Recently, I introduced our guide to shaving creams and shaving soaps, but there is another tool that is at least as important: the shaving brush.A few decades ago almost every man who shaved used one. Due to modernization, quick and easy disposable products like shaving foams gained in popularity while the shaving brush became somewhat obsolete. It is only with hindsight that men are finally beginning to realize the importance of shaving, of taking care of their skin, and thus of the brush. Once you use a shaving brush you will never go back. It is much more efficient, employing a smaller amount of shaving cream for a rich and warm lather, and there are less waste and fewer cans making it a greener alternative. For those who want to use a shaving soap or cream, a brush is indispensable.
This is part of a series about traditional wet shaving. Make sure to take a look at:
Brief History of Shaving Brushes
Before brushes, there were sea sponges: men used them to lather up soap to their faces. The Shaving Brushes with bristles as we know them today were invented by the French in the eighteenth century. Since then, different kinds of bristles have been used – both natural and synthetic.
Advantages of a Shaving Brush
The purpose of the brush is fourfold:
- it generates a rich and warm lather;
- it softens and lifts the facial hair off the face;
- it brings and maintains the right amount of warm water to the skin during the shaving process which helps open pores and lubricate the skin;
- it gently exfoliates the surface of the skin to rid it of dead cells.
By virtue of its numerous bristles, a shaving brush is the best way to generate a warm and unctuous lather. Rich lather is important because it protects and lubricates the skin. In addition, the gentle friction of the bristles on your face as you lather up arms the shaving cream and your skin, softening the beard and opening pores. The brush helps guide the direction of your whiskers as they loosen up in their pores, preparing them for the blade. The shaving brush is also ideal for ensuring adequate moisture to the face when shaving: it captures and transports the moisture from the sink, through the bristles to your skin and beard. This is a far more efficient method of wetting your skin than cupping water in your hands and bringing it to your face when shaving, which is what you have to do without a brush. Finally, the brush provides gentle exfoliation and removes dead surface cells, something that fingers alone cannot do.
Types of Shaving Brushes
Shaving brushes are mostly made from the hair of badgers, boars, horses or synthetic fibers.
The bristle taken from boars are harder than badger hair and are at first very coarse, which is not so comfortable on the skin. The courser texture of the bristles makes it very useful for lathering soaps well because of its ability to agitate the surface of the soap very easily. Over time the tips of the bristles will soften and feel a bit more broken in, but will never be as soft on the face as badger hair. Colors range from yellow to white, often with a black imitation band as decoration. The price of a boar brush is hard to beat. You can get a decent boar shaving brush for less than $ 10. Interestingly, boar bristle brushes are particularly favored by Italian barbers. The Italian Omega brand makes a good variety of shaving brushes and in particular excellent boar shaving brushes. If you can’t find the Omega brand you can also purchase the Proraso shaving brush which is produced by Omega.
Horsehair is finer and softer than boar, but slightly stiffer than badger hair. Horsehair brushes come in as many colors as do horses. They seem to be favored particularly in Spain and are compared to badger modestly priced (price range: $ 20 to $ 40). The Spanish company Vie-Long is a good source for horsehair brushes.
Synthetic bristles have been significantly improved in recent years. The cheapest brushes still use relatively thick nylon bristles and are not particularly comfortable. But you can also find amazing products made from high-quality synthetic fibers analogously to the best natural badger hair. In particular the synthetic Silvertip Fibre v2.0 brushes made by the German brand Mühle are top notch. The first version of these brushes wasn’t as goodbut these new fibers are astonishingly soft and extremely long-lasting. In fact, the tips are softer than any animal hair brush, while also being less sensitive in everyday as they dry faster than natural hair. This kind of synthetic bristle was designed and engineered specifically for shaving and some like them better than animal hair brushes. On top of that, these brushes are PETA-approved, vegan, and perfectly suited for men who are allergic to animal hair or badger hair. As if that wouldn’t be enough, you will also need about half of the amount of shaving cream or soap compared to an animal hair brush. The best synthetic bristle brushes retail between $ 40 and $ 140.
Badger hair has been used for more than two centuries to make the shaving brushes. There are essentially four different grades of badger hair: pure, best, super and silver tip, though the meaning and the names of the categories may vary by manufacturer.
Pure badger hair is the least expensive of the four grades and ranges in color from brownish-grey to black. The hairs are more flexible than boar bristles and usually coarser in texture than higher grade badger hair. Their solid quality will perform well for wet shavers who like a massaging effect while preparing to shave. Pure graded brushes normally offer a good value in quality for the price (price range: $ 35 to $ 70). A pure badger lasts on average three years.
Best Badger offers a significant improvement in feel and quality over pure badger. The hair ranges in color from lighter brown to gray and has better water absorbing capabilities than pure badger. On the face, best grade hair has a softer feel and is not as scratchy as pure. Best graded brushes are priced between $ 50 to $100 and lasts on average six years.
The super badger grade is even softer on the face and has little to no scratchiness on the skin. The hair has a color pattern with a black banded midsection and whiter tips than the other quality hair types. The density and water holding capacity of super badger brushes offers a noticeable difference in performance. Super badger is significantly more expensive than best badger (price range: $ 75 to $ 150) and can last up to ten years.
