If you have been to a barber for a shave you know you’ve been taken well care of and had a fantastic shave. The hot towel, hot lather, smooth feel after the shave, the block of alum, the aftershave, it all makes for an unforgettable experience. Most men readily have tried to replicate that process with good success but the little alum block is an element that often gets left out. But what does alum do, and what is it? In the following we will explore this often overlooked and small piece of shaving accoutrement.

So what exactly is Alum? Hold onto your hats we are going to get a bit technical. In basic chemistry Alum is a salt. Alum covers a broad array of salts and uses from pickling, medical, cosmetic, taxidermy and many other uses. It is most commonly found as potassium alum or ammonia alum but for our intents and purposes potassium alum is our compound of choice. Chemically potassium alum is signified as KAl(SO4)2·12H2O, which means it is a hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate. This salt is naturally found in many areas across the world, most notably though it comes from the Mediterranean. 

For all that technical chemical speak what does that mean for us shavers? In a cosmetic application alum works very well for post shave use. It has antiseptic and antibacterial properties which work well for a perfectly shaven face helping to clean any nicks and keep them clean. These qualities also lend alum to it’s other cosmetic use as a natural deodorant. Should that little nick not be so little alum also acts as a blood coagulant stemming the flow. Salt is also naturally astringent so applying after shaving removes and excess moisture and draws the skin tight. This gives that freshly shaven smooth skin an even more special feel. 

In appearances alum is often whitish to clear crystal in a round rock or rectangular block shape. It’s also sold in a deodorant style cylindrical container for easy application. Using it is simple: lightly wet the face after a shave and rub the alum over the freshly shaven area. Let the alum sit for 30-60 seconds to gain the full effect, especially if there are any nicks or cuts, then rinse, pat dry and apply your favorite aftershave product. 

All in all we have an element of shaving that is simple in form, function, and use. However its elemental benefits are essential and a very good reason to apply each time you shave. Alum has been used for centuries and yet a valuable piece even today.

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