2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the year that everything happened — 1997. It was an ear-biting, Pierce Brosnan-loving, comet-obsessed world, and we’re here to relive every minute of it. Twice a week over the next 12 months, we will take you back to the winter of sheep cloning and the summer of Con Air. Come for the Chumbawamba, and stay for the return of the Mack. See all of the stories here.
I’ve never been one to use shaving cream. When my uncle taught me to shave during my impressionable teen years, he never used anything more than hot water, and, by his example, I ended up doing the same (until I began wearing a beard in my 20s, that is). There have been a few occasions where I’ve tried shaving cream or gel out of curiosity, but I never felt that it bettered the experience. Mostly, it just seemed to get in the way.
Because of this — and my decades as a Newman-hating, Festivus-celebrating, muffin-top-eating Seinfeld fan — I’ve always had some curiosity about Kramer’s so-called “butter shave” from Season Nine in 1997. Unhappy with his current shaving cream, Kramer switches to butter and is very pleased with the results, assuring Jerry, “It’s vastly superior to any commercial shaving cream. The shave is close and clean, and the natural emollients keep my skin silky smooth!” Having rewatched the episode recently while I was a bit scruffier than normal, I decided to finally satisfy the itch and give the butter shave a try.
Test #1: The Full Beard Removal
I figured I’d dive right into this experiment by using butter to shave my fully bearded face. This is how I looked before I began basting:
To start, I grabbed a half of a stick of butter out of the fridge and applied it to my beard. At first, I thought it might be too cold, but my skin warmed the butter plenty, so it smoothed on rather easily. But with a full beard, things quickly got messy, as the butter was caked into the layers of my facial hair. Before long, my face was sticky and slimy, and the butter began to drip down my neck. I stopped applying the butter when my cheeks were fully saturated, figuring I’d tackle this section by section.
By the way, the only thing more unpleasant than my buttery face was the stick of butter itself. Warm, slightly melted and covered in hair, the mere sight of the butter was stomach-turning.
The shaving did not go well. I was using a new, normal, three-bladed Gillette razor, but every time I tried to take a full stroke, the butter gummed up the blades. Again, I’m not big on shaving cream, but at least it rinses right off when you run it under water — not so for the butter, which caked between the blades and had to be scraped off with a Q-tip every few strokes.
Finally, I cleared my cheek, but when I looked at the clock, I realized that the frustrating experience had taken more than 20 minutes. Furious with the time-suck, I decided to give up on using the butter for my full beard. Instead, I used a trimmer to get rid of most of the beard first, then I resumed buttering from there.
Once my face was trimmed down to just stubble, I reapplied the butter to my face with a fresh half-stick. It went on clean and smooth, and I found it to be rather pleasant. I always thought shaving creams and gels made it harder to see what I was doing, but the butter was invisible, making it much easier to see where I’d shaved and where I hadn’t. The only problem was that it still didn’t rinse away easily, and the butter still had to be scraped off the blade with a Q-tip.
Once I was done, I was fairly happy with the results, though that first cheek was a bit irritated from all the extra strokes. After that, I jumped into the shower and went out for a haircut.
Test #2: The Daily Shave
My goal the next morning was to see how the butter would stand up as a regular, everyday shaving lubricant, which is precisely how Kramer was using it. The day before had been rough due to the beard, but I figured things would be better with just a bit of stubble to remove.
Indeed it was. The butter went on smooth and clean, and it worked rather nicely as a lubricant. The only problem, again, was that the butter could not be easily rinsed off. It got stuck between the blades once more and had to be scraped off, which was rather laborious. Still, I was pretty pleased with the results before jumping in the shower and starting my day.
Test #3: Butter, Butter Everywhere
My third day’s experiment came about by accident. I was planning to do a normal shave like I had the day before, but I was running a bit behind schedule to get my kid to school on time. So I applied the butter, shaved and scraped the butter off every few strokes, just like the day before. But I ran out of time to take a shower, so I had to run out of the house without thoroughly removing all the butter from my face.
In addition to dropping off my kid, I had to run a couple of errands, so the residual butter just sat on my face for nearly three hours. It started to smell really gross, particularly when I had a mask on. Normally, I love the smell and taste of butter, but with that smell just sitting on my face for hours, it began to turn my stomach. Once I finally got home, I couldn’t wait to jump in the shower and rid myself of it.
I’m sure it was psychological, but I swear I smelled it the rest of the day too. It was awful.
Test #4: A Few Days of Stubble
After my day of smelling butter everywhere, I took a few days off from the experiment. I didn’t exactly plan it that way, but once I finally remembered to shave again the next evening, I figured I’d see how the butter would work on a few days worth of stubble.
Sporting a five-day beard, I got myself another stick of butter and vigorously applied it to my face. The result wasn’t quite as bad as it was when I had a full beard, but it was still pretty frustrating. The butter seemed to glide over my stubble and was exceedingly difficult to get off. I stuck with it, though, and after a good 10 or 15 minutes, I was done. My face stung because of all the extra strokes, but fortunately, I left time for a shower that morning. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
Having shaved myself with butter for several days by this point, I began to take issue with one of Kramer’s claims from the episode. While the butter was “close and clean” with little irritation, the “natural emollients” did not “keep my skin silky smooth.” I tend to have dry skin anyway, but my beard area’s skin has felt even dryer over the last week. I wasn’t sure if the butter was to blame, though, so I called dermatologist Fayne Frey to see what she thought of butter-shaving and whether or not it could dry out one’s skin.
“Butter is not a great moisturizer,” she told me. “It’s a lot of saturated triglycerides [fats], which are lubricating, but there’s nothing in it that would moisturize your skin.” Still, she didn’t say it would necessarily dry me out either. She thought that the salt in the butter might dry out my skin a little, but it was more likely that the water from my vigorous de-buttering in the shower afterwards was to blame, as she explained that “water is a drying agent” as it strips the skin of its natural oils.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately, I did find the butter to be easy and pleasant to apply, and if you happen to shave every single day, it would be a perfectly fine lubricant, provided you wash it right off afterwards and don’t mind having to scrape butter off of a blade over and over again. However, if you shave irregularly — like me — using butter can be a disgusting mess, and I don’t recommend it.
The whole experience also made me think a little bit more deeply about that Seinfeld episode as a whole. After shaving with the butter for several days, Kramer ends up cooking himself by using the butter as a sunblock. After that, Newman fights the urge to actually eat the buttery-smelling Kramer. Although that’s not exactly what happened to me, it did make me think the episode was more of a cautionary tale than a recommendation to shave with butter. For now, I think I’ll just stick to buttering my bread instead of my face — perhaps I’ll even go out and get myself a nice marble rye.