All You Need to Know About Alum Block
As someone who is constantly on the lookout for the best shaving method possible, today I thought I’d share with you a little known shaving secret that can help leave your skin feeling refreshed and even eliminate pain and irritation in those times when you’ve scraped away with a dull blade or rushed through your shave. What is this miracle product you may be asking? The answer…alum block.
Whenever I start extolling to my friends the virtues of alum block and try to explain to them the reasons I tend to use it religiously, i.e. after pretty much every single shave, most either simply roll their eyes (they’re probably just sick of me continuously rambling on about shaving) or they ask me something along the lines of “if it works so well, why haven’t I ever heard of it?” I generally have no response for the first group, but as to the second, I can easily answer their question with a single word—money. Yes, that’s right, the almighty dollar.
An alum block used to be a key part of any self-respecting man’s shaving kit, but this was in the time before shaving become a multi-billion dollar a year business. Instead, nowadays people tend to reach for aftershave creams, balms, splash or lotions after they shave. While these products are definitely useful, they still don’t quite provide the same benefits as alum block, which just happens to cost a fraction of the price of those other fancy newfangled post-shave skin relief products.
Since most men have never even heard of it, today we’ll tell you everything you could possibly need to know, including what is an alum block, which alum block is the best and where you can buy it.
What is an Alum Block and What Does It Do?
So by now you’re probably asking “just what is an alum block anyway?” Without getting too scientific, alum block is a natural astringent made from…you guessed it, alum. Ok, ok, just a bit more science. In technical terms, alum is a specific chemical compound called aluminum potassium sulfate, also known as potash alum. However, alum can also refer to an entire group of chemical compounds as well, but that’s really not important for our purposes, as most of these are only used for industrial purposes.
More important is what alum block actually does. As a natural astringent and antiseptic, alum block helps to cleanse and tighten the skin and close the pores, which helps to prevent razor burn and alleviate irritation. As it tightens the skin, alum block also helps to close up any minor nicks or cuts. It is also a coagulant, meaning it can make your blood clot and put a quick end to any bleeding from minor cuts. It is said that the ancient Egyptians were the first ones to use alum as an aftershave, more than 4,000 years ago, and yet it remains one of the best aftershave products around. So much for the benefits of technology and progress, right?
Another major benefit of using an alum block is that it helps to show you exactly how good or bad your shave was. When you apply it to your face, you should expect some minor tingling or stinging, which increases with the amount of skin irritation. Basically, if you got a good shave, the stinging will be minor, but if you’ve used a dull razor or didn’t take your time, you’ll definitely feel a stronger sensation, which can tell you it’s time to toss out that old blade. As the alum works itself into the cuts or nicks, you’ll definitely feel more pain in these areas, even if they’re not visible. This can also show you that you’re technique needs a bit or work, should you happen to continuously get minor nicks in the same places. This also may be a sign you are not using the right shaving instruments. You may want to check out our articles on the best safety razors, best shaving creams, best shaving brushes, and best shaving soaps.
Alum block is totally odorless, meaning it can be used by anyone, even those who wear cologne. It can also be used in conjunction with another after shave product, such as a high quality aftershave balm or other aftershave product. Just make sure to use the alum first, wait a few minutes and then apply the after shave. Better still, if you did happen to suffer a poor shave, using an alum block will help to limit the stinging and burning from the after shave, as the alum will close the nicks so that the aftershave doesn’t get into them.
What more, you ask? Well, alum block can even double as an excellent all-natural deodorant. Still, I’d probably recommend using a different block for your face and armpits, unless you’re fine with rubbing pit sweat all over your face.
- A Quick Note on Alum Deodorant. If you do happen to find an alum deodorant product, it will most likely work just fine on your face as well. However, it is important to see whether the product is made from potassium alum or ammonia alum. Both products tend to work equally well as deodorant and can provide the same benefits for your freshly shaved skin, but I would definitely not attempt to use ammonia alum on your face, as it burns like hell. I made this mistake once, but never, ever will I do it again.
How to Use Alum Block?
While alum block is really best used after a traditional wet shave, you’ll find it provides the same benefits after virtually any type of shave—and using it couldn’t be simpler. All you have to do is run the block under water for a second and then rub the block all over your wet face. The alum crystals should dry quite quickly, usually within a few seconds, and then you can leave your face as is, wash the alum crystals off or apply an after shave.
Personally, I find I get better results if I just let the alum dry on my face and then go about my day. However, you should be aware that you’re face will feel incredibly tight after using the alum, which may take some time to get used to. You’ll definitely notice the tightness whenever you attempt to laugh, smile or speak, but this typically fades away throughout the day. Still, if you find the feeling unbearable, you can always start washing the alum off in the morning and eliminate most of the discomfort. Either way, your skin should still reap the benefits.
One thing I really like about using alum block is that it really does feel quite refreshing, as it has a nice combination of cooling and tingling effects. Although I personally find it to be a bit too much, some men swear by soaking their alum block in ice cold water before using it, which provides a real wake up.
The most important thing to remember when using an alum block is that it absolutely must be left out to fully dry before you put it away, or else your block will be ruined before you ever get the chance to use it again. Not only that, but it takes a long time to dry, so you’ll likely have to leave it out until you get home from work if you shave in the morning. You probably also want to avoid leaving it out on a natural stone countertop, as the chemicals could cause staining or discoloration.
