What Is Aftershave and How Do You Use It?

what is aftershave

Aftershave – a Guide for Men

Have you ever asked yourself: What is aftershave? Hoping to find out what this grooming product does? Ever wonder if you should use it?

If the answer is yes, you wouldn’t be alone. Believe it or not, there was a time that I didn’t know what the heck it was.

And want to know something else? Neither did any of my friends.

In fact, I used to think aftershaves and colognes were interchangeable terms that meant the same thing. But after doing some research, I learned this is not the case.

Writing this out now reminds me of a personal story. Allow me to share with you.

Situational Awareness Scenario

Quick Aftershave Story

Not long ago, I connected with a friend of mine named Nick. We used to be cubemates in the 90’s, back when I worked in the corporate sector.

But here is the thing – the Nick I remembered “back in the day” and the Nick I was having coffee with in the here and now were different – big time.

You may be wondering how?

It’s simple. the guy used to have horrible skin. And I’m not saying this to be a judgmental jerk. Instead, I’m simply sharing with you his previous reality.

We’re talking about a shiny face, dotted with bumps, and large, visible pores.

That’s why when I saw him, I was kind of shocked. You see Nick’s face had entirely cleared up. Gone were the zits and oily cheeks.

“I know – I look a lot different now, right?” he remarked as we sipped on our house-blends at the café. “Too bad I didn’t know then what I know now.”

During our conversation, I couldn’t help but ask how he had transformed his mug in such a major way. Here’s what he told me.

First and foremost, he started working with a skincare specialist. Second, he changed his diet. And third, he started using grooming products designed for his skin type.

One of those items was a specialized aftershave lotion; something Nick said his dermatologist recommended. It is called Post-Shave Repair from MenScience (see Amazon).

After our quick get-together, I felt inspired to do some research. That’s when I educated myself on the true nature of aftershaves and how they are completely different from what I once thought.

I figured if I didn’t know much about aftershave (or my friends), it might be helpful to pen something that offers insight.

In this article, you will learn:

  • A basic definition of aftershave
  • The different types of aftershaves
  • How to choose an aftershave based on skin type
  • How and when to apply aftershaves
  • Resources for the future

Before we get too far in, I need to be upfront and disclose that I’ve made product recommendations which are linked to Amazon; an organization of which I am an affiliate.

That said, I’ve tried to be detailed in my research and offer suggestions that are practical and straightforward.

Are you ready? Let’s jump right in.

What is an Aftershave?

At its core, an aftershave is a men’s grooming product that is designed to accomplish the following four things:

  1. Disinfect
  2. Tighten pores
  3. Reduce razor trauma
  4. Lock in moisture after shaving

Now it is important to note there is a big difference between liquid aftershaves, like Aqua Velva, and aftershave lotions, like the MenScience product mentioned above.

As we continue along the way, I’ll explain why.

Brief History of Aftershaves

You are going to read a lot of information on the Internet about the history of aftershaves. But here’s the truth, nobody knows exactly how long these types of products have been around.

We think the first ones started popping up on the consumer market during the middle to late 1800’s and were billed as post shaving powders.

Over the years, the powders have evolved into liquids, gels, and balms. In modern times, aftershaves have been marketed to men for post-shaving and fragrance purposes.

And therein lies the problem; aftershave marketing has focused too much on scent and not enough on men’s skincare.

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Aftershaves – Liquids vs. Balms

Liquids vs. Lotions and Balms

Aftershave liquids are created to firm and tone while delivering a subtle scent. Lotions and balms, however, are designed to heal, seal, and protect.

I’m mentioning this because in almost all cases, you will want to reach for aftershave lotions (balms) and not the liquids.

That’s because as we look at the main ingredients in the liquids, you’ll quickly conclude you don’t want any of these on your face.

Aftershave Ingredients – Liquids

While not true of every liquid aftershave, many contain the following ingredients:

  • SD-Alcohol
  • Menthol
  • Chemical Dyes
  • Fragrance

That first ingredient, alcohol, is one of the worst things you can put on the skin. Not only does it cause severe drying, it also contributes to premature wrinkling.

You may be wondering why?

It’s simple. Alcohol strips the dermal layer of oils. It also robs your skin of collagen; a substance that helps to give your mug a more youthful look. See this post on men’s moisturizers to learn more. And yes, alcohol does act as a disinfectant but unless your doctor specifically wants you to use this on your face, why would you put something so harsh on your skin?

Okay moving on to the chemical dyes. Here is why you don’t want to avoid them: they can irritate the skin and can cause your face to take on a reddish hue. It’s as simple as that.

Menthol in aftershaves is what give users that crisp, clean feel. The problem is their crystalline compound, when mixed with alcohol, can act as an irritant (particularly on sensitive skin).

Finally, we have fragrance additives. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a pleasant smell, the scents used in aftershaves usually don’t last long. Moreover, the odor does nothing to nourish, moisturize or sooth.

aftershave - balms and lotions for men
Aftershave balms and lotions

Aftershave Ingredients – Lotions and Balms

Obviously, not all aftershave lotions contain the same ingredients. That said, many of the natural ones share the following:

  • Aloe vera
  • Witch hazel
  • Salicylic Acid (some)
  • Botanical derivatives (some)
  • Moisturizers

Let’s look at that first ingredient – aloe vera. Commonly referred to as “aloe”, this is a gelatinous substance found in the aloe vera plant.

Its roots can be traced back to the time of the ancient Egyptians who used the plant’s gel to heal. It was also applied to the skin for anti-aging purposes. Today, it is still used for these purposes.

The second common ingredient found in many of the balms is witch hazel, which comes from the witch hazel plant. After the plant’s leaves, twigs, and bark are pulverized down to granular form, it is then heated up and transformed into a liquid base.

