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Aftershave is a balm, lotion, wash or salve applied to the skin after shaving, as noted in "The Art of Shaving." Frequently marketed toward men, aftershave products reduce the number of steps in a skincare routine. Although some aftershaves are no nonsense -- their only goal is to soothe the irritation caused by shaving -- many commercially available aftershaves work as moisturizers, toners and cologne.
Shaving often results in minor cuts, abrasions and irritation. Antiseptic ingredients are included in aftershave to help minimize the risk of infection to these often small wounds, according to "A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients." Alcohol-based aftershaves include SD-alcohol 40, an antiseptic that also functions as the base ingredient in the aftershave. Alcohol-free aftershaves may include polyquaternium-10, an antiseptic that also functions as a preservative and surfactant. Polyquaternium-10 extends the shelf life of aftershave products, keeping potentially harmful microorganisms from growing in the formula. Witch hazel is a natural antiseptic and astringent that may be present in aftershaves marketed as using natural ingredients. Witch hazel functions similarly to SD-alcohol 40, closing the pores and exerting antiseptic properties, but is derived from the oil of the Hamamelis virginiana tree.
Aftershave restores softness to skin after shaving -- aftershave products include moisturizers to achieve this goal. Glycerin, a byproduct of soapmaking, is a hygroscopic ingredient found in many aftershave products. Glycerin draws moisture from the air to the skin, allowing freshly shaved skin to become supple again. Some aftershave products are oil based instead of alcohol based. Oil-based aftershaves, according to "A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetics," may aggravate acne, though people with drier skin or those with a sensitivity to alcohol may prefer them. Olive oil is a mild oil expressed from the Olea europaea tree that is used to impart moisture and restore softness to skin when used in aftershave. Allantoin is an anti-inflammatory chemical, according to "Milady's Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary." It also serves to moisturize the skin. A natural ingredient that works similarly to allantoin is aloe vera, extracted from the Aloe barbadensis leaf.
Aftershave may be scented or unscented. Individuals with sensitivities to fragrances may prefer an unscented aftershave lotion to avoid headaches, skin irritation or any number of other effects that may accompany exposure to a strong scent. Aftershaves that are scented may include chemical fragrances, often listed among ingredients lists simply as "fragrance" or "parfum." A label with those ingredients may contain up to 4,000 different chemicals, according to "Cosmetics Unmasked." Since scents are often proprietary formulas, the exact chemical makeup may not be revealed. "Green" or organic aftershave products may include a number of essential oils. Sandalwood, musk, patchouli oil and sage are popular essential oils in aftershave, as noted in the "Reference Guide to Essential Oils."
- "The Art of Shaving"; Myriam Zaoui, Eric Malka; 2002
- "A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, 7th Edition"; Ruth Winter; 2009
- "Milady's Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary"; Natalia Michalun; 2009
- "Cosmetics Unmasked: Your Family Guide to Safe Cosmetics and Allergy-Free Toiletries"; Stephen Antczak, Gina Antczak; 2001
- "Reference Guide to Essential Oils"; Alan Higley; 2005
- Mario Ragma Jr./iStock/Getty Images