrication for a less harsh shave.

Pre-shave oil can also aid men who shave less frequently or have longer growth between shaves. If you’ve gone a few days without shaving, a pre-shave oil can help prep and soften the longer whiskers. The added lubrication can make it easier for the blade to cut through dense growth.

Those with sensitive skin may also appreciate a quality pre-shave oil, as the oils create a protective layer between skin and razor to guard against irritation. However, men with oily skin may want to avoid pre-shave oils, as they could clog pores.

The Case for Using Pre-Shave Oil

Here are some of the main purported benefits of using a pre-shave oil:

  • Softens the beard – Pre-shave oils allow the razor to glide smoothly across the face rather than getting caught on coarse whiskers. This helps provide a closer shave.
  • Lubricates the skin – The layer of oil helps the razor move across the skin with less friction, preventing razor burn and other irritation.
  • Moisturizes the skin – Many pre-shave oils contain nourishing ingredients like vitamin E that can leave skin feeling conditioned.
  • Lifts hairs – Some claim the oils help “lift” flat-laying hairs away from the face, allowing the blade to cut them more cleanly.
  • Provides a smoother shave – By softening whiskers and lubricating the skin, pre-shave oil helps the razor move effortlessly for less pulling and tugging.
  • Prevents nicks and cuts – The added glide enables the razor to shave smoothly over trouble spots like the neck and jawline without catching and nicking.
  • Can be used alone – Pre-shave oils can be applied before dry shaving when you don’t have access to creams or soap.

The Case Against Using Pre-Shave Oil

Here are some of the reasons why pre-shave oil may not be necessary:

  • Doesn’t provide closer shave for all – Results seem mixed, with some finding pre-shave oil gives a very close shave while others see no visible difference.Not useful for short stubble – Unless you’ve gone several days without shaving, pre-shave oil likely provides no added benefit for shorter stubble.
  • Quality shaving products unnecessary – A good shaving cream, brush, and razor should provide enough lubrication and glide without pre-shave oil.
  • Can clog razor – Some oils can gunk up the razor, requiring more frequent cleaning.
  • Extra cost – At $15 to $30 per bottle, pre-shave oils drive up the overall cost of wet shaving.
  • Extra time – Having to apply and let the oil sit adds another step to the shaving routine when you may be rushed.
  • Can cause breakouts – Pre-shave oils could clog pores and cause acne or razor bumps, especially for those with oily skin.
  • May not prevent nicks/cuts – No definitive evidence proves pre-shave oils can help avoid nicks and cuts versus using shaving cream alone.
  • SLickness doesn’t last – The lubricating effects of the oil tend to wear off after the first pass with the razor.

How to Use Pre-Shave Oil

If you want to test whether a pre-shave oil can improve your shaves, here are some tips for using it:

  1. Apply after cleansing/exfoliating. It’s best to start with clean skin, so wash your face with a facial cleanser. Using a face scrub or brush to exfoliate a few times per week can help lift hairs and prevent ingrown hairs
  2. Use on wet skin. Most pre-shave oils are water-soluble formulas designed to be used on damp skin. Splash your face with warm water and pat dry while leaving a bit of residual moisture before applying oil.
  3. Use sparingly. You only need a few drops of pre-shave oil to cover the shaving area. Dispense 2-3 drops into your palm, rub hands together, and gently pat onto your cheeks, neck, and jawline. Too much can leave skin oily.
  4. Let sit. Allow the oil to soak in for 30-60 seconds before lathering up. This gives the key ingredients time to coat the hairs and skin to maximize slickness.
  5. Rinse razor frequently. The oils can gunk up razors so rinse often. Consider alternating between two razors to make cleaning easier.
  6. Do multiple passes. Apply more shaving product and go across the grain on a second pass for smoother results. Use an aftershave product to soothe skin after shaving.
  7. Oil before each shave. Pre-shave oils don’t condition to the point that your skin retains benefits. Apply the oil before each shave to experience the lubricating effects.
  8. Avoid applying oil after shaving. Don’t apply pre-shave oils as a post-shave product. The oils could clog freshly opened pores and lead to breakouts. Look for balms, gels, or lotions instead.

