The Art of Leg Shaving

I want to share a bit of my interest in traditional shaving but I keep re-painting my nails. So I’m going to wedge this post in here in the morning, before I get distracted.

To start, I’ll link to four posts I did on my other blog before starting this one. They include reasons why traditional shaving is appealing, a bit of information on shaving soap, and a buying guide for shaving soap ingredients.

  1. Soap, Shaving, and Other Non-Crochet Things
  2. The Scoop on Soap
  3. Soap vs Detergent: Round 1. FIGHT!
  4. How to Shop for Soap

With that out of the way I want to talk a bit about lather and product options. In the past I shared my usual set-up, which includes a bar of shea butter shaving soap. Here’s how it works: you soak your badger bristle brush in hot water, shake a bit out, then swirl it around the soap block. Load those bristles up with soap. Then transfer your brush to your mug and stir like crazy. Add a drip or two of water if it looks dry. After some mixing you’ll end up with gorgeous peaky lather, a bit like meringue.

Sounds simple! Except it’s not. There a learning curve and I’m still struggling a bit with it. Part of the problem is that most shaving how-to guides are for men, with beard shaving in mind. There’s not much out there to guide you if you’re shaving your legs. And since the size of the surface area, skin type, and hair type are so different that’s no small barrier.

But I’ll be honest, most of my lather issue are mine alone. I’m impatient and it’s hard for me to take the time to build quality lather. As soon as I get close to the creamy, foamy target I stop swirling and move prematurely to my legs.  I end up with thin lather that disappears quickly or dries before I can get to it. This is a recipe for razor burn. So you can imagine how interested I am in finding a product that responds well to my impatience. A traditional wet shave on my legs is still infinitely better than a cartridge razor shave, but knowing I have not yet achieved utopia drives me to keep improving my technique.

I decided to give a shaving stick a try this weekend. A shaving stick is, essentially, soap in stick form. Whereas block soap lather is built on the bar or in a cup, shaving sticks are meant to be applied to the area to be shaved, and then lather is built with the brush directly on the skin.

Back (L to R): Witch Hazel spritz, shaving oil, lotion. Front (L to R): Speick shaving stick, badger bristle brush, Merkur 180 with Derby blade, Hot Wheels Car. In the background: Lush Ambrosia Shaving Cream, to be reviewed at a future date.

Basic instructions are as follows: Get your skin good and wet. Rub the stick over your skin to get a fine layer of soap. Use your warmed shaken-out brush to scrub in circular motions until lather comes up.  It’s pretty straight forward and at first glance that looks faster and easier than the bar method.  So I tried it.  Comparing the bar soap method with the shaving stick method was educational.  On the off chance another girl Googles traditional wet shaving tips for legs like I did, I thought I’d share some findings below:

1) Pre-Shave Oil

There’s a reason why I’m starting with this item first. Pre-shave oil is an optional step, and wet shaving forums are filled with discussions between guys who like it and guys who don’t. For my legs I fall on the side that considers it essential. I’ve tried with and without, but without just isn’t worth it.

Leg shaving is easier than face shaving, but we do have our own challenges to contend with. First of all, you’ve got significantly more surface area to cover than a guy who’s doing his face. On the plus side the hair is finer, less bristly, and the skin less reactive to the shaving process.  On the negative side, we’re bent over, working at full-reach along our longest extremities. Our eyes are nowhere near our target. More importantly for this discussion, the greater surface area means any applied shaving product has time to dry, and skin has more time to absorb topical creams.

Which brings me back to the importance of pre-shave oil. A thin layer of oil helps keep the skin pliable, as well as slow the absorption of water-based topical products. I have found applying oil between my shower and my shave to be crucial.

You might now be tempted to go shopping for pre-shave oils. If you do, you might be struck with sticker shock. You’ll look at the teensy bottles and contemplate the amount of skin you need to cover and wonder how this is more cost effective than shaving with canned goo. But I have good news!

Most skin care guides I’ve found recommend a blend of castor and olive oils for the best bang for your buck. You can go fancier if you’d like, but a castor and olive oil blend is pretty damn good. Pure castor oil is found in the digestive section of any pharmacy for a couple of bucks. And most of us already have olive oil in our pantries.

Now hold up here… Castor and olive oil? That sounds familiar. Oh yeah, that also happens to be the blend most commonly recommended for the oil cleansing method of facial care. It’s a multitasker!  How convenient and cost effective!

Anyway, a few drops of pre-shave oil warmed between my hands and applied to my legs does wonders for my shave. I shaved once without oil and will never skip that step again.

2) Bar vs Stick soap

You’ll see in a minute why I started with oil.

I purchased a Speick off of Amazon.com for about $6.  By contrast my bar of Shea butter shaving soap was about $7.  It arrived with minimal packaging, just a cardstock box and a foil wrapper around the stick.  A small plastic base gives you something to grip as you work.

I hopped out of the shower, patted dry, and oiled up.  Following the tutorial I watched, I splashed lots of warm water on my legs and got ready for hot stick-on-skin action.  I exposed the tip of the stick and applied it in small circles around my ankles.  Here’s where I encountered my first conundrum.  The shaving stick is a smooth, hard soap surface.  When applied to my skin, it encountered that thin layer of shaving oil.  The stick picked up the oil, which meant I had to rub harder, and ultimately what happened was that I was scrubbing away the pre-shave oil completely.  Following up with the brush just made that worse, because i was scrubbing directly on my skin to build lather.  It sort of cancelled out the oil by removing it.

Another conundrum was the water.  I don’t DE shave in the shower.  If I were shaving my face I could lean over the sink while I splashed water on my skin.  With my leg propped up on a stool in front of the sink, the water was ending up all over the floor.  Drips and splashes all over the place.  On a tiled or linoleum floor this would be slippery.  My bathroom vanity is in a carpeted area, so that meant getting water on the carpet.  I belatedly put down a towel but this whole process seemed messier.

The third and final conundrum was the consumption of the soap.  Rubbing the stick directly on my skin ate into the product pretty quickly.  It was easy to see that I would finish a stick sooner than I would finish a bar.  Faster consumption means the stick is significantly less cost effective than I’d hoped.  And since the stick is smaller, a quick calculation of cost per ounce showed bar soap is a better value.

The bottom line:

I’m not sure the stick is worth it for shaving legs.  I found it counterproductive to the pre-shave oil step, which for me is crucial for skin comfort, and it seems like in the long run it would be less cost effective.  Add in the sloppy watery mess and it doesn’t seem like a product I’ll put into my regular rotation.

This weekend I’m trying out my Lush Ambrosia shaving cream and see if it does any better. I’m doubtful, but hey let’s give it a shot.  I’ll share my thoughts sometime next week, between manicures.

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About Smapte

I crochet. I crochet a lot. My speciality is amigurumi dolls based on pop culture entertainment, such as LOST, Star Trek, Mad Men and Firefly. I also crochet beanie hats with food items on them such as pancakes, sushi, burgers, spaghetti, or whatever sounds hat-worthy. Visit me at ThatThingILike.wordpress.com or Xanadoodle.wordpress.com.

Posted on February 15, 2012, in Misc and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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