Warm - Don't Cool Before Shaving!
Having recently had some discussion with other shaving enthusiasts about the use of menthol in shaving products, it surprised me really the amount of guys who still use such products pre-shave. Here's my take on it:
Menthol. derived from peppermint oil, when used on the skin prompts the thermal receptors to produce a cooling sensation and for this reason it is often used in skin products that must have a cooling action (IE for muscle strain injuries). However, to prepare properly for a good wet shave, you really need to be warming your face, not cooling it, and here's the reason why.
We have over 30 muscles around the head and face area. What happens to a muscle when it is cold? That's right, it contracts and tenses. Hence the reason why all sportsmen and women 'warm up' prior to engaging in their sport - they don't want to strain, pull or even tear a muscle by exercising it cold!
We too want our facial muscles to be warm, thus relaxed and flexible when shaving.
That's why all good barbers use 'hot towels' as part of the preparation stage when shaving. Such hot towels serve to soften the beard, open the pores and, importantly, warm and thus relax the facial muscles prior to shaving.
If you were to then apply a menthol or any other heavily minted product onto the face, it would be counter-productive as you would immediately be 'cooling' the face again!
Is ALL Cooling Wrong?
I am not 'anti-menthol' by any means - minted products have local anesthetic and counter-irritant qualities which, when used correctly and at the right time - IE after shaving - serve to relieve and comfort.
Indeed, the therapeutic effects of menthol include germicidal and tonic effects as well as the fact that it reduces itching and tenderness.
However, it is the local anesthetic action that it produces immediately before the actual shaving process that is the most commonly used reason for utilising its use in shaving products. Whilst this may well have been seen as "beneficial" 50 years ago, the use of natural oils has moved on considerably since then. Therefore, it is basically 'tradition' rather than any well founded science that keeps such products alive.
By the very fact that some would wish to create a 'local anesthetic' effect prior to shaving indicates that they expect to experience some sort of pain as a result of the shaving action - hence the need to 'mask' it. However, when we learn to shave correctly, a close, comfortable experience should be obtained without any pain at all. In fact, if we experience pain at anytime before, during or after shaving, we are doing something wrong. Pain is the brain's mechanism to tell us that something is not as it should be and therefore to stop doing what we're doing. Pain serves to protect us from further damage!
When to Cool
Only after the shave do we want to 'cool' the skin and that's where mildly minted products have a role to play in my opinion. To go from very warm to very cold instantly also has proven benefits to the circulatory system which, in turn, helps replenish the new, young skin cells after shaving. Hence, it is good to always splash your face with cold water immediately after shaving or even wrap a face towel which has been soaking in very cold water around your face! That's the time to cool!