24 June 2011

On Shaving the Roman Way

One of my occasional online haunts is the blog of Paul Gogarty, an old friend and until recently one of my home constituency's deputies to the Dáil, the lower house of the Irish parliament. About a month back he wrote a long and rather detailed post about the Eurovision and shaving. Now, the Eurovision I can take or leave, though I agree with the Brother that it's a better way of learning about geography than having a world war. Shaving, on the other hand, matters to me, and as Paul was clearly having ethical and practical issues with his blades, I wrote to give him my own thoughts on the subject.

I said something like the following...

As you'll know, I've been broke for years. What you'll not know is that I have sensitive skin, and that I like a close shave. These three factors pose a bit of a challenge, but over the last two years I have solved this problem.

The Blade
For the blade, I use the classic Wilkinson Sword double-edged razor, using the kind of blades teenage girls use to cut themselves. You know the ones.

Its very simple, very sharp, and very cheap. It takes a tiny bit of getting used to, as with a Mach 3, say, one uses pressure from the hand to effectively rip out one's bristles, whereas with this it's merely the weight of the head, combined with the angle at which one holds the blade, that slices away the hairs. I started using this as I found that shaving oil, which I used to use when I was travelling, as I so often was, tended to clog multi-blade razors. No matter how much I rinsed them, they'd get blocked up with a mass of oily bristles. Single blades can't clog.

For a while I experimented with a traditional straight razor, but the learning curve on it proved too demanding. I liked the idea of only ever having one blade, which I'd sharpen and re-sharpen, as it struck me as both cool and good for the environment, and so resolved to learn with a straight razor loaded with disposable blades, but found that I couldn't get it right. It wasn't the nicks that bothered me -- I'd expected them -- it was that after shaving my face would alternate between glassily-smooth patches and patches of horrible scurfy stuff, the latter having a tendency to appear overnight. I decided I couldn't be arsed with going through weeks of that, so turned to a more conventional handle and head arrangement.

(I've been shaved with a straight-razor, for what it's worth, one balmy night in Cappadocia last summer, with a young teenage boy drawing the blade over my face as his boss watched approving. Oddly, it wasn't as unnerving an experience as I'd feared beforehand.)

Secondly, I've stopped using foams, gels, soaps, and even creams when shaving, though I like the Palmolive shaving cream a lot, especially when applied with a brush which raises the hairs to make them easier to slice away. Instead, inspired by poverty and having run out of shaving oil one Christmas at home in Dublin, I've changed to Olive Oil.

Other oils are quite thin, and can clog one's pores, but Olive Oil, especially extra virgin oil, is viscous enough to form a layer that won't harm the skin and will actually enrich it, while providing lubrication and protection as you slice away the hairs.

I usually keep about an inch of oil in a mug, with a few drops of clove oil mixed in*, and leave my razor -- head down -- in that, as keeping the blade in the oil prolongs its life. The oil will get a bit dirty, in that some bristles will invariably find their way in, but I think that's a price worth paying.

So, when shaving in my neo-Roman way, I start by showering and then pressing a hot, wet flannel against my face; I then dab my fingers in the oil and smear it all over my face, rubbing it in especially where I intend to shave; I then set to work, shaving with the growth to begin with and against where necessary, judging by feel as I pull the skin and relubricating whenever I need to; once smooth, I use the hot wet flannel again to remove all oil and freshen the skin, and then use cold water to close up the pores. Mission accomplished.

(Then you must clean your sink, as you don't want oily rings and bristles around it, and your other half or your housemates certainly won't want that.)

People keep saying I have freakishly-young looking skin for someone my age. I don't know if this is true, or they're just being nice, but if they're right I reckon it's due to the olive oil.

Don't use oil with chilli in. That would be bad.


* Clove oil acts as a very mild anaesthetic, which can be handy if you nick yourself while shaving.

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