Beards are back, which may explain why national sales of shaving products are down in recent years. But shaving is still a $2.3-billion industry in the United States, and there are arguably more foams, cream, soaps, and gels to choose from now then ever before.
“The purpose of shaving cream is to reduce friction between your blade and your skin,” says Adam Friedman, MD, director of dermatologic research at the Montefiore-Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Sounds simple enough. But different skin types respond differently to various shaving cream ingredients, Friedman says.
Regardless of the product you use, he recommends applying it in a circular motion in order to make your hairs stand up. He also recommends slapping on an alcohol-free, moisturizing aftershave immediately after you’re done (and while your skin is still damp).
Whether you’re prone to razor bumps, zits, or ingrown hairs—dry skin or an oily hide—here are the 12 best options to clean up your mangy mug.
FOR INGROWN HAIRS
Aveeno Men’s Shave Gel
Products that begin as gels but foam once you rub them between your hands or onto your face lead to better “water permeation”—meaning they soften your hairs more than soaps or creams, Friedman says. While he recommends these gel-to-foams for any man, he says they’re ideal if you struggle with ingrown hairs.
Alternative: Nivea For Men Sensitive Shave Gel, $3
FOR DRY SKIN
Claus Porto Musgo Real Shave Cream
While glycerin pulls water into your skin, lanolin locks it in, Friedman explains. If you have very dry skin, you want a shaving cream that features both of these ingredients. This Portuguese product comes from a company that’s been making shaving soaps since the 1800s.
Alternative: Baxter of California Super Close Shave Formula, $18
FOR OILY SKIN
Badger Balm Navigator Class Shave Soap
“Soaps typically have surfactants in them designed to pull fatty substances like oil and dirt off the skin,” Friedman explains. That makes soaps like this offering from Badger Balm smart choices for dudes with greasy, unctuous skin. (Bonus: It includes moisturizing glycerin.)
Alternative: Doc Elliot Classic Shave Soap, $20
FOR RAZOR BUMPS OR PIMPLES
Neutrogena Men Skin Clearing Shave Cream
Friedman says a product with a low concentration of salicylic acid is best for reducing razor bumps and blemishes. This is an affordable, easy-to-find option from Neutrogena.
Alternative: Menscience Advanced Shave Formula, $27
Olay Foaming Face Wash For Sensitive Skin
For acne, Friedman recommends shaving creams with benzoyl peroxide, which are often only available with a prescription. A good workaround: Shave with a mild foaming cleanser like this product from Olay. Friedman says following up with an application of La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Duo acne treatment ($37, laroche-posay.us) can combat breakouts.
Alternative: Acne.org, $8
FOR EXTRA-THICK FACIAL HAIR
Kiehl’s Ultimate Brushless Shave Cream
This stuff doesn’t foam up or feel like most shaving creams. But what it lacks in volume or pizazz, it more than makes up for when it comes to power. If your biggest concern is clearing back your ever-present thicket of stubble, this is your best bet.
Alternative: Proraso “Green” Shaving Cream, $8
No Shaving Cream
Spend some time on shaving forums (of which there are many!), and you’ll see anecdotal reports arguing that using shaving cream—any shaving cream—is a waste of money. Rather than safeguard your skin, some claim these products get between your razor and your face and muck everything up, resulting in razor burn, dryness, and all your other shaving-related annoyances. Friedman says the most effective shaving treatments work by softening up your facial hairs for your razor—something a steamy shower and hot water will do effectively. If you’ve got the guts, try going no-cream for a week or two. The results might surprise you.