If you're looking to take your shave to the next level, adding a pre-shave scrub to your routine will help you get the closest and smoothest finish.
A pre-shave scrub is, quite simply, a face wash with a scrubbing element that you use to prepare your skin prior to shaving to ensure you get the best shave possible.
If you're someone who shaves and appreciates healthy smooth skin, you need one in your routine. However, there are different types of face scrubs available and not all of them are suitable to be used before a shave.
And what about regular face washes? How do they fit into your routine?
We will be going into detail about the types of face washes and scrubs that are available, what they do, the benefits of using them, when and how often they should be used, and which ones are suitable to be used specifically as part of a shaving routine.
First things first, we need to understand what a face wash is. Can I just use regular bar soap to wash my face?
A face wash is a product that is designed to remove the daily grime that builds up on your face such as excess oil, dead skin cells, dirt, and pollutants. It helps to unclog pores and through regular use will prevent a dull complexion due to a build-up on the surface of your skin.
Essentially, a face wash is soap for your face. That means that regular old bar soap is not suitable for your face, and here’s why:
Your skin is slightly acidic with a PH level of between 4.5 and 6.5, but soap is alkaline with a PH around 9. This makes it effective at stripping the skin of dirt and oils. This is fine when used on the body because the skin there is typically thicker and has fewer oil glands, but when used on the face it can be too harsh for the skin as it strips it of the natural oils it needs. With regular use, the skin’s balance on your face will be disrupted leading to breakouts and dry, irritated and flaky skin.
I repeat: you shouldn’t be using general bar soap when it comes to washing your face.
The same can be said for any type of soap that’s not designed for the skin on your face, such as liquid hand soap. It’s too harsh so only use it as it's intended.
Products marketed as face wash are different because they contain ingredients that are milder to allow gentle removal of daily grime without stripping all the oils or upsetting your PH balance.
How often should I use a face wash?
You should be using a face wash just twice a day, morning and night, to keep your skin and pores clear. If you have engaged in physical activity that has made you sweat then it’s fine to use again, however try not to use a face wash more often than that because too much cleansing will strip your skin of oils and can lead to the same problems just mentioned.
Now you know why it’s important to include a dedicated face wash in your routine, how do face scrubs fit into the equation?
What is a face scrub and how is it different from face wash?
The difference between a face scrub and a wash is subtle. Both products serve the same purpose of removing dirt, oil and other debris from the skin but scrubs also use chemical and/or mechanical means of exfoliation to loosen and remove dry/dead patches of skin cells for myriad benefits that extend past simply cleaning.
In short: a face wash is meant to wash off the surface level grime of the day whereas a scrub buffs your skin to clean deeper as well as reveal a smoother, younger surface.
What are the types of face scrub available?
Chemical face scrubs.
A chemical face scrub is a type of skincare product that contains exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, or kojic acid. These ingredients sounds scary but they are often derived from natural origins such as fruit extracts and they work by gently breaking down dead skin cells, excess sebum and dirt so they can be easily removed.
There are different types of acids such as AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) which tend to work on the outer-most layers of the skin, and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) that work deeper down to clear pores and prevent spots and blemishes.
Different acids are better suited towards certain skin types but most shop-bought formulations are gentle enough to use even with sensitive skin, making them effective and easy to use.
Mechanical face scrubs.
Unlike chemical face scrubs, mechanical ones work by using a physical element to manually scrub away the outer layer of dead skin cells. In a face scrub product, this is usually in the form of synthetic or natural exfoliating beads that you move around your skin yourself as you massage it over your skin.
This physical process provides immediate results of clearer looking skin that feels noticeably smoother and softer.
Other forms of mechanical scrub include external tools such as a cleansing cloth or rotating brush.
What are the benefits of using any kind of face scrub?
1. Improved skin look, tone and texture.
Dead skin cells can make your face look dry and dull and therefore their removal can immediately improve the overall look of your complexion as well as leave it feeling softer and smoother. Over time, it can also improve the tone of your skin by scrubbing dark blemishes and promoting the skin’s natural healing.
2. Unclogs pores
This helps to reduce breakouts as well as fights stubborn blackheads to reveal clearer skin.
3. Helps to get a closer shave and prevent ingrown hairs
Exfoliating the skin helps to lift up hairs ready for the blade to cleanly cut as close to the base as possible.
It also creates a smoother surface for the blade to glide along uninhibited as well as removing dead skin cells and oils that could build up on the blade, all of which ensures an even cut for a close shave.
Lastly, scrubbing can help to ensure hairs don’t become ingrown by freeing them out of the follicle.
4. Helps skin products’ absorption
By scrubbing away the uppermost layer of the skin it makes it easier for important active ingredients to get absorbed into the lower levels, allowing you to maximise the effectiveness of other products in your skincare regime.
Do I need to use both a face scrub and a face wash in my routine?
All these benefits might make it seem like a face scrub is the far superior version of a face wash because it does everything a wash can do and more but using a scrub too often can be overkill and therefore it’s best to have both a wash and a scrub in your arsenal and know when to use each.
