Aftershave is not just something that your grandfather wore and filled entire rooms with. For anyone who cares about facial grooming and hygiene, a good aftershave can be a very attractive product.
Not only can it make you smell good, it can also be of benefit to your freshly shaved skin, whether you use an electric razor or a manual one. Choosing a good aftershave, and especially buying online, can be a tricky business that may involve a bit of trial and error, but in this brief guide I’ll try to go over the most important factors you have to keep in mind when choosing an aftershave.
Before I get into some of the finer points, let’s quickly stop to talk about what an aftershave actually is. An aftershave is technically anything that you apply immediately after completing your shave. In practice, the two types of aftershave you’ll encounter most frequently are balms and splashes. These are different from, for example, beard balms in the sense that they aren’t meant to be applied to facial hair, but to the skin.
Aftershaves usually provide some form of irritation relief, something which even electric razors can cause. They may also moisturize the skin and provide protection against harsh elements.
Splashes are usually a thinner, more watery product, with balms being thicker. Balms are better for dry places and to relieve skin irritation. Splashes, on the other hand, work better for antiseptic needs (nicks and cuts, for example) and humid conditions.
A Little Chemistry
Aftershaves (particularly splashes) have very complex smells that change over time. These smells are often referred to as “notes” and can be divided into top notes, heart notes, and base notes.
The top notes are the ones that come out strongest right at the beginning when the aftershave is first applied. They usually only last a few minutes before the heart notes appear and take over. Heart notes usually only last for an hour or so. After this the base notes come out and these will be with you all day until the aftershave fades. In general you should worry most about the base notes, since these are the ones you have to live with over the long term.
Of course, this makes trying out an aftershave in a shop a bit of a pointless exercise, since in general you’ll only get to smell the top notes before making a purchase decision.
The Right Ingredients
Aftershaves have various ingredients that are meant to do a number of jobs. Splashes and balms have many ingredients that are unique to each, but both usually have a substance known as a humectant. A humectant is essentially something that makes the action of other ingredients more potent. Common humectants include glycerol, propylene glycol, sorbitol, urea, and lactic acid.
Toners and astringents are substances you’ll mostly find in aftershave splashes. These substances are cleaning agents and also cause your pores to shrink for a little while, which might be useful if you are about to go on camera. Toners can also help to soothe minor skin irritations caused by small cuts, rashes, bites, and even fungal infections. This makes them a great agent against shaving rash. Toners can even help clear up small scars.
Astringents are a stronger type of toner. This additional potency comes from the high amount of alcohol they contain. Pure astringents meant for skin application should not be applied to all the skin, but only to affected areas.
Toners are usually made from alum, oatmeal, yarrow, witch hazel, and even vinegar and alcohol. The stronger astringents can also have silver nitrate, zinc oxide, and zinc sulfate.
More for the Brew
In addition to these key components, there may also be what are known as hydrosols. These are distillations from plants that have aromatic smells. Hydrosols are basically diluted essential oils. Hydrosols are a bit acidic and can even help correct skin PH levels that are too basic. Hydrosols also add to the antiseptic qualities of an aftershave.
Finally we have the moisturizing components. These are substances that prevent evaporation of the natural skin moisture, leaving the skin softer and more flexible.
One of the most important considerations is what type of skin you have. Different aftershave formulations are meant for different skin types and so you should assess which skin type you have and buy a product that’s appropriate for you. If you mismatch the type of aftershave you could worsen a problem or simply have an ineffective product. There are really only four factors to consider here.
The first is whether you skin is sensitive or not. In other words, is it prone to becoming irritated when you disturb it with a shave or does it react badly to certain chemicals in products like aftershave? Look for aftershaves that say they are meant for sensitive skins in this case.
Your skin may also be generally dry or oily. Dry skins tend to show wrinkles, peel easily, and may become cracked. An aftershave balm with moisturizer as a main component may be perfect for someone with dry skin. People with oily skin have faces that look shiny; they tend to have blackheads on the nose as well. Splashes are better suited to these skins as they help clean the oiliness and prevent the negative consequences thereof.
If you are unlucky enough to have a combination of different skin types on your face, you’ll have to use multiple products and apply them to the correct zones. Yes, it’s a pain. But being beautiful isn’t easy, right?
Try and Try Again
Don’t feel too bad if you try a new aftershave product and it turns out it’s not for you. It can take a while to find a product that works for you as an individual and there’s a reason people seem to stick with the same aftershave for life once they find the formula that works for them. Experimenting with different products is a part of the process. However, unless you don’t care about the money aspect of it, you probably shouldn’t buy a super-expensive bottle of aftershave that you have never tried. At the very least try to buy the smallest quantity you can when you’re trying out an aftershave.
Remember, it takes a whole day to assess the smell and performance of an aftershave, so getting a sample from a store isn’t all that useful. I’d recommend looking for one online that fits the bill on paper as well as possible and then getting a small unit to try. Assess it over the course of a week and then decide if it works for you or not. Of course, you should also listen to the opinions of people who share your close personal space as well. You may love your new aftershave, but it may act as a social repellent.