Many widely available aftershaves are pretty good–maybe because many widely available razors and shave creams are so bad. But the wide variety of aftershave products can be confusing, especially with all the different terminology that gets listed without much explanation.  Lets look at a general overview of aftershaves with how to choose the right one.

What Is An Aftershave?

“Aftershave” can mean different things to different people.  I am talking about products that are applied immediately after shaving to provide some combination of irritation relief, skin moisturizing, and protection from the elements.  Select an aftershave based on how that combination addresses the needs of your skin.

Aftershaves can be divided into two broad categories: balms and splashes. Balms are heavier-feeling on the skin and typically provide more irritation relief and more moisture to the skin, particularly in cold or dry climates.   Splashes are more watery-feeling and generally contain a combination of toners, astringents, and hydrosols to cleanse and provide a degree of antiseptic or antibacterial protection to the skin.  They are more popular with those who have oily skin or live in hot, humid climates.  Both balms and splashes often use some kind of humectant to increase the effectiveness of other ingredients.  There are also “cross-over” ingredients that might be used in either a balm or a splash.  Let’s take a closer look at some of those ingredients.

Toners and Astringents

Toners and astringents are designed to cleanse the skin and temporarily shrink the appearance of pores.  Toners are used in the relief of minor skin irritations, like superficial cuts, rashes from allergies, insect bites, and fungal infections like athlete’s foot. They can also help heal scars.  Astringents are the strongest form of toner, containing a high proportion of alcohol (20-60%).  They are commonly recommended for oily skin as they tend to dry out the skin, but keep in mind that the removal of oil from the skin can lead to excess oil production as the skin tries to compensate and prevent moisture loss.  Topically applied astringents cause mild coagulation of skin proteins and will dry, harden, and protect the skin. Astringents are best applied only to problem areas of skin to prevent excessive drying (except pure witch hazel distillate which can be applied broadly to the skin).  Some common ingredients include:

  • alum
  • oatmeal
  • acacia
  • yarrow
  • witch hazel
  • distilled vinegar
  • alcohol

Astringent preparations include:

  • silver nitrate
  • potassium permanganate
  • zinc oxide
  • zinc sulfate

Hydrosols

Hydrosols are the product of steam distillation from aromatic plants. Hydrosols go by other names like floral water, herbal distillates, hydrolate, herbal water or essential water.  Hydrosols are produced in the same manner as essential oils but essential oils will float to the top of the distillate where they are removed, leaving behind the watery distillate. In the past, hydrosols were considered a byproduct of distillation, but now they’re considered an important product in their own right. The science of distillation is based on the fact that different substances vaporize at different temperatures.

So hydrosols contain diluted essential oils. Because hydrosols are produced at high temperatures and are somewhat acidic, they tend to inhibit bacterial growth (but they are NOT “sterile”). Hydrosols can also help the skin get back a normal pH by being more acidic, where soaps may be more alkaline.  Rose distillates are known to be mildly antibacterial, while lavender distillates are mildly antiseptic.  By the way, its a good idea to keep hydrosols refrigerated.  They’ll last longer, and they can feel nice in the heat of the summer.

Moisturizers

Moisturizers are combinations of ingredients specially designed to make the external layers of the skin softer and more pliable by increasing the skin’s water content.  It does that not by putting water into the skin, but by reducing evaporation.

Humectants

Humectants are ingredients used to increase the skin penetration and activity time of another ingredient. They are also used to minimize the dehydrating effects of some other active ingredient.  Examples of humectants include:

  • glycerol
  • propylene glycol
  • sorbitol
  • lactic acid
  • urea

Skin Types

Now that you have some background on what aftershaves are composed of, the question still remains: how should you use them?  The answer to that depends partly on what kind of skin you have.  How do you know what type of skin you have?  Here are some guidelines.

Normal skin

Appears evenly-textured, smooth, clear and healthy, with barely visible pores and without blemishes or spots.  You could probably use any mild aftershave splash or balm in this case.  To maintain clear skin, be sure to use a good quality facial wash with a facial scrub once or twice a week.

Sensitive skin

Will itch, sting or break out in a rash when you use certain shaving and skincare products.  You’ll need to try to use aftershave and other products specifically made for sensitive skin.

Dry skin

Appears rough, dull or cracked with lines and wrinkles, and prone to peeling. A moisturizing aftershave balm would work well here.  Using a moisturizer just before bed might be useful here too.  Be sure to use a gentle face wash and if you use a facial scrub, use it only once a week. Make sure you drink plenty of water.

Oily skin

Looks shiny, particularly on the forehead, nose and chin (the “T-Zone”), and feels, well, oily to the touch.  The skin appears to have large or open pores and is prone to blackheads, whiteheads, spots and pimples.  An aftershave splash with a toner would probably be your best bet.  Oily skin attracts dust and dirt so it might also be useful to use a facial cleanser twice daily, a facial scrub 2 or 3 times a week and use an oil-free moisturiser.

Combination skin

Will have a central greasy area around the forehead, nose & chin but will be dry around the cheeks.  Its also prone to blackheads, especially around the nose.  The best way of dealing with combination skin is either to use products designed specifically for combination skin, or to simply apply the correct products to the relevant area of your face‒dry skin products for the dry areas, and oil-free products for the T-Zone.

Ingredients

Some ingredients to look for in aftershaves:

  • aloe vera
  • chamomile
  • tea tree oil
  • calendula
  • witch hazel
  • lavender
  • jojoba oil
  • grapefruit seed extract
  • rose oil distillate
  • various vitamins

Some ingredients to avoid:

  • high concentrations of alcohol or camphor
  • grapefruit (if you’re going to be outdoors a lot)
  • lemon oil or eucalyptus (if you have sensitive skin)

Applying Multiple Aftershave Products

This could not be simpler: apply the thinnest product first followed by thicker products.

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