Is there any hard evidence that it is effective? Is it just a personal preference and YMMV? Just wondering because it seems that my beard doesn't know if I splash my face before the shave or spend 20 minutes with shampoo and conditioner. Could it be that your face is more receptive to the blade when it has been washed, as in no longer dirty, not softer? I can go with that. Just wondering if anyone else could go without the "beard softening" step due to a lack of a perceived or actual benefit.