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What is Wet Shaving? A Helpful Guide

Wet shaving can have a lot of different meanings for men.  Some may interpret it as a traditional old-school barbershop shave, whereas others may interpret it as simply using a modern electric shaver with shaving cream – truth be told, both of these interpretations are technically correct.

Below, you will learn what wet shaving is and is not.  Additionally, you will also have a better understanding of the nuances of this definition.

Let’s review:

Why is it called wet shaving?

Wet shaving is defined as when water is added to the shaving routine, specifically with shaving cream.  Conversely, dry shaving is defined as a shave, typically with an electric shaver, where no water or additional lubrication properties are present.

That’s great…but then what is traditional wet shaving?

While there is no formal definition that we could find that classifies traditional wet shaving, most wet shaving enthusiasts would agree that traditional wet shaving is the reliance on age-old products that were used by men in the 1950s and earlier.

This means a reliance on a straight or double edge safety razor, traditional shaving cream, pre-shave oil, shave brush, and aftershave.

Related: What is a Safety Razor

You won’t often see electric, cartridge, or disposable razors mentioned in tandem with traditional wet shaving.

Do you need to prepare your skin and facial hair prior to wet shaving?

In short, yes.  One of the unique things about wet shaving is the prep as it can be done in a few different ways.  This can include taking a warm shower, applying a damp hot towel, or simply splashing a liberal amount of warm water to your face:

Not only are these key steps in preventing razor burn as we covered previously, but it helps to provide a more comfortable shave.

If possible, any one of these methods should always be used rather than simply applying shaving cream to dry skin.

Razors That Can Be Used for a Wet Shave

Below are all the razor types that can be used in a wet shave:

Straight Razors & Shavettes

Also known as the cutthroat razor, the straight razor is a single blade that has been around for over a century.  This razor is often used with shave soaps that have an exceedingly slick texture.  This razor should only be used in a wet shaving environment.

The shavette, a straight razor with an injectable blade, is often used in barbershops for edging and making precise lines.  Many times, barbers may use this in a dry shave – especially for detailed work. 

Double Edge Safety Razors

First introduced in the early 1900s, Double Edge Safety Razors (commonly known simply as DE razors or safety razors) feature a single razor blade that is available for cutting on either side of the head of the razor.  With their universal blade fitting, men can easily swap between razor blades and aren’t stuck to a proprietary fitting.  Their lower long-term cost has made them go through a renaissance period when compared to other market alternatives.  This razor should only be used in a wet shaving environment.

Cartridge Razors

These are the types of razors that most people are familiar with.  Cartridge razors feature anywhere between two and seven blades.  They lift-and-cut (hysteresis) the hair with each pass.  While providing a close shave, skin irritation may be pronounced for some men that use this razor.  This razor should only be used in a wet shaving environment.

Related: Safety Razor vs. Cartridge Razor

Disposable Razors

Disposable razors are the razors that you see at the grocery store check-out that come in packs of 10 and usually have a relatively affordable price tag.  Their disposable nature makes them great for travel purposes or when you need to shave in a pinch.  For daily shaving, they will only last a few shaves before they must be replaced.  This razor should only be used in a wet shaving environment.

Select Electric Shavers

Coming in either rotary or foil heads, electric shavers are built for speed and convenience.  While not able to provide nearly as close of a shave as any of the above methods, electric shavers will undoubtedly do an effective job at removing facial hair. Many men are often surprised to learn that newer electric shavers are capable of being used in a wet environment – hence their inclusion in this list.

Related: The Different Types of Razors

Is wet or dry shaving better?

To determine if wet or dry shaving is better is highly dependent on a variety of factors.  This includes the sharpness of the razor blade, shave cream, technique, and skin sensitivity.  Generally, a wet shave can lead to closer or smoother results.  Dry shaving with an electric shaver will not cut the hair nearly as low – which may help to reduce irritation for some men.  

Ultimately, you should experiment to determine which provides the results you are most satisfied with.

What types of shaving cream are used for a wet shave?

Shaving cream is a key product that defines a wet shave.  Shave cream can come in many different forms as we discussed in greater detail here — this includes shave gel, traditional, latherless, and shaving soap.  

For men striking a more desirable shave experience and want a traditional shaving cream, then consider brands such as Taylor of Old Bond Street or Proraso.  We review them in further detail here:

Other Important Traditional Wet Shaving Accessories

A good shave doesn’t end with just a shave cream. Here are a few other wet shaving accessories that are a fixture if you want to achieve a more traditional wet shave:

Pre-shave Oil

A pre-shave treatment can be helpful in preparing both the skin and the facial hair prior to shaving.  Whether applied as an oil or a cream, a pre-shave treatment provides additional lubrication to your skin and hair in order to decrease irritation.  You can learn more about pre-shave oil in our comprehensive guide we recently published. 

Shaving Brush

Shaving brushes may appear like an unnecessary tool for your shaving routine.  However, men who use a shaving brush enjoy some unique advantages.  Most notably, shave brushes provide a gentle exfoliation to the skin that can remove dead skin cells and other pollutants.  A shave brush is also helpful in generating a thicker-bodied lather that provides additional cushion and insulation from the shaving cream.

Related: Best Shaving Brushes Reviewed


As we recently discussed, aftershave comes in many different forms including splashes, lotions, and balms.  Some may sting (contains alcohol) and some may not.  Aftershave is helpful in reducing burning, tightness, and general post-shave irritation.  Additionally, some may be scented which provides a nice aroma.

A Wide World of Shaving

In short, wet shaving can mean a lot of different things.  While it may be confusing at times, we hope the above information provided you with the necessary guidance you were seeking.  

Now, if you are looking to improve your shaving routine, we do invite you to check out some of the other detailed guides that we put together for you here on the site!

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam is an expert in all things men's grooming related. When you don't find him reading up on the latest grooming trends, he likes to go jogging, attempt to distinguish the differences between IPAs, and play sports with his kids.