When you hear witch hazel, think astringent; a substance that shrinks pores and reduces skin inflammation.

Unlike alcohol, witch hazel (when added with botanicals like aloe vera) doesn’t dry out the skin. Additionally, it doesn’t encourage premature line formation or damage collagen.

The next ingredient in many of the balms is salicylic acid. This is an organic substance (monohydroxybenzoic acid) that first gets crystallized and then liquefied. The main benefit of salicylic acid is its ability to eat away at harmful debris resting on the dermal layer.

According to Sue Ann Wee, a dermatologist in New York City. “This ‘desmolytic’ action encourages exfoliation of skin and unclogging of pores.”

Let’s briefly touch on botanical derivatives. Long story short, these are mixed into aftershave lotions to encourage healing.

Examples include caffeine, which is designed to stimulate sub-dermal circulation and tea extracts, designed to clear pores and calm.

Finally, we have moisturizers. In most all cases, they contain some type of ingredient to encourage hydration. Moisturizers also soften lines and prevent wrinkling.

There’s no way in this one post that I could name all the different ingredients that go into moisturizers. Suffice it to say many contain lanolin, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants designed to preserve skin elasticity.


How to Choose an Aftershave

Now for the important part of this article; how to choose the right aftershave. I’m going to guess you already know that the liquid products aren’t smart options for all of the reasons stated above.

Assuming you’ll opt for the balms, you’ll want to start off by asking yourself: What is my skin type?

If you are unsure, here is a quick reference guide. I’ve included product recommendations with each type to simplify things.

1. Normal skin

If you have this skin type, you probably have few visible imperfections. Additionally, you likely have small pores and don’t struggle with acne. Finally, you probably have an even skin tone.

If this describes you, consider the aftershave balm made by Bulldog (See Amazon).

It goes on lightweight and does not contain synthetics. What I like about this product are the ingredients aloe, camelina oil, and green tea – all of which are designed to tighten, seal, and moisturize.

2. Combination skin

Men with combination skin will sometimes see patches of dryness or oiliness. Skin tone is somewhat uneven with areas that take on a shine. Occasional acne also can happen.

Should this describe your situation, you may want to pick up a bottle of post-shave repair by MenScience (see Amazon).

What’s terrific thing about this product is how it evens skin tone, closes pores, and acts as an anti-aging tool. Just pump the primer to deliver a fine mist. It won’t sting your face and contains zero alcohol.

3. Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, your face will typically take on a shiny appearance. Examples include the forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. Acne may be a frequent occurrence.

If this describes you, pick up a bottle of Rugged and Dapper aftershave lotion (see amazon). FYI: This is what my buddy Nick uses.

What’s cool about this product is that it contains natural ingredients designed to reduce oil, tighten the skin, and seal pores. I really like that it contains anti-aging properties with concentrated vitamins and minerals. Fantastic product.

4. Dry skin

A lot of guys have this skin type. If your face is dry, it will often have lines and crevices with patches of red. As a result, you may look older than your years.

If this sounds like you, consider getting Brickell’s aftershave lotion (see Amazon).

What’s great about this product is that it is made from natural organic ingredients. The lotion calms irritated skin, seals in moisture, and doesn’t clog pores. Many guys who use this one swear it helps their face look better and younger.

5. Sensitive skin

If you have this type of skin, there’s a good chance it doesn’t take much for your face to get inflamed. Even trace amounts of chemicals can have unpleasant results.

If this describes you, it may be a good idea to check out this post-shave balm made by Pacific Shaving Company (see Amazon).

Here’s what you need to know about this lotion. First, it’s made from natural, plant-derived ingredients. Second, it reduces razor burn dramatically. Finally, it contains no fragrances. And let me tell you, a little bit goes a long way.

Grooming Video – 10 Don’ts

Just for fun, I am including a video on grooming don’ts by Aaron Marino with I am Alpha. If truth be told, I’ve always liked his advice because it’s guy friendly. This is one of the reasons why I listed his blog as one of the top 25-websites for men.

How To Apply Aftershave

Remember, aftershaves are designed for use post-shave. They shouldn’t be thought of as colognes or perfumes. I’m mentioning this for foundational purposes.

Your choice of aftershave, governed by your skin type, will dictate how the lotion should be applied. That said, I will offer a few tips.

  1. Make sure you have completed the shaving process.
  2. When you are done with your razor, rinse your face with cool water and then pat dry.
  3. Take a small amount of aftershave lotion and place on your fingertips.
  4. Using very little pressure, gently apply to your face using upward strokes.

When To Use Aftershave?

Honestly, you will want to use your lotion after each shave. If you have a beard and occasionally shape around the jawline with a razor, I would also apply.

Here’s why – each time that blade touches your face, you traumatize the skin. Unless you take the steps to encourage calming and healing, you run the risk of irritation.

Other Skin Care Tips?

If you are like most guys, you probably shave your face on a daily or weekly basis. While this is an important aspect of grooming, there’s a whole bunch more that needs to happen if you want to look your best.

It is, for this reason, you’ll want to develop a simple skincare routine for men. It doesn’t have to be complicated. We’re talking minor additions to your morning and evening ritual.

Bringing It All Together

When guys hear the term “aftershave”, they think of some dude standing in front of the mirror, slapping on something like “Brute”.

That’s a shame because, in their best form, aftershaves should be thought of as post-shave activities designed to calm and heal.

If you want to smell good after shaving, there are other ways to accomplish this. An example is to use a cologne that you spritz onto your body after showing. See this post on how to make your cologne last longer for tips.

Finally, I’ll just say my friend Nick truly did inspire this post. While he never came right out and told me, I sensed a massive increase in his self-esteem.

Thank you for stopping by.


(2016) Aloe Vera. National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. Retrieved via the web at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/aloevera

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast