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Pall Mall Barbers London – as one of the leading independent barbers in London – are proud to offer a traditional shaving service, men’s shaving, straight razor shaving.
Considering the average man will shave upwards of ten thousand times during the course of his life, the art of men’s wet shaving forms a fundamental, ritualistic part of the male grooming process. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, a man might visit his barber once a week, even daily, as part of a routine to look his neat and tidy best.
In days of old, when shaving was considered a symbolic rite of passage, fathers would teach sons the art of using the cutthroat razor, straight razor or blade and the way to achieve best results using a shaving brush and soap. Where the traditional razor would have one blade and more time and care would be taken to complete the process, modern razors can have four or five blades and a man can achieve results in five minutes.
We may be a little more relaxed in our approach to grooming these days. It’s certainly considered more of a luxury treatment to go to a barber for a straight razor shave – either as a relaxing way to forget about the stresses of life or as preparation for a special event (perhaps a marriage day). But wet shaving still represents an important part of the men’s grooming tradition and makes a clear statement about the client’s sense of self.
By way of (re) introduction to the process and tradition of straight razor shave, Here is our guide to the most unique and special of treatment for our Traditional Barber shave in Store.
• Shaving oil, containing various essential ingredients, is applied with the tips of the fingers in a circular, vigorous motion to ‘raise’ the beard.
• A hot towel is then applied to open skin pores, soften the beard and draw the essential ingredients into the skin. The hot towel is removed before getting too cold because the beard won’t stay soft and the pores can close.
• A lather of rich shaving cream is then applied using a hot badger hair shaving brush in circular, vigorous movements to once again raise the beard and any ingrown hairs. Another hot towel is then applied to warm the shaving cream onto the face and help keep it moist.
• The Towel is removed while still warm and the shaving cream is applied again ready for the shave.
• The first shave is completed using a disposable blade in a cutthroat style razor, going with the grain of the beard. If necessary, another hot towel is used.
• Another layer of foam is lightly applied with the hot brush so as not to irritate the freshly shaved skin.
• A fresh blade is inserted into the razor and the beard is then shaved against the grain.
[tab title=”Shaving at Home”]
Today many men regard shaving as a daily chore which must be completed as quickly as possible. This is a pity as the benefits of a good traditional wet shave are many. It exfoliates the skin, removing dead skin cells and allows the skin to breathe. The method also provides the closest possible shave with lasting results. However, too often the result of an incorrect shave is discomfort in the form of razor-burn, rashes and dry-skin.
The key to the perfect shave is preparation. If possible, shave after a shower or apply hot water to the face prior to shaving to soften the beard and open the pores. Although shaving cream may be applied with the fingers, a richer lather is achieved with the use of a good quality shaving brush. The more thorough the lathering process, the better the shave. Use a small amount of glycerin-based shaving cream and rub onto the wet skin by moving the brush in a circular motion and back and forth over the skin, against the grain of the beard to produce good lather. Spend time on the lathering process, up to 2 or 3 minutes.
Always shave with the lie of the beard, never against. Failure to do this is the major cause of razor burn. Glide the razor gently over the skin, holding the skin taut with the free hand whilst shaving. Keep the razor well rinsed to avoid clogging the blade and apply more water if necessary, not more shaving cream. Repeat the process a second time if necessary.
After the shave, apply cold water to the face to close the pores and pat the skin dry. In the event of nicks or cuts, apply a moistened Block of Alum or Styptic pencil to stop the bleeding. Apply a skin food or moisturizing balm to restore moisture and nourish the skin.
Technique is Everything
The razor belongs to the oldest tools of mankind. Open razors consist of a blade with tang and a pair of handles. It is drop-forged and hardened with special care. Contrary to pocket knives and household knives, razors are hollow-ground. The more hollow ground the blade, the sharper and more expensive is the razor. The quality of the special steels for razors has continuously been improved and different widths are still being produced. The widths of razors are indicated in inches. The 3/4″ razor has the narrowest blade and the 7/8″ the widest. The most popular widths in Europe are 4/8″ and 5/8″ but for a few countries 6/8″ and 7/8″ are still in demand. The thickness of the back is in proportion to the blade width. A rivet in the tang of the razor holds the handles together and allows the razor to fold. In order to maintain its extreme sharpness, the razor must be honed by hand on a leather strop.
Using a Leather & Canvas Hanging Strop or Hand-Held Strop
Start with carefully opening and closing your new open razor. If you have never used one before and you can open and close it with your eyes shut without mishap, you are ready to learn how to sharpen it. There is a great art to stropping a razor correctly and much careful practice will be required. You must train intensively before you apply the razor to your skin. All the razors we supply are ready to use and do not need sharpening until after 7 to 10 shaves.
