What Does Aftershave Really Do & Should You Start Using it?

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what do aftershaves really do

The clue is in the name with aftershave: you literally use it to treat the skin after shaving. But that doesn’t really explain why it’s such a popular – and important – part of any man’s grooming arsenal.

So here’s the deal: when you shave, you leave lots of tiny cuts on your face. This exposes your skin and leaves your pores more likely to absorb nasty bacteria.

Aftershave contains chemicals that kill these bacteria, acting essentially as a sanitizer. So that’s the traditional use for aftershave, the reason it was originally invented – to help protect your skin from irritation and infection after shaving.

Over the years, however, aftershave has evolved a hell of a lot, and come to be used for many other purposes.

What other benefits does aftershave offer?

1. Smelling great

Many men use the word aftershave interchangeably with cologne, eau de toilette, and various other terms. And there are indeed similarities between these products – they all act as perfumes.

Giving you a manly scent throughout the day is a major benefit of most aftershaves, and many are formulated with the scent as their primary purpose and selling point.

2. Improving skin and general health

Not only does aftershave cool and soothe your skin after shaving, many actually help promote healthier skin and facial hair growth over a longer period of time. In fact, some aftershaves even feature essential oils that promote healthier blood flow.

3. Moisturizing the skin

Many aftershaves also contain active moisturizing properties, which help your skin look more dewy and healthy for the rest of the day. When combined with a good quality moisturizer, this effect is obviously compounded. But even on their own, aftershaves can have a powerful effect on your skin.

So aftershave is a real all-rounder of a product – it heals your skin, makes you look more handsome, and even leaves you smelling fantastic.

But the reality is, the benefits you get from your aftershave depend heavily on the specific type of aftershave you have and the ingredients it uses.

What different kinds of aftershave are there?

1. Splash aftershave

Splash is an antiseptic liquid form of aftershave and is probably exactly what comes to mind when you think of aftershave. It is generally alcohol-based, and it tends to tighten and dry the skin very effectively.

  • Who should use it?

Splash aftershave is good for cut and nick-prone men, as it is very effective at preventing infection. It is also fairly effective on oily skin – but only if you can withstand a little bit of dryness.

  • What are its flaws?

As with any alcohol-based aftershave, splash tends to sting a little – though lots of men like that and find it reassuring. Men with dry skin should avoid splash though, as it will wear their skin out and leave them look crusty.

2. Balm aftershave

Balm is a hydrating lotion, generally with a mild scent that goes away almost immediately. They tend to be alcohol-free, instead generally using lovely natural oils, which leave your skin super smooth and refreshed.

  • Who should use it?

Balm is great to have at hand anytime you’ve had excessive razor burn. It’s ideal for men with dry skin, because it’s ultra-lubricating and tends to contain great moisturizing properties. Plus, it’s very effective for tightening the pores, so if your pores are very open or large, balm may be your guy.

  • What are its flaws?

When you first apply balm, you should expect a slight stinging sensation – again, some men like this, and others don’t. The main flaw with balm, however, is that it is thicker and heavier than other aftershaves and can clog your pores – which is particularly bad if you happen to suffer from acne.

3. Lotion aftershave

Lotion is slightly less common – and often more expensive – than the other types of aftershave. They typically contain a lower concentration of alcohol than splashes, and the viscosity is generally a little higher.

  • Who should use it?

Lotions tend to have a strong scent, and most are marketed as primary scents, so any man who’s particularly interested in smelling good should give lotions a look. They’re also great for toning the skin and tightening the pores – so if you have oily skin, lotion will be great for you.

  • What are its flaws?

Lotions tend to sting more than balms, which sucks. But the main problem is they are relatively uncommon and expensive – they are less common than other types of aftershave, and therefore finding a really great one can be tough.

4. Gel aftershave

Gels are very similar to lotions in a lot of ways, but gels are particularly designed for soothing the skin and acting as a cooling agent.

  • Who should use it?

Gel is more quickly absorbed by the skin than other types of aftershave, so anyone who knows they’re about to workout and break a sweat will get great use out of gel. It also doesn’t tend to string as much because of this.

  • What are its flaws?

The flip side of the speed of absorption is that gels don’t tend to provide particularly great moisturizing, so any many who have dry skin may find he needs an extra moisturizer to work on top of his gel aftershave.

What ingredients should I look for in an aftershave?

As with any grooming product – really anything you’re going to consume in some way! – you must be extremely aware of what your aftershave contains.

The reality is, both the quality and effectiveness of aftershave hinge on the ingredients in the specific solution, and for that reason, ingredients might be the single most important factor in any purchasing decision.

1. Ingredients to avoid

Many traditional aftershaves were alcohol-based, and this can still be effective as it does kill bacteria. However, alcohol offers far fewer benefits over time than other ingredients.

Similarly, you should avoid artificial fragrances – often described on the label as ‘parfum’ – as these often carry unidentified irritants and are generally pretty nasty for the skin.

2. Ingredients to look out for

There are a number of natural ingredients that are regularly used in aftershaves, and any product which features them is likely to provide great health and aesthetic benefits to you.

  • Shea butter, glycerin, and aloe vera are fantastic natural moisturizers, and any aftershave which features them is likely to be great for dry skin as well as soothing cuts
  • Essential oils provide many great benefits, including soothing the skin and providing natural, varied scents
  • Vitamin E oil will help promote healthier skin growth and give your immune system a little boost too
  • Witch hazel is a great natural alternative to alcohol, for men who don’t like the stinging sensation of alcohol-based aftershaves but want the astringent benefits

Are there alternatives to aftershave?

