What is pre-shave treatment?

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Written By Dominic Howard

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Getting a close, comfortable shave without irritation can be a challenge for many men. Razor burn, ingrown hairs, nicks, and cuts can make shaving an unpleasant experience. The secret to avoiding these common shaving issues lies in proper pre-shave preparation. Using a targeted pre-shave routine is the best way to prep your facial hair and skin for the closest shave possible.

What is Pre-Shave Treatment?

Pre-shave treatment refers to products and techniques used prior to shaving to prep the skin and beard. The goal is to soften the beard hairs and lift them away from the face to allow for a closer cut. Pre-shave products also help protect the skin and make it less prone to irritation during shaving. Common pre-shave products include pre-shave oils, gels, creams and soaps. Using them before shaving helps weaken the hair structure so blades can cut more efficiently. This gives a smoother, closer shave that helps reduce the risk of razor burn and ingrown hairs.

Benefits of Pre-Shave Treatment

There are several benefits to incorporating a pre-shave routine:

  • Softens and lifts beard hairs – Pre-shave products contain ingredients like oils and humectants that help soften and swell the hair cuticle. This causes the hairs to stand up more, allowing the razor to cut closer to the skin.
  • Protects skin – Ingredients like oils, glycerin, and silicones coat the skin and form a protective barrier. This helps prevent nicks, cuts, and irritation during shaving.
  • Enhances glide – Silicones and lubricating oils reduce drag so the razor can glide smoothly across the skin. This allows for a gentler shave with less irritation.
  • Moisturizes skin – Many pre-shave products contain moisturizing ingredients like oils, shea butter, and glycerin. These nourish and hydrate the skin, leaving it smooth and supple.
  • Reduces ingrown hairs – Lifting hairs and allowing closer shaving helps decrease the chances of hairs growing back under the skin and becoming ingrown.

Types of Pre-Shave Products

There are several types of pre-shave products to choose from:

Pre-Shave Oils

Oils are one of the most popular pre-shave options. When massaged into the skin, they help soften the cuticle of hair strands so they stand up better. Oils also form a lubricating layer that enhances glide and protects the skin. Common carrier oils used include:

  • Jojoba – Mimics natural sebum so is easily absorbed. Softens hair and calms skin.
  • Grapeseed – Light, non-greasy oil rich in linoleic acid to nourish skin.
  • Argan – Contains vitamin E and fatty acids that moisturize skin and hair.
  • Olive – Highly moisturizing oil that leaves a smooth shave.
  • Castor – Thick oil that coats and lifts coarse hairs. Also soothes skin.
  • Coconut – Very moisturizing oil that softens hair. Has antibacterial properties.
  • Almond – Light, absorbent oil that conditions skin and makes the razor glide easily.

Some pre-shave oils also contain “active” ingredients like menthol, eucalyptus, camphor, and sandalwood oil. These can provide a cooling or warming sensation while also opening pores and lifting hairs.

Pre-Shave Gels and Creams

Gels and creams provide moisturizing and protective benefits similar to oils. But they have a thicker consistency that allows them to cling to the skin and beard. Key ingredients like aloe vera, glycerin, silicone, and humectants hydrate and create a slick surface for shaving. The thicker consistency also lets you see exactly where you have applied it.

Pre-Shave Soaps

Pre-shave soaps are usually harder bar soaps rather than creams. Working the soap into a thick lather helps lift and exfoliate the skin while coating hairs for a closer cut. Many contain moisturizers like shea butter, coconut oil, and glycerin. The lather helps the razor glide smoothly without scraping skin.

How to Use Pre-Shave Products

Using your pre-shave product properly is key to getting the best results. Here are some tips:

  • Apply to clean skin after cleansing but before wetting beard – This allows the product to coat hairs and skin directly.
  • Massage in thoroughly with fingertips – Take 30-60 seconds to work the product down to the roots of hairs and skin underneath.
  • Let sit for 1-5 minutes – Give the product time to penetrate hairs and soak into the skin before lathering
  • Use on wet beard if using gel/cream – Apply a thin layer and add a few drops of water to emulsify into a useful lather.
  • Only need to apply where shaving – Don’t waste product by applying all over the face. Focus on shaving areas
  • Rinse lightly before applying shave cream – You want a light coating to remain on the skin beneath the shaving cream
  • Avoid getting pre-shave in your eyes if using oil or soap near your brows.

Choosing the Best Pre-Shave Product

With the abundance of pre-shave products available, it can be tricky to pick the right one for your routine. Here are a few factors to consider:

Skin Type

Choose a pre-shave suited to your skin type:

  • Dry skin – Look for more nourishing, moisturizing oils like argan, olive, and almond. Avoid astringents.
  • Oily/Acne-prone Skin – Seek light, non-comedogenic oils like grapeseed or jojoba or use gels. Avoid coconut oil.
  • Sensitive Skin – Opt for soothing, gentle options free of fragrance, alcohol, and menthol. Aloe-based gels are ideal.

