Behind the Burn: A splash of aftershave historical past

What do you employ after a shave? Do you employ something in any respect? A lot to the shock of some conventional wet-shavers armed with brush and bowl, the reply to that query for a lot of younger individuals is “no”. Shaving itself has advanced from the times of when it was a luxurious for the higher courses, when solely barbers having attended particular colleges and licensed to take away hair had been able to safely shaving the face for a charge past the realms of probably the most peasant-like.

Some adventurous males within the center courses (then working courses) took up studying the straight-razor themselves in the event that they did not desire a common expenditure for visiting the barber, and alongside such self-shaving got here a necessity for take-home grooming merchandise, which included some form of “after-shave” tonic, lotion, cream, or powder.

Lately nevertheless, with straight razors and security razors giving solution to disposable, typically pre-lubricated ones, then finally electrical razors, the necessity to put together for a shave have for some been nearly eradicated. Subsequently, why ought to anybody have a preparation for after the shave both? It is not unusual for folk these days to simply butcher themselves with an inexpensive Bic disposable or pre-lubed multi-bladed cartridge like Gillette’s Mach 3, or simply use a Norelco or Remington you will get for a track from a neighborhood big-box retailer, with the very act of shaving itself being seen much less as a soothing zen second, and extra of a chore to barrel by means of shortly and conveniently as attainable.

As such, that last contact many older gents know because the after-shave will get fully handed up, even when functionless fragrance like a bottle of Dior Sauvage nonetheless will get doused on earlier than heading out the door for some individuals.

From Make-Do to Marketed Product​


Nonetheless, aftershaves should not be thought of down and out, even in case you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool moist shaver that’s keen to spend a half-and-hour or extra getting ready, then shaving your face as a part of ritualistic self-care. The earliest ones had been technically not purpose-built as aftershaves anyway, as guys typically simply used colognes that they had mendacity round equivalent to 4711, alcohol-based hair tonics like Eau de Quinine, or bottles of bay rum in case you had been from the Americas. Hell, there have been even individuals who simply used a plain ol’ witch hazel preparation they may purchase for a pittance from a neighborhood apothecary, though that clearly would not scent as good. Lilac Vegetal by Edouard Pinaud was additionally a preferred selection, because it was promoted as a “Hygiene et Toilette” that had sanitary functions. Talc was additionally utilized in some capability to seal nicks and cuts as effectively, plus could or could not have been scented. 

The earliest purpose-made aftershaves got here from barbers, who typically doubled as chemists or perfumers in case you had been visiting fancier ones like William Penhaligon, E.D. Pinaud, or Geo F. Trumper again within the day. Not lengthy after that, with the recognition of self-shaving exploding because of the introduction of the security razor in 1874 (then 1903 for the double-edge selection), barbers noticed a pointy decline in enterprise for individuals simply wanting a shave, in order that they started packaging and promoting their preparations for dwelling use. Other than the soaps and lotions we use to do the deed itself, that meant aftershave lotions typically taking the types of their pre-existing colognes plus added emollient or astringent components to make them more-functional to seal pores towards bumps or an infection. Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet acquired an aftershave variant, as did Geo F. Trumper’s Marlborough Cologne. 

Apothecaries and perfumers like D.H. Harris and Caswell-Massey additionally added aftershave variants of their most-popular colognes, however most of those merchandise had been nonetheless comparatively costly and offered solely within the cities the place these outlets had been saved. Enter: J.B Williams and the well-known Aqua Velva in 1917. Launched in america however finally making its approach the world over, Aqua Velva was among the many first notable mass-marketed aftershave preparations that had emollients to clean pores and skin, and menthol to numb the burning results of the alcohol within the formulation itself, a intelligent trick disguised as a solution to soothe pores and skin after the face has been ravaged by the blade. 

Aqua Velva and the Rise of Mass-Marketed Aftershaves​

Ultimately, the scent and blue coloration we all know Aqua Velva itself to have right now was added post-Prohibition within the US to maintain guys determined for a swig of booze from chugging the stuff, though today it is not even made with potable alcohol (nor are many toiletries anymore). That leather-meets-mint-and-lemon scent of Aqua Velva grew to become so interesting at one level that Williams simply really helpful utilizing their product as cologne too, including a fabric they marketed as “Humectin” to increase the longevity of the scent. The recognition of Aqua Velva opened the door for different purpose-made aftershaves like Mennen’s Pores and skin Bracer in 1932, itself a shameless rip off of Houbigant’s Fougère Royale with mint changing a lot of the citrus high, and being a a lot less complicated “fougère” construction general. 