- Hang the leather strop, securely fixed to the wall at about chest height.
- Grip the handle firmly and pull out the strop until horizontal without making it absolutely taut or hold the hand strop firmly in a horizontal position with the end resting against solid foundation.
- First use the leather side of the hanging strop then the canvas side. A small amount of strop paste is applied to the leather side. With the hand strop, first use the wood then the canvas side. A small amount of paste is added to the wood side.
- Hold the razor in a firm grip with the tang between thumb, first and second fingers of the right hand. The thumb on the near side and the fingers at the back of the tang. Fold the remaining fingers lightly around the handle.
- Lay the razor flat on the strop, a short distance from the handle with the edge towards you. Holding it flat on the strop, make the first stroke upwards and away from you. At the end of the first stroke, about two-thirds along the strop, raise the edge without lifting the back of the blade off the strop and turn it over till the other face lies flat and make the second stroke upwards and towards you.
- Turn over again and repeat as before giving each face an n equal number of regular, even strokes. Six strokes to each face are usually sufficient to maintain the edge. Finish with a couple of strokes to the other side of the strop to clean the razor.
- The razor should now be sharp enough to cut a single hair held vertically.
You are now ready to start shaving, having followed the preparations as mentioned in our guide to wet shaving.
Wet Shave with a Straight Open Razor
- Your skin has been prepared and a good lather has been applied.
- Hold the razor at an angle of approx. 30 degrees. If you hold the razor too flat it will tear the stubble, too steep and it will cut the skin.
- The thumb must be placed on the blade itself and not on the tang. The position of the thumb will vary as the different strokes are taken but it must always remain on the blade.
- Begin on the right side of the face and take the first stroke downward in a slanting stroke from the top of the cheek at the ear, with the razor lying almost flat on the face. The stroke should be made with the blade moving from point to heel in a scythe-like movement without jerks or chopping.
- The razor must not be pulled or dragged and the skin must always be held taut with the free hand. No stroke should be shorter than 1″ of longer than 3″.
- The right side of the face should be wholly shaved according to the diagram before proceeding to the left side.
- As the chin is approached, lift the razor slightly. Use the middle of the blade for going over the chin. Never begin a fresh stroke on a prominent part of the face, such as the chin or jawbone. Begin a little away from such places and work over with steady strokes.
- Treat the two sides of the upper lip as part of the face, shaving the right side from nose to face and the left side from face to nose, leaving the centre of the lip to be done separately by holding the nose up slightly to tighten the skin.
- For the lower lip, the first strokes should be taken across with the skin tightened between the thumb and finger placed under the corners of the mouth. Remove the remaining hairs on the upward stroke, beginning from the chin and allowing the razor to follow the contour under the lip.
- Having gone over the whole face once, it is usually necessary to go over a second time to ensure a clean shave. The face is lathered again as before but the soap will not require to be worked as long as before.
- The skin should be held taut in front of the razor and this time the strokes taken as far as possible, against the grain of the hair.
- After the shave clean the face with cold water and rinse the razor carefully and thoroughly, wiping it on a clean cloth before storage.
- Apply moisturizing balm to the face to soothe and moisturize the skin.
- Apply moistened alum block or styptic pencil to any minor nicks or abrasions.
Please Note: These notes on the use of open razors are intended as a guide. Shaving with an open razor is not easy to master and this guide is not to be considered a substitute for being taught by a Barber.
Care and Use of Open Razors
When examined through a microscope, the edge of a freshly set razor resembles a saw with very fine teeth. To some extent stropping preserves this saw-like edge but in time the teeth get worn down and the razor becomes dull. Setting restores the edge to its former keenness. Rest the hone on a solid flat surface. Open the razor fully out and grip the tang between the thumb and first finger of the right hand. The remaining fingers should loosely encircle the razor handle.
Now place the blade flat on the hone at the right hand end. With the edge toward the left and with a firm even pressure, slide it along the hone in a slanting direction, edge first, finishing the first stroke with the point of the razor near the edge of the hone.
For the second stroke turn the razor over and begin at the left hand end of the hone with the blade laid flat on, edge to the right hand and the heel of the razor almost touching the edge of the hone. With the same slanting movement, slide the razor toward the right, finishing the second stroke as before with the point of the razor near the edge of the hone.
At the end of each stroke always turn the razor over its back, never over its edge.
The strokes are repeated right to left, left to right, with equal pressure and movement until the edge is restored. The blade must always be moved along the hone in the correct direction and each face must be given an equal number of strokes. To be able to set a razor quickly and effectively needs patience and much practice.
