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All about shaving

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A man shaving his neck using a straight razor

Closeup of a disposable razor shaving stubble off the underside of a chin. Note the direction of razor travel is the same as the direction of the stubble hairs or 'grain'.

Cartridge razor with two blades

Shaving is the removal of hair, by using a razor or any other kind of bladed implement, to slice it down—to the level of the skin or otherwise. Shaving is most commonly practiced by men to remove their facial hair and by women to remove their leg and underarm hair. A man is called clean-shaven if he has had his beard entirely removed.

Both men and women sometimes shave their chest hair, abdominal hair, leg hair, underarm hair, pubic hair or any other bodily hair. Head shaving is much more common among men. It is often associated with religious practice, the armed forces and some competitive sports such as swimming, running and extreme sports. Historically, head shaving has also been used to humiliate, punish and show submission to an authority, and also as part of fund-raising efforts, particularly for cancer research organizations and charitable organizations which serve cancer patients. The shaving of head hair is also sometimes done by cancer patients when their treatment may result in partial hair loss.


Alexander the Great's shaven image on the Alexander Mosaic, 2nd Century BC

Before the advent of razors, hair was sometimes removed using two shells to pull the hair out or using water and a sharp tool. Around 3000 BC when copper tools were developed, copper razors were invented. The idea of an aesthetic approach to personal hygiene may have begun at this time, though Egyptian priests may have practiced something similar to this earlier. Alexander the Great strongly promoted shaving during his reign in the 4th century BC to avoid "dangerous beard-grabbing in combat", and because he believed it looked tidier. In some Native American tribes, at the time of contact with British colonists, it was customary for men and women to remove all bodily hair using these methods.


Shaving can be done with a straight razor or safety razor (called 'manual shaving' or 'wet shaving') or an electric razor (called 'dry shaving').

The removal of a full beard often requires the use of scissors or an electric (or beard) trimmer to reduce the mass of hair, simplifying the process.

Traditional wet shaving

Safety razor, shaving brush and shaving soap. The brush is used to make lather from the soap.

There are two types of manual razors: straight razor and safety razors. Safety razors are further subdivided into double-edged razors, single edge, injector razors, cartridge razors and disposable razors.

Double-edge razors are currently readily available and are manufactured by Merkur in Germany, Edwin Jagger in Great Britain, Kiwishaver in New Zealand, Parker in India, Feather in Japan, Above the Tie and Weber Razor in the United States, Ikon in Thailand, and Weishi in China. Double-edge razors are named so because the blade that they use has two sharp edges on opposite sides of the blade. Current multi-bladed cartridge manufacturers attempt to differentiate themselves by having more or fewer blades than their competitors, each arguing that their product gives a greater shave quality at a more affordable price. A common brand that produced a variety of razors in the United States during the 20th Century was Gillette. There are several other brands selling safety razor blades such as Wilkinson Sword, and Bic.

Before wet shaving, the area to be shaved is usually doused in warm to hot water or covered for several minutes with a hot wet towel to soften the skin and hair. A lathering or lubricating agent such as cream, soap, gel, foam or oil is normally applied after this. Lubricating and moisturizing the skin to be shaved helps to prevent a painful razor burn. Many razor cartridges include a lubricating strip, made of polyethylene glycol, to function instead of or in supplement to extrinsic agents. It also lifts and softens the hairs, causing them to swell. This enhances the cutting action and sometimes permits cutting the hairs slightly below the surface of the skin. Additionally, during shaving, the lather indicates areas that have not been addressed. When soap is used, it is generally applied with a shaving brush, which has long soft bristles. It is worked up into a usable lather by the brush, either against the face, in a shaving mug, bowl, scuttle, or palm of the hand.

Since cuts are more likely when using safety razors and straight razors, wet shaving is generally done in more than one pass with the blade. The goal is to reduce the amount of hair with each pass, instead of trying to eliminate all of it in a single pass. This also reduces the risks of cuts, soreness, and ingrown hairs. Alum blocks and styptic pencils are used to close cuts resulting from the shave.

Men may use an aftershave lotion after they have finished shaving. It may contain an antiseptic agent such as isopropyl alcohol, both to prevent infection from cuts and to act as an astringent to reduce skin irritation, a perfume, and a moisturizer to soften the facial skin.

Electric shaving

A rotary design electric razor

The electric razor (electric shaver) consists of a set of oscillating or rotating blades, which are held behind a perforated metal screen which prevents them from coming into contact with the skin and behaves much like the second blade in a pair of scissors. When the razor is held against the skin, the whiskers poke through the holes in the screen and are sliced by the moving blades. In some designs the blades are a rotating cylinder. In others they are one or more rotating disks or a set of oscillating blades. Each design has an optimum motion over the skin for the best shave and manufacturers provide guidance on this. Generally, circular or cylindrical blades (rotary-type shaver) move in a circular motion and oscillating blades (foil-type shaver) move left and right. Hitachi has produced foil-type shavers with a rotary blade that operates similarly to the blade assembly of a reel-type Lawn mower. The first electric razor was built by Jacob Schick in 1928.

