Exploring the Science of Shaving (Feb, 1957) (Feb, 1957)

Exploring the Science of Shaving

WHAT could science possibly know about your beard that you don’t already know? Surely, your knowledge of how to shave that beard—gained from long and painful experience—would be more accurate than any theories scientists might have on whisker cutting. Or would it?

The chances are, you might find (as we did) that a little study on the subject of beards, can produce much more comfortable shaves. It also makes a fine topic for conversation with the boys in the back room when the poker game lags.

There is even, for instance, a correct technical name for the science of shaving. They call it pogonotomy, whether it’s done by carving whiskers off with lather and a blade razor, or chopping them off dry with an electric razor. We’ll discuss both methods, starting with the lather-and-slice routine.

Let’s suppose, now, that you are ready to commit pogonotomy early some morning. The job facing you is to trim off a crop of hairs, each of which, when dry, is about as tough as a copper wire of the same diameter.

Preparing the Face. To eliminate the wire-like hardness in these whiskers, you will have to get water into them. Specifically, the water must penetrate the keratin protein which accounts for over 90% of the hair’s weight. This keratin content of the hair will readily absorb both water and the oil that seeps out of the sebaceous glands in your skin. The problem is that when it is saturated with skin oil, the water can’t get in to do its work.

You then use soap or shaving creams which emulsify and flush away oils and dirt, so that water can flood in and saturate the cleaned hairs. In two minutes’ time, the water-saturated hairs will dilate 16% and soften to the point where it takes 75% less effort to shear them off.

This softening of the beard also makes your razor blades live a lot longer. Tests made at Mellon Institute showed that a blade used on a dry beard was good for only one shave. But 15 seconds spent wetting and soaping the beard upped the blade’s life to two shaves without re-stropping; three minutes soaking, and blade life rose to four shaves. And 10 minutes, including a shower bath, pushed blade life to five shaves without re-stropping.

But here we are talking about razor blades, and we haven’t finished preparing your face for that shave. Before you actually cover up your face with lather, take a good, close look at your beard. How you shave it will depend on these things: the type and thickness of the whiskers; the direction (grain) and angle at which the hairs emerge from the skin; and the sensitivity of your skin.

If your beard hair is white, greying or red, curly, or coarse, allow more time for preliminary soaking to soften it. If it is dark, straight and fine, time spent preparing the beard can be shortened. This was confirmed in a four-year study made by Drs. Lester Hollander and El-bridge J. Casselman at the Mellon Institute, Pittsburgh., They showed that a sample of dark hair stretched (by softening) to 0.58% of its full length after soaking 20 seconds in water at 86°F. White hair in the same time stretched to only 0.10% of its full length.

The coarseness and alignment of hair also determines the angle at which it emerges from the skin. Generally, the thicker the hair, the more erect it stands, although whiskers never grow perpendicular to the skin (except at some points on the chin). Extremely curly or kinky hair usually grows flatter against the skin. Ordinarily the whisker-skin angle is between 30° and 59° (Fig. 2).

The smaller the angle (that is, the closer the hair lies down against your skin) the harder it will be for you to get a close trim without shaving off too much skin. Tests show you will lose almost as much skin as you will hair anyhow (from .50 cc of skin to .63 cc of hair in one test, .12 cc skin to .14 cc hair in another). No wonder shaving makes your face sting!

Beard grain, or the direction your whiskers grow, is probably the most important single thing to study for getting a good shave. On most men, areas of varying grain direction are about as shown in Fig. 3. Study your whiskers with Fig. 3 in mind. Note the direction they grow in the different areas, and plan to shave with the grain, if you are using a straight or safety blade razor, and want the most comfortable shave.

Unless you’ve tried shaving against the grain and know you can do it consistently with only mild discomfort, don’t shave with a blade razor against the grain in any of these areas. You’ll get an extremely close shave, but the process will be like excavating each hair under the surface of th,e skin so that it will grow upward against the inner skin, irritating and perhaps infecting it (Fig. 2). Results will range from a slight itchiness a couple of hours after shaving to an infected beard, or sycosis barbaee.

Which Shaving Cream Should You Use? Some general rules are that a good lather should flush grit, soften the beard, lubricate the razor, have plenty of volume, stay moist, soften quickly, and mitigate irritation or infection. Menthol content is supposed to soothe the skin; lanolin, to soften it and keep it from feeling harsh after shaving; lecithin is an emulsifier that also helps soften skin; and mineral oil holds down the drying effect of soap. Using ordinary soap lather for shaving is not recommended; the alkali content is frequently too irritating.

Brushless creams are free of the soap agents which irritate some shavers. They usually are, however, slower than shaving soaps in softening the beard, and you must be sure you wash your face thoroughly beforehand, if you use them. They also may tend to shorten blade life because of their higher acidity. There is some evidence that creams containing phenol help to produce a painless shave and improve skin condition.

Canned aerosol creams are chemically closer to shaving soaps than brushless creams. Yet there is some doubt, such as that voiced by Harry Hilfer writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that aerosols are as efficient as other lathers. The trouble simply seems to be that men do not massage them into the beard as well as they do other soaps and creams. Ready to Carve? Remember to keep your face continuously moist from the time you start washing it until you rinse off the last bit of shaving cream. Beard hairs tend to dry out quickly. Try to shave in a warm room. Hold the razor, not like a screwdriver, but lightly and firmly with your fingertips. Don’t bear down, and don’t stretch the skin too much. Follow the grain of the whisker growth on your shaving strokes, wherever you can. And check your effective shaving angle.

