I’ve occasionally mentioned how washing your hands is an important pre-shave step, in that your hands need to be clean before you use them to clean your face prior to shaving. Recent world events have hand washing taking on a new dimension (and even urgency) so I wanted to review a few concepts and products.
The Importance Of Washing Your Hands
As mentioned in a previous article,
“Regular hand washing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent spreading germs to others. Hand washing is a good habit that is a win for everyone, except for germs.”
And yes, the same concept goes for viruses. Viruses are encased in a lipid envelope — basically, a layer of fat. “Soap” (meaning soap or detergent, see more below) can break the fat apart and make the virus unable to infect you. Then the act of rubbing hands helps get the virus off your hands and washed away.
What’s The Difference Between Soap, Detergent, And Sanitizer?
Soaps are made from natural ingredients like plant oils or animal fats. Detergents are synthetic, man-made derivatives that can be formulated to include other ingredients for additional cleaning purposes. The most common (and most relevant to this discussion) of these ingredients are surfactants–surface active agents.
Surfactants reduce surface tension and improve water’s ability to spread evenly over it. This creates a more uniform wetness that makes dirt and soil easier to wipe away.
Most cleaning products today are classified as detergents. One of the major reasons for this is the way soap reacts with water. Soap needs a warm, clear water wash after application or it will leave a film. Detergents are free-rinsing (meaning they don’t leave a residue) in any temperature of water.
But detergents are harder on the skin than soaps, over-drying the skin when used often. My younger sister, who was a hospital operating room technician for years, used to complain bitterly that “scrubbing in” with medical grade skin detergents/cleaners would “tear up the skin something awful.”
If you see a product labeled as a “body bar” or “deodorant bar” they’re actually detergent, not soap.
A key ingredient seen in soaps (vs. detergents) is Sodium Hydroxide.
Health officials during the current crisis have said that washing hands helps prevent transmission of viruses and germs to the face, where they may be inhaled, as people tend to touch their face unconsciously. But in terms of shaving it’s also important to prevent this type of cross-contamination!
What about hand sanitizers? How do they work? From the Centers For Disease Control (CDC):
“…if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The guidance for effective handwashing and use of hand sanitizer in community settings was developed based on data from a number of studies.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
Why? Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs, like Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers can inactivate many types of microbes very effectively when used correctly, people may not use a large enough volume of the sanitizers or may wipe it off before it has dried.
When using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount) and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.”
So hand sanitizers may be useful when a source of clean water isn’t readily available.
Smallflower also has a nice “Soap 101” guide.
Relevant Products From Some Of Your Favorite Wet Shaving Brands
[Note: Amazon, PAA, and West Coast Shaving links are affiliate.]
Some wet shaving brands and artisans, since they’re all about the science of soap, have “pivoted” a bit and are offering additional cleaning products in addition to their shaving products. Here are some products I have tried and want to highlight.
Barrister And Mann
Barrister And Mann offers three varieties of bath and body soap. Will from Barrister And Mann sent me some his “ugly soap” to try, and I think it performs very well. I find it leaves my hands soft and less irritated from frequent washings than other soaps I have tried lately.
About the time I started working on this article I got an unsolicited email from Goatsoap, wondering if I would like to try a sample. From their website:
“The lactic acid component of pure goat milk is known to play a key role in cleansing our skin by eliminating impurities. It also contains alpha hydroxy acids that break down the bonds between dead cells and remove the dull surface layer of the skin to give the skin a squeaky clean appearance. Moreover, these soaps are rich in natural ingredients, which work gently without causing excessive dryness.”
Normally I turn down these unsolicited offers but they piqued my interest by stating that their goat milk soap could also be used as a shave soap!
I tried some with a shave and while yes, it does work, I found the ‘cushion/protection’ aspect was not as good as a “regular” shave soap. The lather just isn’t stable enough in my opinion. I think it would be a great priming soap for those who like to make “superlather” though!
As a hand (and body) soap I found the goat milk soaps work well for me, though I do notice just a bit of a residue if I do not rinse thoroughly enough after using it. I gave a puck to my 90-year-old in-laws and they love it: my mother-in-law in particular gives it a rating of “ohh, soft, soft, soft on my skin.”