While there aren’t any other products which combine all the quality of the best aftershaves, it is possible to get many of the benefits it offers from other products.

Colognes, Eau de toilettes and the like will take care of your scent needs. Moisturizers can soothe and cool your skin after shaving. And Pre-shave oil can ensure you have an irritation-free shaving experience.

The real benefit of aftershave is not that it offers anything unique – it’s that it provides it all in one single product.

Aftershave vs. Cologne – what’s the real difference?

If you ask most men, aftershave and cologne are the exact same thing. And while they are often used interchangeably, any truly refined man should really know better.

Cologne is all about the smell

The main difference between these two products is cologne is purely used as a fragrance, whereas aftershave offers health benefits and tackles a real problem.

While this might appear to make aftershave superior, it’s not that simple: cologne tends to be formulated purely for scent, and therefore usually offers a far superior smell.

They are formulated differently

Cologne, as a rule, is made from alcohol, water, and essential oils. This makes it very concentrated and simple to choose, whereas different aftershaves vary hugely in their ingredients.

Cologne is part of a family of products

While aftershave is a standalone – there are simply various different types of it – cologne is part of a larger fragrance family – ranging from eau de toilette, which has a very low concentration of essential oils, to women’s perfumes, which tend to be extremely densely concentrated.

They are not competing products

The main thing to understand about aftershave and cologne, is they are not in direct competition.

You can use a great aftershave as well as a great cologne, and few people will ever even notice. In fact, many men find that layering and combing their aftershave with a specific scent helps make both smell better.

What are some of the top aftershaves?

As you can imagine, there is a huge number of aftershave on the market. And sorting through them can be tiring and disorientating.

The key to finding the best aftershaves is knowing what you personally need – what kind of skin you have, what type of ingredients you’re looking for, and what you’re looking to spend on it.

To give you a head start, here are three of our favorites:

1. Proraso’s After Shave Lotion

Proraso’s After Shave Lotion

If you’re looking for a lotion that will refresh and invigorate your skin, this is the best we’ve ever come across. It has a slightly medicinal smell, but most folks find it very pleasant and light.

2. Jack Black’s PureScience Aftershave

Jack Black’s PureScience Aftershave

This stuff is ideal for men with fair skin who need the extra UV protection it offers. It’s also made from totally natural ingredients and has lots of hydrating qualities. It doesn’t have a fragrance, however, so you should bear that in mind.

3. Baxter of California’s After Shave

Baxter of California’s After Shave

A phenomenal aftershave for sensitive skin, from a very cool brand. It is balm based with zero alcohol and will leave even the most tender skin totally hydrated and healthy.

Of course, there are plenty more great aftershaves out there; for a rundown of all our favorites, hit up our full review here.

How to apply aftershave like a pro

Like so many grooming products, aftershave seems easy to use – but there is a secret subtle art to getting the most from it.

Luckily, we are privy to that art, and we can show you exactly how to use aftershave like a pro.

1. Prepare like a pro

Immediately after shaving, pat your face with cold water and dry your face with a clean towel. This will close your pores and give you the proper foundation for aftershave.

2. Spread it evenly

Place a small amount of aftershave in the palm of your hand – this need be no more than the size of a quarter. Now gently rub your hands together, spreading the product evenly across both.

3. Apply with the right motion

Apply the lotion to the newly-shaven areas of your face, using an upward, circular motion to ensure the skin absorbs the product as quickly as possible.

4. Leave it to soak

Allow it to soak in until it’s no longer visible – this should take no more than a couple of minutes. If necessary, apply a second coat to ensure the entire area has been covered.

5. Follow up if necessary

You may need to augment the aftershave – this could be with moisturizer if your skin is starting to dry out, or witch hazel to remove residue. While this isn’t necessary every time, most men find the follow up ensures their skin stays in its best possible condition.

Frequently asked questions

What does menthol in aftershave do?

Menthol acts as a powerful aesthetic and counter-irritant. It is used in many grooming products because of this. In aftershave, it helps to soothe and cool the skin, producing a very refreshing post-shave cooling effect. Menthol is also absorbed by the skin, making it totally safe to use.

What does alcohol in aftershave do?

Alcohol has been used in aftershave since it was first invented. It acts as a cooling agent, soothing cuts in the skin, and killing bacteria. However, it can also burn the skin if overused, and you should be very careful using aftershave with very high alcohol content.

Conclusion

Aftershave is one of the oldest and most versatile items in any man’s grooming kit. And while it may not be the most fashionable product, it’s still hard to find one which does which offers quite so many benefits with so little effort.

If you don’t use aftershave, you should start – even just having it to hand can be an extraordinarily handy thing.

We’d love to hear about your experience with aftershave – do you use it? Are you gonna start? And if so, what product are you planning on trying?


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The Electric Shaver vs Razor: Which is Better? (A Full Comparison)

Best Face Washes & Cleansers for Men (All Skin Types)

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About The Author

Domen Hrovatin
Domen Hrovatin

Domen—a self-confessed facial hair addict—is a grooming professional, style enthusiast, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about male pattern baldness. His work was mentioned in countless notable men's grooming and style publications, including Beardbrand and AskMen.

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