Byrdie Boy: How to Use a Pre-Shave Oil for the Smoothest Finish

oil on ground

Liz DeSousa for Byrdie

Whether you’re shaving for a clean-cut face or simply for maintenance, you always want the best shave. Ideally, the shaving process is simple and straightforward—vut often it can be painful and messy. To help smooth the process, perhaps you've heard of people using a pre-shave oil—a lubricant commonly used to hydrate the skin before shaving. Pre-shave oils prepare the skin prior to shaving and are complementary to your favorite shaving cream, foam, or gel. They help your razor glide against your skin to theoretically prevent skin irritaiton. But do they work? Ahead, we've asked board-certified dermatologists Dr. Dendy Engelman and Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank to explain everything you need to know about using pre-shave oil.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon.
  • Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank is a celebrity cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City and the author of in NYC and author of The Pro-Aging Playbook.


The Benefits of Pre-Shave Oil

Pre-shave oils can help your skin combat a lot of the less desireable side effects of shaving, like irritation, itchiness, and ingrown hairs. “Pre-shave oil lubricates the skin, which helps reduce friction, irritation and nicks by letting the blades move smoothly across the skin’s surface," says Dr. Engelman. "A good pre-shave oil will also contain ingredients that nourish the skin and provide additional benefits, like hydration and antioxidants.” 

How to Use Pre-Shave Oil

This might be stating the obvious, but pre-shave oils are meant to be used before you actually begin shaving. Engelman recommends that before you apply the oil, you should wet the skin with a warm, damp towel—or even better, take a warm shower. "This softens the beard hairs to reduce the likelihood of irritation and razor bumps," she says. She also recommends giving your skin and beard a good dose of exfoliation prior to apply pre-shave oil and shaving. "You can absolutely exfoliate before applying pre-shave oil and shaving," she says. "In fact, I recommend it because it helps reduce razor bumps and gives a cleaner shave.”  

Who Should Use Pre-Shave Oil? 

Dr. Frank says, "It’s fine for anyone to use pre-shave oil at any age, but younger people tend to have more oil and are acne prone." Frank recommends skipping the shave oil if you are particularly oily, acne-prone, or if you're currently experiencing a breakout.

What to Look for In A Pre-Shave Oil

“Look for clean formulas and hydrating essential oils, like jojoba, moringa and argan oils. Avoid fragrances, harsh chemicals, and other fillers," says Dr. Engelman. Conversely, if you have acne-prone skin, look for a formula containing non-comedogenic oils to avoid triggering a breakout.

The Best Pre-Shave Oils to Try    

le labo beard oil
Le Labo Pre-Shave Oil $62
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Yes, even your beard can wear Le Labo. Even though this product is not technically an oil intended specifically for your beard, it can be used as such. It features a lightweight, serum-like consistency, and just a few drops can cover your entire face.

glo skin beauty
Glo Skin Beauty PHyto Active Conditioning Oil Drops $62
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Dr. Engelman reocmmends this formula from Glo Skin Beauty. "The formula is lightweight, yet super hydrating with squalane, jojoba oil, and argan oil, plus plant stem cells strengthen and protect the skin barrier," she says.

art of shaving pre shave oil
Art of Shaving Pre-Shave Oil $28
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The Art of Shaving is known for its luxury grooming products. As the viscosity of this oil is a bit thicker than your typical pre-shave oil, this is an excellent option for anyone with a thicker, fuller beard. It's also well suited for those with dry or mature skin that can always benefit from extra moisture.

malin + goetz
Malin + Goetz Multipurpose Facial Cleansing Oil $41
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This cleansing oil is multi-purpose and can be used to cleanse and shaving. Once you've finished shaving, you can even use it as a finishing oil to soften your beard, give your skin a healthy glow, and leave a radiant shine behind on your beard.

The Takeaway

Do you absolutely need to use a pre-shave oil as part of your shaving routine? No, but according to both Dr. Engelman and Dr. Frank, if you're prone to irritation post-shaving, it can be really beneficial to add one to your routine. When used correctly, pre-shave oils can help prevent the redness, itchiness, and razor bumps that are so often associated with shaving. The right formula can also be healthy for your skin, delivering moisture and moisture-sealant benefits.

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