Many men are averse to caring for their skin. No matter where you are in the world, it’s not uncommon to hear a phrase like “skin care products are for chicks” when engaging in gentlemanly palaver. We think this is a travesty. After all, men have faces too. If you insist on shunning skin care, we ask that you make an exception for one key product: aftershave balms. You’ll find that the right balm can, at the very least, make shaving a more pleasant experience, and maybe even revolutionize your shaving routine
Aftershave Splash vs. Aftershave Balm
Before we get started, we thought we’d point out the differences between aftershave splash and aftershave balm. Aftershave splash is an antiseptic that has a lingering scent, while aftershave balm is a hydrating lotion with a mild scent that typically goes away soon after application. Since aftershave splashes are usually alcohol-based astringents, they often tighten and dry out the skin. If you’re prone to nicks and your skin tends to dry out after shaving, you’re best off going with a nice, hydrating balm.
Balms are very simple to use. Once you’re finished shaving, rinse off the remaining shaving cream and splash your face with cold water. Use a towel to pat your face dry, then apply a small dab of aftershave balm. (Depending on the thickness of the product, you can use anywhere from a pea-sized amount to a quarter-sized amount.) Gently massage into your skin. The whole process takes mere seconds, and can make the difference between a smooth, high quality shave and one rife with red bumps and razor burn. Finding your personal best aftershave balm is definitely a worthwhile process.
There’s no single balm that works for all men; we recommend that you try a few of the following to discover which is the best aftershave balm for you.
Nivea Men Sensitive Post Shave Balm – $8
If you’re looking for something affordable and unpretentious, Nivea’s Sensitive Post Shave Balm is a great way to go. It may not have all the fancy ingredients and scents of other products, but it’s one of the highest-rated aftershave balms on Amazon, so that’s something. This baby comes with vitamin E, provitamin B5, and chamomile extract for excellent soothing. It’s specially formulated for sensitive skin, so if you’re struggling with razor burn and bumps, this product is a good one to start with.
Proraso After Shave Balm – $16
As you’ll read in our piece on shaving with a straight razor, professional barber Calen Koenig swears by Proraso. These balms are top-notch hydrators, making them excellent for men with Sahara-esque faces. Proraso’s balms have no alcohol, no parabens, no silicons, no mineral oil, and no artificial colors. What do they have? A lot of great natural ingredients that are excellent for promoting healthy skin. There are three colors of Proraso balm: blue, green, and white. Blue has aloe vera and licorice extract, green has a fresh minty scent, and white has notes of oatmeal, green tea, and thyme.
L’Oreal Paris Men Expert Hydra Energetic After Shave Balm – $6
Most of us think of L’Oreal as exclusively a women’s brand, but they actually make some solid men’s products too. Among them this balm refreshes and re-energizes using Vitamin E and SPF 15 to protect once you’re out for the day (just make sure to reapply every couple of hours).
Lather & Wood After Shave Balm – $16
If you’re looking for a balm that’s a little different than the others, you might give this Lather & Wood aftershave balm a try. It’s a little thicker than most balms, with a texture that’s more like body butter than lotion. This number has a nice, non-greasy formula, and doesn’t feel sticky or heavy upon application. Lather & Wood is available in a warm, pleasant sandalwood scent or unscented. It’s also alcohol-free, which means no sting.
Baxter of California After Shave Balm – $19
This aftershave balm combines the eye-opening freshness of tea tree oil and the cooling power of aloe vera. Glycerin (which moisturizes) and allantoin (a compound that combats redness and irritation) round out Baxter’s outstanding healing profile. This aftershave balm is free of alcohol, preventing your skin from drying out, and it soaks into your skin quickly and easily. It’s unpretentious, it’s effective, and it’s affordable.
Kiehl’s Razor Bump Relief – $28
There’s a reason Kiehl’s has been around for over 150 years. All of their products are high quality and straight-forward, and the Razor Bump Relief is no different. If you ran out of time to delicately apply all your pre-shave oils and creams and just kind of, well, roughed it and roughed up your face, this is the balm for you. It’s a mild exfoliant that makes use of ginger root and willow herb to soothe irritation. You can use multiple times a day until irritation is gone.
L’Occitane Cade After Shave Balm For Men – $34
If you’re looking for a more premium balm, Cade from L’Occitane is an excellent choice. In addition to cleaning and soothing the bejesus out of your skin, this balm will turn your face into a garden of appealing scents, including rosemary, juniper, and sandalwood. It’s important to note that these scents are subtle and tasteful, and don’t mount the same olfactory assault of cologne or aftershave splash. Meanwhile, the shea butter and birchwood sap help resist or soothe razor burn, redness, breakouts, and nicks.
Imperial Barber After-Shave Balm & Face Moisturizer – $22
Imperial Barber’s twofer balm and moisturizer is lightweight, hydrating, and smells like a dream. This formula combines green tea extract, shea butter, and jojoba oil to moisturize and combat redness with beta glucan to make your skin feel extra-soft and healthy. To boot, it’s scented with bergamot, whose light, Earl Grey-esque earthy-and-citrusy smell, studies have shown, can help reduce stress and have a calming effect.
Anthony After Shave Balm – $22
Formulated to cool skin and reduce any shave-induced inflammation, this aftershave balm is no-nonsense. Anthony’s balm features benzocaine, a topical pain reliever, so you know you won’t have to worry about irritation when you apply it to your face. This puppy is also free of parabens, phthalates and animal ingredients. It has a clean, refreshing eucalyptus scent that quickly fades after application, and despite its lightweight feel, it packs a punch, so a little goes a long way.
The Art of Shaving After-Shave Balm – $39
When you shave, you end up taking off a layer of skin. To prevent redness, burning, and painful bumps, it’s a good idea to reach for a nice aftershave balm. The Art of Shaving balm lives up its grand name. It’s free of alcohol and synthetic dyes, and rich with grape seed extract and shea butter. When it comes to soothing your face, this balm is more than up to the task. Like Proraso, The Art of Shaving makes several differently scented balms. We recommend the unscented variety for gentlemen with sensitive noses.
Midnight & Two After Shave Balm & Face Moisturizer – $27
This Canada-based company crafts a moisturizing balm with soothing elements like aloe vera, witch hazel, and argan and hemp oils — which is all fine and dandy, but wait until you smell this balm. Two distinct scents, The Study and The Cabin, were designed to smell like their namesakes. The Study features vetiver, sandalwood, and more. However, our favorite is The Cabin, which has cedar, spruce, and nutmeg.
California Beard Company Aftershave – $15
While this is an actual aftershave and not a balm, it’s rich moisturizing and healing properties more than make up for the fact that it does contain organic alcohol and thus will probably dry your skin just a tad. The combination of witch hazel and menthol as the main active ingredients mean that you’ll be doing double duty cooling your face (which can be extremely refreshing after a not-so-perfect shave) while preventing infections from microscopic cuts (thank you antibacterial witch hazel). And, if you’re still worried about the aftershave containing alcohol, don’t be, California Beard Company clearly states, “This ain’t Home Alone, folks, you won’t be screaming from the sting of alcohol like Macaulay Culkin.”
When you want to get shaving, we’ve got a playlist of the best music for a man to get ready to:
Article originally published September 17, 2015. Last updated December 1, 2017.