Alum Block...What The Heck is That?
Shaving's little known tool for better feeling skin.
What is alum and how can it help my shave?
Alum is technically a salt known as hydrated potassium aluminium sulfate or potassium alum. (Don't worry, there won't be a chem lab test at the end.) Alum has a wide range of uses from commercial water treatment, to food additives (think of your grandma's pickles). Lucky for us shavers, alum also is an astringent and blood coagulant.
As an astringent:
Wet shaving is all about the prep. When you take a hot shower or put a steaming towel on your face, you are not only softening your facial hair, you are opening your pores. After the shave is complete, you need to close those pores back up. A splash of cold water goes a long way to do that, but applying an astringent will seal the deal. Astringents naturally constrict body tissue and shrink pores.
As a Coagulant:
Unless you operate at the highest level of awareness and never mess up , you will occasionally nick yourself with your razor (especially if you shave when you first get up in the morning and are half asleep). When the inevitable happens, you need something to stop the bleeding. Now you may have seen your father, or somebody on the television putting little pieces of toilet paper on the cuts. Don't do that! Do you really want to walk around with toilet paper on your face? Luckily there is a tool for every job and to stop bleeding we use either a styptic pencil or the alum block. Both the pencil and the block use the astringent properties of alum to stop the bleeding.
How to use an alum block:
Wet shaving is all about routine. Once you find your rhythm you need to repeat it until you can do it in your sleep. (For me this is literal, I'm not a morning person.) The alum block should be used between the last cold water rinse and the application of your aftershave. Once you have made your last pass with the razor and feel that the shave is close enough, rinse your face in cold water to wash off the residual lather. While your face is still wet take the alum block and gently rub it across the shaved portion of your face and neck. Make sure you get the areas where you tend to have razor burn the most. When you are finished, wipe your face with a towel and apply your aftershave balm.
Wow that burns!
Alum is a great feedback tool to let you know how your shaving technique is coming along. If you use too much pressure causing little nicks and scrapes, the alum block will tell you. Don't worry about the burn, it's a good thing. The coagulant properties of the alum will close up the weepers and nicks, while the astringent will tighten and refresh your skin. I have noticed much less razor burn since i started using an alum block in my routine.
Where can I find this tool you speak of?
Alum blocks can be purchased online or at barber supply stores. There are many different brands and sizes to choose from. All you really need to consider when making a purchase is that the block is pure alum. You don't want any additives, or gimmicks. Keep it simple. Don't worry about the size of the block, most are fairly small. They will last for years as long as you don't drop them in a sink full of water as they will dissolve.
Adding an Alum block to your shaving routine will not only improve the condition of your skin, but it will also help you refine your shaving skills. There will come a day I promise when you execute the perfect wet shave, leaving no blood and no burn. It will happen, with practice. What better motivation than the stinging criticism of the unbiased alum block.