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Thread: Preshave prep - soften the beard or stiffen it?

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    Default Preshave prep - soften the beard or stiffen it?

    I am new to straight razor shaving and I have read on this board that much of the functionality of preshave prep is to soften the beard. From the hot towel, preshave cream or pre-lather with hot towel, to wet face prep, etc. Whatever the case may be the purpose of the preshave prep is to soften the beard. This made perfect sense all along until I read a book on shaving from 1906. This book emphasized the purpose of preshave prep as a way to stiffen the beard. This book stated that in their natural state the hairs are oily and therefore pliable, and limp, and therefore more difficult to cut during the shave. The book stated that the purpose of face washing and lathering is not only to wash away dirt but also, more importantly, to wash away the oil and thus stiffen the hair follicles so that they become stiff, brittle, erect and provide the resistance needed for the razor to easily sever the hair follicles.

    Based on these stark differences in the purpose of the preshave prep I am completely confused.

    Can the experts chime in and please settle this for me. What is the purpose of the preshave prep? Is it to soften the beard, or is it to stiffen the beard?


    Thank you in advance

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    The purpose of preshave is to give you the best shave for your face. In short the right way to do it is the way that works the best for you.

    My advice is to try it both ways. The thing is there are chaps out there with beards so thick and stiff that they will benefit from the hot towel and or hot shower prep, while some others, me included, have finer hair that cuts easier from a similar prep described in that 1906 manual.

    There are no right or wrong ways to shave, you will just need to experiment and find what suits your face and your style the best.
    Last edited by PartyHardyMarty; 06-05-2011 at 05:31 AM.

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    Senior Member blabbermouth niftyshaving's Avatar
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    Since it was written in 1906 expect the language to be "odd".
    It might make sense if you only took a bath on Saturday.
    Last edited by niftyshaving; 06-05-2011 at 07:44 AM.

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    Senior Member rearviewmirror's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by niftyshaving View Post
    Since it was written in 1906 expect the language to be "odd".
    It might make sense if you only took a bath on Saturday.
    I KNEW I forgot to do something yesterday!

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    At this point in time... gssixgun's Avatar
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    To soften the beard = Hydrate the hairs, the washing and towels etc: this makes the hairs easier to cut...

    To stiffen the bread = To raise the hairs to the razor, this is what letting the lather sit for a minute or so before bringing the edge to the face does..
    As the lather sets up, it actually lifts the hairs away from the skin, standing them up so the razor mows then down....
    niftyshaving and MickR like this.

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    The Hurdy Gurdy Man thebigspendur's Avatar
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    Personally, I think if you are using an electric the idea is to make the hair stand up for easy removal. For a straight I don't think it matters much. But that's just a guess.
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    Senior Member PaulKidd's Avatar
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    Personally, I'm with gssixgun one this one. The whole idea is to make your whiskers
    easier to cut.

    Rid the whiskers of oil and dirt by washing thoroughly, which allows the hair to absorb
    moisture. Lather (soap) does this by eliminating the oils...thus making it easier for the
    hair to absorb moisture. The more moisture that is absorbed by the hair, the easier it
    is to shave it off.

    Wash your face properly and let your shaving lather "work" for awhile. You might be
    surprised at how much better your shave is as a result.
    MickR likes this.
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    May your bone always be well buried MickR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gssixgun View Post
    To soften the beard = Hydrate the hairs, the washing and towels etc: this makes the hairs easier to cut...

    To stiffen the bread = To raise the hairs to the razor, this is what letting the lather sit for a minute or so before bringing the edge to the face does..
    As the lather sets up, it actually lifts the hairs away from the skin, standing them up so the razor mows then down....

    Reminded me of damping down a piece of timber to get the fine splinters to stand up before fine sanding...Rinse and repeat as needed to get an even smoother finish on the timber before the final polish...


    Mick
    gssixgun likes this.

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    Senior Member JohnnyCakeDC's Avatar
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    Hot water or cold, your facial hair and skin will absorb water. Hair is 30% more elastic when wet. I think the whole purpose of beard prep is to saturate the hair shaft with moisture so it severs cleanly at the skins surface. Things like pre oil, cream and soaps not only lift the beard up and soften skin, they also force moisture into the hair's cuticle.

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    At Last, my Arm is Complete Again!! tinkersd's Avatar
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    I'm a bit Schitzo when it comes to beard/Prep, Lots of hot water, 3 minutes of so with a my faced lathered up under a very hot, wet towel, then, just to confuse my wiskers totally, I splash my face with very cold water for a minute of so before putting on the, not get this, warm shaving lather. I've been stumbling arounds with Str8 shaving for a couple of years now and that's just what works for me. YMMV.

    In any event chaps, a BBS to all and to all a good night.

    tinkersd
    MickR likes this.

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