Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Alum Block

with 32 comments

As you know, I glide an alum block over my wet, freshly-shaved face—the last step before a final rinse (and do rinse off the alum after it sits a while) and the aftershave, and something that adds a lot to the shave experience. The alum block makes your face feel good and will stop weepers, though for real nicks and cuts you’ll need something like My Nik Is Sealed, which I apply following the aftershave on the rare occasions when I need it.

So: what is this alum block? This question came up in a comment on the “Beginning Shave Kit” post, so I did a little research.

Mama Bear sells a good alum block and also a very nice wooden rack for it. The block should last for a couple of years (unless you drop it on a hard floor). Scroll down to the bottom of this page, and you’ll see it. Classic Shaving also sells various alum blocks (look toward the bottom of the page), as does Em’s Place (scroll down).

According to Shavex, the company that makes the alum blocks sold by Mama Bear: “The Alum Block (for shaving and deodorant purposes) is usually Potash Alum. Potash Alum doesn’t sting so much as Ammonium Alum, but some companies do use Ammonium Alum as a shaving block.”

One inexpensive form of Potassium Alum (aka Potash Alum) is deodorant crystal sticks—for some reason these are often priced much less than the Alum Block for shavers. But look closely at what the deodorant crystal is made of—one shaver found that only one of several brands at his market was Potash Alum and all the others were Ammonium Alum.

For more info, see the Wikipedia article on Alum.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out in the ShaveMyFace.com forum that Indian stores (i.e., featuring products from India) will often have Alum blocks: they call it “phatkari.” They use it to sterilize cuts and nicks in India, among other assorted uses.

UPDATE 2: When the weather’s hot, try keeping the alum bar in the freezer when you’re not using it: gliding the frigid bar over your wet, freshly shaved face is a real treat in hot weather.

UPDATE 3: FOR USE AS A STYPTIC: For a long time I used an alumb black as a skin treatment, gliding the dry block over my freshly shaved beard area, still wet from the final rinse after shaving. I let it sit a few moments while I tidied round the sink, then rinsed, dried, and applied aftershave. I noticed that this treatment would seal weepers but would not offer any real help for a true nick or cut.

But when using the block as a styptic, you use it a bit differently: wet a corner of the block and press it firmly against the nick/cut and hold it there for 30-40 seconds. That turns out to have an immediate styptic action and now I prefer the alum block to any other styptic I have.

 

Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2007 at 7:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

32 Responses

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  1. Hi,I have been shaving for years and have tried wet shaving which i so prefer but i get such a rash on the sides of my neck and on my chin it gets so unbearable.I shave now with an electric shaver but i find i cannot shave everyday as i find i get a rash on the second day of shaving.I would be so grateful if you could advice me on what would be best for very sensitive skin,what type of shaving,what shaving cream and what to put on it afterwards.
    Thank you
    damion pike

    Like

    damion

    13 April 2007 at 5:26 am

  2. The rash could have several causes, so let’s try these:

    First, you could have an allergy to the shaving cream you used. Try rubbing a bit inside your forearm and letting it sit to see whether your skin reacts. If it does, try a shaving cream that is more neutral—e.g., ask for a sample of Truefitt & Hill Ultimate Comfort and see how that works.

    Second, you don’t mention which blade(s) you tried. Some guys just can’t use some blades. So if you try again, by all means get the blade sampler pack and try various makes.

    Third, the razor might be at fault, particularly if you have an adjustable used at a high setting. If you do have an adjustable, dial it down to the lowest setting. After one shave, if it’s not close enough, advance it a very little, then try that for the next shave, and so on.

    Finally, and I think the most likely cause: bad blade angle and too much pressure. The sides of the neck are often a trouble area since technique falters here and the shaver uses too much pressure and/or too steep a blade angle. With a blade that you find works for you, shave the area (using very short strokes so you can concentrate) with very light pressure and being careful to keep the blade almost parallel to the skin.

    For aftershave, try one of the Thayers Witch Hazels or a soothing balm that you can find at the drugstore, like Nivea.