Pores and skin Bracer would turn out to be the “Pepsi” to Aqua Velva’s “Coke” as the 2 battled it out for aftershave supremacy. In the meantime, different toiletry makers like Shulton, MEM, Pinaud, Avon, Swank, Victor, Pfizer, Sir, Proraso, Revlon, Fabergé, Beecham, Leeming, Coty, Jovan and even razor-maker Gillette amongst others all take part with aftershave merchandise that had been a part of pre-existing perfume ranges, or stand-alone. By 1970’s there was a dizzying variety of selections and with the recognition of males’s fragrances, the crossover between aftershaves and colognes was unavoidable, with some merchandise advertized as both each, or “all-purpose lotions” as a catch-all. Some aftershaves grew to become more and more gimmicky to attempt to get an edge over the glut of opponents, just like the notorious Hai Karate, (which was lately re-launched in 2021).

As you might need guessed, high-end designers wasted no time leaping into this enviornment too, with the whole lot from Chanel Pour Monsieur in 1955 by means of to huge hits like Calvin Klein’s Eternity for Males in 1989 getting aftershave variants, typically not even having any added enhancements like menthol or pores and skin conditioners. Most of this additionally coincided with males’s perfume changing into extra ubiquitous, and shaving habits getting more and more targeted on expediting the method with disposable or electrical merchandise, which means that carrying aftershave appeared like a superfluous step if you had been simply going to douse in your favourite designer perfume after a shave anyway, with matching the cologne to the aftershave feeling a bit like overkill except you had been “that man” who additionally wore the matching deodorant, used the matching bar cleaning soap and shave cream, and so forth.

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The Decline of Conventional Aftershaves​

Lately, with lots of these firms and their merchandise gone, designers typically not launching full grooming ranges of their males’s fragrances anymore, and a plethora of more-effective specialty merchandise equivalent to soothing after-shave balms or gels taking their place for individuals smart sufficient to know that alcohol would not moisturize the pores and skin, conventional aftershave lotions have been hitting the ropes. Folks do not appear to need or want aftershave like they used to, and at some point these bottles of Aqua Velva could also be gone for good, simply as Burma-Shave went the best way of the dodo as soon as aerosol shave foams got here into vogue. The limitless oceans of latest outdated inventory unsold Avon aftershaves within the numerous boat and car-shaped bottles is testomony to simply how far the aftershave market has fallen in latest a long time. Most of that stuff is a long time outdated, unopened, untouched by air or Human fingers.

Do you have to use aftershave in case you by no means have earlier than? Nicely, it actually cannot damage other than that preliminary sting, and it does assist tone and seal your face from an infection, however you do not really want it both, particularly in case you’ve been shaving for years with out it and have had no in poor health results. Williams as soon as referred to as Aqua Velva “the scientific after-shaving preparation” earlier than switching to the less-authoritative “there’s one thing about that Aqua Velva man”, nearly as in the event that they knew their viewers would sometime determine they did not really want the stuff. Nonetheless, Williams was proper about aftershave being an expensive final touch, and it is one you do not want six figures to get pleasure from. If you’re delicate to the results of alcohol on pores and skin, a whole lot of these additionally are available in a creamier type of splash too, and designers have been providing them as effectively.

There may be nonetheless normally a legacy collection of the outdated favorites various by nation in your native drug retailer, from Previous Spice and Pores and skin Bracer within the US, to Brut and Mandate within the UK, Proraso and Acqua di Selva in Italy, Sir Irisch Moos and Tabac in Germany, to the quirky Mandom by Gatsby in Japan (as soon as endorsed by the late American motion star Charles Bronson himself), and a few small-volume revival manufacturers besides like Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements, so there may be nonetheless loads to probe for the person who desires to shave prefer it’s 1953 as a substitute of 2023.

In the event you’d nonetheless quite shave prefer it’s 2023, and even simply dispense with blades altogether and use that humorous magic shaving powder stuff (good luck), there can nonetheless be a spot for some aftershaves, significantly stuff like Gillette Cool Wave, which has the perfume efficiency of any customary eau de toilette simply, and feels higher on pores and skin than your $550 bottle of Creed Aventus.

So once more I ask, what do you employ after a shave? If the reply continues to be “nothing”, that is completely high quality after all; however in case you’re keen to go down the perfume hobbyist rabbit gap sufficient to learn an article on a website like this one, aren’t you no less than a bit curious in regards to the expertise of a pleasant, bracing aftershave splash after time spent taking part in “Zamboni operator” in your face with a pointy piece of steel? Meals for thought.