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Pre-Shave Oils: 11 Things You Really Need To Know

May 26, 2022 · Dilshan
Pre-Shave Oils: 11 Things You Really Need To Know

There are few grooming tools as intensely masculine as this one. Although its concept is pretty simple in theory, many men aren’t using pre-shave oils in the most effective way possible. 

In order to fix this, you need to know what it is, what it’s for, why it’s useful, and more. 

That’s what we’re going through today: questions on pre-shave oils that are frequently asked but rarely answered properly. 

Once this is over, you’ll be lathering on that good stuff like a bonafide expert. 

Let’s get to it. 

1. What Is Pre-Shave Oil And What Does It Do?

Pre-shave oil is an oil that’s applied before shaving cream or gel to provide an additional layer of lubrication and protection during the shave. 

It’s usually made of a mixture of carrier oils, essential oils, and vitamin oils. Carrier oils comprise the majority of it and examples include castor oil (common), sunflower oil, jojoba oil, and safflower oil.  

Essential oils are usually added for the sake of adding some scent; cedarwood and eucalyptus oil are common examples. 

Although pre-shave oil isn’t strictly essential, a lot of men find that their shaving experience is somewhat revolutionized by the simple addition of pre-shave oil. 

It often leads to a smoother, more comfortable, and closer shave; better results with less irritation. 

Here’s an example – Imperial Barber makes a great one. Click the image to check it out on Amazon

What pre-shave oil does is soften and lift the beard bristles, making it easier for the razor blade to cut them. It also lubricates the skin and allows the blade to glide across it more effectively. 

Pre-shave oil can be made out of many different oils, but usually ones that don’t clog. 

Once the pre-shave oil is applied, you can choose to either use shaving cream or gel for the final layer before the shave. It’s usually used when shaving with manual razors such as cartridge, safety, or straight razors. 

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? 

Although its benefits are pretty widely known, it’s usually only men who take shaving seriously that bother with it. It’s unfortunate, but the added step of applying pre-shave oil before shaving cream or gel is simply too much of a hassle for a lot of men. 

Of course, it’s also an additional cost. 

But if you’re willing to put in the (in my opinion reasonable) time, effort, and money, pre-shave oil adds a sense of professionalism to a morning shave that’s really hard to beat. 

2. Who Should Use Pre-Shave Oil?

Pre-shave oils would be suitable for use by anyone looking for a closer and smoother shave, or those men looking to get into traditional shaving techniques. Men with sensitive skin would especially benefit from its lubricating and moisturizing properties. 

Although shaving can be an introspective and zen-like experience that a lot of men look forward to, soreness and irritation can be hard to ignore at times. 

It’s usually due to dull blades or poor technique, but inadequate lubrication could definitely be contributing to it. 

Men who find that irritation is a problem or simply have pretty sensitive skin should definitely consider applying some pre-shave oil before their shaving cream or gel. 

It won’t just produce a better aesthetic result with a closer shave – it’ll also reduce soreness. 

Another group that should strongly consider using pre-shave oil are those men looking to get more serious with their shaving. 

As much as some may find it strange, shaving is a genuine hobby to a lot of men. There’s just something great about traditional shaving techniques. 

Scuttles, brushes, lather, straight razors, hot towels, etc. It’s a lost art that’s making a real comeback. 

From Shutterstock

If you think shaving could be something you could get into, pre-shave oil should become an essential part of your routine.

3. Pre-Shave Oil Vs Cream Vs Gel: What’s The Difference?

Pre-shave oil is applied before cream or gel, providing an additional thin layer of lubrication and also softening the facial hair. Unlike pre-shave oil, shaving creams and gels are thick and provide cushioning and heat retention for the shave. 

Pre-shave oil won’t provide enough cushioning for a shave and should be used in combination with either shaving cream or gel. 

It’s less viscous (thinner) than creams and gel and simply provides an added “barrier” between the blade and the skin during the shave. It is lubricating, moisturizing, and makes the skin more pliable for the shave. 

Shaving creams and gels both try to serve the same purpose. They’re more viscous (thicker) than pre-shave oils and are meant to be applied after the pre-shave oil. 

These thicker products will form a lather that provides a cushion when shaving that you wouldn’t be able to get with pre-shave oil alone. 

Although they try to achieve the same result – a close shave – the main differences between shaving cream and shaving gels are as follows: 

Gels are more transparent than creams and so are favored by men who like to actually see what they’re shaving. In addition, gels are often seen as slightly more lubricating than creams. 

