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How to Make a Hot Towel for a Barber Shop

Sadly, the barber shop hot towel seems to be a fading ritual on the American landscape. As barbers retire and younger men resort to electric razors or full-on beard growth, other men who live for the experience of barber towels are finding themselves out of luck. Fortunately, all is not lost, for the experience can be recreated at home with the right kind of towel, water heat and shaving products.

Barber Shop Towel Preparation Tips

Any type of towel will work, but it's best to use one that's suitably sized to wrap around the face, such as a hand towel.

Towel Sized to Wrap Around the Face

Choose an Oil. Oils are the secret ingredients that make barber shop towels feel so soothing across the face. There are various scents that can be chosen, but the most popular essential oils among barbers are eucalyptus, lavender and sandalwood. All of these can be found at general department stores and places that specialize in health and bath products. Be forewarned that certain oils – sandalwood in particular – can run quite high in terms of price.

A similar-scented alternative to eucalyptus that can save you some money is Vicks VapoRub, which serves the dual purpose of soothing the skin and clearing the sinuses. Whether or not you're feeling congested on a given morning, a barber shop hot towel with Vicks can make your breathing passages feel rejuvenated.

Apply Scented Oil. Regardless of the oil you choose, it should be applied to the barber towel in advance of the steaming. Dab a few drops around the center of the towel, and the scent will saturate the towel once heated. With Vicks, a little bit goes a long way, so just spread a fingertip amount onto the towel.

Heat the Towel. Here's the part where the towel literally becomes a barber shop hot towel, the likes of which can be steamed in one of three ways:

  • The Hot Tap Water Method. The easiest way to get a towel warm and damp is to hold it under hot, running water from a kitchen or bathroom sink faucet. However, depending on the capacity of your hot water heater, this method does have its share of limitations. If you share your house with family members who shower or use up hot water in other ways right before your intended shaving time, there might not be enough hot tap water left at that particular hour. The setting of your water heater could also be an issue. If you have it set to only deliver warm water, the temperature might not be sufficient for a barber shop hot towel. Another possible drag could be if your faucets take a considerable amount of time to deliver hot water, because some sinks take several minutes to get to the right temperature.
  • Microwave the Towel. One of the quickest ways to get a towel piping hot involves the same appliance that has made it possible to instantly heat meals since the 1960s: the microwave oven. First, the towel needs to be dampened, which can be done under the kitchen sink faucet at any temperature. Once you've dampened every square inch of the towel, place it in a microwave-safe bowl and pop it in the microwave for half a minute. The moment you take it out of the oven, apply it to your face as you return to the bathroom to shave.
  • Drench the Towel in Teapot Water. In the morning, as you boil up water in a teapot, prepare a towel in a glass or metal bowl alongside your tea or coffee cup. Once you've filled the cup with scalding water, drench the towel thoroughly. Wait several minutes for the water in the bowl to cool, then put on rubber gloves and wring the excess water from the towel. Remove the gloves, apply the towel to your face and proceed to the bathroom for the shaving ritual. By the time you're done, your coffee should be ready to drink.

Enjoy Your Hot Towel. Wrap the warm, damp towel around your whiskers and keep it there for about a minute. Feel your pores loosen and your whiskers soften as your skin soaks in the heat. As the towel cools down, rub it against the grain of your whiskers. This will expose the underside of your whiskers for a finer shave. Once the towel has cooled, put it down on the counter, lather up your face with shaving cream and peel the whiskers away with a fine triple blade.

Barber Towels: Keeping Faces Hair-Free for Decades

Facial hair has the strength of copper. On the face of the average adult man exists anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 pores for these copper-strength hairs. Barber towels make it easier to shave these hairs because each strand is reduced to less than half its strength when saturated with damp heat. As patterns over the last half-century have shown, the availability of a hot towel could be a determining factor in whether a man even chooses to shave.

Pores on Adult Man's Face

Shaving Trends. The ritual of having a shave at the local barber peaked in the decades prior to the introduction of disposable and electric razors. During the late 1960s, changes in fashion brought beards and longer hair into vogue, which prompted most men to ditch razors altogether. The hirsute look – as it came to be seen in movies, TV shows and magazines – characterized most of men's fashion throughout the 1970s. Despite the return of cleaner fashions during the early 1980s, shaving has remained a do-it-yourself activity for the majority of men who postdate the classic barber shop era.

Women Prefer. Then again, some men still don't enjoy shaving. According to recent stats, the practice is avoided by roughly 15 percent of men, most of whom associate discomfort with razors. Consequently, the 2010s have seen a reemergence of '70s-style thick beards on men, particularly in hipster circles. Nonetheless, more than two-thirds of women – 70 percent – prefer men with smooth, clean–shaven faces.

For men who've long dreaded shaving, a hot towel makes it possible to achieve the look that's generally more desired among the opposite sex. With a barber shop towel, shaving can be carried out with a level of comfort and ease that many men have never even experienced.

The Barber Towel Experience: Shaving Tips

These days, most men generally prefer to use electric razors instead of blades for getting rid of unwanted facial hair. After all, there's no risks of cuts and very little irritation that could possibly develop when the blades are encased by mesh, metal strips. Nonetheless, some men still opt for the close shave of an old-fashioned razor, whether it features two, three or – better yet – four blades. Men who go for the latter option generally have stronger, more resilient skin that doesn't burn or become easily irritated. However, even the toughest guys can experience more comfortable shaves with a few practical tips.