Murphy & McNeil
Murphy & McNeil offers three “real” soaps, Sandalwood/Vanilla (“…a soft yet formidable fragrance that works for either man or woman with smokey sandalwood and smooth vanilla“), Black And Tan (an homage to following your favorite bands around the country…Stout Beer, Oatmeal, Patchouli, and Sandalwood…”), and Tonry Tree (“refreshing mix of peppermint and pine oils that we hope will remind you of lying on your back under your Christmas Tree”). The also offer a number of body bars.
Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA)
PAA has quite a number of soaps in many of their signature scents. They also offer a few variations such as Doppelganger and a natural “Raw Black Soap.” All of the variations I’ve tried have worked well.
Soap Commander offers soaps in their signature scents. The examples I have tried have been good but perhaps slightly more drying on the skin compared to others. However I don’t see this as a problem unless you use it a lot.
Souther Witchcrafts offer soaps in most of their signature scents. I have tried only one of them, Tres Matres: it did irritate my skin a little (I note that there is kaolin clay in the ingredient list, and my skin is sensitive to it. YMMV of course) but it was a good performer.
Stirling Soap offers their excellent liquid body soap (reviewed here), and have a solid soap bar too, in many of their signature scents. Personally I am a big fan of the liquid body soap: it cleans well and rinses quite easily, leaving no residue (West Coast Shaving also carries it). The solid bar soap is very good as well.
Taconic offers some “Body Bar” products (that are actually “real” soap as they contain Sodium Hydroxide). Some are probably a little too exfoliating for frequent use on the hands but the Pine Tar and Bay Rum bars work well for me.
While this article has concentrated on soap, particularly as a pre-shave cleanser, hand sanitizers have an important place in the wet shaver’s arsenal today as well (like in the car). These alcohol-based products are good at killing germs and viruses on skin when soap is not available.
Stirling Soap’s Hand Sanitizing Serum takes a different approach. From their website: “We’ve specially formulated our Hand Sanitizing Serum to be a cross between a lotion and a gel. It absorbs easily into the skin in about 20–30 seconds (a little goes a long way) and it will leave you with a soft, moisturized feeling, all while killing 99.9% of germs.”
It’s still 64% alcohol but here’s the rest of the ingredient list: Emulsifying Wax, Hydroxypropyl Methyl Cellulose (HPMC), Aloe Barbadensis, Meadowfoam Seed Oil, Refined Shea Butter, Stearyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Glycerin, Essential Oil Blend, Caprylic Capric Triglycerides
The serums are available in a 200ml pump bottle or a smaller 2oz. squeeze bottle in a variety of scents.
A note: if I apply too much there’s a noticeably “tacky” feeling to my hands for a couple minutes. But then the tackiness suddenly disappears. In any case my skin still feels nice and soft and moisturized.
Taconic takes a more conventional approach to their hand sanitizer but adds some additional ingredients. From their website: “plant-based sanitizer effectively kills 99.5% of germs and bacteria. Our hypoallergenic, quick-drying spray formula is made with a combination of non-GMO-alcohol, naturally-derived glycerin, witch hazel, and aloe to help leave skin feeling soft and moisturized.”
It’s in a pump spray bottle, applies easily to cover the skin, and works really well for me.
Aftershave Splash As Sanitizer?
Some wet shavers might be wondering if they can use their alcohol-based aftershave splash as a hand sanitizer. I asked Will Carius of Barrister And Mann about that:
“It would depend on the aftershave, to be honest. Something like Barrister’s Reserve® won’t work; the alcohol content (~50%) is too low for it to be effective, according to the CDC. But many of them, including both our Tonique and Deltus formulas, do contain enough alcohol to make an admittedly very expensive hand sanitizer. It’s something that I would only recommend in a pinch, though, due to the cost. Far better would be to follow the WHO’s formulation guidelines. Just a note that these formulas are figured by volume, not weight, due to the fact that alcohol is less dense than water.”
Clean hands are an important factor to a good shave. And recent world-wide circumstances have shined a brighter light on the concepts of keeping ones hands clean.