Putting Pre-Shave Oils to the Test

To provide an objective assessment of whether pre-shave oils make a noticeable difference, I tested three popular options head-to-head over the course of two weeks:

The Method

I used each pre-shave oil for two shaves, alternating between the three oils over a two-week period. The oils tested were:

  • Jack Black Beard Oil
  • The Art of Shaving Pre-Shave Oil
  • Bulldog Original Pre-Shave Oil

To evaluate performance, I ranked the oils on the following criteria:

  • Ease of Application
  • Absorption Time
  • Razor Glide
  • Closeness of Shave
  • Post-Shave Skin Feel
  • Irritation Prevention

I used one razor (Gillette Mach 3) and the same shaving soap (Proraso) for each shave to control variables. The growth length, about 1/4”, was consistent for each shave.

Here’s how the pre-shave oils compared in my testing:

Ease of Application

The Jack Black and Bulldog oils have drip-top caps that make dispensing a couple drops into the palm easy. The Art of Shaving has a small opening that takes a bit more shaking and effort to get just a little oil out.

Winner: Jack Black and Bulldog

Absorption Time

The Jack Black absorbed the quickest, penetrating my stubble in under 30 seconds. Bulldog took slightly longer at 45 seconds. The Art of Shaving took a full minute to sink in.

Winner: Jack Black

Razor Glide

The Jack Black clearly provided the most lubrication between skin and razor. The first pass felt nearly friction-free and the razor just glided smoothly over my neck area that is prone to irritation.

The Bulldog and Art of Shaving oils were closer in performance. Both provided a noticeably slicker shave compared to just soap alone but the razor still caught a little on my problem neck zone.

Winner: Jack Black

Closeness of Shave

Honestly, all three pre-shave oils delivered similar closeness. My cheeks, jawline, and neck looked clean shaven after 2 passes when using the oils. Without oil, certain areas like my neck don’t get quite as close.

Winner: All performed similar

Post-Shave Skin Feel

The Jack Black had the lightest finish yet left my skin feeling nicely conditioned. The Bulldog was less oily than expected but still left a bit of residue. The Art of Shaving felt slightly tacky after rinsing off.

Winner: Jack Black

Irritation Prevention

None of the oils fully eliminated neck irritation but Jack Black led to the least redness and rawness after each shave. Bulldog and Art of Shaving were comparable butJack Black provided slightly better protection.

Winner: Jack Black

Does Pre-Shave Oil Work?

Based on my testing, using a pre-shave oil does enhance the shaving experience, specifically in regards to razor glide and irritation prevention. Of the three oils tested, Jack Black delivered the best performance thanks to its fast absorption, superior slickness, and light finish.

For me, the Jack Black oil allowed the razor to easily navigate trouble areas like the neck for a closeryet gentler shave. However, the performance gains were marginal over just using a quality shaving soap alone.

While I can’t say pre-shave oils are an absolute necessity, they could be beneficial for men who struggle with sensitive skin, coarse beards, or shave infrequently. Or those looking for the smoothest possible shave.

If you do want to try incorporating a pre-shave oil, I recommend selecting one with natural ingredients, a lighter oil base, and skin conditioning properties. Apply just a couple drops to wet skin and give the oil 30 seconds to absorb before lathering up. Continue to use light pressure and rinse your razor frequently when shaving.

Consider exploring different oil options to find one that provides the best results for your skin and hair type. With the right pre-shave oil, you may discover a noticeably improved shave.

