Did I just shave with Coca-Cola?

Being married to a makeup and beauty expert is an interesting experience.  I often joke with Nicole that by learning as much as I have about her world, her interests, the makeup and beauty products that she likes, I've indubitably forgot certain key bits of information from my own life.  Were it not for 1Password, I'm pretty sure I'd have learned 50 Shades of Lipstick and forgot how to check my email.

On the plus side, I've also been exposed to products which have enriched my own life...

Case in point, sure, I might have inhaled deeply whilst walking by Aesop, as their shops really do smell good, but, were it not for Nicole, I doubt I ever would have ventured past the threshold.

Rewind a couple of weeks back and Nicole and I were spending the weekend in Sydney to celebrate my birthday. During one of our shopping-wanders, we went to the Strand Arcade and stumbled across the Aesop presence tucked away within.  Their shop layout is quite nice, which is part of what caught Nicole's eye, but she's always enjoyed their products as well.

As she wandered around the store, I noticed they had a few things sitting out by a basin; one of which claimed to be a "shaving serum" -- I must admit, I have no idea what a serum is in this context.  I see the word a lot when Nicole goes wandering through makeup counters, but, I honestly didn't know what it would be when applied to shaving.

I picked up the small container, pushed the pump, and a thickish gel-like substance was produced.  Huh.  It smelled fantastic, and definitely had the right consistency to imply a great shave.  

As part of the Birthday Extravaganza Weekend, Nicole bought me the "kit" which Aesop sold - which is officially known as the Moroccan Neroli Shaving Duet.  

The box, contents, and the little cloth bag it all came in.

The box, contents, and the little cloth bag it all came in.

The serum is the container in the middle.  It's not a vast quantity (60ml), but, you don't need a huge amount (more on that in a bit).  To the right you can also see the "post-shave lotion" which is included in the duet kit.

Okay, so, I have to admit, I have no idea what neroli oil is.  I'd never heard of the stuff until I actually read the label.  Which I did about 10 minutes ago as I was preparing to write this story for Bagful of Notions.  I've used the Aesop shaving serum several times already, but, it was only just now that I had any idea what it was called.

Which allows me to digress:  I can't (and shouldn't) speak on behalf of all men, but, I get the feeling that most men may not care what this (or most) products like this are called.  If I wanted to get some more of this serum in the future, here's exactly how the conversation would go:

Aesop Staffer:  Hello!  Can I help you with anything today, sir?
Me:  Yes please.  I'm looking for some more of your shaving gel stuff.
Aesop Staffer:  You mean our Moroccan Neroli Shaving Serum?
Me:  No idea.  Small bottle, gel, smells nice.  Good for shaving.  (Said in voice of Ron Swanson)
Aesop Staffer: <stiffling a sigh at the Typical Male response> Yes, that would be our blah blah blah blah blah.
Me: Here's my money.  Good bye.

I feel bad for the patient staff having to deal with what I perceive to be a typical response as I'd give.  But, really, I don't care what it's called - the lovely staff assistant in Sydney no doubt told me the glorious history of this miracle shaving serum and I have already forgot it.  Nicole probably paid close attention to every word and could tell you how this stuff once stopped a war and was personally used by Marcus Antonius...

Anyway, let's get back to the review.  Here's a close-up of the serum:

Serum, with the cap removed.

Serum, with the cap removed.

So, where was I? Oh, yes, Neroli.  I had to go and look this word up on the Internets.  I'm told by Wikipedia, which is the single greatest source of truth and lies (simultaneously) online, that this stuff is, allegedly, one of the secret ingredients in Coca-Cola.  I'm not making this up.  Wikipedia might be, but I'm not.

Since Neroli is made from the blossom of a bitter orange tree, it makes sense that the aroma has a slightly citrusy slant to it.  I wouldn't call it sweet, but, you get a wisp of citrus on the nose; a bit like someone opened an orange on the train a carriage away from you, and as the connecting doors briefly opened, you caught a hint.

To me, though, the stronger scent is one of dried wood.  Like taking an exotic hardwood branch, setting it in the Australian summer heat for a few weeks, then bringing it inside.  It's not overpowering, it's not as it would smell in the forest, but it's also unmistakable.

All a fancy way of saying:  It smells good.  Masculine, but not ostentatious.  

Okay, enough on that side of it, how does it work?

First thing I have to tell you is to Learn From My Fail and don't use it this way:

Do not take two small pumps of the serum and place it on your hands, lightly coating your face, and waiting about 20 seconds before trying to shave.