    Let me know how that works. Hope this helps.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    13 April 2007 at 7:04 am

  3. Here’s a source I found for Potash Alum blocks. 80 gram blocks for $1.69 each! I haven’t purchased from them yet, but at this price I have to try one. I’ll post a review when mine arrives.

    http://www.tulumba.com/storeItem.asp?ic=BB547960UD875

    Like

    Thomas Wentzel

    25 May 2007 at 5:29 am

  4. In the appendix to the book, I list Tulumba as a source for alum blocks. The block you get from them is rather small, but it works fine. The Shavex block from Mama Bear or the Classic Shaving alum block is larger, which I like. But still: compare 120 g vs 80 g, and then $10 vs $1.70: the Tulumba blocks are a good deal.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    25 May 2007 at 5:53 am

  5. I should have known you would be on top of it . Kudos.

    Like

    Thomas Wentzel

    25 May 2007 at 6:05 am

  6. First of all, great site. Loads of help on all fronts.

    I was wondering if you knew if there’s been any research done on the possible toxicity of Alum?

    From my understanding, which is very little, aluminium is a neurotoxin with all sorts of nasty effects if it’s left to build up in the body.

    Alum is a crystal salt containing small amounts of aluminium. Aluminium seems to be absorbed through the skin, so I was wondering if you’ve ever seen the safety of alum become an issue in the wetshaving community or elsewhere.

    Not that I’m likely to stop using my alum block, mind you.

    Thanks for your time!

    Like

    David Seaboldt

    5 June 2007 at 11:58 pm

  7. I don’t know of any direct research done, but alum has been used for generations in the making of pickles. I’m taking my chances.

    So far as the toxicity of aluminum is concerned, remember that both sodium and chlorine are horribly toxic and dangerous substances, but sodium chloride is essential in our diet.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    6 June 2007 at 5:39 am

  8. I just bought a deodorant crystal (pure ammonium alum) to use it as a cheap surrogate for the (quite expensive) quality shaving alum bars. Sadly, I have to say it doesn’t do the job. It stings, yes, but it does do nothing to those nasty small nicks. I think I have to stay with the expensive potassium alum stuff (which is more expensive due to postage costs, because you only get it via internet).

    Like

    Ralf

    11 July 2007 at 4:47 am

  9. Some deodorant crystals are potash alum, but not all. One guy said that in his market, of several brands, he found just one that was potash instead of ammonium alum.

    The alum block really is not to stop bleeding from nicks and cuts. For that you use something like My Nik Is Sealed, which I apply after the aftershave on those occasions when I need it. The alum block is just to make your face feel good, act as an antiseptic, cause that skin-tightening feeling, etc. Its use is primarily pleasure.

    I rewrote the description above to reflect this. Hope this helps.

    If there are any Indian grocery stores in the area, they may have it. You can also check grocery stores. If you order My Nik Is Sealed from the link (and I think it’s very good stuff indeed), you can add an alum block—just scroll around on that page and you’ll find it.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    11 July 2007 at 6:21 am

  10. Hi Michael,

    That’s an interesting piece of information, because I also thought its purpose was the same as a styptic pencil. It is sold as a ‘Blutstiller’ (something to stop bleeding) in Germany, which indeed can be misinterpreted. While a German discount store started to offer an 100 gr. alum crystal deodorant-stick for 1.95 Euros, it was too tempting not to try it out. To be honest, personally I don’t notice much difference between the ammonium alum and the standard potash alum bar (which I have to admit I don’t use very often), but there were several discussions on the German wet shavers forum about the general quality of alum bars. It was considered, that these are highly different depending on the manufacturer, and therefore of course on price (OSMA from France e.g. was considered mediocre, those from Mühle or Manufactum were considered top notch). Not being an alum fan as I mentioned, I’m not very tempted to spend 10 or 12 Euros for 100gr. bar (plus postage). Maybe I should, but I guess and I’m afraid the results for me wouldn’t be that different.

    P.S.: I *really* enjoy reading your blog!!!

    Like

    Oliver

    12 July 2007 at 3:44 am

  11. Thank you for the kind comment. I know from comments on the shaving forums that the alum block appeals to some, not to others. I don’t always use it, but I do like it when I do. But to stop the bleeding from a nick or cut, it’s not nearly so good as a styptic pencil or (better) a liquid styptic.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    12 July 2007 at 6:07 am

  12. Very interesting and informative. I do have a question though. Does the alum block contain some form of aluminum, which I have read contributes to the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease? The very reason I have stopped using antiperspirants containing Aluminum chlorhydrate.
    Thanks for your time.

