The Science of Wet Shaving

September 20, 2020 5 min read

The Science of Wet Shaving

Naked Armor

It’s often been said that wet shaving is an art form.

Published by Naked Armor

Wet shaving has been passed on from generation to generation.

From the luxuriously designed razor tools to the meticulous selection of natural ingredients for shaving products, there’s an artistic design in the practice of this centuries old routine.

But what isn’t often highlighted enough is that it’s also a science. Behind all those techniques and tips gleaned over centuries are facts supported by science. Of course, in the early histories, ancient shaving aficionados would have developed their techniques by trial and error. But with what we know now, science has validated these techniques.

So here are the underlying scientific facts behind these popular shaving tips that professionals have been telling you all about.

Water Makes the Hair Manageable

Hair is made of keratin, a protein that is relatively tough. That’s why it’s generally uncomfortable dry shaving because the hair resists the blade.

When one wets the hair, the water weakens the molecular bonds (such as “hydrogen bonds” and “disulfide bridges”) between the keratin fibers. This makes the hair strand softer and easier to cut. Notice how barbers and hairdressers spray the hair with water first before they start the grooming? Meaning, this has been a method that has worked for years.

However, for allowing water to impact hair solidity, water must be in contact with the hair for a certain time. In a few seconds, a lot already happens, but forces in the hair are best weakened after several minutes. That’s why shaving pros recommend taking a warm shower. By the time you finish washing up, the combined heat and moisture is enough to make your whiskers soft enough so that the razor blade will easily glide when you’re using it to shave.  

Key Takeaway From This: It’s always best to shower before shaving.

Showering before shaving can make the whiskers soft enough so that the razor can easily glide when shaving.

Oil Reduces Friction

Oil doesn’t mix with water but will easily mix with other liquid substances that have the same composition.

Because it’s liquid, it doesn’t have a built-in resistance towards changing its shape, unlike a solid substance. That’s why when it is applied between two solid surfaces, it will shift about and change its shape as much as it needs to, to mesh the two surfaces together and reduce the friction.

In shaving, the same principle applies. On a microscopic level, the surface of the skin isn’t smooth. Rather it’s rough, so that anything that rubs against it experiences resistance and wastes energy.

When oil is applied to the skin, it cushions the bumps so that the surface becomes smooth. And because it's a liquid, it can easily change shape and flow. The layer of lubricant near the top surface will move toward the left while the layer near the bottom surface will move toward the right. The layers will slide freely past one another, reducing blade friction.

Key Takeaway From This: Use a pre-shave oil before shaving to reduce blade irritation. If you want to make your own pre-shave oil, here’s a DIY recipe you can follow.

Hair is made of keratin, a protein that is relatively tough. That’s why it’s generally uncomfortable dry shaving because the hair resists the blade.

— Derek Dodds, Naked Armor Founder

Oil Does Not Mix with Water

Water and oil are two different chemical substances. One is polar and the other is non-polar. Because like only mixes with like, water will only mix with similar polar substances. And oil will only mix with similar non-polar chemicals.

So instead of being attracted to water molecules, oil molecules are repelled by them. As a result, when you add oil to a cup of water, the two don’t mix with each other. Because oil is less dense than water, it will always float on top of water, creating a surface layer of oil.

What this means in shaving is that when you apply a shave oil on the skin, it creates a barrier between the skin and the air so that the moisture inside the epidermis doesn’t evaporate.

The oil prevents water from evaporating or to be absorbed by the foam of the soap. What happens is that the oil, put immediately on the face after rinsing, creates a very thin layer, or film if you like, on the hair itself, "blocking" the water or preventing the foam from "sucking" the water from the soaked hair.

This makes your skin smooth and not dry, lessening the chances for razor burn.

Key Takeaway From This: Applying a shave oil or a balm can keep the skin moisturized during shaving.

Glycerin Helps Keep the Hair Wet

Glycerin, or more correctly, glycerol, belongs to the sugar alcohol family. Glycerol attracts water, thus increasing lather density and stability. For this reason, glycerol is also used as a humectant. Glycerol also increases the viscosity of water-glycerol solutions, affecting the glide of the lather.

What this means is that when it is present in the lather, it keeps the moisture within the hair strand so that the hair remains soft and manageable enough to shave through. That’s why shave soaps have a lot of glycerin. In contrast, bath soaps which have little glycerin tend to dry the skin because there it grabs the water and washes it out.

And because it forms hydrogen bonds with water molecules, it further helps lessen the friction of the razor blade as it shaves off your whiskers. Lots of glycerin also helps stop skin desiccation.

Key Takeaway From This: Always use a shave soap and not a bath soap for lathering.

Always use a shave soap, like Naked Armor's Noah's Organic Shave Soap, and not a bath soap for lathering.

Facial Skin Varies in Different Areas

Face physiology varies between different areas in an individual. For example, hair elevation angles have been shown to be significantly lower on the neck than on the cheek. This makes the blade interaction more difficult when stroking with the hair growth direction.

The neck is particularly prone to trapped hairs due to the unique physiological characteristics of the skin and hair, particularly loose, rough skin and high incidence of low-lying hairs. That’s why most of the nicks and cuts happen in this particular area.

Because of these characteristics, shaving in this region not only removes hair but also the irregular elevations of the skin, especially around follicular openings. Further, this contributes to the tug and pull sensation which is aggravated particularly when one is using a multi-blade.

This is because razors with many blades have been characterized by very high skin drag. The pressure exerted on the skin by the blades causes the skin to bulge between the blades. This explains why the razor will cut more than just hair but also the skin.

Key Takeaway From This: Always use a single blade like a straight razor for shaving.

Choosing the Right Straight Razor

Now when it comes to choosing the right single blade, nothing beats down the performance of a straight razor.

At Naked Armor, our straight razors are uniquely designed in between a full hollow and half hollow grind. This makes our razors versatile for any type of hair texture. Whether you have curly or straight hair, a Naked Armor straight razor will give the closest cut ever.

Made from Japanese steel and exotic timber wood, it also comes in an elegant box for that luxurious feel.

Check out our site to find more about our products.

Naked Armor's Solomon Straight Razor is made from high-quality Japanese Steel with 61-65 HRC and algum wood handle giving you the closest shave ever.

Read Next

How to Shave for the First Time in Months


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