Both of them are perfectly capable of achieving great results and close shaves. But pre-shave oil shouldn’t be used as a substitute for either of them. 

4. Pre-Shave Oil Vs Shaving Soap: What’s The Difference?

Shaving soap is meant to be applied after pre-shave oil. Unlike pre-shave oil, when built into a lather, shaving soap is thick and provides cushioning and heat retention for the shave. 

In that respect, shaving soap is similar to shaving cream and gel – it’s meant to be used after and in combination with a pre-shave oil. 

Pre-shave oil is much thinner and will simply provide an additional layer of lubrication before the application of the actual shaving soap lather. 

It’s a little harder to produce as good of a cushioning lather using shaving soap compared to shaving cream. Because of this, shaving cream is usually seen as more “beginner-friendly” than shaving soap and is a great starter product. 

However, shaving soap is sometimes seen as more authentic and traditional than creams and gels. Plus, the same quantity of soap generally goes further, so it could be considered better value for money. 

5. Pre-Shave Oil Vs Shave Oil: Is There A Difference? 

There is no difference between “pre-shave oil” and “shave oil”. They both refer to the same thing; a lubricating and moisturizing pre-shave product that’s applied before the lather. 

Although the terminology can be confusing, it’s important to understand what terms refer to the same things and what doesn’t. 

Let’s quickly go through some of the big-hitters. 

Pre-shave products:

“Pre-shave oil” and “shave oil” are the same thing. It’s applied before the lather and provides an additional layer of lubrication for the shave. However, it does not have enough cushion for the shave itself. 


The lather is formed by a thicker product that provides more cushioning and heat retention for the shave. Shaving creams, gels, and soaps are the common ones you need to know about. 

Post-shave products: 

Post-shave products are meant for use after the shave, as you’d expect. Aftershave balms and lotions are both popular options. 

6. Should You Use Pre-Shave Oil Before Or After A Hot Towel

Pre-shave oil should be applied after a hot towel. Using them in this order is a great way to open the pores, soften the facial hair, and make the skin more pliable before applying the lather for the shave. 

Hot towels are a barber’s favorite. They don’t just make for a particularly luxurious wet shaving experience. Using them before a shave will often lead to a more comfortable and closer shave. 

But getting the order right is important. 

Wrap the hot towel around the face and remove it before applying the pre-shave oil. 

What the hot towel will do is open the pores, revealing more of the follicle and allowing for a closer shave. It’ll also soften the hair and make it easier for the blade to cut through. In addition, it’ll make the skin less rigid and more comfortable to shave over. 

But it won’t provide any lubrication and it won’t moisturize. 

That’s what the pre-shave oil will do. It’ll actually provide a thin, smooth barrier over which a razor can glide. It won’t be all you need – you’d still need a form of lather using a cream, gel, or soap. 

But pre-shave oil is an additional layer that a lot of men like to use. 

Wrapping the hot towel after applying the pre-shave oil would be pointless, as it’ll probably wipe most of it off before applying the lather and shaving. 

As a side note, although hot towels may seem like a fun and ultra-professional shaving habit to adopt, a lot of serious traditional wet shavers actually find that an even more effective method is simply taking a warm shower. 

Each to their own. 

7. Do You Wash Off Pre-Shave Oil?

Pre-shave oil should not be washed off before shaving. It’s meant to form an additional protective barrier between the skin and the razor for a closer and more comfortable shave. Washing it off would be a waste. 

You should wash the face before applying the pre-shave oil, ideally with warm water. Just like a hot towel would, this will open the pores, soften the beard bristles, and make the skin more pliable for the shave. 

Then, you dab the face dry with a towel and apply the pre-shave oil. 

After applying a dime-sized amount of the pre-shave oil to your face and rubbing it in, you should be left with a mild shine. There shouldn’t be any visible droplets and it certainly shouldn’t be dripping. 

If it is – you’ve used too much. 

Once this is done, apply your lather (shaving cream, gel, or soap). 

Just like there wouldn’t be any logic in washing off the lather, the pre-shave oil is meant to stay on the skin until the shave. 

Washing it off before the shave would be counterproductive and a waste of product and money. 

8. Can You Shave With Just Shaving Oil?

It’s important not to shave with just shaving oil as it doesn’t provide enough cushioning for the shave – nowhere near as much as a lather does. As a result, you could get more irritation and less of a close shave. 

Shaving oil is meant for use as a pre-shave product and isn’t a substitute for a proper lathering product like shaving cream, gel, or soap. 

It should be used as a supplement to the lather, not a substitute. 