That is the wrong way to do it.  The instructions are clear about this as well.

So, why did I do it that way the first time?  Largely because the only other shaving oil/gel that I've used actually recommended that approach.  A few drops, spread it over your face, wait a bit, then shave.  The important lesson here, kids, is that serum != oil.

Instead, what you're meant to do is make the face damp (I prefer hot water, and the instructions are vague on this point), then use the serum to create a "low foam" - again, the instructions are vague as to how much to use, but, I found through trial and error that four pumps was the right amount for me.  Aesop's website offers different instructions than the serum bottle itself, implying it's best to lather it in your hands, or, a shaving bowl with a brush (I might try this)...point is, whatever you do, don't let the serum dry on your face before you try to shave with it.

I use an electric razor, one that can be either wet or dry, which may also impact the use of the serum.  Aesop recommends that you only shave with the grain, and, rinse the blade after each stroke.  That's not terribly practical with an electric razor, so I used my own technique.  This serum needs moisture to keep its lubrication working right, so, I did make an effort to regularly rinse the razor head under the hot water tap.  

After using the serum four or five times now, I'd say that I've got the right combination of quantity of product, water and shaving technique nailed down.  The first few attempts were not brilliant, and I did manage to irritate my face slightly.

Thankfully, the "duet" comes with the post-shave lotion, which worked great at cooling things down.  It's not greasy, and a little does go a long way, so you don't need much of it to cover your entire freshly-shaven face.

Post shave lotion.

Post shave lotion.

One other point:  I tend to shave before I shower.  I've read that this is not the preferred order of operations for certain shaving products, but, this is a routine I've had for decades and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Since I tend to use a wet-ish shave somewhat regularly, I appreciate the shower as the opportunity to get rid of anything left over on my face/neck.

To that end, the post-shave lotion ends up having to wait till I'm done in the shower to hit my face; I have put a tiny dab on right after shaving to see how it felt (recommended), but the last couple of times I waited until all was said and done.

So, wrapping it all up - I really like the Aesop shaving serum.  I don't know what about it is Moroccan, and I really won't be dwelling on the Coca-Cola secret ingredient, but I will say it works great (when used as directed) and makes for a superb shave that is Wife Approved.  

Can't get better than that!

The barber of Melbourne

Handle with care.

Handle with care.

As a child I remember being fascinated by watching my father shave.  He used a "safety razor" -- looked a bit like this:

Not terribly common these days, but, they still make them.

As he would shave, I'd lather up my face with the shaving cream, and he'd hand me a spare razor -- without the actual blade -- and as he'd scrape away his beard, I'd essentially scoop the shaving cream off my own face.  I suppose in many ways that is how I learned to shave.  A decade too early, but, the gestures, motions, facial contortions, all observed, mimicked, and repeated.

Eventually the time arrived for my own facial hair to be dealt with.  I don't remember exactly how old I was, I don't actually recall the first time I shaved "in earnest" -- but it was the beginning of a process that will likely go on for the rest of my life.

I've tried just about every sort of razor and shaving system out there (curiously, I've never actually used a safety razor such as the one pictured above)...wet, electric, rotary, even straight edge by a barber.  I held very, very still during that one.  Talk about trust...

Anyway, for Christmas 2012, Nicole has gifted me a spectacular shaving set which comes complete with some key ingredients to make this daily ritual of mine a bit more pleasant.  Yes, I said daily.  I know a lot of men don't shave every day, but my beard grows pretty quickly, and a day without looks pretty bad.  Indeed, there has only been one time in my life when I did not shave daily:  Chicken pox at the age of 18.  Yeah, that kinda sucked.  The doctor suggested I not shave for a week or two (ya think?!) until the skin issues cleared up.  So other than that one week, decades ago, every single day some sort of metal scrapes my skin.

My current razor of choice is the Pansonic LV-81:

The Panasonic LV-81 Razor

The Panasonic LV-81 Razor

This was actually a Christmas gift from Nicole last year.  Hmm.  I'm starting to wonder if she's conveying some sort of message about my facial hair....anyway, moving on.

The Panasonic LV-81 is the best electric razor I've ever owned. It can be used wet, or dry, and delivers a phenomenal shave.  It does need to be cleaned pretty regularly, but the cleaning system it comes with takes care of that nicely.  Of course, how often you need to clean it probably depends upon your beard growth rate, and the type of hair you have.

