I was a clumsy youth when I began my adventure into classic shaving. Years of untrained heavy handed cartridge shaving had made me drunk on the extreme safety of a cheap dollar-store razor. When I moved to my safety razor, this naturally led me to push too hard. The great thing about a safety razor is how little pressure you can use, they essentially shave all on their own. 21 year-old Nathan was not clever enough to realize this, so naturally I got a few nicks as I adjusted to my new razor. During this period of adjustments I became fast friends with a shaving essential: the Alum Block.
Alum Blocks are compacted crystals of potassium alum, a commonly occurring mineral salt. Whether naturally or synthetically produced, alum has many beneficial properties including the one that we care about; its function as a styptic. A styptic is something that stops bleeding, and alum achieves this by tightening the blood vessels. While it won’t clot the blood of a bad cut (get a styptic pencil for those scenarios) it will stop small cuts from bleeding. By using it on those little blood spots that many folks get when shaving, you can avoid using those 170+ pieces of toilet paper. Both 90s Homer Simpson and my father were big fans of this look.
Here’s how you use it.
After your shave, rinse your face with cold water. Dip the alum block in water and rub it in to any nicks you may have caused. After some light cursing, your nick will be repaired! Or at least not leaking anymore. For those with delicate skin, you can use the large face of the block as an all-over treatment. Some folks even find this to be a great cure for redness, especially if it’s caused by a rubbing shirt collar throughout the day.
Alum leaves a dry residue, so after a few minutes pat your skin with a damp towel to remove it. Always follow alum use with an aftershave balm. While this is a must after any shave, it’s especially important after using drying salt on your skin.
But wait, there’s more! Alum has other handy benefits. If you shave around a jawline, chin, knee or other curved area, you probably stretch your skin a lot. Skin can be slippery while shaving, so rub damp fingers on the alum block to give them spider-man grip against your own skin. Shaving magic!
Another benefit of alum is as an antiperspirant. If you’re a heavy-sweater or an active individual, a wet alum block can be rubbed onto the skin instead of or in addition to deodorant. It’s a bonus if you bike to work and want to avoid pit-stains on your dress shirt.
Nowadays, I rarely nick myself. I’ve mastered my safety and straight razors, so it really only happens if my blade is too dull or I’m being too cocky. Regardless, I still keep an alum block close by. Just like a pocket knife, it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.