What can I use for pre-shave?

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Written By Dominic Howard

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Getting a close, comfortable shave starts before you ever pull out your razor. Preparing your skin and facial hair properly with a pre-shave routine is crucial for avoiding irritation, razor bumps, and ingrown hairs. But with so many pre-shave products on the market, how do you know what to use? Here’s an overview of the most common pre-shave options to help you decide what will work best for your skin type and shaving needs.

Pre-Shave Products

Using a pre-shave product offers several advantages that can take your shave from mediocre to exceptional:

  • Softens and lifts facial hair – Pre-shave products help wet and soften your beard hairs so they are easier for the razor to cut through. This can help reduce tugging, pulling, and skipped hairs.
  • Opens pores and hydrates skin – Warm water opens pores and prepares your skin for shaving, while pre-shave oils and gels add an extra layer of hydration to help protect skin and improve razor glide.
  • Creates lubrication and slick surface – The slick surface provided by pre-shave products allows the razor to glide smoothly over the skin, reducing friction that can cause irritation, razor burn, and ingrown hairs.
  • Facilitates closer shave – Lifted, hydrated whiskers are easier for the razor to cut, enabling you to get a closer shave with fewer passes of the blade.

Using the right pre-shave routine truly optimizes your shaving surface for the closest, most comfortable shave possible. But with so many options to choose from, how do you decide what’s best for you?

Shaving Cream vs. Shaving Soap vs. Shaving Oil

There are three primary types of pre-shave products – shaving creams, shaving soaps, and shaving oils. Here’s an overview of the benefits of each:

Shaving Cream

  • Thick, dense consistency provides excellent lubrication between skin and razor.
  • Often includes emollients to hydrate and soften skin. May also have oils and glycerin for added skin conditioning
  • Lathers when mixed with water offer cushioning and lift whiskers away from skin.
  • Provides coating to protect skin from razors. Easier to see where you are shaving compared to soap or oil.
  • Offer convenience – fast to lather and easy to apply.
  • Can come in cans, tubes, or pucks. Canned creams are the most convenient but least environmentally friendly.

Shaving Soap

  • It usually comes in hard pucks that need to be lathered with a shave brush and water
  • May take more time to master creating the right rich, moisturizing lather.
  • Offers a very slick, dense lather to protect skin and make blades glide smoothly.
  • Natural ingredients like oils, butter, and glycerin provide excellent moisturization.
  • Puck lasts a very long time compared to canned shaving cream.
  • Using a brush exfoliates skin and lifts facial hairs before shaving.

Shaving Oil

  • Made from natural oils like coconut, olive, castor, almond, and mineral oil
  • Goes on smoothly, requiring no lathering or brush. Just apply with your hands.
  • No rinsing required – can shave directly over oil.
  • Provides a thin, slick lubricating layer without much foam or thickness.
  • Oils moisturize and soften skin while preparing whiskers.
  • Easy to see where you are shaving compared to dense creams or soaps.
  • Little goes a long way – bottles last a long time.
  • Some find the lack of density doesn’t provide enough razor glide.

So which one is right for you? Consider your skin type, desired convenience, and environmental factors. Oily and acne-prone skins may prefer gel creams or soaps over dense creams. Soaps require more effort but provide excellent shaves with eco-friendly packaging. Oils offer fast, easy application and last forever, but don’t offer rich foam.

Shaving Brushes vs. Fingertips

In addition to your pre-shave product, you also need to consider your application method. Do you apply with your fingers or use a shave brush? Here are the pros and cons of each:


  • Convenient, fast and easy. Just scoop the product from the tub and apply.
  • Allows you to feel precisely where the product is going on your face.
  • Works well for creams and oils.
  • Provides minimal exfoliation or lifting of whiskers.

Shaving Brush

  • Creates a rich, moisturizing lather when used with soaps and creams.
  • Lifts and exfoliates hair so they are ready for shaving.
  • Brush massages skin and improves circulation. Can feel therapeutic.
  • No exfoliating scrubs are needed before shaving if using a brush.
  • Takes time and practice to master the technique and create proper lather.
  • Required for using shaving soaps. Works with creams too.
  • Natural bristles are best. Boar is an affordable option; badger or horse is premium.

For maximum convenience and speed, using your fingers may be preferred. But traditional wet shavers love the ritual and results achieved from quality shaving brushes. The brush also helps save money when using shaving soap pucks that last for months.

Hot Towel Preparation

Before applying any pre-shave products, consider using a hot towel to open pores and soften whiskers. Here’s how:

  • Soak the washcloth in hot-sink water until fully saturated. Wring out the excess.
  • For ultimate heating, run it under very hot water then microwave for 15-30 seconds. Test it’s not too hot before applying it to the face.
  • spread a towel over the entire face and leave on for 2-3 minutes. Reheat as needed.
  • The steam will open pores and the heat will soften facial hair. Excellent prep before pre-shave products.
  • For an upscale barbershop experience, use high-quality towels specifically for facials. Look for plush, ultra-soft microfiber.

A hot towel is a simple way to prep your skin and beard for shaving. The heat and steam create the optimal canvas for your pre-shave routine.

Creating Your Pre-Shave Routine

Once you’ve selected your preferred pre-shave products and tools, it’s time to put them into practice. Follow these steps for the ideal pre-shave routine:

  1. Shower first – Take a shower or wash your face with warm water to hydrate skin and open pores. Or wrap a hot towel over your face for a few minutes before the pre-shave steps.
  2. Exfoliate (optional) – If not using a shave brush, you may want to exfoliate first with a facial scrub to remove dead skin cells and lift hairs.
  3. Rinse face – Splash your face with warm to hot water to keep pores open. Avoid using soap which can strip oils.
  4. Apply pre-shave product – Use your fingers or shaving brush to work the pre-shave cream, soap, or oil over your face in a thin coat.
  5. Let sit for 1-2 minutes – Allow product to penetrate and soften whiskers while keeping skin moisturized
  6. Re-lather with water if needed – Add a few drops of water and re-lather soap or cream. Continue adding small amounts of water until reaching optimal slick texture.
  7. Shave as usual – Proceed with your regular shaving steps, rinsing the razor after each pass.
  8. Rinse and moisturize – Rinse face with cool water to close pores then apply aftershave products like moisturizer, balm, alum block, etc.