Alum Block vs. Styptic Pencil
A styptic pencil is another one of those shaving products that have kind of gone by the wayside, although there are still plenty of men who keep one on hand for those times they cut themselves while shaving. Both alum blocks and styptic pencils are made from alum and basically work in the same way. However, while alum blocks are generally made from aluminum potassium sulfate, styptic pencils generally contain plain aluminum sulfate.
Both types of alum work as a coagulant, closing cuts and stopping bleeding, but whereas alum block can be applied to the entire face, a styptic pencil is really only meant for cuts. Now this isn’t to say that you couldn’t use it on your whole face, but the fact is that aluminum sulfate is much stronger than aluminum potassium sulfate, meaning it stings a whole lot more. It also tends to leave white marks on the face, whereas alum block goes on clear.
Where to Buy Alum Block?
Probably one of the main reasons most men have never heard of an alum block is that they can sometimes be quite hard to find. This was a much bigger problem a few years ago, but nowadays, some drug stores and pharmacies have started selling alum. Similarly, you can often pick up alum in the deodorant section of many nature and health shops. However, the problem is that the alum blocks sold at these places are often three to times the price of what you can find online, which is why we definitely recommend ordering it off of Amazon.
Best Alum Block
After finally convincing my friends of its benefits, the next question they usually ask is “what is the best alum block?” In truth, there probably really isn’t such a thing as the “best alum block,” as virtually every product you’ll find contains only the same simple chemical ingredient, meaning there really isn’t a difference between various brands. That being said, you want to make sure whatever you purchase is made from pure, solid alum, as there are many cheaper Chinese versions out there that contain a lower grade, compressed alum, which doesn’t last nearly as long or work nearly as well.
So, other than making sure a product is made from solid alum, the main determining factor in which alum block you buy will probably be the price—especially as you can find alum blocks that range anywhere from $5 to $50. Of course, like most things in life, this doesn’t mean that I still don’t have my favorites. So, while most any alum block you’ll find should do, here are some of the ones that I have tried and can vouch for as being high quality, long lasting, and most importantly, affordable.
#1 RazoRock Alum Stick
Although virtually all alums are the same, RazoRock is nonetheless my favorite. Not only is the stick slightly larger—and thus longer lasting—than many others on the market (although it is still the smallest on our list of the best alum blocks), it also comes with its own container, which is incredibly helpful. Alum tends to be quite fragile and shatters easily, so it is important that you keep it stored away in some sort of container. Keeping your alum block in a container also helps to prevent it from getting wet, simultaneously ruining the block and leaking residue all over the place. However, this isn’t just any container, as RazoRock’s alum stick also features a rubber base on the bottom, ensuring it won’t slip out of your wet hands and shatter. RazoRock’s products also made our list for best shaving soap and best natural deodorant for men
#2 Gentleman Jon Alum Block
Gentlemen Jon Alum Alum Block definitely gives Razo Rock a run for its money at the top spot of the best alum block. I think it really comes down to personal preference in terms of the trade-offs between the two. You definitely can’t beat the price of the Gentleman Jon Alum Block, as it happens to be one of the biggest, cheapest alum blocks we’ve come across. It also happens to be the #1 Best Selling Shaving Alum & Styptic product on Amazon and has hundreds of glowing reviews, so you know it must be good. On the other hand, RazoRock has the rubber base which can help prevent the the block from slipping out of your hand. Still, alum blocks are cheap to replace, so it isn’t the end of the world if you do happen to drop it. Like RazoRock, Gentleman Jon alum blocks come with their own plastic protective case so they are easy to store and travel with. As you can see, the two are really neck and neck and you really can’t go wrong with either one.
#3 Shavex Alum Block
The cheapest product on our list, and therefore more than deserving of its place among the best alum blocks, Shavex is another excellent choice. Like Gentleman Jon and RazoRock, this one also comes with its own plastic carrying case.
#4 Bloc Osma Alum Block
Handmade in France, this Block d’Alun (or alum block for you non-Francophiles) is another one of the top sellers on Amazon. However, for the life of me, I can’t understand why being French or handmade really matters when it comes to an alum block, as they all tend to be the same. That being said, it works well and is quite affordable—especially if you get the two pack. Nonetheless, the lack of a case means Bloc Osma would never be my first choice for the best alum block.
Honorable Mention: Taylor of Old Bond Street & Geo F. Trumper
Taylor of Old Bond Street and Geo F. Trumper products have made many of our top lists including shaving soaps, shaving cream, shaving cream for sensitive skin, pre shave oil, and aftershave balm, but as I said, one of the most important considerations when choosing an alum block is price, and considering this factor, neither of the alum blocks made by Taylor of Old Bond Street or Geo F. Trumper really deserves a spot on this list. In fact, I really only included them to show you the differences out there. While all of the other products on our list of the best alum blocks generally sell for less than $10, both of these usually cost somewhere between $18-22 for the exact same thing with no plastic case. Now, there is no doubt that both of these are excellent shaving companies—producing some of the best products out there—you’re really paying extra for the brand name with these two alum blocks, and you’d be better off going for one of the cheaper ones.
- Check the current price of Taylor of Old Bond St here on Amazon
- Check out other unbiased user reviews here
- Check the current price here of Geo F. Trumper here on Amazon
- Check out other unbiased user reviews here
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Ben Rose is the founder and senior editor at Prim&Prep, the definitive guide to male grooming. He is a wet shaving expert, body grooming aficionado, and skincare guru. His work has been featured on many other prominent men’s publications including AskMen, Men’s Health, and GQ.