Benefits of Natural Oils for Shaving

Many pre-shave oils derive their skin-conditioning and lubricating properties from natural plant oils. Here’s a look at some of the most popular oils found in pre-shave products and their benefits:

  • Coconut Oil – Contains fatty acids and vitamin E to moisturize while providing a slippery, smooth feel. The lighter texture also allows easy razor glide
  • Olive Oil – A rich oil high in antioxidants that conditions the skin. The thick texture adheres well to whiskers to soften them up.
  • Argan Oil – Touted for its anti-aging and hydrating effects. The non-greasy feel absorbs well while softening beard hair.
  • Sweet Almond Oil – Abundant in vitamin E to nourish the skin. Provides a lightweight lubricating feel for the razor.
  • Jojoba Oil – Actually a wax with a chemical structure very similar to natural sebum. Helps soothe and moisturize without clogging pores.
  • Grapeseed Oil – High in linoleic acid and vitamin E to nurture skin while offering light slickness. Minimizes razor drag and tackiness.
  • Sunflower Oil – Contains vitamin E and lipids to replenish the skin barrier. The emollient texture allows an easy, comfortable shave.
  • Castor Oil – Dense and sticky oil that coats the beard exceptionally well to soften coarse or curly hairs before shaving.
  • Hemp Seed Oil – Full of essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 to deeply hydrate and protect skin. Provides substantial lubrication.
  • Shea Butter – Intensely moisturizing fat derived from the African shea tree nut. Softens beard hair and leaves a smooth glide for the razor.

Or create your own custom pre-shave oil blend by mixing a few drops of your favorite plant oils. Try a simple combo of coconut, jojoba, and almond or experiment with different essential oils.

The natural oils found in quality pre-shave products can make a noticeable difference in lubricating, conditioning, and prepping your skin for the closest, gentlest shave possible.

Pre-Shave Oils vs. Shaving Creams/Soaps

Pre-shave oil is intended to work in tandem with your existing shave cream or soap, not replace it entirely. But how exactly do the functions differ between pre-shave oils and shaving creams?

The main distinction lies in their formulations. Pre-shave oils consist primarily of various plant-based carrier and essential oils designed specifically for lubricating and conditioning whiskers and skin.

Shaving creams and soaps contain surfactants that whip into a rich lather to lift and soften hairs while providing cushioning for the razor. They also contain oils and butters, but in much lower concentrations than in a pre-shave oil.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown:


Pre-shave oils provide lubrication through slippery plant oils that allow the razor to glide smoothly. Shaving creams offer less inherent lubrication but create slickness through lather.


The oils coat whiskers to soften and prep them for cutting. Shaving creams also work to swell and soften hairs but through water content interacting with keratin.


Shaving creams cushion the razor against the skin through thick lather. Pre-shave oils don’t provide much cushion.


Pre-shave oils tend to be richer in skin conditioners like vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Shaving creams offer light moisturization.

Razor clogging

Excess oils can gunk up razor blades requiring frequent rinsing. Creams won’t cling to razors like oils.


Pre-shave oils start evaporating after the first pass. Shaving cream lathers last longer through multiple passes.


Oils require only a quick splash of water. Shaving creams require thorough rinsing off the skin.

The ideal shaving routine combines the benefits of both products:

  1. Apply a few drops of pre-shave oil before shaving to coat hairs and lubricate.
  2. Lather on shaving cream over the oil to lift hairs, cushion, and provide a dense slick lather.
  3. Shave with light strokes, rinsing razor frequently.
  4. Rinse off all cream residue after shaving.
  5. Apply post-shave balm or splash to moisturize and refresh skin.

This tandem process allows the lubricating oils to complement the protective cushioning lather for a close shave that avoids irritation. So while pre-shave oils and shaving creams share some similarities, using both can provide optimal razor glide and comfort.

Homemade Pre-Shave Oil Recipes

You can easily make your own pre-shave oil at home using a combination of carrier oils and essential oils tailored to your skin and hair needs. Here are a few sample recipes to try:

Basic Pre-Shave Oil Blend


  • 2 Tbsp Jojoba Oil
  • 2 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil
  • 3-5 drops Essential Oils of your choice

The lightweight texture of jojoba and grapeseed makes this simple blend easy to apply while providing lubrication and vitamins E and C to nourish skin. Add a few drops of essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus or tea tree for soothing botanical benefits.