Follow these pre-shave steps 1-2 times per week for best results. Be sure to replace dull razors, store products properly, and use a quality post-shave routine to complete the process.

Tips for an Effective Pre-Shave Routine

To get the most out of your pre-shave prep and products, keep these tips in mind:

  • Soften up wiry whiskers by shaving after a shower or wrapping a hot towel around your face.
  • Avoid rubbing or heavily scrubbing your face during pre-shave; this can cause irritation
  • Use a lightweight, thin layer of product. Too much can clog a razor and reduce its effectiveness
  • Experiment with different oils, creams, and soaps to find your preferences. Artisan brands offer premium options
  • Upgrade to a quality badger brush if using shave soaps. Face lathering adds moisture and lifts hair
  • For sensitive skin, look for soothing ingredients like aloe, glycerin, jojoba oil, or shea butter in pre-shave products.
  • Splash your face with cool water afterward to close pores and rinse residue. Follow with aftershave balm or moisturizer.
  • Sanitize the brush monthly by soaking the bristles in a gentle cleanser and hanging to dry.
  • Replace dull blades often. A sharp razor glides easily over prepped skin and whiskers, minimizing irritation.

With the right mix of preparation and quality products, your pre-shave routine can elevate your shaves and help you look your best.

Recommended Pre-Shave Products

Here are some top-rated pre-shave products to help build your optimal routine:

Shaving Oils

  • The Art of Shaving Pre-Shave Oil
  • Taylor of Old Bond Street Pre-Shave Oil
  • Castle Forbes Pre-Shave Oil
  • Jack Black Beard Oil
  • Lumin Pre-Shave Oil

Shaving Creams

  • Proraso Pre-Shave Cream
  • Pacific Shaving Company Caffeinated Shave Cream
  • Cremo Original Shave Cream
  • Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shaving Cream
  • Kiehl’s Ultimate Brushless Shaving Cream White Eagle

Shaving Soaps

  • Colonel Conk Shaving Soap Variety Pack
  • Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shaving Soap Bowl
  • Proraso Shaving Soap in a Bowl
  • Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap
  • Williams Mug Shaving Soap

Shaving Brushes

  • Parker Safety Razor Handcrafted “Long Loft” Pure Badger Brush
  • Vikings Blade Luxury Badger Brush
  • Edwin Jagger Best Badger Hair Shaving Brush
  • Perfecto Pure Badger Shaving Brush
  • Omega Boar Bristle Shaving Brush

Frequently Asked Question

1: What is pre-shave, and why is it important?

Pre-shave refers to the products or techniques used to prepare your skin and hair before shaving. It’s important because it can help reduce irritation, prevent nicks and cuts, and provide a smoother, more comfortable shave.

2: What are some common pre-shave products?

Common pre-shave products include pre-shave oils, pre-shave creams, pre-shave lotions, and pre-shave gels. Additionally, you can use warm water and a good quality soap or shaving cream as a basic pre-shave preparation.

3: Can I use regular soap as a pre-shave product?

Yes, you can use regular soap as a pre-shave product, but it’s not as effective as specialized pre-shave products. Specialized pre-shave products are designed to provide extra lubrication and protection for your skin during shaving.

4: How do pre-shave oils work, and are they suitable for all skin types?

Pre-shave oils work by providing a slick surface for the razor to glide over, reducing friction and preventing razor burn. They are suitable for most skin types, but if you have very oily skin, you may want to use them sparingly.

5: Are there any natural alternatives to pre-shave products?

Yes, some natural alternatives include coconut oil, olive oil, aloe vera gel, and even honey. These can provide lubrication and hydration to your skin before shaving.

6: When should I apply pre-shave products?

Ideally, you should apply pre-shave products just before you start shaving. This allows your skin to absorb the product and prepares it for a smooth shave.

7: Can I skip pre-shave products if I use a high-quality shaving cream or gel?

While a good quality shaving cream or gel can provide some pre-shave benefits, using a dedicated pre-shave product can further enhance your shaving experience. It’s a matter of personal preference, and some people find pre-shave products to be especially helpful.

8: Should I rinse off pre-shave products before applying shaving cream?

It’s typically not necessary to rinse off pre-shave products before applying shaving cream. You can apply your shaving cream directly on top of the pre-shave product for added protection and lubrication.

9: Are there any pre-shave techniques I should follow for the best results?

Yes, some pre-shave techniques include washing your face with warm water to soften the hair, massaging the pre-shave product into your skin in a circular motion, and letting it sit for a minute or two before applying shaving cream.

10: Can pre-shave products help with ingrown hairs and razor bumps?

Yes, pre-shave products can help prevent ingrown hairs and razor bumps by softening the hair and providing a smoother surface for the razor to glide over. However, they may not completely eliminate these issues, so proper post-shave care is also important.


Preparing your skin properly before shaving is a crucial step that too many guys skip. But investing just a little time into a solid pre-shave routine pays off with a close, comfortable shave and healthy-looking skin. Test out different soaps, oils, creams, and shaving brushes to find your favorite products and methods. Taking the time to prep your facial hair and skin before shaving makes a world of difference in getting your closest, smoothest shave yet.

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