Most dermatologists would suggest to cleanse your skin morning and night but it’s not advised to use a scrub that often, therefore there’s still a place for a gentle cleanser in your routine.
However, you don’t need to use both a face wash and a scrub at the same time. On the days that you plan to use a face scrub, use it in place of your wash.
What are the disadvantages to using a face scrub?
1. Skin reactions
Chemical exfoliants can cause adverse reactions such as rashes and irritation. This is true of people with sensitive skin but also if you’re just not used to using a chemical scrub in your routine, and therefore some testing is required before finding the combination of acids and concentration that work best for you.
It’s best to start with low concentration products to see how your skin reacts before working your way up.
Mechanical scrubs come with a risk of microtearing where the mechanical exfoliant causes small abrasions that cause irritation. Depending on what material is used to exfoliate (some scrubs use crushed shells which can be particularly sharp), it can be easy to scrub too hard or for too long and end up damaging skin more than you help it.
This is why a lot of scrubs that use coarse exfoliants recommend they are only used once or twice a week.
Make sure you never press a scrub into your skin with any force. The aim is to gently move the scrubbing agent around your face, and always avoid the delicate eye area.
3. Premature ageing
Whilst exfoliating the skin is commonly seen as a process that makes your skin look smoother and younger, over exfoliation has been linked to having the opposite effect of prematurely ageing your skin, so it’s really important that a scrub is used correctly and safely. You can have too much of a good thing!
4. Overly drying
Adding a scrub to your routine can also be quite drying, especially if over-used, so it’s important to know how often and for how long to use depending on your skin type.
The general rule of thumb is that if you have oily skin you can get away with using a scrub more often without it causing dryness, but normal to sensitive skin types can dry faster and therefore it’s best not to scrub as often or to perhaps use a milder formula.
What type of face scrub should be used as part of a pre-shave routine?
Now we’ve outlined the difference between face washes and scrubs, as well as their benefits, we’re ready to understand how men can most effectively use them as part of their shaving routine.
The act of scraping a razor sharp blade across your face is already an exfoliating process that reveals fresh, younger looking and smoother skin.
However, as any sufferer of razor burn knows, shaving also has the potential to cause discomfort. Depending on the razor you use and your technique, it can lead to irritation such as razor burn, which is essentially a form of over exfoliation (hint: use a single-blade razor to minimise this).
Therefore, adding a pre-shave scrub to your routine has the potential to exacerbate any irritation you already get from shaving.
One the one hand, using a pre-shave scrub can make the process of shaving easier by prepping the skin for the blade, resulting in an irritation-free finish and healthy skin. On the other hand, it could result in skin that’s now sore and you’re about run a blade over the top and make it worse.
That’s why it’s important to use any kind of exfoliant correctly, reaping the benefits of improved skin and avoiding over exfoliation.
How often should I use a pre-shave scrub and can I use any face scrub before shaving?
Always use a face scrub before shaving. It helps to lift hairs ready for the razor, so they’re not flat against your skin and difficult to cut cleanly. It also creates a smooth surface so the blade doesn't get clogged with oil and dead skin cells, allowing for a consistent close cut.
However, as we’ve mentioned, a lot of mechanical scrubs are so coarse that they’re recommended to only be used once a week, and the act of shaving is by itself an exfoliating process so how can you regularly use both without damaging your skin?
You have to use a face scrub that is suitable for your personal grooming routine.
The more often you shave, the gentler the scrub in your routine should be. This is because if you’re shaving often then you’re already exfoliating your skin regularly and therefore you don’t need a strong scrub on top.
A good pre-shave scrub should say it’s suitable for daily use.
If you shave less often, for example only once or twice a week, it’s safe to use a coarser face scrub as part of your pre-shave routine, just make sure to be gentle and if you notice any razor burn after your shave it could be a sign that the pre-shave exfoliant was too harsh or that you were scrubbing too hard (or, of course, you could have had a bad shave).
How to use a pre-shave scrub in your grooming/shaving routine.
1. Splash your face with warm water thoroughly to dampen skin and open pores
2. Apply a small dollop of face scrub into your hand
3. Gently, using your fingers, massage the scrub all over your face and neck in circular motions with as little pressure as possible.
4. Massage for a maximum of 30 seconds only, don’t be tempted to scrub for longer.
5. Rinse face and neck with warm water
6. Apply your usual pre-shave oil, cream or lather to skin that is still damp
Use a face wash morning and night for healthy skin. Don’t use bar soap or other cleansers that aren’t meant for the face.
Use a pre-shave scrub in your shaving routine to get the best shave possible and for overall younger looking skin. It doesn’t matter if you use a chemical based scrub or a mechanical based scrub, but if you do use a mechanical one make sure you’re applying it gently and letting the scrub do the work, don’t press it into your skin.
Always use a scrub that’s tailored to your routine. If you shave often (3 or more times per week), then use a mild scrub that specifies usage suitable for daily use. If you shave less frequently, you can use a scrubbier scrub (one that they recommend to use less often).
As part of our shaving club, we've tried hundreds of pre-shave scrubs and face washes. You can see our pick of the best pre-shave scrubs here.