Hair Type

Consider your beard thickness and texture:

  • Coarse or curly hair – Use heavier oils like castor or hair-softening creams.
  • Fine or sparse hair – Lighter oils like jojoba or grapeseed work well to lift and hydrate.
  • Longer hair – Apply pre-shave all the way down to the roots for best softening.

Razor Type

Your choice of razor can impact the ideal pre-shave choice:

  • Cartridge razor – Gel or cream produces lather to coat hairs.
  • Straight razor – Oil gives a slick surface for smoother glide.
  • Electric razor – Pre-shave is less critical but oil or gel still minimizes friction.
  • Safety razor – Bar soap creates a protective film and lifts hairs with lather.

Pre-Shave Ingredients to Look For

No matter which type of pre-shave product you choose, look for these beneficial ingredients:

  • Essential oils – Softens hairs, eases irritation and imparts soothing aromas like sandalwood, peppermint, and eucalyptus.
  • Glycerin – Humectant that hydrates skin and retains moisture during shaving.
  • Jojoba oil – Mimics skin’s sebum so easily absorbed. Softens hair.
  • Silicones – Create a slick, lubricating layer to minimize razor friction.
  • Aloe vera – Calms and moisturizes sensitive skin while providing lubrication.
  • Shea butter – Softens hair and provides skin-conditioning moisture.
  • Witch hazel – Helps tighten pores and has mild anti-inflammatory properties.

Ingredients to Avoid

Some common pre-shave ingredients can cause problems for sensitive skin:

  • Alcohol – Can dry out the skin and worsen irritation.
  • Fragrance – May contain irritating compounds and fragrances. Opt for fragrance-free.
  • Menthol/Camphor – Imparts cooling but can sting damaged skin for some.
  • Coconut oil – Highly comedogenic so can clog pores and cause breakouts.

Making Your Own Pre-Shave Oil

You can easily create your own customized pre-shave oil at home using a blend of carrier and essential oils. Here is a simple pre-shave oil recipe to try:


  • 1 oz carrier oil (jojoba, grapeseed, almond, etc.)
  • 5-10 drops essential oils (sandalwood, tea tree, peppermint)


  1. Add selected carrier oil to a 1 oz glass dropper bottle. Leave a little room at the top
  2. Add 5-10 drops of preferred essential oils. The fewer the better for sensitive skin.
  3. Cap the bottle and shake vigorously to mix.
  4. Use several drops massaged into the skin before shaving. Store at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Experiment with different oil combinations to find your perfect custom pre-shave oil. Just avoid using pore-clogging coconut oil if acne-prone.

The Benefits of Exfoliating Before Shaving

In addition to pre-shave oils and creams, gently exfoliating before shaving brings its own advantages. Using a scrub or dry brushing removes dead skin cells and allows hairs to stand up better for a closer cut. It also cleans congested pores and oil buildup that can cause ingrown hairs when trapped beneath new growth. Be sure to exfoliate gently using light pressure and circular motions. Harsh scrubbing can cause micro-cuts that lead to more irritation during shaving.

Here are effective exfoliating options to try before shaving:

  • Sugar or salt scrubs – Gently buff away dead cells and debris.
  • Charcoal cleanser – Purifying and detoxifying. Lifts away impurities.
  • A dry brush – Stimulates skin and lifts hairs via bristles. Avoid active breakouts.
  • A konjac sponge – Exfoliates without chemicals using natural fibers
  • A microfiber cloth – Gently removes flaky skin when damp
  • An exfoliating glove – Buffs away dead skin using a textured glove surface.

After exfoliating, rinse your skin and make sure to apply your pre-shave product and shave cream as usual. The exfoliation preps skin while the pre-shave readies your whiskers.

Saving Time By Shaving in the Shower

To save time in your morning routine, consider shaving right in the shower as part of your regular cleansing. The steamy water helps open pores and soften hairs for an easier shave. Gel pre-shaves also lather up nicely. Just be sure to use a fog-free mirror mounted inside your shower to see.

Here are some tips for an easy, effective wet shave in the shower:

  • Shave after cleaning the face – This ensures skin is free of excess oils.
  • Apply pre-shave once the face is wet – Warm water helps maximize spreadability.
  • Let pre-shave sit briefly – Give it 2-3 minutes to soak as you shampoo or wash
  • Use a rich, creamy shave cream – Formulas created for wet shaving hydrate best.
  • Take short, smooth strokes – The razor will glide easily with minimal pressure.
  • Rinse blade frequently – Prevent the buildup of hair, foam, and pre-shave.
  • Final rinse in cool water – Closes pores and calms skin.

Pat dry after your shower shave and apply a moisturizer if desired. The hydrating environment of a steamy shower combined with pre-shave use can make for a very close, comfortable shave.

