The Zen of Shaving: Mindfulness Meets Facial Hair

Hey, Mars. I think Venus is on to something.

Women Know Something Men Don’t  (Yeah, what surprise that headline is…)

Have you ever noticed that almost all the ads for those nice spas and similar places feature women in the ads? That is not a coincidence. Women make up the vast majority of clients for such care and self-care places. Most of the offerings at such venues cater to women and do not offer much that guys would be interested in. But guys, there is a lesson in all that; we should pay attention.

In my experience, men are not enthralled with the concept of having someone fuss with our hair for an hour or more. Don’t even think about too much time and attention on feet. Eyebrows? Get out of here. We do enjoy a good massage from time to time (No, not that kind of massage. Get your mind out of the gutter!). A chance occurrence a few years ago made me think we guys might be missing something in how we care for ourselves.

I am about to tell you more about shaving than you would ever have asked. But stick with me – there is a point coming with the story.

A Treat That Taught a Lesson

It was my birthday and I had scheduled a haircut for the day. I had found a barber I really liked, who did good work and paid attention to detail. I looked better coming out of his chair than I had any right to expect would be the case. Since it was my birthday, I decided to treat myself to a hot barbershop shave.

We did the whole 9 yards. Hot towel, skin soaks and treatment, hot lather of high quality, sharp straight razor, and a barber in no hurry. It felt amazing and looked good all day.

Before this, I considered shaving to be necessary maintenance. Required once a day most days, sometimes twice if an evening’s events required a touch up. About half the time, I shaved in the shower, using a disposable razor. No wasted time or motion there. The rest of the time, I used shaving cream from an aerosol can.

My birthday shave caused me to reflect on the value of treating this less as maintenance and more as a ritual of self- care. All those ladies going to the spa were on to something. Thus, began my journey into the Zen of Shaving. I had once owned a hot lather machine. The home variety did not match the barber shop equipment, so I moved in a another direction.

Set Up for Success

First, I came to recognize that what is sold as “shaving cream” is generally terrible stuff. It tends to sit on top of your face in a heavy lump. It is full of chemicals. I began the search for a high-quality shave soap. It took a while, but I found one that I like. A good shave soap yields a rich, luxurious cream, yet is not heavy. It melds into your skin and nourishes it while setting up the shave. It is terrific stuff. There are several good brands out there at this level, although you have to look to find them.

Second, I invested in a seriously good boar brush. This is a device for which quality tells all. Splurge a bit on one. Get a good, solid wooden or stone handle for balance and heft. If the hairs are uneven, course, or prone to fall out, keep looking. A good brush is key to the experience.

Third, a good quality razor. To me, this is one that is balanced and has a bit of heft to it. The aesthetics are important, too. I have a couple carved from some beautiful wood. Just looking at them and holding them is a pleasure. Obviously, the razor needs to be matched with whatever blade you use.

Razor blades have gotten to be a bit of a bad joke. For a while, their costs were absurd. Stores had them in locked racks. Then a lot of startup, online competition came online, and prices settled a bit. While all this was going on, manufacturers got carried away with gimmicky innovations.

I remember when razors were a big deal when they came with two blades. Now you see five or six blades. And “lubricating strips.” I expect it is only a matter of time before they come with headlights or windshield wipers. None of this really makes for a better shave. I am still in the hunt but find most average blades do just fine if used correctly.

Fourth, a good container in which to store and lather up the soap. Not so much larger than the soap that it would rattle around when you are making lather. But large enough to hold the lather produced. Pottery looks great; stainless steel works well to sit in hot water during prep time.


Now, everything is ready to go. Use a hot washcloth to prepare the skin. Add a small amount of water to the container and start a swirling motion with the brush. Add just a bit of water as needed while working up the lather. Good wrist action and the right amount of water will, in about 1-2 minutes, produce magnificent lather. The process is about like baking bread. Simple, yet subtle. Small differences manifest themselves in the result.

These days I usually look forward to shaving. I give it the time to do it right (once with the grain, once against the grain, once across the grain). I make sure the light is adequate but not glaring. May even add a little mood music. It is a time to focus in on something small and pleasant. You reward all the senses (except taste, unless you are careless with that brush).

What say you, guys? Shall we make this our small spa experience? Can we derive a lesson from the ladies about self-care? If you have not shaved this way, or have not for many years, give it a try. It is a great way to start the day. Have a beard? Don’t feel left out. We will talk about that someday, too. Oh, and yeah – I still go out for that birthday shave.

    Bill Clontz

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3 replies to The Zen of Shaving: Mindfulness Meets Facial Hair

  1. I had a friend who had a work assignment in Italy many years ago. His apartment was directly across from a barber shop. He said every morning he would get dressed, not even bothering to comb his hair and walk across the street, settle in the barber chair and 30 minutes later be ready to go to work having had his face steamed, shaved and a bracer applied. Hair was neatly combed and had been touched up if necessary. He said he really hated to have to leave Italy and return to the USA. I can see why

  2. Actually Bil, for me, I’ve never gotten use to looking in the mirror while shaving my grandfather!

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