In the world of wet shaving there is one topic that everyone enjoys, argues over, debates, and critiques - and that is shaving soaps.
Personally, I find one of the most exciting parts of shaving is opening up a new soap, seeing how it lathers, how it shaves with, and the overall experience. This is why there are so many 'shave of the day' posts throughout the internet. Trying different and exciting soaps and creams is just fun!
I have found there is almost too much information out there on shaving soaps, and for a beginner it can be difficult to find key explanations and instructions - this post is my definitive guide in to what shaving soaps are and how to use them.
Let's break down everything about how to use shaving soap into these key points:
- Shaving Soap vs Shaving Cream
- What are high quality Shaving Soaps?
- How to Build Lather
- The relationship between soap and brushes
A common question for anyone getting into wet shaving is "what is the difference between shaving cream and shaving soap, and which one is better?"
In reality there is no one answer. It is simply a matter of personal preference, although most straight razor connoisseur's use shaving soaps.
Shaving creams are easier to use, because they are already lathered, while soaps are slower to use because they need a brush to work them up into a lather.
There is a big argument against most common shaving creams available in your local supermarket that they are full of chemical and numbing agents that are avoided in specially produced shaving soaps.
Each shaving soap requires a different amount of time to bring to a lather, and a different brush will be suited depending on the stiffness of the badger hair bristles. Different soaps also have different strengths of scent and this should be considered depending on the sensitivity of your skin.
When you are looking for a high quality shaving soap it can be almost impossible to tell from the descriptions available - it is the ingredients, their proportions, and the manufacturing process that can make all of the difference.
Typical shaving soaps are either tallow based or glycerin based. Tallow is animal fats (generally beef or mutton), and it is these fats that are key to the performance of a shaving soap - the fat acts as a lubricant between the razor blade and your skin, reducing the risk of cuts and razor burn.
The best way is to try it for yourself, of the alternative is to look through the various review sites available and see what other experienced wet shaving enthusiasts think about different soaps.
There are a few key points to look for when trying a new soap:
- How easy does it lather? Is the lather thick or watery? How long does it take to lather and how much effort do you have to put in?
- Does it provide sufficient lubrication on your skin to avoid cuts and razor burn?
- Is the scent nice? This is purely a personal preference, but it can make all the difference between the daily grind and an enjoyable experience. Regardless of how good the other aspects are I will generally not use a soap if I don't enjoy its smell.
- Some more practical matters - Price, availability, size, etc.
There is no such thing as 'the best shaving soap' - there is only which is the best for you. Try a few of the most popular soaps and some of the more obscure soaps and decide which one you prefer for yourself.
Lathering up a shaving soap is quite simple - however there are many people around who try to make it sound more complicated than it really needs to be.
The process goes like this:
- Start with a wet shaving brush
- Move the brush in small circles around the soap until enough soap has formed into bubbles - as you practice you will get a better understanding of how much you will need
- Move these bubbles from the soap surface to a bowl or your hand
- Move the brush in small circles as the soap continues to lather and the bubbles get smaller and thicker
- When the lather is thick enough then use the brush to apply it to your face
- If you intend to use multiple passes to shave then make enough lather to continue shaving
This is a quick video showing how to use a shaving brush to make lather from an Edwin Jagger shaving soap.
Here are a few quick tips:
- Make sure the brush is fully saturated
- I used my hand to build and store the lather but you can use a shaving bowl or scuttle
- Add extra moisture to the brush as required
Selecting and using a shaving brush can be difficult - there are various types of hair that can be used in the bristles and there are various grades of hair within each type.
If you are having trouble it might be the type of brush you are using - a soft soap works better with a soft bristled brush, and a hard soap works better with a hard bristled brush.
For more information please read through our Shaving Brush Buyer's Guide.