"Shaving does more than remove hair," says Dr. Terrence Keaney, director of the dermatology clinic at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. "It sweeps the skin's natural hydration and protective barrier off the neck, chin, and cheek and leaves the face prone to irritation." The problem goes away, we are told, if we cap things off with an aftershave. An easy solution that's somehow become not so simple. There are aftershave tonics, lotions, balms, and even gels housing a slew of ingredients; all promising to soothe, nourish, and make your face look smooth.
"The difference between balms, gels, lotions, and tonics are the bases, or vehicles that carry the active ingredients," he says. Tonics are usually made from alcohol, witch hazel, or are water-based. Lotions are light, easily absorbed, water-based – as are gels, which are even more aqueous and readily soaked up by the skin. Finally, balms are the heaviest and hardest to absorb, and are based in a mix of thicker lipids and water. Each work, so finding the right active ingredients is a trial and error personal decision based on what fits with your skin type.
Here's a cheat sheet based for what aftershave is best for you.
Lotion is perfect if you've got normal to oily skin (if tissue sticks to your neck and you're not sweating, you skew oily). Use a lotion if you are getting a good shave with no complications or just a slight level of redness.
Try: Every Man Fack Face Lotion Post-Shave, $5.99 for 4.2 oz
Made for guys who tend to experience cuts and nicks when shaving. Because they're based in antiseptics like alcohol or witch hazel, they can prevent infection. If you have dry skin (it's flakey and feels taut) or sensitive skin (you get post-shave rashes) you will want to avoid alcohol and instead use a witch hazel, which is more gentle. Either way, follow up with a moisturizing product (lotions for normal skin, balms for dry skin) since tonics tend to be light on any moisturizing elements and the base alcohol and witch hazel are naturally drying.
Try: Fellow Barber Aftershave Tonic, $20 for 8 oz
These are ideal for men with dry skin that are also prone to cuts and nicks. Balms are ultra lubricating and stay towards the surface of the skin, which is especially important post-shave when it is in dire need of protective and soothing elements.They're the thickest and heaviest on the oils of the lot, meaning they don't give the skin much room to breathe. Use sparingly if you've got acne prone skin and especially in the heat, where a balm can block sweat.
Try: Nivea Men Sensitive Post Shave Balm, $6.99 for 3.3 oz
These calm, clean, and lightly moisturize normal to oily skin. They're best at cooling post-shave burning and because the skin soaks gels up fast, they are a good choice for humid climates or if you know you're going to be sweating right after shaving. That said, the fast absorption may not be moisturizing enough for some.
Try: Jack Black Post Shave Cooling Gel, $20 for 3.3 oz
Skipping all of these might seem like the easiest aftershave of all, especially if you're using a moisturizer regularly, but Dr. Keaney makes the case for keeping your regiment as specific as possible. "Regular moisturizers are not crafted with special ingredients to sooth and calm inflamed skin, which is exactly what an aftershave is doing."