    Like

    RastaJohnny66

    26 January 2008 at 8:52 pm

  13. The alum block is hydrated aluminum potassium sulfate. But avoiding alum because aluminum is part of the chemical is like avoiding table salt because it contains the highly poisonous elements sodium and chlorine (NaCl). The aluminum is in the compound. And, in any event, it looks highly unlikely that aluminum has anything to do with Alzheimer’s disease: see this report. And the little exposure from using the alum bar as described—gliding it over your wet, freshly-shave beard and then rinsing—would offer minimal exposure in any case.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    27 January 2008 at 8:38 am

  14. Great blog!
    Hopefully I will not get your wrath upon me for this question. I think it’s confusing about the differencies of styptic pencils and alum blocks.
    I have this styptic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styptic, bought for my cuts. Then we talk about alum block. The classicshaving link you have here, is confusing too… The classic brand alum styptic… styptic again… but this isn’t the pencil I have? Right?
    Is it the potash one I wish to have, for your describing parts in alum block use? Or is it Ammonium one? The styptic I have, is it ammonium?
    In sweden, they sell alum block… Edwin Jagger-Alumn block…and describe it’s used to stop bloodflows of cuts. So I’m confused.
    So what to look for when buying an alum block… not styptic pencil since I got one? And as far as I’ve read, the styptic I have is not same substance as alum block.
    WOOW… hopefully, your wrath is not upon me…. 🙂
    Thanks for help

    Like

    Jimmy

    27 April 2008 at 3:22 am

  15. No wrath. Alum blocks will indeed stop blood from minor cuts and “weepers”, but (at least for me), for real action in that department I use a styptic (My Nik Is Sealed, as mentioned above). I use the alum block differently: as described, it’s an end-of-shave treat. The Classic Shaving Pure Block Alum Styptic is indeed the alum block. It’s almost certainly potash alum. If you find a block that’s labeled “alum” in the shaving section, it’s an alum block. I would think the Edwin Jagger would work well.

    A styptic pencil is pencil in shape, not a block, and normally is not potash alum. It is probably titanium dioxide or anhydrous aluminum sulfate.

    Hope this helps.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    27 April 2008 at 8:35 am

  16. Sweet, thanks for reply.
    So the block should be potash (potassium), if using like you are talking about. And not ammonium.
    The Bloc Osma, I think is potash, you know anything about that?

    And on my styptic it actually reads aluminium sulfate.
    So I only have to get a block with potash…. If I wish, thanks for helping again.

    One more thing, I don’t need alum blocks for shaving like Bloc Osma? Does it works really just with an block of alum, (if potash)…

    Anyway, your blog has helped me on my DE shaving route… it’s really fun, been doing it for 2 days… hehhe 🙂

    Like

    Jimmy

    27 April 2008 at 8:46 am

  17. Not potash, but potash alum (= potassium alum). I don’t know Bloc Osma, unfortunately.

    The use of the alum block is optional. It’s a nice end-of-shave routine, but not necessary. So if you can’t find what you want, just skip that step.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    27 April 2008 at 8:52 am

  18. Hi,
    I bought Alum Blocks from both Mana Bear and Classic Shaving, and both are same…..I think both come from Shavex. Very good product though.

    Like

    Mario Sanchez

    14 June 2008 at 10:33 pm

  19. In india the stuff is dirt cheap but it works so nicely as a deodorant/aftershave! by dirt cheap i mean a 6 month supply will cost you $0.25 probably. i usually stock up when i go there because in USA they will sell it to you for a couple bucks.

    Like

    agd

    10 September 2008 at 4:48 pm

  20. BTW, the $0.25 is the exact same unpackaged block that is selling at classicshaving.com. I was thinking about importing these and selling them here.

    Like

    agd

    10 September 2008 at 4:51 pm

  21. Leisure guy! Great site! Could you help me? I just received my Vulfix #2234 and want to keep it in great order. Do you reccommend ever cleaning it?, and if you do how? I’ve heard everything from dip it in Barbicide every 6 months, to do nothing at all besides shaking it out real well after shaving. Knowing that badger hair is hollow, I was wondering about the whole bacteria thing after months or years of use. What’s your take on it? Thanks!

    Like

    Aaron

    24 October 2008 at 7:02 am

  22. I’ve cleaned one of my brushes once, but in general, I don’t clean them other than, after shaving, rinsing them out thoroughly with hot water, then with cold water, then shaking them well and standing them on the base on an open shelf to dry. But my water is not particularly hard. If you have very hard water, you may have to clean the brush as it gradually becomes waterproof. In the book, I explain the method and provide links to some brush cleaners. Here’s a link to Em’s method, which works well.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    24 October 2008 at 8:31 am

  23. I really appreciate it! I just ordered the book from momma bears along with the almond gylc and the alum bar. Thanks again!

