Expert Q+A

How does aftershave work, scientifically speaking?

ANSWER:

Originally, aftershave just had one purpose: to disinfect. Back when people actually went to the barber for a shave, the blades weren’t always perfectly sharp, and more importantly, they weren’t always completely disinfected between customers. Aftershave, which was basically a scented rubbing alcohol, was a good way to prevent bacteria (and another person’s blood) from causing a nasty infection or even a potentially life-threatening disease.

Today, most aftershaves still contain alcohol as one of the main ingredients, which acts as both a disinfecting agent (to eliminate harmful bacteria) and a toner. But aftershave, like the rusty straightedge, has come a long way.

Not too many years back, first-time shavers who splashed on some of their dad’s aftershave would feel the burn (the sum of open pores plus nicks plus alcohol). To help solve that problem, more and more aftershaves are now formulated with hydrating and moisturizing ingredients like aloe and glycerin. They can’t replace the alcohol, but they work to protect and balance your skin.

Plus, just like you now have the options of five blades instead of two, there is an endless variety of post-shave splashes, gels and lotions that promise to do everything from eliminating breakouts and tightening pores to reducing razor burn and maybe even preventing wrinkles.

The key is choosing the right one that will work for you, and it’s actually pretty simple: Determine your skin type and then look at the ingredients.

Here’s one method to gauge your skin type: Take a piece of tissue paper and blot your forehead and nose. Does it look like a napkin after you’ve blotted a piece of pizza? Bingo: You fit the oily skin profile.

If you have oily skin and are prone to more breakouts (or if you suffer from ingrown hairs), stick to an alcohol-based splash, balm or gel and look for ingredients like witch hazel, tea tree oil and salicylic acid -- they act as drying agents and can help deep-clean pores and follicles.

On the other hand, if you have especially dry or sensitive skin, a lotion can help hydrate parched skin cells and soothe irritation. For moisturizing, look for ingredients such as aloe vera.

If your main concern is redness, choose an oatmeal-based product -- oatmeal contains natural anti-inflammatory agents, making it Mother Nature’s original cure for itchiness and irritation.

About the Expert

Christie Kidd

Christie Kidd is a dermatologist practicing in Beverly Hills, Calif. For the past 13 years, she has dedicated herself to helping patients discover their inner glow and put their best face forward.

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