However, if your pre-shave oil is especially lubricating, it may be OK to use it alone without a lather on your second or third pass over small areas. 

In other words, once you’ve had one or two passes with the razor over the lather, it may well be reasonable to simply apply some pre-shave oil for the last pass over small areas. 

However, if you find that it’s too irritating to the skin or you’re trying to shave over large areas, it’s not worth doing. Simply apply some more lather for that last pass instead. 

9. Can You Use Pre-Shave Oil With An Electric Razor? 

Pre-shave oil should only be used with electric razors that are suitable for wet shaving. Many electric razors are only meant for dry shaving and using pre-shave oil could potentially be hazardous or clog up the blades. 

Typical foil and rotary shavers are generally meant for use without any lubrication. In other words, it isn’t necessary to use lathers such as shaving creams, gels, or soaps. 

The same goes for pre-shave oil. There’s usually no need to use it and doing so could actually do more harm than good. 

However, if the electric razor is suitable for wet shaves it could be a good way to make the shave more comfortable. 

It’s just very important to check that it’s OK before you do it. 

10. Can You Use Pre-Shave Oil As Beard Oil? 

Pre-shave oil shouldn’t be used as beard oil despite having similar ingredients. Unlike pre-shave oil, beard oil is often meant to closely resemble the skin’s natural oils to maintain the correct pH and to also give the beard a gentle sheen. 

Pre-shave oil just needs to lubricate the skin and soften/lift the facial hair – it’s fairly straightforward. Because of that, it’s quite reasonable to use unscented beard oil as pre-shave oil – but don’t use pre-shave oil as beard oil. 

If you do use beard oil as a pre-shave oil, it’s important to do a patch test before applying it to your face to make sure you don’t have a reaction to it. 

But overall, because beard oil is generally more viscous than pre-shave oil it’s quite likely to eventually clog the blade. It’s generally best to use pre-shave oil as pre-shave oil and beard oil as beard oil. 

What’s The Difference Between Pre-Shave Oil And Beard Oil? 

Beard oil is generally thicker than pre-shave oil and focuses more on conditioning facial hair. Pre-shave oil is thinner than beard oil as it’s used for lubrication and as such it’s important that it doesn’t clog the razor blade. 

Although both pre-shave oil and beard oil usually contains a mixture of carrier oils and essential oils, beard oils often contain a greater proportion of essential oils in order to produce a more noticeable scent. 

Common scents used in beard oils include tea tree oil and pine tree oil. 

Does Pre-Shave Oil Soften The Beard? 

Pre-shave oil does soften beard bristles and makes it easier for the razor blade to cut through them when shaving. However, pre-shave oil shouldn’t be used as beard oil as it doesn’t have the same conditioning properties. 

So, it’s important to differentiate between how and why both pre-shave oils and beard oils soften facial hair. 

Pre-shave oil softens it for shaving. Beard oil softens it as a conditioner for bearded men. 

11. What Is The Best Pre-Shave Oil Alternative? 

Castor oil often makes for a good pre-shave oil alternative due to its lubricating and moisturizing properties. It’s commonly used as the main carrier oil in popular marketed pre-shave oils. 

However, in general, it’s best to use the carefully formulated pre-shave oils available for purchase rather than going for DIY alternatives. 

Although this may seem like a waste of money, straight castor oil is quite thick to apply and may well clog the razor blade. This leads to added friction and a less effective shave. 

In addition, using lone oils such as castor oil denies you the benefits of the essential oils and even vitamin oils that are included in pre-shave products. 

They often make it smoother to apply and also frequently add a desirable scent. 

Can Baby Oil Be Used As Pre-Shave Oil?

Baby oil is too thick to be used as a pre-shave oil. It’ll clog the razor blade leading to more irritation and a less effective shave. 

In addition, baby oil will also usually work against the lather you apply on top of it (shaving cream or soap) and make it less smooth to shave over. 

Can Olive Oil Be Used As Pre-Shave Oil

Olive oil shouldn’t be used as pre-shave oil because it’s too thick. It’ll clog the pores as well as the razor blade, obstructing the shave and causing irritation. 

It’ll also work against the lather you apply over it, making it difficult to shave over. 

It’s another example of a DIY alternative you should probably avoid. Go for a well-known, reasonably-priced pre-shave oil instead. 


There you have it. 

Some solid tips on using pre-shave oil in the most effective way possible. Although it isn’t the most essential grooming tool out there, many wet shavers find it really helpful. 

A lot of them find it tough to go without it once they get used to its benefits.