When there is a distinct feeling of the edge gripping the hone wipe the blade carefully and test.
Hold up a single hair and place the razor edge smartly against it. If the edge is sufficiently keen the hair will be cleanly severed. Another method is to pass the edge of the razor over a moistened thumbnail. If the edge clings or drags on the nail it is usually sufficiently keen.
[tab title=”Hair Loss”]
Alopecia is baldness or loss of hair. The commonest form is male-pattern baldness (also known as androgenic alopecia), but both women and men can get hair loss. Alopecia areata is another type of hair loss, involving patches of baldness that may come and go. It affects about 1 in 100 people, mostly teenagers and young adults.
In some cases, hair loss is a side effect of having cancer treatment drugs, but in many cases the hair grows back. Hair loss can lead to problems with confidence and self-esteem.
Male-pattern baldness is hereditary which means it runs in families. It usually starts to happen around the late twenties and thirties although this can vary. By the age of 60, most men have some degree of hair loss. Male-pattern baldness is so called because it tends to follow a set pattern. The first stage is usually a receding hairline, followed by thinning of the hair on the crown and temples. When these two areas meet in the middle, you have a horseshoe shape of hair around the back and sides of your head. Eventually you may be completely bald.
Women’s hair gradually thins with age but they only tend to lose hair from the top of the head. This usually gets more noticeable after menopause. It is called androgenetic alopecia, or female-pattern hair loss, and also tends to run in families.
Alopecia areata causes patches of baldness that are about the size of a large coin. They usually appear on the scalp but can occur anywhere on the body, including the beard, eyebrows and eyelashes. There are usually no other symptoms.
The average human head has 100,000 hairs. Hair is made in hair follicles (the root of the hair). Each hair grows for about 3 years then it drops out and a new one grows – we lose 40-120 hairs a day (1).
Male-pattern and female-pattern baldness is caused by over-sensitive hair follicles. This is linked to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that is produced by the male hormone testosterone. If there is too much DHT, the follicles shrink, so the hair becomes thinner and grows for less time than normal. The balding process is gradual because different follicles are affected at different times.
Alopecia areata is linked to a problem with the immune system. The hair follicles are not permanently damaged and in many of these cases the hair grows back in a few months. In 1 in 5 cases it runs in the family (2).
Some conditions such as anaemia (disorder of the blood), illness, stress (including bereavement), fungal infections and thyroid problems can make you lose some of your hair, as well as drug treatment for cancer. Women who are pregnant or have recently given birth may also experience some hair loss. Hair loss is not caused by a lack of any vitamins in the diet.
Male-pattern baldness is usually easy to identify because of the pattern it follows. It usually begins with a receding hairline in the late twenties or thirties, but can start earlier. At first, you may notice that your hair is starting to get thinner.
Female-pattern baldness usually becomes noticeable after menopause; the hair on top tends to thin first.
If your hair loss does not follow the typical pattern as above you should see your GP to find out what is causing it. It could be linked to an illness such as anaemia or a fungal scalp infection. Your GP may refer you for more tests or suggest that you see a dermatologist. With alopecia areata, there are no obvious symptoms other than patches of baldness, so your partner or hairdresser may notice it before you do. If the hair loss is caused by an infection, or other condition such as anaemia, this can be treated to prevent further hair loss. In some cases, including after cancer treatment, your hair may start to grow again.
There are drugs available to treat male-pattern and female-pattern baldness but they do not work for everyone and the effects are not long lasting. You have to take the drugs for 4–24 months before you notice any improvement (3) and the effects will not usually last long after you stop taking them (4). These drugs are not available on the NHS so you have to pay for them. See your GP for advice.
You can also get lotions that you rub on your scalp, although these do not work for everyone, or have long-lasting effects. There are shampoos and formulas available for improving circulation to the scalp, and some people try herbal treatments. Other treatments include wigs, hair transplants (taking hair from the sides and back of the head) and plastic surgery (such as scalp reduction where the bald area is removed and the bit with hair on is stretched forward).
There is no real effective treatment for alopecia areata. Some treatments can encourage hair to grow, such as steroid injections or creams – see your GP for more information. In 60-80 per cent of cases the hair grows back after about a year (5) without any treatment.
[tab title=”Tips when using a Double Edged Safety Razor”]
Shaving with a safety razor requires a little practice, though certainly less than the extremes of cut throat shaves. The skin however always needs some time to grow accustomed to the shave. These tips will help ensure you have the luxurious shave you deserve.
