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Save face with better shaving creams

High-quality shaving creams make a good gift to pamper the man in your life and help him put his best face forward.

The first step is to kick the can — the aerosol can, that is. Good quality shaving creams that help to soften the beard and hydrate the skin come in a bar, tube or jar, say skin care experts.

Most men's grooming habits are limited to washing their face and shaving, which makes picking a good shaving cream a must. Aerosol shaving creams don't prepare the face for shaving, said Diana Schmidtke, a Los Angeles-based celebrity men's groomer.

"Anything out of a can that is foamy and puffy is not doing anything for you. It lets you see the patterns when you shave," Schmidtke said. "Anything in a jar, a bar or in a tube tends to have more conditioning agents."

Surfactants, the ingredients that make the aerosol-based creams foam, can irritate sensitive skin or dry it by making the skin more alkaline, said Susanne Schmaling, director of education at Associated Skin Care Professionals in Golden, Colo.

Shaving creams aren't necessarily formulated for skin types, but Schmaling said men with sensitive skin may want to find a cream that has as few ingredients as possible and avoid fragrance. Fragrances, especially artificial ones, are top offenders.

"A good rule of thumb is, if it's a long word you don't recognize, you know you have (a highly irritating chemical) going on," she said. Some ingredients that can cause irritation: benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, cetyltrimethylammonium bromide and hydroxycitronellal.

It's nearly impossible to avoid all manufactured ingredients in a shaving cream because of the nature of the product, but Schmaling said good ingredients include natural oils like jojoba oil or olive oil, which can help calm the skin.

Avoid shaving creams containing alcohol, Schmidtke said.

"Some guys like the burn. I don't recommend that you shock your skin like that," she said. "The burn you're feeling is loaded with alcohol, which is drying. You want your skin to feel nice and moist afterward."

Stick to one product line, Schmidtke said, so that if you experience a break out, you can more easily track the culprit.

Schmidtke is a fan of the store The Art of Shaving, which has locations nationwide. They make their own products and give shaving lessons, useful for men of all ages.

A good gift to accompany a new shaving cream is a badger-hair brush, she said, which is sold separately or as part of a shaving kit. Badger-hair brushes exfoliate the skin to remove dead skin cells, help the hairs stand up and emulsify the cream better so less cream is necessary. They also retain heat and moisture, which open the pores.

"It's good to have some heat; that's why you get the hot towel when you go to the barber," she said.

When applying shaving cream, leave it on for a minute so it can do its work. The time it takes to prep one side of the face, then the other, should be long enough, Schmidtke said.

Shave the first side that was lathered, going with growth pattern of the hair. For men whose skin can handle a second swipe against the grain, lightly reapply the cream to avoid razor burn, she said.

Men who still get razor burn even after using a good-quality cream may be using too much pressure or a razor with too many blades, she said. Razors with four or five blades can irritate sensitive skin. Double-edged razors work well in that case, she said.

For men willing to enhance their shaving experience, Schmidtke recommends using a pre-shave oil before applying the shaving cream, which lifts the hairs and helps the movement of the razor across the face. She also recommends men use a shave balm or gel after the shave or, at a minimum, a moisturizer with sunscreen, as rates of skin cancer are rising faster in men than women.

Schmaling said some newer creams will have added ingredients such as anti-aging or sunscreen. Forget those.

"You're shaving it right off," she said.

Five to try

The Art of Shaving Shaving Cream (comes in unscented, sandalwood, lemon, lavender and ocean kelp), $25 at

Kiehl's Ultimate Brushless Shaving Cream, $16 for a 5-oz. tube at

Lucky Tiger Liquid Cream Shave, $18.50 at

Aveda Men Pure-formance Shave Cream, $18 at

The Art of Shaving Badger brush, starts at $55 at

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