What is Aftershave?

Mary McMahon

Aftershave is a product used most commonly by men on the skin of the face after shaving, although products for women to use exist as well. In addition to smelling good, it helps keep the skin smooth and in good condition, a concern for men who shave every day. Also, as an alternative to commercial aftershaves, people can also formulate their own with specific ingredients or scents so that they can smell unique and have smooth, silky skin.

A man applying aftershave.
A man applying aftershave.

This product serves a number of functions. Most importantly, it acts as an astringent, which means that it raises the pH of the face after the use of alkaline soaps for shaving. Healthy skin is naturally somewhat acidic: astringents and toners are used by both genders to keep their skin smooth. Using aftershave also closes the pores which have been opened by warm water while shaving, disinfects the surface of the skin to prevent potential infection of small cuts and nicks, and may moisturize as well. Men with very dry skin should add a moisturizer after using aftershave, or purchase a product which contains moisturizer.

A bottle of aftershave.
A bottle of aftershave.

Most aftershaves contain alcohol, which is a natural astringent and disinfectant. Alcohol-free products are available, and usually contain astringents like witch hazel mixed with soothing plant ingredients such as aloe and seaweed extracts. Alcohol-free products are more likely to come in the form of gels and creams, although they are produced in a liquid form as well. In all cases, aftershave should be applied with cotton pads so that the oils on your fingers do not disturb the skin of your face.

Aloe vera is commonly used as a moisturizing ingredient in aftershave.
Aloe vera is commonly used as a moisturizing ingredient in aftershave.

To make your own bay rum aftershave, you can soak two to four cups of bay leaves in enough rum to cover them. Add spices like rosemary, ginger, orange peel, or cloves to make the scent a little more complex, and put the jar in a cool dark place for one month. Take the aftershave out and strain it into a new jar for daily use. To make a basic alcohol free moisturizer, you can blend two cups of witch hazel, 2 ounces (60 milliliters) of rose water, two ounces (60 milliliters) of aloe vera gel, 0.5 ounce (15 milliliters) of vegetable glycerin, and an essential oil mixture of your choice to create a unique scent. This mixture can be used immediately.

Cloves, which can be used to make aftershave.
Cloves, which can be used to make aftershave.
Orange peel is sometimes added to aftershave.
Orange peel is sometimes added to aftershave.
Alcohol-free aftershave products may use witch hazel as the astringent.
Alcohol-free aftershave products may use witch hazel as the astringent.

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Discussion Comments


@Kristee – Ouch! I would imagine it did burn! Putting alcohol on sensitive skin that has just been shaved is not something you want to do.

I have found that aloe vera gel makes the best aftershave for my legs. It has an intense cooling effect that takes the sting out of razor burn. It also moisturizes my legs.

They feel smoother when I use aloe vera gel than when I use regular lotion. It also helps keep me from getting razor rashes or leg pimples.

It's even better for using under your arms after shaving. I used to have a lot of problems with breakouts there, but not when I use aloe vera gel.


I ran out of my shave gel for sensitive skin while shaving my legs, so I borrowed my dad's shaving cream. I broke out in red bumps afterward, so I also tried to borrow his aftershave.

As soon as I put it on, it burned like fire! I guess the alcohol content was high, but I wasn't prepared for that pain.


My husband has found the best aftershave. It has only a mild fragrance, but it smells so good. It also keeps him from breaking out so badly.

He had a terrible time with acne as a teenager, and shaving only worsened the problem. If he used aftershave back then, it would only further irritate his skin and cause more red bumps.

This aftershave he has just started using is designed to eliminate breakouts after shaving, and it does a great job. His skin feels so smooth and looks so clean!


Wow, making your own aftershave sounds a little complicated. That doesn't sound like something most men I know would be willing to go to the trouble to do! They just grab a bottle of men's aftershave off the shelf of a store and pay for it, and that's the extent of their effort in this area.


Cologne has many more ingredients in it than aftershave which can affect the skin. Cologne and perfumes are not meant for facial skin at all. It can cause breakouts and other irritations or inflammations of the skin. Aftershave tones and disinfects any tiny cuts in the skin to avoid inflammations.


@Mammmood - I rarely use aftershave because frankly I don’t need the smell. Every time I go into the office and I smell like cologne I get comments and people are asking about my hot date.

After reading this I can see the medicinal uses of it, so I may try to go ahead and make my own aftershave. I definitely need something because I feel like I’m scraping myself too hard when I shave, and electric razors don’t shave close enough, so I’ll brew me some homemade aftershave sans scents and see how it works.


@David09 - If this article is any indication, I would expect that the face altering pH stuff that aftershave does is the main difference. I think cologne fragrance just makes you smell good whereas aftershave readjusts your face and makes you smell good too.

It would be like asking, what’s the purpose of toothpaste? It’s not to make you have fresh breath, it’s to clean your teeth. The minty stuff is put in for good measure. In the same way, the good smell in aftershave is an after effect (hence the term aftershave).


@Mammmood - So what’s the difference between men's aftershave and cologne? I’ve thought they were the same except for the labels?


I never realized that aftershave lotion affected the pH balance of my face. For that matter, I didn’t even know my face had a pH balance. All I know is that when I shave, my face feels like it’s been razed to the ground and aftershave provides some relief, like its tightening my pores or something.

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