I’ve never used aftershave and I’ve never really understood what it was for. As near as I can tell, aftershave is merely a very weakly fragrant cologne—in other words, scented alcohol. The idea that I would splash alcohol on my face after I shave (on the very rare occasions that I shave clean), an alcohol that will temporarily short-circuit my sense of smell and then leave no trace is puzzling to me.
I’m not alone. Fragrance critic Chandler Burr had a similar sentiment in his rules for wearing cologne in the September GQ. “Nix the aftershave,” he wrote. “What the hell is aftershave, anyway? It turns out to be scents our dads wore in the late Pleistocene. Today, drugstores sell them. Enough said.”
And fragrance blogger Katie Puckrik’s latest post addresses it head on: “I’ve never understood why one would rub alcohol into one’s face after shaving it. When ladies shave their legs, ‘moisturize’ is the watchword, not ‘cauterize.’” Puckrik is responding to a reader who asks for help combining his aftershave with cologne.
“The alcohol is essentially an antiseptic – to disinfect any nicks or cuts resulting from the shave,” explains a shaving expert Puckrik consulted from Badger & Blade.
My advice? Short of ceasing to use aftershave, or using an unscented astringent (as the Badger & Blade expert suggests), why not seek a pair of aftershave and cologne that match? I mean, why try to find two scents that work with each other when you could get one scent in both? Lines like Penhaligon’s, Geo. F. Trumper, Santa Maria Novella, Taylor of Old Bond Street, and DR Harris (all carried by MiN New York, for example) all make both aftershaves and colognes. Many of them, like Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet, come in both aftershave and cologne concentrations.
Aftershaves are an antiquated product, and that’s both fascinating and troubling. Fascinating because it’s part of a time-honored, multi-step shaving ritual, an indulgent morning routine. Troubling because, well, is alcohol good for your skin? Mine needs moisture after a shower and shave, and I use a lotion that doesn’t clog pores to assure that my face doesn’t start looking like a rhino’s in the winter.