If you regularly experience redness, ingrown hairs, or bumps when shaving, then there might be something incorrect about your regimen. Oftentimes, it boils down to a dull blade or a hasty rush. The surest way to get a smooth, pain-free shave is to keep a fresh razor, while taking things slow and incorporating additional steps in the process—mainly a cooling and balancing post-shave product as well as the best pre-shave balm to prep and relax the skin.
When it comes to pre-shaves, that word ‘pre-shave balm’ is kind of a catch-all for all types of pre-shave agents. Balms are usually suited for post-shave products due to their density. As for pre-shave products, these can also include pre-shave oils, pre-shave lotions, pre-shave serums, and more. The aim is one in the same: These pre-shave agents nourish the skin in preparation for the shave. It relaxes the skin, making it more reflexive to the shave, while also forming a light, invisible layer over top the skin. This layer acts as an extra barrier between skin and blade, while simultaneously allowing a steadier, cleaner glide from the blades. Furthermore, pre-shave products soften the coarse facial hairs themselves, which in turn makes them less resistant to the blades (and, again, allows for a smoother, more efficient shave).
Read on to learn how to use pre-shave products, and to see our picks for the best pre-shave oils, gels, lotions, and more.
How to Use Pre-Shave Products
“At our barbershop, we use a pre-shave oil, followed by a series of hot towels and shave cream application,” explains Ryan Gonzalez, founder of Church Barbershop in San Francisco and Church California grooming goods (which will roll out an entire shave line soon, so Gonzalez is deeply steeped in what makes a good pre-shave agent). You can replicate the hot towel experience at home, or let it be a perk you look forward to at the barbershop. Gonzeles further explains the way to get the most from your pre-shave product: “Pre-shave products should be massaged into the face slowly, and prior to applying shaving cream. In a barbershop setting, they should be applied as the first step, prior to the first series of hot towels.” At home, however, you should wash your face with warm water, pat it dry with a clean towel, then apply the pre-shave agent. Let it set for a minute or two before applying the shave cream over top. Some shaving products also double as pre-shave preppers if you let them set on skin long enough before the shave (it depends on each product; consult the brand’s instructions).
The Best Pre-Shave Products for Men
Remember, pre-shave products all aim to do the same thing for skin and hair: To soften and ready everything for the shave, ensuring smooth, irritation-free results. The type of product might change how it feels on the skin, but typically it will be soon covered by the shaving cream itself. Below are our favorite products in the pre-shave sphere—and two from Gonzalez and his staff, too. Remember that balms are largely for post-shave application, so you won’t find any actual balms in the pre-shave sphere. Instead, look for lightweight oils, creams, gels, serums, and more.
Best Pre-Shave Oil
Claus Porto Musgo Real Pre-Shave Oil
This pre-shave oil is a favorite of ours and Gonzalez alike. It conditions and preps skin with oils of almond and grapeseed, and it has a gorgeous woody scent—matched by the other products in Claus Porto’s Musgo Real Classic Scent assortment. (Seriously, the Portuguese soapmaker is also one of the best brands for all shaving needs.)
Best Pre-Shave Serum
Aesop Moroccan Neroli Shaving Serum
Gonzalez loves this neroli-tinged shave serum from Aesop, which you can also use as a standalone shaving agent. It creates a light foaming base over the skin, which might be enough for some people to administer a quick shave. Still, we like applying another layer of proper shaving agent over top for the ultimate smooth, clean shave.
Best Pre-Shave Cream
Proraso Pre-Shave Conditioning Cream
You’ll find this classic shave brand in a wide array of department stores and drug stores, and for good reason. It soothes on contact with eucalyptus oil and menthol, and it cushions the skin ahead of even the sharpest barbershop blade.
Best Pre-Shave Gel
The Art of Shaving Pre-Shaving Gel
The Art of Shaving’s gel is bolstered by shea and glycerin, and gives you an invisible fortification against the razor. Pair it with the brand’s Power Brush to evenly distribute the gel while also lifting the hairs, to further ensure a smooth shave on the first pass.
Best Pre-Shave Tonic
Baxter of California Shave Tonic
Baxter’s cooling tonic is foremost a post-shave splash that tempers and balances skin. But it can also be applied prior to the blade, especially to get ahead of redness and irritation. It combines the cooling and soothing abilities of aloe, spearmint, menthol and eucalyptus all into one spritz.
Best Shaving Cream/Pre-Shave Hybrid
Anthony Shave Cream
Foremost a shaving cream, Anthony’s formula is so rich in cooling, comforting, and lubricating properties, like squalene, aloe, eucalyptus, spearmint, and hops. Let it set on the skin for a minute after application (following a warm-water cleanse), and you’ll experience the same skin-prepping benefits of a pre-shave product.
Best Pre-Shave for Electric Razors
Lab Series Electric Shave Solution
Some guys opt into electric shaves because it cuts corners on all of the shave regimen products and steps. Still, among those men who use an e-shaver, some still are sensitive to the motorized option. For them, Lab Series has the best solution. This liquid splash creates a slick silicone layer over top the skin to shield it from electric razor shaves. Kola nut extract and bisabolol soothe, while Vitamin E nourishes.