OK, folks, I have been playing around with shave oils a bit for the last week, and I am going to give a little report. As usual, these are results for my face and conditions, and represent my opinion. If yours differs, good for you
Shave oil (or pre-shave oil) gets poo-pooed a lot on shaving forums. As usual, there are folks who swear by it and those who eschew it. I personally have never used them, but recently I have acquired three of them and thought I would test them out. They are Pacific Shave Oil (PSO), Nancy Boy pre-shave oil (NB), and Shave Secret (SS).
Pacific shave oil is the product most gents praise. It is the lightest of the three, and has a faint citrus scent. This stuff isn't oily at all (if that makes any sense), and is a very light product. I notice that after use, water doesn't bead on my skin like the two true oils below. It also foams slightly when worked into the beard
Nancy Boy pre-shave oil is just that. A blend of castor oil, olive oil, and a bunch of others, with a light minty scent. It is quite greasy as you would expect, and water beads on your skin after use.
Shave Secret is as oily as the NB, and has menthol. I personally dislike this greatly in a pre-shave oil, since I feel it would clash with many creams and soaps, and often I am not looking for any cooling sensation.
Anyway, I used these in a variety of ways. Before shaving, before the last (against the grain) pass only, and both ways. I also took turns using two products at a time, one on each side of my face. Since one of the claims is that you can't get razor irritation with these oils, I went to town with my Futur dialed all the way out, even on the against the grain passes; something I normally would not do. I tried to err on the over-application side so folks wouldn't accuse me of not using enough. I used something like 10 drops for my face.
OK, now time for the executive summary. Do these things make a difference? The short answer is yes, but it is subtle. None of these products soften my beard at all. They do provide a bit of extra lubrication, but it is not a big difference if you have good prep to begin with. Can you get irritation with them? Sure can . At least for me, I was able to get nicks and/or irritation when I was aggressive with the razor.
As for usage, my conclusion is that this stuff is fairly worthless on N-S and across-grain passes. Thus for me, the application before the start of the shave is a waste of product and time. Where these oils can show their worth is when applied immediately before going against the grain. The extra lubrication can help a bit in this situation.
So will I be using shave oils in the future? No. I don't see the subtle benefit outweighing the extra expense and prep. My shave routine is complicated enough, .
Of the three, I would say the PSO was "the best", being very light but effective. The NB product was OK, but I dislike the oiliness, especially when I am wielding a sharp object around my face. The SS was just gross - I hated the menthol feeling, and the oiliness was unpleasant. I do have to say that these products do provide some extra moisturizing to the skin, but since I end up applying moisturizer anyway, I don't feel this is a huge benefit.
I also notice a side effect of the oils, where my sink gets coated with an oily stubble residue that doesn't wash down the drain. Pretty gross.
So there you have it. Three shave oils for you to try. I don't care for them, but as usual YMMV.