Behind the Burn: A splash of aftershave historical past

What do you employ after a shave? Do you employ something in any respect? A lot to the shock of some conventional wet-shavers armed with brush and bowl, the reply to that query for a lot of younger individuals is “no”. Shaving itself has developed from the times of when it was a luxurious for the higher courses, when solely barbers having attended particular faculties and licensed to take away hair had been able to safely shaving the face for a price past the realms of probably the most peasant-like.

Some adventurous males within the center courses (then working courses) took up studying the straight-razor themselves in the event that they did not desire a common expenditure for visiting the barber, and alongside such self-shaving got here a necessity for take-home grooming merchandise, which included some form of “after-shave” tonic, lotion, cream, or powder.

Lately nonetheless, with straight razors and security razors giving strategy to disposable, usually pre-lubricated ones, then finally electrical razors, the necessity to put together for a shave have for some been nearly eradicated. Subsequently, why ought to anybody have a preparation for after the shave both? It is not unusual for folk these days to simply butcher themselves with an affordable Bic disposable or pre-lubed multi-bladed cartridge like Gillette’s Mach 3, or simply use a Norelco or Remington you will get for a music from a neighborhood big-box retailer, with the very act of shaving itself being seen much less as a calming zen second, and extra of a chore to barrel by means of rapidly and conveniently as potential.

As such, that ultimate contact many older gents know because the after-shave will get fully handed up, even when functionless fragrance like a bottle of Dior Sauvage nonetheless will get doused on earlier than heading out the door for some individuals.

From Make-Do to Marketed Product​


Nonetheless, aftershaves should not be thought-about down and out, even should you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool moist shaver that’s keen to spend a half-and-hour or extra making ready, then shaving your face as a part of ritualistic self-care. The earliest ones had been technically not purpose-built as aftershaves anyway, as guys usually simply used colognes they’d mendacity round similar to 4711, alcohol-based hair tonics like Eau de Quinine, or bottles of bay rum should you had been from the Americas. Hell, there have been even individuals who simply used a plain ol’ witch hazel preparation they may purchase for a pittance from a neighborhood apothecary, though that clearly does not scent as good. Lilac Vegetal by Edouard Pinaud was additionally a well-liked alternative, because it was promoted as a “Hygiene et Toilette” that had sanitary functions. Talc was additionally utilized in some capability to seal nicks and cuts as nicely, plus might or might not have been scented. 

The earliest purpose-made aftershaves got here from barbers, who usually doubled as chemists or perfumers should you had been visiting fancier ones like William Penhaligon, E.D. Pinaud, or Geo F. Trumper again within the day. Not lengthy after that, with the recognition of self-shaving exploding as a result of introduction of the security razor in 1874 (then 1903 for the double-edge selection), barbers noticed a pointy decline in enterprise for individuals simply wanting a shave, so that they started packaging and promoting their preparations for house use. Apart from the soaps and lotions we use to do the deed itself, that meant aftershave lotions usually taking the types of their pre-existing colognes plus added emollient or astringent substances to make them more-functional to seal pores towards bumps or an infection. Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet acquired an aftershave variant, as did Geo F. Trumper’s Marlborough Cologne. 

Apothecaries and perfumers like D.H. Harris and Caswell-Massey additionally added aftershave variants of their most-popular colognes, however most of those merchandise had been nonetheless comparatively costly and bought solely within the cities the place these outlets had been stored. Enter: J.B Williams and the well-known Aqua Velva in 1917. Launched in america however finally making its approach the world over, Aqua Velva was among the many first notable mass-marketed aftershave preparations that had emollients to clean pores and skin, and menthol to numb the burning results of the alcohol within the system itself, a intelligent trick disguised as a strategy to soothe pores and skin after the face has been ravaged by the blade. 

Aqua Velva and the Rise of Mass-Marketed Aftershaves​

ventually, the scent and blue shade we all know Aqua Velva itself to have as we speak was added post-Prohibition within the US to maintain guys determined for a swig of booze from chugging the stuff, though as of late it is not even made with potable alcohol (nor are many toiletries anymore). That leather-meets-mint-and-lemon scent of Aqua Velva turned so interesting at one level that Williams simply advisable utilizing their product as cologne too, including a fabric they marketed as “Humectin” to increase the longevity of the scent. The recognition of Aqua Velva opened the door for different purpose-made aftershaves like Mennen’s Pores and skin Bracer in 1932, itself a shameless rip off of Houbigant’s Fougère Royale with mint changing a lot of the citrus prime, and being a a lot easier “fougère” construction general. 


Pores and skin Bracer would change into the “Pepsi” to Aqua Velva’s “Coke” as the 2 battled it out for aftershave supremacy. In the meantime, different toiletry makers like Shulton, MEM, Pinaud, Avon, Swank, Victor, Pfizer, Sir, Proraso, Revlon, Fabergé, Beecham, Leeming, Coty, Jovan and even razor-maker Gillette amongst others all take part with aftershave merchandise that had been a part of pre-existing perfume ranges, or stand-alone. By 1970’s there was a dizzying variety of decisions and with the recognition of males’s fragrances, the crossover between aftershaves and colognes was unavoidable, with some merchandise advertized as both each, or “all-purpose lotions” as a catch-all. Some aftershaves turned more and more gimmicky to attempt to get an edge over the glut of rivals, just like the notorious Hai Karate, (which was just lately re-launched in 2021).

As you may need guessed, high-end designers wasted no time leaping into this area too, with all the things from Chanel Pour Monsieur in 1955 by means of to large hits like Calvin Klein’s Eternity for Males in 1989 getting aftershave variants, usually not even having any added enhancements like menthol or pores and skin conditioners. Most of this additionally coincided with males’s perfume turning into extra ubiquitous, and shaving habits getting more and more centered on expediting the method with disposable or electrical merchandise, that means that carrying aftershave appeared like a superfluous step while you had been simply going to douse in your favourite designer perfume after a shave anyway, with matching the cologne to the aftershave feeling a bit like overkill until you had been “that man” who additionally wore the matching deodorant, used the matching bar cleaning soap and shave cream, and so on.

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The Decline of Conventional Aftershaves​

Lately, with lots of these corporations and their merchandise gone, designers typically not launching full grooming ranges of their males’s fragrances anymore, and a plethora of more-effective specialty merchandise similar to soothing after-shave balms or gels taking their place for individuals smart sufficient to know that alcohol does not moisturize the pores and skin, conventional aftershave lotions have been hitting the ropes. Folks do not appear to need or want aftershave like they used to, and someday these bottles of Aqua Velva could also be gone for good, simply as Burma-Shave went the way in which of the dodo as soon as aerosol shave foams got here into vogue. The limitless oceans of recent outdated inventory unsold Avon aftershaves within the numerous boat and car-shaped bottles is testomony to simply how far the aftershave market has fallen in current a long time. Most of that stuff is a long time outdated, unopened, untouched by air or Human palms.

Do you have to use aftershave should you by no means have earlier than? Effectively, it definitely cannot damage except for that preliminary sting, and it does assist tone and seal your face from an infection, however you do not really want it both, particularly should you’ve been shaving for years with out it and have had no sick results. Williams as soon as known as Aqua Velva “the scientific after-shaving preparation” earlier than switching to the less-authoritative “there’s one thing about that Aqua Velva man”, nearly as in the event that they knew their viewers would sometime determine they did not really want the stuff. Nonetheless, Williams was proper about aftershave being an expensive crowning glory, and it is one you do not want six figures to take pleasure in. In case you are delicate to the results of alcohol on pores and skin, quite a lot of these additionally are available in a creamier sort of splash too, and designers have been providing them as nicely.

There may be nonetheless normally a legacy collection of the outdated favorites various by nation in your native drug retailer, from Outdated Spice and Pores and skin Bracer within the US, to Brut and Mandate within the UK, Proraso and Acqua di Selva in Italy, Sir Irisch Moos and Tabac in Germany, to the quirky Mandom by Gatsby in Japan (as soon as endorsed by the late American motion star Charles Bronson himself), and a few small-volume revival manufacturers as well like Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements, so there’s nonetheless lots to probe for the person who needs to shave prefer it’s 1953 as an alternative of 2023.

If you happen to’d nonetheless quite shave prefer it’s 2023, and even simply dispense with blades altogether and use that humorous magic shaving powder stuff (good luck), there can nonetheless be a spot for some aftershaves, notably stuff like Gillette Cool Wave, which has the perfume efficiency of any normal eau de toilette simply, and feels higher on pores and skin than your $550 bottle of Creed Aventus.

So once more I ask, what do you employ after a shave? If the reply remains to be “nothing”, that is completely positive after all; however should you’re keen to go down the perfume hobbyist rabbit gap sufficient to learn an article on a website like this one, aren’t you not less than a bit curious in regards to the expertise of a pleasant, bracing aftershave splash after time spent taking part in “Zamboni operator” in your face with a pointy piece of steel? Meals for thought.