Troubleshooting Common Pre-Shave Issues

While a proper pre-shave routine can prevent many shaving problems, you may still experience some unwanted issues:

  • Razor Burn – This red, rashy irritation is often due to friction. Be sure to prep skin fully with adequate pre-shave time. Use a sharp blade and never press too hard.
  • Ingrown Hairs – When strands get trapped under the skin’s surface, they become ingrown. Gently exfoliate to lift hairs and use light, smooth razor strokes to avoid cutting below skin level.
  • Nicks/Cuts – Pressing too hard or using a dull blade can lead to nicks and cuts. Ensure your blade is sharp and let the razor’s weight do the work without added pressure.
  • Bumps/Pimples – Hair removal can provoke breakouts in some by spreading bacteria. Disinfect your razor, don’t shave over pimples, and exfoliate to keep pores clear.
  • Rash – Some skin is sensitive to ingredients in pre-shaves. Discontinue use if any itching or rashes occur and try a fragrance-free, nourishing oil instead.

If any irritation persists more than 2 days after shaving, see your dermatologist to rule out infection or ingrown hairs that may require medical treatment. Proper aftercare is also key – be gentle, moisturize, and avoid sun exposure on freshly shaved skin.

Achieving the Closest, Smoothest Shave

With preparation and practice, you can achieve the closest shave possible while avoiding nicks, bumps, and burns. Here are some final tips for the ultimate pre-shave routine:

  • Shave after a hot shower – The steam softens hairs and opens pores.
  • Exfoliate 2-3 times a week – Removes dead skin and lifts hairs.
  • Use a specialty pre-shave product – Oils, gels, and creams prep your beard best.
  • Apply pre-shave to a dry face – Maximizes saturation into whiskers.
  • Allow 2-5 minutes before lathering – Let the product fully penetrate.
  • Always use a sharp, clean razor – Dull blades tear hair and skin.
  • Shave with the grain initially – Avoid against the grain on the first pass.
  • Rinse blade frequently – Clears away product buildup.
  • Moisturize after shaving – Hydrating creams soothe and protect.
  • Prevent ingrown hairs – Shave properly and exfoliate regularly.

Take the time to optimize your pre-shave routine and the closeness of your shave will dramatically improve. Say goodbye to irritation and enjoy smooth, stubble-free skin with these pre-shave pointers in mind. Your face will thank you!

Frequently Asked Question

Q1: What is pre-shave treatment?

Pre-shave treatment refers to the grooming ritual or products used before shaving to prepare the skin and hair for a smoother and more comfortable shaving experience.

Q2: Why should I use a pre-shave treatment?

Using a pre-shave treatment can help soften your beard hair, open up your pores, and reduce irritation, making your shave more comfortable and effective.

Q3: What are some common pre-shave treatments?

Common pre-shave treatments include pre-shave oils, creams, gels, and even hot towels. These products and techniques help to hydrate, protect, and prepare the skin.

Q4: How do pre-shave oils work?

Pre-shave oils create a barrier on the skin’s surface, allowing the razor to glide more smoothly. They also help to soften the beard hair, making it easier to cut.

Q5: Are pre-shave treatments suitable for all skin types?

Pre-shave treatments come in various formulations, so you can find one that suits your specific skin type. It’s essential to choose a product that matches your needs, whether you have sensitive, oily, or dry skin.

Q6: When should I apply a pre-shave treatment?

Apply the pre-shave treatment just before you start shaving. This allows it to prepare your skin and beard for a smoother shaving experience.

Q7: Can I use pre-shave treatments with an electric razor?

While pre-shave treatments are more commonly associated with traditional wet shaving, some people find that using them with an electric razor can also improve the comfort of the shave.

Q8: Do pre-shave treatments prevent razor burns and ingrown hairs?

Yes, pre-shave treatments can help reduce the risk of razor burn and ingrown hairs by preparing the skin and hair, making it less likely for the razor to tug or irritate the skin.

Q9: Are pre-shave treatments only for men?

No, pre-shave treatments can be used by anyone who shaves, regardless of gender. Both men and women can benefit from these products to enhance their shaving experience.

Q10: Can I make my own DIY pre-shave treatment at home?

Yes, you can create DIY pre-shave treatments using natural oils like coconut oil or olive oil. However, be cautious if you have sensitive skin, and always patch-test before using any homemade products.


In conclusion, a pre-shave treatment is a valuable addition to your grooming routine that can significantly improve the quality of your shaving experience. By softening the beard hair, opening up your pores, and reducing the risk of irritation, pre-shave treatments help you achieve a smoother, more comfortable shave. Whether you opt for commercial products or DIY solutions, incorporating a pre-shave treatment can make your shaving routine a more enjoyable and effective process, regardless of your gender or skin type.

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