Moisten the shaving area with warm water, and lather it thoroughly with a brush. Use a highly effective moisturising shaving cream or soap such as Jack Black Face Buff. This will allow the blade to slide over the skin more easily. Make sure that the razor head and handle are firmly attached to each other, but only tighten the screw to the extent that it can still be unscrewed easily. Now you can begin your shave. Hold the safety razor at an obtuse angle (approx. 30°) to the skin applying gentle pressure. Always shave in the direction of the beard growth (with the grain). When shaving the neck, stretch the skin tight with your free hand. Do not be discouraged by small cuts or grazes. Once you have familiarised yourself with the razor, they will rarely occur.
For practised shavers you can slightly loosen the handle, roughly ½ a revolution – so as to increase the angle of the blade. This enables you to shave very cleanly in the contours. Always tighten the handle before continuing with the rest of the shave.
[tab title=”Tips when using a Cut Throat Razor”]
The cut throat razor officially known as a straight razor is experiencing a renaissance even my father has taken a course in how to use a cut throat razor. Essentially practice makes perfect – and attending special courses or barber shops is definitely worthwhile.
The Shave Itself
Moisten the shave area with preferably warm water. Then thoroughly lather it with a brush. Use shaving cream or soap with high moisturising properties as this allows the blade to glide more effortlessly over the skin. Begin with the smooth areas of the face. Open the razor carefully and hold it with your thumb and three fingers so that the opened handle is pointing away from your face. To begin with, shave only the sideburns, using your usual razor for the rest. On the following days, gradually shave larger areas of the face to develop a feeling for safe shaving with the straight razor. The facial skin previously prepared with shaving lather must be pulled tight. To avoid injuries to scars or skin impurities it is advisable to remove the soap from these areas. Pull the skin to be shaved tight with the fingers of your free hand and move the razor at an angle of 30°, at first in the direction of the beard growth, then carefully against the grain the next time around. Always move the straight razor evenly. Hold it at a slightly steeper angle for the cheek bones, chin dimple and upper lip.
Only use straight razors that are in perfect condition. Never move the blade horizontally as this can result in deep and dangerous cuts. If the razor is held too flat it tears the stubble, and if held too upright it cuts the skin. If the razor is dropped or the blade catches when folding it into the handle, it must not be used again until it has been re-sharpened by a specialist. Simply honing on a leather strop is not sufficient. When cleaning the blade, never touch it with your fingers, as you could cut yourself or ruin the cutting edge.
Maintenance of Your Straight Razor
After shaving, clean the razor thoroughly with clear water and carefully dab it dry. Never dry the blade with a cloth as this will destroy the fine edge. Lubricate the blade carefully with a little oil if you are not going to use it for a long period. Keep it in a dry and well aired place. If the razor does not produce a clean shave, re-sharpen it by honing. Always hone the razor before shaving, not after. Let the razor rest for 24 hours beforehand. In this time, most of the edge regenerates itself, the blade is preserved and retains its sharpness for longer. Blunt razors require more pressure and increase the risk of cuts.
Honing The Blade
Pall Mall Barbers recommends hanging strops made of fine cowhide. The honing strop must be kept taut as a sagging strop causes rounding of the blade. Dubbin can be applied and is kneaded in with the heel of your hand. This stops it from drying out, keeps it supple and prolongs its service life. Honing is done at a shallow angle with the back facing down and pointing away from the body in the pulling direction. When changing direction the razor should be turned over its back and then honed back towards the body, i.e. always against the cutting edge. Changing direction via the cutting edge causes it to become round (convex) and to lose its sharpness. In this case, the blade must then be re- sharpened by a specialist.
This is certainly not a style of shaving for the meek but once mastered you are the true specialists in our community.
[tab title=”Your Shaving brush is not just for Christmas”]
Your shaving brush should give you many years of shaving pleasure. The following instructions will ensure you enjoy it even more:
Prior to their first use, new brushes should be washed using warm water. Having applied lather to your face using your brush, do not leave the lathered brush standing. Immediately after use, rinse it thoroughly under running water. Otherwise, soap residue which can destroy the fine badger hair remains on the brush head, particularly in the middle. Dry the brush by repeatedly shaking out the remaining water, then hang it up with the bristles pointing down. When moist, the brush must not be kept in closed containers such as toilet bags. Do not use chemical detergents to clean the brush. Wooden or horn handles must not be left in water and should be dried with a cloth after use. Please note that due to the normal friction during use of the shaving brush, surplus hairs can sometimes break. This is not a reason for rejection or worry. We hope you and your badger brush will enjoy many years of cooperation and enjoyment together.
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