Over the last numerous weeks (lost count with the busy work schedule and lead up to Christmas/New Year) I've been running through the motions of cold water vs hot water shaving.
I had a few friends and my barber look at me askew and asked if I liked tearing up my face when I mentioned my intentions, but I ploughed on regardless.
At present we are experiencing an unseasonably cold patch of weather (ie we're in summer, but instead of the usual 20-30 degree overnight temperatures we're seeing 4 degrees (thats measured in celcius btw )). Its given me a chance to try out cold and hot in cooler weather as well as in hotter weather (the best overnight temperature was 23 degrees over the course of the experiment).
I caveat this post by saying that we don't get the extreme cold experienced by many other places, but we certainly get our share of very very hot weather - anywhere up to a week or two of consective 40+ degree days (thats 104+ for those of the old school ). Suffice it to say that prevailing hot weather and hot water shaving do not always make good bedfellows; you certainly don't want to splash on hot water after tussling through a night of clammy hot conditions.
Anyway, on to the test. My current setup is a Merkur 37C slant with a mix of Persona reds and Feather blades. I pretty well stick to Proraso shaving cream and my primary brush is a boar. Cold and Hot water shaving consists of: shower, no face towelling, rinse with hot/cold water, Proraso pre-shave cream, lather in a bowl, shave (usually WTG, XTG x 2, ATG), rinse, alum block, clean up, hot/cold rinse and then witch hazel followed by an ASB.
I deliberately kept the variables small as I wanted to compare apples with apples; soaps/foam/varying brush types, etc. may make a difference - but hey, these are my observations so I can limit my variables as much as I want
Firstly the hot water shave. After reading one of Mantic's posts where he espoused the "luxury" of warm lather, I concur that in many ways a warm lather exudes comfort. My brush sinks readily whilst soaking and it feels luxurious when applying to the face. The warm/hot water in the sink makes it very easy to rinse cream/whiskers in between passes. Rinsing with warm water is very easy as well.
By contrast the cold water feels refreshingly chilly, but it does not soak in quite as well as far as the brush is concerned and it requires more attention to the amount of water left in the brush and bowl when first creating a lather. The amount of time that I soak my brush in cold water therefore increases. During warmer weather the cold brush was a relieving feeling; everywhere the brush met with the skin, particularly after applying the Proraso pre-shave cream, was soothed.
I did find that cold water tended to make the lather a little loose if I wasn't studious in creating the mix - a little too much water when cold = mass splatter whereas the hot water was a little more forgiving of too much water.
Shaving with the hot water was a smooth experience and there was no significant tactile variation when using the razor. Cold water gave a very "crisp" feel to the shave; I could feel the blade doing its job (slicing in the case of the slant). There is slightly more of the "crumbly toast" sound when shaving cold than shaving hot.
Hot water allows any nicks or weepers to be readily apparent, whereas the cold water provides a astringent type affect; I certainly didn't notice many cuts or nicks at all with the cold water.
There was a comparable amount of sting when using the alum block on either hot or cold water - basically if my angle or pressure sucked, it bit. On mornings where I concentrated properly and was mindful of the angle and pressure there was no appreciable difference to either hot or cold.
Removing the hot water rinse at the end of the shave when going cold meant that the lather took a little more work to clear off, but beyond that the post shave result felt pretty similar. I did notice that it is a little harder to ascertain if you have missed a patch when shaving cold as the skin plumes slightly only after it starts to warm up again. I know that using a word like plume is a little ambiguous, but its probably the best way I can describe the skin returning to normal.
Overall I was able to achieve everything from DFS through to BBS using both methods, I enjoyed the feeling of both on different days (I wasn't game to go cold water when it was 4 degrees, nor hot water when it was 35 degrees).
The Persona blades were slightly more tolerant when using either method, whereas the Feather blades provided a very clean, easily achieved DFS in two passes or a BBS in three with some buffing in hot water, and a BBS in three to four passes using cold water. Blade life and reusability were not affected by either method - pretty well 4-5 shaves with the Persona, 3-4 with the Feather (I tend to change out the Feathers when they start tugging).
So... where does that leave the test and the results of the experiment.
- Firstly, don't believe the naysayers - you can achieve great results from cold water, however as always YMMV.
- Cold water feels very refreshing during hot weather. Marginally less irritation, but its more about feeling refreshed after your shave, not looking to cool down again.
- Lots of weird and wacky ways of trying a cold water shave, but honestly, cold water from the tap = good result.
- Your prep may take longer with cold water as the brush doesn't seem to take up cold water as well compared to hot water.
- Make sure you pay particular attention to angle and pressure with cold water as you may not notice nicks/cuts/weepers as readily.
- Get out there and give it a try