This is the angle (Fig. 5) formed between the blade near its edge, and a line passing downward through this edge and tangent to the razor’s guide bar. When this angle is too large, the blade tends to dig in, causing razor burn or incisions. When it’s too small, the razor tends to toboggan-slide over your beard, not digging in enough to cut it. Experts say a 20 to 25° angle will cause little pain, but when it widens to over 40°, look out! Sometimes careful bending of the guide bar or realignment of the blade-clamping device can correct the angle.

First Aid for Problem Shavers. If you have followed the suggestions we have listed, and find your skin is just as irritated afterwards, try using cold water for the second lathering’ and use a shaving soap or cream containing menthol. Some men use cold water for everything but the first wash and rinsing the razor. One fellow even obtained a patent on a system for sensitive shavers: wash, lather and rinse entirely in cold water but use a hot razor head and razor blade.

You might also try shaving with a blade that’s not quite new. Tests have shown that pain (researchers call it shaving trauma) is caused less often by dull blades than by sharp ones, and blades dulled by at least one shave are less likely to cut into small capillaries.

If you have given your beard the proper pre-shave washing and soaking, and you still have to pull and pull the razor across your face, losing your beard only gradually, three things may be wrong: the lather may be too stiff, the blade may be too dull, or the effective shaving angle of your razor may have decreased.

Shaving with Electric Razors. Over 24 million American males now own or have owned an electric shaver.

The reason for this popularity is simple: speed. In one or two minutes you can shave close enough with an electric shaver to please anyone except your favorite girl or your barber. In five minutes you can do a fairly close job.

For a close, comfortable shave with^your electric or other mechanical shaver, first wash face and neck thoroughly at least five minutes beforehand, and don’t linger in the steamy atmosphere of the bathroom. Face should be dry. Pre-shave lotions are supposed to dissolve oils, flush grit off the whiskers. Pre-shave powders are supposed to absorb perspiration and some of the oils, plus laying down a skidding surface for the shaver head. To find whether they work for you, try them. Do not use talcum powder before using a power shaver; it dulls the cutters. Stand close to well-lighted mirror and hold shaver at right angles to the face. Don’t press hard and don’t stretch skin taut or press tongue in cheek.

With most flat-headed electric razors use short straight strokes about 1 to 1*& inches long. The makers of the circular-headed Norelco shaver also advocate a short, straight stroke. But the makers of the arched-headed Sunbeam Shave-master recommend a circular shaving motion. For speed, try making that short straight stroke a back-and-forth stroke. Incidentally, shaving against the grain with an electric, mechanical or spring-wound razor doesn’t seem to irritate as it does when a safety or straight razor blade is used. You can’t always avoid going against the grain with most electrics, since the blades move back and forth.

Use a circular motion in chin and neck areas to catch whiskers growing helter skelter or in whorls. If circular motion doesn’t work, try a rocking up-and-down movement. On the chin use a sweeping motion, shaving in toward the mouth, turning and pushing out to the side. Many users of electric shavers don’t make a special effort to shave closely in the morning. Instead, they do a touch-up job in the evening. Hair grows fastest just after cutting, then slows down until reaching a normal average of 11 to 12 mm a day. Cutting, including shaving, does not speed or slow the normal growth of hair.

Grinding off Whiskers. If despite all this advice, shaving remains a painful process for you, you can take comfort from both the past— and the future. In the past, for instance, pumice stone was. used to grind the beard away. There’s even a patent on file for a portable grinding stone, to be spun against the jowls.

For the future? There may come a time when shaving—as we know it —is obsolete. Picture, for instance, a type of mild depilatory cream containing a fine abrasive and a protective chemical. As the cream is rubbed on the protectant, perhaps a silicone, spreads a shielding layer over the skin while the depilatory and abrasive go to work. Then with a swipe of a moistened paper towel after a minute or two, cream and beard are whisked away. In other words—no brush, no lather.

10 Minutes to a GOOD SHAVE 1. Wash face thoroughly with regular soap and water at 105° to 120°F. Rub soap and water lather in vigorously around chin, lower jaw and upper lip, using fingertips in circular motion. Takes 2 minutes.

2. Rinse face thoroughly, leaving it wet, then wash again with water and regular soap. If your face doesn’t react badly to alkali content of regular soap, leave its lather on and spread well-lathered shaving«soap right over it. Work shaving soap lather into beard with circular motions of brush handle held in palm of hand. Or work brushless cream into the soap lather, mixing well.. Brush teeth, clean fingernails, or buff shoes while allowing thick layer of lather covering beard to soften it. But keep lather moist.

Takes 3-1/2 minutes.

3. Wet blade with hot water before starting to shave. Keep it wet at all times. Start with finest hair, saving cheeks with long downward strokes made with the grain. Rinse razor often. Stretch skin lightly but not tightly. On neck areas, following patterns suggested in Fig. 3 may help.

Takes 2 minutes. 4. For coarse hair on chin and upper lip, keep areas moist, don’t bear down with razor, and keep angle of blade 20° to 25°. Touch up spots, trying to keep with grain ox at right angles to it. Takes 2 minutes.

5. Rinse completely with hot water and apply styptic to nicks and lotion if you wish. Takes 1/2 minute.

(If you want to make your own styptic, grind together 30 gin. of alum and 30 gm. of zinc sulphate. Dissolve in enough rose water to make 1000 cc. of solution, let stand for two days and then filter.)

1 comment
  1. mickey says: April 6, 20099:14 am

    SCIENCE!

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