March 19, 2013

Homebrew Hard Cider Aftershave

I've been shaving full time since August with one of my home made straight razors, in conjunction with home made shave soap, brush, and strop. For aftershave, I have been splashing on some drug store witch hazel, which is decent (though I have little experience with aftershave and thus not much basis for comparison).

But I must confess to harboring a strong desire to make up some home made aftershave, to continue the recent trend in taking charge of the products and hardware used for personal care. In time, I would like to plant a witch hazel bush and harvest bark from it to make witch hazel aftershave, but that is a longer term project. So as an experiment, I made up some aftershave using homebrew hard cider and goop squished out of my aloe vera  houseplant. I like it quite well!

Why use aftershave?
I was talking to my mom on the phone the other day and she posed the question: Why is aftershave needed at all? What's it all about? This was something of a mystery to me as well as a lifelong electric razor user, until I started straight shaving. Aftershave can fill a number of roles in the shave process, depending on the requirements of the user and what the other elements of the routine are:
  1. disinfect micro-lacerations (and sometimes not so micro lacerations) created by shaving
  2. astringent to help blood vessels to contract and pores to close
  3. skin soothing and repair
  4. moisturizing
  5. scent
Element #1 is usually accomplished by having a certain % of the formulation in alcohol. This also provides a cooling sensation while the alcohol evaporates and a burning sensation as the alcohol seeps into the cuts and raw skin (if present) on the post-shave face. Not everyone needs or wants this.

An astringent can choke off minor bleeding by encouraging contraction of capillaries, and helps irritated skin to recover. Witch hazel is a good astringent. Some shavers use a block of alum for this, or skip an astringent altogether.

Many aftershaves contain ingredients to help the skin recover from being partially scraped off with a razor blade; aloe vera is a great example. Depending on the skin and technique of the shaver, this may not be necessary either.

Almost everyone needs to moisturize after shaving, since it involves intimate and prolonged action with soap on the delicate facial skin, and extreme exfoliation. But of course this can be accomplished with a dedicated moisturizer.

Finally, one very popular reason people have for using aftershave is as a way of applying scent. But this is just a different way of putting on cologne.

So in summary, aftershave can fill a number of roles, and while these can be left out entirely or delivered by another product, aftershave can satisfy a number of requirements in a single step. Plenty of people don't use aftershave at all, and I have tried simply skipping it and moisturizing after a cold water rinse and dry. But my feeling was that my skin was less irritated afterwards and healed a bit better with the witch hazel application.

Using the in house produced ingredients currently available to me, I thought I could formulate a simple aftershave to evaluate. The alcohol could be supplied by my homebrew hard cider, and aloe vera could be harvested from the plant I got last year (for the express purpose of producing gel for personal products!).

Hard cider is 5-6% alcohol by volume, which is not high enough to keep spoilage at bay if exposed to bacteria and molds. So using the hard cider as an input, I generated a few hundred ml of a hard cider based liquid with a boosted alcohol content. Perhaps 15-20% ABV? There are multiple ways to accomplish this, some of which are easier than others. One option would be to add food or cosmetic grade alcohol to a portion of regular hard cider. Other methods are available, but can be looked upon dimly by the law.

One attractive characteristic of hard cider is that it is full of tannins, which have a strong astringent quality. The 2012 cider has a particularly bitter character due to the high percentage of Yarlington Mill apples used to make it, so it should be excellent at supplying tannins to my razor ravaged skin.

We started with my increased alcohol content hard cider based liquid, loaded into a ground glass stopper antique pyrex bottle.

Violet and I cut some pieces from the aloe plant and split them open.

 We scraped the gel out with a kitchen knife.


The gel had some pulp and green bits in it, so we strained it first, which took some time. The stuff has the consistency of thick snot.

In she goes!

Hmm, will it dissolve?

After plenty of agitation, it did seem to go into solution in the cider liquid, and increased its viscosity significantly.

I added a label, lamentably not letterpressed at the current time. One problem with the apothecary bottle is that it retains a big drip on the edge when I pour a dollop onto my palm for use. The drip then runs down the outside of the bottle. To avoid this, I bought a smaller ground glass stopper bottle off ebay with a dropper built in. The idea would be to use this on a routine basis to dispense the product, and to refill it from the large bottle when necessary.

I've shaved using this as an aftershave a few times now, and it is actually very nice. I have the impression that my skin actually is less irritated and heals faster than it does with the witch hazel treatment. Must be those magic tannins! There is more of a burn for a few seconds when I put it on; perhaps this is higher alcohol than the witch hazel (apparently 15% alcohol), or maybe it's the acids in the cider.

Another benefit is that there is a remnant odor of delicious home made hard cider for a while after use. Of course the alcohol evaporates quickly, so I don't smell like a complete hillbilly, but the hard cider scent does linger on for maybe an hour.

Becky says after using it, my face smells like "barf". It should be said that she doesn't drink cider anymore, after an unfortunate evening a number of years ago involving drinking cider followed by onset of the flu. Well, she's missing out on the good stuff!

I am still moisturizing with a commercial lotion as a final step, but that product is next on my list of things to take charge of with a home made formulation.

We'll see how I'm liking this stuff after I run through this bottle, and whether or not it stays good for months on end sitting on the shelf. I do like it so far, but one conundrum is that the cider that goes into aftershave is then unavailable for drinking, which is kind of a shame... ;)


Alex Carr said...

Refrigerate it to keep it fresh and for a cool brace.

Anonymous said...

Hey Holly:

How did you concentrate the cider? Freezing? Or did you distill? I understand that homemade hard liquor is all the rage these days. Maybe B would not have the same bad associations with homemade calvados...


Peter Lappin said...

I was wondering that myself: what's the shelf life for something like this?

Holly Gates said...

I think the shelf life is down to the alcohol percentage. Things we think of as liquor will keep for a long time, because nothing much can live in the liquid with such a high alcohol content. As fermented beer and cider, at about 5-6% and even wine, at 12% or so, is alcoholic enough that some bugs are inhibited, but there are still plenty of bacteria and fungi which can live in those. Brewers (including homebrewers) must take care to limit exposure of their finished product to stray microbial life other than yeast.

My bottle of witch hazel is 15% alcohol, so I was taking that as an indicator of what you need to prevent bug growth. I think my cider aftershave is higher than that, but I haven't taken the data to determine it with any certainty.

As Alex points out, I could refrigerate it and that would keep it good probably indefinitely. But my fridge is a bit of a walk from where I shave, and I'm sort of curious if it is strong enough to keep at room temp. If it goes south and I want to keep on using cider aftershave, the fridge would be a good solution.

As for the process used to get the alcohol content up, If indeed I had distilled it or freeze concentrated it, these things are technically illegal or have a good chance of being so as far as I can tell, so putting up details of doing them on the internet would probably be foolish. I will however say it was NOT distilling.

Alex Carr said...

I keep my eyedrops in the refridgerator. You're right, it is a bit of a walk.