The main disadvantages of electric shaving are that it may not cut the whiskers as closely as razor shaving does and it requires a source of electricity. The advantages include fewer cuts to the skin, quicker shaving and no need for a water/lather supply. The initial cost of electric shaving is higher, due to the cost of the shaver itself, but the long-term cost can be significantly lower, since the cutting parts do not need replacement for approximately 18 months and a lathering product is not required. Some people also find they do not experience ingrown hairs (pseudofolliculitis barbae, also called razor bumps), when using an electric shaver.

In contrast to wet shaving, electric shave lotions are intended to stiffen the whiskers. Stiffening is achieved by dehydrating the follicles using solutions of alcohols and a degreaser such as isopropylmyristate. Lotions are also sold to reduce skin irritation, but electric shaving does not usually require the application of any lubrication.

Mechanical shavers powered by a spring motor have been manufactured, although in the late 20th century they became rare. Such shavers can operate for up to two minutes each time the spring is wound and do not require an electrical outlet or batteries. Such type of shaver, the "Monaco" brand, was used on American space flights in the 1960s and 1970s, during the Apollo missions.


A woman's hair growth after being shaved

Contemporary shaving products broadly fall into three categories: pre-, during and after-shave.

Pre-shaving mainly consists of getting the skin and hairs ready for the blade. The shaving products that one can find for this particular action are oils, creams and shaving soaps. These products come in various formulations which are designed for a particular type of skin or beard. They may also be chosen according to the instrument which is going to be used for shaving. The market provides pre-shaving products intended for individuals who shave with hand razors or for those who prefer an electric razor. Although pre-shave oils may result in a smoother shave, these products are not so popular. Individuals that use a manual razor tend to skip this step because the soap or cream which is used for shaving provides the same benefit as a pre-shave product.

There are mainly three types of manual razors that can be found on the market. One of the oldest types is the straight razor. These razors have two parts, the blade and the handle also known as the "scales." The blade has different sizes and it may be folded into the handle. They can be made of different materials, but the best quality ones are made from steel. One of the most popular types of straight razors is those manufactured by Sheffield, Eng. The price of these razors depends on the quality of the material they are made of and ranges from as low as a little over $10 to more than $100. The brand may also influence the price of the razor.

By far the most common type of razor in the developed world is the disposable. These minimize the risk of injury for inexperienced or hurried shavers and they are commonly used by both men and women. The primary disadvantages that come with the use of disposable razors are the lower quality shave, and the skin irritation or in-grown hairs that may result afterward. These razors are commonly found with between one and five blades, and opinions differ regarding which setup provides the best shave.

Double-edge safety razors are not as popular as disposable razors, but they are still an option for those who feel comfortable using them. Although their name suggests that these razors are very safe, they are not entirely without risk because the blade edges of the razor are exposed and can cause cuts if the appropriate technique and sufficient caution are not used. They are, however, considered to be safer than straight razors because there is no actual risk of serious injury as there is with the latter.

Shaving with a hand razor requires either water or the use of a foam, cream or soap. Generally, shaving creams and foams are used with disposable razors and soap is more commonly used with straight razors. These shaving products are intended to smooth the face by lubricating the skin which allows a gentler shave. It seems that individuals who use these products are less likely to cut their skin and the shaved area is smoother by comparison with people who use only water before shaving. Moreover, the shaving products also help in preventing and reducing skin irritation. When shaving with a straight razor, the soap is applied onto the face with the help of a mug and a brush. The use of soap with a brush is thought to result in a superior quality shave as the brush may unclog the hairs that are stuck together.

Shaving with an electric razor can be done with the skin dry, but many individuals apply a commercial pre-shaving lubricant to lessen irritation. Most electric razors come with features which help to raise the hairs, allowing them to be cut more efficiently. This prevents the skin from being irritated by excessive motion from the razor.

Aftershaves and colognes are the main products used after shaving, to smooth the shaved area and for preventing skin irritation. They can also help to sterilize any cuts in the skin.


Shaving can have numerous side effects, including cuts, abrasions, and irritation. Many side effects can be minimized by using a fresh blade, applying plenty of lubrication, and avoiding pressing down with the razor. A shaving brush can also help. The cosmetic market in some consumer economies offers many products to reduce these effects; they commonly dry the affected area, and some also help to lift out the trapped hair(s). Some people who shave choose to use only single-blade or wire-wrapped blades that shave farther away from the skin. Others have skin that cannot tolerate razor shaving at all; they use depilatory shaving powders to dissolve hair above the skin's surface, or grow a beard.