Most mornings are dry shaves for me.  3-4 minutes, I'm done.  Actually, one of the (curious) features of the LV-81 is that it tells you exactly how long your shave lasts each day.  I'm not sure why someone would want that information, but, I will admit to a certain amusement when my shave lasted for four minutes and four seconds the other day.  404 Beard Not Found.  Nerd joke.  Don't worry about it...

Where was I?

Ah, right, the daily ritual and the gift.  Every week or two I would take the time on a Saturday morning to do a proper wet shave with the Panasonic.  I've tried various creams and gels, and they all work moderately well.  It's a much slower and messier process, so it's not something for every day.

I should mention that I've had a goatee for the last 15 or so years.  Ever since a colleague said to me that the only thing that would make me more sinister would be my having one.  Thanks Pete!

The goatee matters as it does add to shaving time, as well as some of the nuances of the process. There's a no-go area for razors, and being very careful with your "edging" is essential.  There have been a few times where I trimmed a bit too far and things became uneven, but mostly this isn't a problem when using an electric razor.

Right, so, this year's "Scott, you have too much facial hair and I'm too nice to say anything about it" gift from Nicole is:

A manly box for manly men.

A manly box for manly men.

Ta-da!  The "Art of Shaving" Sandalwood shaving elements set!  The box itself is large, square, robust, and is clearly meant to convey a sense of manliness.  You won't see a set like this distributed in a pink chiffon bag.  And if you do, you're in the wrong shop.  Nicole picked this gift up on her travels to the United States a few weeks back, so I don't actually know much about the shop it came from.  Nor do I know the price, but I shouldn't do, as it was a gift.  You can visit their online store, though, for more information.

The inside of the box opens up to reveal a nice showcase for the products:

The complete set.

The complete set.

In order from left to right, we have:

  1. Pre-Shave Oil.  Sandalwood essential oil.
  2. Shaving Cream.  Sandalwood essential oil, to be used with a brush, or brushless.
  3. The pure badger hair shaving brush.
  4. After-shave balm, also sandalwood, but, crucially, alcohol free.

Sitting atop the box is a small plastic bracket for holding the brush.  The bracket even comes with a bit of double-sided sticky tape so that you can mount this on your bathroom wall somewhere.  The brush in the bracket looks like so:

Convenient holder for the badger brush.

Convenient holder for the badger brush.

The back of the box (well, actually, the strip of thick cardboard which keeps it all together) comes with some useful instructions on how to use the elements in the kit:

Helpful hints.

Helpful hints.

Now, if you read carefully, you'll see that under the first section they suggest that for best results you should shave after or during a hot shower.

I can honestly say, I don't think that I've ever done that in my life.  I've heard this is the right way to do things, read it on boxes such as this (and, let's face it, if someone has printed it on a box, it must be true), but not once that I can recall have I ever showered first and then shaved.  I may have to try this approach with this kit, but, given how messy the process of wet-shaving is, I really like having the shower after to get rid of any lingering shaving cream, from wherever it may have travelled.

The badger hair brush is absolutely fantastic when paired with the shaving cream.  You really don't need much of the cream, it goes a long way.  I moisten up the bristles in hot water, then just barely dip into the shaving cream.

Dynamic duo.

Dynamic duo.

Here's a closeup on that brush:

Badger, badger, badger, eek, a snake!

Badger, badger, badger, eek, a snake!

It really is a remarkable lathering experience it creates, and with much more precision than you may think a big bristly brush would provide.  If you haven't shaved this way, you should give it a go.  I'd done so once before, many years ago, but after a series of moves around the planet, I lost the kit and ended up sticking with just the wet/dry electric razor.

I mentioned that the after-shave balm crucially contained no alcohol.  If you've never experienced a really close shave, you may not know why this matters, but, with this kit, you may well find out. Sometimes this process can exfoliate your skin in such a way that it's a bit raw, exposed, and the application of a cologne or after-shave which has alcohol will make your toes curl.  Put bluntly:  It hurts.  Every now and again after a wet-shave when things were particularly sensitive, I've regretted spraying on my Allure or Code, as, inevitably, some of the drops make it to a bit of neck/skin which immediately made me wince in mild pain.

The after-shave balm does have one gotcha though: The dispenser seems to be a supersonic velocity pumping mechanism.  The tiniest of presses results in a high speed spurt.  If you're not paying attention, it will splatter...just keep that in mind when you're trying it out.

Anyway, that's the set.  It's fantastic.  I used it several days in a row over Christmas, and look forward to using it again soon.

Without a doubt, it's resulted in the closest shave I've had in years, and I'm extremely happy with this thoughtful gift!