Use Fresh Blades. When purchasing blades, it's important to see each one as a disposable investment. Fact is, blades dull after five or so uses, at which point they need to be discarded. Therefore, blades should be purchased in bulk and – depending on the frequency of your shaving habits – changed at weekly intervals.

Choose Blades Wisely. Select razors with multiple blades for maximum shaving efficiency. Cartridges with three or four blades cut hair faster and closer because the frontal blades lift and cut the whiskers while the third/fourth blades strip away what remains of the roots. Higher-end disposables tend to have detachable blade cartridges and reusable handles, whereas cheaper razors usually consist of a one-piece throwaway blade and handle.

Maximum Shaving Efficiency

If you're looking for the kind of shave that barbers gave in the old days, you would need a straight razor. Though the straight razor faded as a household item after the introduction of disposable and electric shaving devices, it remains the preferred shaving tool among certain men who prefer the closest shave possible. Granted, it takes a degree of hand skill to use a straight razor without getting cut. Therefore, you'll need to master the sleight of hand if you wish to make the straight razor your shaving tool of choice.

Apply Shaving Cream Properly. Regardless of whether or not you use a hot towel on your face in advance of shaving, it's imperative that cream be applied before the razor glides along the skin. Without that coating of lather, the blades will pull at every inch of the skin – as opposed to gliding along the surface – and your face will endure the immediate discomfort of nicks and burns, as well as the eventual consequence of ingrown hairs. It's best to use a men's shaving cream or gel, because such products are specially formulated to condition the face for removal of strong, stubborn whiskers. However, at times when you're on a budget or running low on cream or gel, hair conditioner or lathered-up bar soap can serve as substitutes.

Consider a Shaving Brush. If you wish to avoid the hand mess that accompanies the application of creams and gels, you might prefer to use a shaving brush to apply the cream. In order to make this work, place a small amount of cream or gel into an ashtray or soap holder and mix it up for a minute or two with a damp shaving brush. Once a thick lather has formed in the receptor, slowly apply it to the whiskered parts of your face and neck. Move the brush in a round-and-round motion until the parts of your skin that you intend to shave are thoroughly lathered.

For the smoothest, closest, most comfortable shave possible, allow the lather to sit on your face for up to two minutes before gliding the razor across the surface. This will give the cream time to moisturize your skin and make it more ripe for shaving.

Handle Razor With Care. After all the steaming and lathering, one step in the shaving process remains the most critical part of all: knowing how to handle the razor. With your fingers wrapped around the handle, place your thumb at the shaft, just below the cartridge. Holding the razor at a 30-degree angle, apply down strokes along the grain of your whiskers. Rinse your blade every other stroke, and repeat until the cream is stripped away. Next, reapply the cream and apply upstrokes along the applicable parts of your face and neck.

Do not apply any pressure during the down or upstrokes – that will only cause burning. Fine glides along the surface of the skin is all it should take for the closest shave possible. If this doesn't seem like enough and you don't feel as though you're getting an adequate shave, it's likely a matter of your blades being dull. While shaving, don't allow whiskers to cluster between the blades. This could impede the shaving process and lead to cuts along the way.

Common Qualities of Barber Shop Towels

When it comes to a hot towel, preparation is only part of what makes the experience extraordinary. In order for barber towels to feel good across the face, they also have to be made of comfortable materials. If a towel is going to offer the comfort necessary for the kind of experience men have paid barbers to provide for decades, it must have a suitable texture with the right levels of softness and absorbency.

Texture of a Barber Shop Hot Towel

Comfortably Soft. In order for a towel to bring comfort to the face, it must be made of materials that feel soft against the skin. Therefore, the most suitable type of fabric for barber towels is cotton, because its softness is best for snuggling up to the face and providing a soothing feeling. The feel of cotton stands in contrast to microfibers, which are typically used in towels that are better suited to manual functions: the kind that are generally used for cleaning furniture, appliances and outdoor equipment.

Sufficiently Absorbent. Barber towels work by soaking up moisture, which gives the cotton a warmth and dampness that soothes the faces and stimulates the pores to a degree that conditions the skin for a fine, close, comfortable shave. Without absorbency, water will mostly slide off the surface of the towel. Given the condition of such a towel, the surface would be difficult to saturate even when submerged in a bowl with hot water. For the utmost in absorbency, look for towels that are made of 100 percent cotton.

Suitably Sized. Barber shop towels serve a unique function in that they're tailored for a certain area of the body that towels in general are not exclusively geared toward: the face. Whereas the hands and body are commonly accounted for in towel marketing, the face usually has to make do with a hand or bath towel. Thing is, a face towel requires its own set of dimensions in order to provide sufficient coverage, but without draping over the back of the ears and weighing too much for a comfortable experience. For that reason, a barber towel should measure in the 15x25 to 16x30 range.

See the Finest Selection in Barber Towels

At Towel Super Center, we have a wide array of barber towels in white, black and assorted colors. Check out our inventory today to get a better idea of just how comfortable a barber shop hot towel could make your feel during your next shaving experience.

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