Cuts from shaving can bleed for about fifteen minutes. Shaving cuts can be caused by blade movement perpendicular to the blade's cutting axis or by regular / orthogonal shaving over prominent bumps on the skin (which the blade incises). Common methods used to stop shaving-induced bleeding include: pressing any simple alcohol onto the cut until the bleeding stops (e.g. with a cotton swab); placing a small piece of tissue or toilet paper onto the cut; applying styptic pencils and styptic liquids; placing a small amount of petroleum jelly on the cut after most of the bleeding has ended (which can stop the bleeding without forming a scab), or  applying a small amount of aluminum chlorohydrate (commonly found in roll-on deodorants such as Ban). Shaving in or just after a cold shower can help prevent bleeding as well, because blood flow to the skin is reduced in these conditions because of vasoconstriction caused by the cold water. Shaving blade disposal in the era of safety razors and double-edged blades was a concern for a man's spouse and children who could easily take a blade, casually cast into the garbage, and in the process of compressing or compacting the garbage, cut themselves seriously. Some razor blade manufacturers include disposal containers or receptacles to avoid injuries.

Razor burn

The red spot on the man's neck is razor burn

Razor burn is an irritation of the skin caused by using a blunt blade or not using proper technique. It appears as a mild rash 2–4 minutes after shaving (once hair starts to grow through sealed skin) and usually disappears after a few hours to a few days, depending on severity. In severe cases, razor burn can also be accompanied by razor bumps, where the area around shaved hairs get raised red welts or infected pustules. A rash at the time of shaving is usually a sign of lack of lubrication. Razor burn is a common problem, especially among those who shave coarse hairs on areas with sensitive skin like the bikini line, pubic hair, underarms, chest, and beard. The condition can be caused by shaving too closely, shaving with a blunt blade, dry shaving, applying too much pressure when shaving, shaving too quickly or roughly, or shaving against the grain.

Ways to prevent razor burn include keeping the skin moist, using a shaving brush and lather, using a moisturizing shaving gel, shaving in the direction of the hair growth, resisting the urge to shave too closely, applying minimal pressure, avoiding scratching or irritation after shaving, avoiding irritating products on the shaved area (colognes, perfumes, etc.) and using an aftershave cream with aloe vera or other emollients. Putting a warm, wet cloth on one's skin helps as well, by softening hairs. This can also be done by using pre-shave oil before the application of shaving cream. One other technique involves exfoliating the skin before and after shaving, using various exfoliating products, included but not limited to, brushes, mitts, and luffas. This process removes dead skin cells, reducing the potential for ingrown hairs and allowing the razor to glide across the skin smoothly decreasing the risk of the razor snagging or grabbing causing razor burn.

Razor bumps
Pseudofolliculitis barbae is a medical term for persistent inflammation caused by shaving. It is also known by the initials PFB or colloquial terms such as "razor bumps."

Shaving does not cause terminal hair to grow back thicker or coarser or darker. This belief arose because hair that has not been cut has a tapered end (due to wear), whereas, after cutting, there is no taper. It appears thicker, and feels coarser because of the sharper, unworn edges. The fact that shorter hairs are "harder" (less flexible) than longer hairs also contributes to this effect. Hair can also appear darker after it grows back because hair that has never been cut is often lighter from sun exposure. In addition, as humans grow older hair tends to grow coarser and in more places on the face and body. For example, teenagers may start shaving their face or legs at around 16, but as they age hair will start to grow more abundantly and thicker, leading some to believe this was due to the shaving, but in reality is just part of the maturation process.


Christianity, Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism
Tonsure is the practice of some Christian churches and some Hindu, Jain and Buddhist (usually only monks or nuns) temples of shaving or plucking the hair from the scalp of priests and nuns as a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem. Amish men shave their beard until they are married, after which they allow it to grow.

Among Hindus, a child's birth hair is shaved as practice in the religion. This allows for a check to be made of proper fusing of the skull. It is also believed that this allows the hair to grow back thicker and healthier.

Kesh (Sikhism)
In Kesh (Sikhism) (sometimes Kes) is the practice of allowing one's hair to grow naturally as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God's creation. The practice is one of the Five Ks, the outward symbols ordered by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 as a means to profess the Sikh faith. The hair is combed twice daily with a Kangha, another of the Five Ks, and tied into a simple knot known as a Joora or Rishi knot. This knot of hair is usually held in place with the Kanga and covered by a turban.

In Islam it is habit or usual practice (sunnah) for men to grow a full beard and trim the mustache close, if genetically possible. In addition to the above requirements, Muslim men and women must trim their pubic hair and armpit hair, and not let it grow for more than 40 days. Some Muslims also interpret this as habit, while classical scholars have viewed the matter as religious duty.

Observant Jewish men are subject to restrictions on the shaving of their beards, as the Bible, in Leviticus chapter 19 verse 27 forbids the shaving of the corners of the head and prohibits the marring of the corners of the beard. The Hebrew word used in this verse refers specifically to shaving with a blade against the skin; rabbis at different times and places have interpreted this in many ways. Tools like scissors and electric razors, which cut the hair between two blades instead of between blade and skin, have often been considered more acceptable.

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