    Like

    Aaron

    24 October 2008 at 9:49 am

  24. I’m delighted that you’ve ordered the book. It really does contain everything that I could possibly tell a new shaver, and I think that, on the whole, it provides a good introduction and a good collection of tips—plus the appendix, which provides links to all sorts of information.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    24 October 2008 at 9:55 am

  25. Alum is fine to use.

    Aluminum is highly toxic – but it oxidizes rapidly in air, forming a passivation layer of inert aluminum oxide.

    Moreover, alum is easily synthesized from aluminum, and is completely safe to use – table salt poses more of a risk than alum, as sodium chloride is composed of a toxic metal and a noxious gas – chemistry is complex, and is the basis of our world, and allows luxuries such as shaving to be possible.

    Good luck and happy shaving.

    Like

    N.M.

    29 December 2008 at 1:43 am

  26. I also find that dipping my razor in denatured ethyl alcohol for a couple of minutes before and after each shave kills off any bacteria which may have accumulated on the blade, and helps to preserve the blade from oxidation, which you may have discussed in your book.

    Good luck and happy shaving.

    Like

    N.M.

    29 December 2008 at 1:50 am

  27. @Damion
    I had a similar problem with shave bumps on my neck, even when using a Merkur safety razor. The solution I found was a razor called The Bump Fighter; a single blade razor with a guard so it cuts hairs off above the skin rather than below like a conventional razor. Obviously this will not cut as close as a regular safety razor, so you have a VERY minor amount of stubble left, but I don’t break out or get razor burn any more.

    You could just use the Bump Fighter on your neck and something like a Merkur on the rest of your face.

    Like

    WD

    1 February 2009 at 12:11 pm

  28. Hi,
    first of all i want to say this is a great site and the book from LeisureGuy was extremely helpful for me! Thanks! Very good book!

    (I’m from Germany, please excuse my bad english)
    Recently I wondered what a alum block is and if I should buy one.
    N.M. said (29 December 2008 at 1:43) “[…] Aluminum is highly toxic – but it oxidizes rapidly in air, forming a passivation layer of inert aluminum oxide.”
    I completely agree with this, but as LeisureGuy said the aluminium is in the compound and therefore its properties are completely different, as it ist with the chlorine gas and sodium metal when they form the sodium chloride which is essential.
    But I think the toxic form of the aluminium IS the form of the salt (and not the metal), because when the alum crystal is dissolved in water (as in the blood) the aluminium ions are free (as are the Na-Ions when sodium chloride ist dissolved in water).
    Anyway, as the non-compound form of aluminium (the metal form) it would have to swim as aluminium-nuggets through the veins 🙂

    Medicinal aluminium is said to be one of the factors generating alzheimer:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18392545

    I don’t know what to think about this. Can the dissolved aluminium get into my blood? What do you think?

    Like

    Chris.E

    8 April 2009 at 11:21 am

  29. Well, you’re right about the ions being freed by being dissolved—and, as you point out, this is true for the sodium (which is poisonous) and chlorine (also poisonous) ions when salt is dissolved—and yet salt is not only harmless, it is essential for life.

    I really don’t think using alum is a danger, but if you do, just don’t use it.

    Thanks for your kind remarks about the book.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    8 April 2009 at 11:32 am

  30. I paid $2.00 for a Alum block at the local indian store (they all have it) i payed way too much because in india, as marked on the package it was sold for 8.50 RUPEES…that is like 10 cents in US! I guess that’s import costs. haha

    Those in India and Nepal all use this after going to the barber for a shave…a very nice aftershave feeling.

    Now if I can only find some VI-JOHN shave lather cream….I got one named GODREJ will have to try it….boy, ALL the shaving creams in the USA suck hard! I swear by Indian-made shaving supplies now.

    Like

    andrew

    2 September 2010 at 10:19 pm

  31. I used an alum block for the first time today and it felt great! It stung a little but I could feel my skin thghtening up. I’ll add it to my daily routine and use it every day followed by Burt’s Bees aftershave balm.

    Like

    Rahul

    14 May 2014 at 8:29 am

  32. Do rinse off the alum after it has stayed on your face for a moment or two.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    14 May 2014 at 8:31 am


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