Sensitive Skin Pre-Shave Oil


  • 1 Tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 1 Tbsp Shea Butter
  • 1 Tbsp Jojoba Oil
  • 3 drops Lavender Essential Oil
  • 2 drops Frankincense Essential Oil

Sunflower oil delivers vitamin E to hydrate delicate skin while shea butter protects against razor irritation. Jojoba mimics the skin’s natural oils for easy absorption. Soothing lavender and anti-inflammatory frankincense make this blend ideal for sensitive skin prone to bumps or ingrown hairs.

Conditioning Pre-Shave Oil Recipe


  • 2 Tbsp Argan Oil
  • 1 Tbsp Sweet Almond Oil
  • 1 Tbsp Avocado Oil
  • 2 drops Sandalwood Essential Oil
  • 3 drops Cedarwood Essential Oil

Rich in fatty acids and vitamin E, this blend provides deep moisturizing effects. Argan, almond, and avocado oils soften both hair and skin for a conditioned shave. Sandal

Frequently Asked Question

1. What is pre-shave oil, and what does it do?

Pre-shave oil is a grooming product applied to the skin before shaving. It serves to moisturize and protect the skin, allowing for a smoother and more comfortable shaving experience.

2. Do I really need pre-shave oil for shaving?

While it’s not an absolute necessity, pre-shave oil can significantly enhance your shaving routine. It helps soften the hair, reduces friction between the razor and skin, and minimizes irritation and razor burn.

3. Can I use regular oil, like coconut oil, as a pre-shave oil substitute?

Yes, you can use certain natural oils like coconut oil or olive oil as a DIY pre-shave oil substitute. However, specialized pre-shave oils often contain additional ingredients tailored for shaving, so they may provide better results.

4. How do I apply pre-shave oil?

Apply a small amount of pre-shave oil to your dampened skin, massaging it in gently. Let it sit for a minute or two to allow for absorption before applying shaving cream or soap.

5. Is pre-shave oil suitable for all skin types?

Pre-shave oils are generally suitable for all skin types. However, if you have particularly sensitive or acne-prone skin, you should choose a product that is labeled as hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic to avoid potential issues.

6. Can women use pre-shave oil as well?

Absolutely! Pre-shave oil can benefit both men and women who shave various body areas. It can help prevent nicks, cuts, and irritation while providing a smoother shave.

7. Will pre-shave oil clog my razor or make it less effective?

When used sparingly and followed by thorough rinsing, pre-shave oil should not clog your razor. In fact, it can actually help the razor glide more smoothly, leading to a more effective shave.

8. Can I skip using pre-shave oil if I use a high-quality shaving cream or gel?

While a good shaving cream or gel can help, pre-shave oil can still enhance your shaving experience by providing an extra layer of protection and moisturization. It’s especially beneficial for those with dry or sensitive skin.

9. Are there any specific benefits to using scented pre-shave oils?

Scented pre-shave oils can add a pleasant aroma to your shaving routine. However, they primarily offer the same benefits as unscented options, such as moisturization and protection.

10. Can I use pre-shave oil with an electric razor or clippers?

Pre-shave oil is typically used with traditional razors, but it can also be applied before using an electric razor or clippers. It may help reduce friction and improve the overall comfort of your grooming experience.


In conclusion, while pre-shave oil may not be an absolute necessity for everyone, it can greatly enhance your shaving experience. Whether you’re a man or woman, with different skin types and shaving preferences, pre-shave oil offers benefits like moisturization, protection against irritation, and smoother razor glide. It’s a versatile product that complements your grooming routine, making it easier to achieve a clean, comfortable, and irritation-free shave. Ultimately, the decision to use pre-shave oil is a matter of personal preference, but its advantages are certainly worth considering for those seeking an elevated shaving experience.

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