You can whip up a luscious, frothy, lubricating lather with the best of them. You can wield your steel against day old scruff like a knight of old. But now what? What is your post shave routine? Are you a balm man, a splash guy, a menthol head? You might have your favorite staple to end your grooming ritual, but what is it actually doing for your skin? Why do you use it? We’ve got the skinny on the ingredients in your post-shave products so you can choose the right one for you and your skin.
So here’s a list of some common aftershave components, what they do, and who they may benefit!
Alcohol: Now this one seems like a given, but alcohol is quite the “umbrella term” in chemistry. It is - very generally speaking - a carbon-based molecule with a hydroxyl group (Hydrogen directly bound to an Oxygen atom). The alcohol used in aftershaves is ethanol, which is a two-carbon alcohol that has great astringent properties. In short, an astringent is anything which will cause a coagulation, or clumping, of proteins. It’s what causes the dry feeling in your mouth after drinking wine or eating turkey full of organic molecules known as tannins, and it’s what causes the tightening of the skin when splashing on your favorite aftershave. Ethanol’s chemical properties make it a great antimicrobial by helping tighten the pores and creating a poor environment upon which harmful bacteria could thrive. However, ethanol can have the effect of decreasing sebum production by the skin’s sebaceous glands, so this may not be ideal for those who battle with dry skin.
Witch Hazel: Hamamelis virginiana - or most commonly, witch hazel - has been used as a mild antiseptic and astringent for hundreds of years. In aftershaves, witch hazel can be found to accompany the astringency of alcohol and provide antiseptic properties to the skin. However, it is also often used in place of alcohol. As its astringent effect is not quite as pronounced on the skin as alcohol, it doesn’t have as noticeable a “stinging” or “burning” sensation. Witch hazel is also low in pH which makes it great as a toning agent. During shaving, traditional shaving soap/cream lathers are basic in nature while the skin, in its resting state, is slightly acidic at a pH of 5.5. Witch Hazel is also acidic, and will help combat the after-effects of shaving by bringing the skin down to its optimal pH to resume normal function.
Glycerin: Glycerin is a very effective humectant and is a welcome addition to any aftershave splash, tonic/toner, or balm. A humectant is a classification of substances which reduce moisture lost by absorbing nearby water and retaining it within the skin. Glycerin is incredibly effective in that, due to its biochemical properties, it can pass through water channels, or aquaporins, leading into the cell. This means that glycerin operates on both an extra- and intra-cellular levels.
Menthol: A primary comment of peppermint oil, menthol is highly praised for its anesthetic properties, which is why it is used so often, not only in the cosmetic industry, but also in pharmaceuticals. Menthol is unique in its biochemical activity, activating the TRPM8 receptors in the skin, which are responsible for the sensing of cold temperatures in the human body. While it does not actually change the temperature of the skin, it induces a similar effect and, in conjunction with its local anesthetic properties, is a great addition to your aftershave balm/splash.
Aloe Barbadensis: Aloe Leaf Juice/Gel is used in many aftershave splashes, toners, and balms. Especially if you’ve had a bad shave, aloe can have a significant impact on the soothing and healing of razor burn. Aloe has been shown to help in the proliferation of TGF-beta1, which are a family of cytokines absolutely essential for efficient wound healing. In addition to wound-healing, aloe leaf gel has been shown to reduce pain levels and prevent infection.
Calendula officinalis: A component of a few artisan-produced aftershaves, Calendula extracts have been clinically proven to promote skin healing. Taking a slightly different approach than other skin-nourishing ingredients, C. officinalis stimulates the production of connective and smooth muscle actin. In combination with the some of the skin-healing ingredients mentioned above, aftershaves can pack a powerful punch in aiding skin hydration, healing, and comfort.
Panthenol: Panthenol is widely used in cosmetics and dermatological products. It is a primary alcohol provitamin of B5 and has significant effects on wound healing and hydration of the stratum corneum, or the outermost layer of the epidermis.
Phenoxyethanol: Phenoxyethanol is a preservative ingredient found in many cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. In aftershaves, not only does it have preservative, antimicrobial properties, but it can also stabilize the fragrance components. It is used very frequently because it is among the safest preservatives on the market to use when present in its normal concentrations.
Shea Butter: Taken from the African Shea Tree, many of Shea butters’ unsaponifiables are used in shaving soaps and aftershave balms. Triterpene alcohol makes up a majority of obtained shea butter. Within this alcohol are “Cinnamate esters” which have a UV protection rate so significant it is used in many advanced and highly protective sunscreens. Along with jojoba oil, shea butter is also very helpful in retaining moisture in the skin, and helping the skin quickly return to its normally-hydrated state.
Allantoin: Allantoin is a nitrogenous organic compound found in nature and is used widely in cosmetics. It has been proven to have very significant effects on skin conditioning and dermal wound healing, used often in dermatological creams to treat severe skin conditions. Used in an aftershave balm, this would be a great way to help prepare your skin for the day ahead, or if you have to shave consecutive days after a bad shave.
Your daily shave is leaving a mark. Maybe more than you even know, as your skin tries to recover from microscopic cuts, nicks, and abrasions. Choose a post-shave product to heal, sooth, and nourish your skin.