Brush with elegance
Preparation and a few special techniques can revive feel-good factor, writes Euan McKirdy
If you do anything often enough, it becomes mundane. Such is the central problem with shaving - what is for most men a daily routine, something that long ago had the novelty and fun drained out of it.
"Men usually refer to daily shaving as a curse and this is often because guys aren't educated from their first shave as teenagers," says Sarah Chung, general manager of men's grooming centre Gentlemen's Tonic.
"Following the correct steps ensures the beard is being prepped and shaved in the most comfortable way possible and the skin is also being taken care of before, during and after. Not following an optimal shaving procedure is the difference between an okay shave and a great shave."
Bearded hipsters and religious leaders aside, the majority of men need to shave at least a few times a week to keep looking fresh and sharp. If done right - not scraping a blade hurriedly across your face while half-asleep and in a hurry to get out of the door - shaving can be an invigorating experience that can shape your day.
A great shave, says Gary Tong, deputy manager of British fragrance and accessories retailer Czech & Speake, can "offer a more confident and presentable image, and allows a well-groomed gentleman a good start to the day".
With a little preparation - and perhaps a few special techniques - this humdrum activity can instead be something that adds a spring to a man's step, and adds a little luxury to the morning routine.
"A great shave does more than give a man a clean-cut, hair-free face," says Hubert Tsai, CEO and founder of TwinLuxe, a high-end men's skincare brand available at The Oriental Spa. "Since most men shave in the mornings, shaving is a great way to start the day off on a positive note. A man will feel energised and ready to conquer any obstacles [he may encounter] at work."
According to Kem Mehmet, head barber at Gentlemen's Tonic, the perfect shave begins well before the use of the razor. The first step is to ensure that the facial hair is soft - which allows closer and easier shaving - and the best place to start is in the shower, or by using a warm, damp towel, which relaxes the skin to prevent nicks and razor burn.
A good cleansing and exfoliating product applied in the shower or just before shaving can remove impurities, eliminate shine and cleanse the skin deep down while preparing it for shaving.
Mehmet also advises using a pre-shave product such as shaving oil, applied to a freshly washed face. It should be applied before shaving cream and helps to soften whiskers prior to the razor. Lathering up is a crucial step, creating vital lubricant for the razor - dry-shaving is a surefire way of damaging skin.
"A man's shaving ritual should also act as his morning skincare routine," Tsai explains. "His skin will feel silky smooth and nourished."
For best results, the time-tested methods are often best. Badger-hair brushes are still considered the ultimate in shaving, and build a thicker lather that will raise the facial hair, letting you cut closer to the root. In these convenience-obsessed times, however, a gel or cream-based foam will also do the trick.
Non-lathering shaving creams have brought wet shaving to a higher level. Modern advanced non-lathering shaving creams, such as TwinLuxe's Smooth Shave Cream, are thick and provide extra protection from the blade.
When it comes to the act itself, there are ways to avoid hacking through whiskers like an explorer chopping his way through dense undergrowth.
While it's tempting to save a few dollars here and there by eking one more shave out of a blade, using worn razors is counterproductive and could cause unnecessary damage to the skin, Mehmet says. Depending on the density of a man's facial hair, blades should be replaced every four to six shaves.
With proper preparation and a fresh blade, a close shave shouldn't require more than two strokes. The first pass should be with the grain of the beard, short quick strokes which should, if done properly, take care of about 80 per cent of the beard. Use gentle strokes, and don't put too much pressure on the blade.
For a closer shave - date- or interview-grade - re-lather and repeat. This time, go against the grain, which invites the potential for irritation but if done properly will allow for an even closer cut.
Once the job is done to satisfaction, rinse your face with cool water, which - along with removing excess cream and loose hair - tightens the pores and soothes the skin.
A good cleansing makes shaving easier, avoiding friction, which often is the cause of redness and inflammation, and helps the beard to grow in perfect condition, without irritation. A moisturiser - preferably with sunblock - is the perfect way to protect the face for the remainder of the day.
It's an important step that calms irritation, balances the skin's moisture content and prevents potential problems such as ingrown hairs or clogged pores.
Changing shaving from a routine to an indulgence can be relatively easy, Chung says. "With the world of men's grooming flourishing, adding luxury into your daily routine has never been easier. With [our] beautiful range of luxury shaving sets and leather goods, a shave can be aesthetically pleasing before you've even started."
Of course, should time and expense be no object, a visit to a traditional barber can provide the ultimate in shaving luxury, and should be done "as often as possible," according to Tsai. The ritual, from hot towel to the steady scrape of a straight razor against the face, is at once a relaxing and meditative experience. The Oriental Spa offers a Performance Facial using TwinLuxe products to deep-clean and rejuvenate the skin.
But it's the Mandarin Barber, at sister hotel The Mandarin Oriental, that offers the traditional wet shave and the Mandarin shave, which includes two shaves with the straight razor and uses essential oils, with hot and cold towels.
Monthly membership packages are also available, including a haircut, shave, manicure or pedicure, and massage or facial.
Gentlemen's Tonic also offers a wet shave using its exclusive products and hot towels. Guests can book a Prep facial to cleanse and hydrate the skin before the shave, or combine it with a haircut.
"A professional wet shave is without a doubt the best way to shave," Chung says. "You can be assured your skin is being looked after and your beard is being shaved with absolute precision. That someone else is doing this tricky task for you not only means you can sit back and relax, but also that your skin is getting a thorough assessment, which means you should gain some helpful feedback."