Admit it, one of the reasons you go to the barber for a shave—instead of doing it yourself at home—is because it feels so damn good. (And way better than the hurried job you do before work or bedtime.)
It’s like a facial and a close shave all in one. That hot towel application might be one of the best parts of the process, and it plays a major role in the quality of the shave, as well as the comfort of the client. (That’s you.)
So, what’s the point of that hot towel? That’s what we asked Taylor Booth, hair stylist at Boardroom Salon for Men in San Antonio, Texas. Here is what Booth had to say about the soothing procedure.
It opens the pores.
For the same reason you splash hot water on your face before shaving at home, this hot towel opens the pores. This is an integral part of a healthy, safe shave. “Once the pores are open, it allows for more of the follicle to be exposed,” says Booth. “This results in a closer shave, while reducing the possibility of razor burn.” Think of it as a relaxer for the skin, preparing it for the sharp blade, instead of it staying firm, resistant, and rigid.
It softens the hair.
You also want to relax the hairs before a shave, and this process does exactly that. Booth notes that the razor cuts through relaxed, softer hair much more easily, and it results in far less drag (in other words: aggressive drudgery on your face). And by opening the pores, you allow oil in the skin to work its way down the hair follicles, which further softens and nourishes them. (This is also why you sometimes apply a pre-shave oil before a shave, whereas a hot towel treatment can do the job for you if your hairs are short enough—which they should be. If not, trim them short first, then shave them off.)
Of course, you love that hot towel because it feels really damn good. They wrap it around your face and block out the world, leaving you alone to your thoughts (or, if you’re like us, is a start to a solid 1-minute nap). It also relaxes the skin and hair, and permeates the senses. Some barbers will even use towels with a minty scent to them. It’s way better than the at-home splash of hot water, Booth points out.
The post-shave cold towel does the opposite.
After the shave, your barber will give you another towel wrap, but this one will be fresh from the refrigerator. This cold wrap has the opposite effect, and for good reason: It closes the pores, which protects them from invasion by shaving debris and bacteria. It cools and calms the skin, since the towels are usually soaked in a mix of water and anti-septic solution (which stands in as your post-shave splash). This minimizes infection, further prevents burn, and tones oil levels in the skin. The bottom line: It’s superior to any splash of cold water you could manage from your sink ledge. And sure, it’s a sad moment when the wrap reaches room temperature and they peel it off the face, but it’s nice to know you’ll be ready for another shave in just a few short days.