Silver tip is the best and the most expensive grade of hair. Like super badger hair, the silver tip has a very distinct color banding, but usually a more defined contrast in color between the black and white-silver color bands. Silver tip hair is gentle and luxurious, like a soft sponge that massages the lather on to the face. The price range for the silver tip category usually starts at $150. An average silver tip badger brush will last ten years or more.
Knot & Loft Height
Now, all of these shaving qualities come in different knot sizes (the diameter of the knot base – usually measured in mm) and the loft height, which is the height from the base to the top. As you can imagine, longer hairs will feel softer but it also depends on the thickness of the hair. Some people prefer a big loft, while others prefer a small one. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference, though the big diameter knot brushes with a high loft are generally softer and more expensive than the smaller brushes.
A new brush will always shed in the beginning, but after 10 – 15 shaves, a good brush will stop to shed. In order to accelerate the shedding process, some people wash their brush with shampoo or comb it. In my experience, you’ll be fine if you just use it until it stops. Brushes of lower quality will never stop shedding and you will have hair even 6 months down the line. So, if you have a brush that sheds even after many uses, go return it.
The handles of shaving brushes are meant to be balanced, to fit comfortably in your hand, and have a solid grip. Brush manufactures usually offer different sizes and weights, depending on the size of your hand.
A wide variety of materials is used for handles. The most common are metal, wood, horn and synthetic.
Metal handles are often made of brass and are subsequently plated with chrome or nickel in order to increase their durability. Chrome shines brightly, while nickel appears somewhat darker and warmer. Aluminum, on the other hand, is anodized to harden the surface and to increase its resistance to water and scratching.
The wooden handles can be made of all kind of wood types such as pine, sycamore, ash, beech and olive wood. Sometimes you can even find more exotic wood types like the bog oak. This wood is taken from tree trunks that have lain embedded in bogs and can be millennia old. African Blackwood handles are highly water resistant by nature. The Thuja wood handle surface is sealed in a special process and therefore thoroughly water resistant. The briar burl also used frequently for pipe manufacturing, which is distinguished by its beautiful reddish-brown color and a vivid grain.
A good option for a horn handle is buffalo horn, which is distinguished by its beautiful structure and great durability.
Handles made from synthetic materials are highly durable, but not always possess a compelling haptic experience.
The best brushes are those that are handcrafted, as they tend to keep their bristles, and thus last longer than machine-made ones. My favorite manufacturers of shaving brushes are Edwin Jagger, Omega and Mühle.
Edwin Jagger is an English Company established 1988 in the Sheffield region, famous for its traditional crafts and legendary metal. The art of processing metals and materials to an excellent level can be seen in particular throughout the Edwin Jagger brush collection. For nearly 20 years, the brand has been pursuing a policy of meeting the highest quality standards and to produce outstanding badger hair brushes in all different grade qualities.
The afore-mentioned Omega brand is Italy‘s leading brush maker since 1946. The brand marks a complete range of quality shaving brushes, in boar bristle, pure badger or synthetic fibers. Omega brushes are produced in Bologna and diffused all over the World, even in those countries in which a well-established and qualified domestic production still exists. Particularly their boar brushes can be recommended.
Mühle (often spelled Muhle or Muehle) is a German company and probably one of the leaders in high-quality shaving brushes during the last decades. The traditional craftsmanship is often combined by pioneering design, for example by using carbon ($680) or Asian lacquer($612) for the handles. Although, they offer great synthetic brushers, the silver tip badger hair brush crafted by hand is regarded as their classic product (between $100-$200).
Video Portrait of the Mühle company:
What Shaving Brush Should You Buy?
Now you might wonder which one to buy and sadly there is not a single best brush out there, because it really depends on what you like. Some men prefer coarser bristles over harder ones or vice versa. Others will never use synthetic while a vegan may swear by them. For example, Sven Raphael Schneider currently uses a more exotic brush from Sam & Son, which is made in Australia, I use Mühle, Edwin Jagger and Omega…
We talked to John Koontz, the owner of the shaving store West Coast Shaving, woh started his shaving business in 2007 and sells online as well as from his store in Chino Hills, CA. He suggested the following brushes for various reasons. Of course, there are lots of other brushes out there, and everybody has their favorite. This is by no means a definitive list but a selection of someone who has received a lot of feedback from customers over the last 6 years.
1. Edwin Jagger Best Badger Brush, Medium, Imitation Ivory $41
One of our two most popular brushes for those starting with wet shaving. Not very luxurious, but it does what it needs to do with impeccable quality. You won’t find a better made brush, just better materials. The fit and finish are very nice, it’s stylish, and with a great price of $41 it is affordable.
2. Simpson Colonel X2L Best Badger Shaving Brush (X2L) $64
Our other most popular starter brush. Some may find it just a tad on the small side, but it’s a heck of a brush for the price of $64.40 . The Simpson Best hair used in it rivals top of the line for other brands. We sell a ton of them and I can only think of one complaint ever – the size. Whips up lather equally well with soap and cream. Comfortable, long handle makes it very ergonomic. If I had to start over with one brush, I would pick this one. Simpson has that old world English character to it as well.
3. Shavemac #177 23mm Finest Badger Shaving Brush, Faux Ivory $89
Just an all-around great brush. It does everything well and nothing poorly. It’s not as fancy as others, and there are others more or less expensive…it’s a magnificent brush in the mid segment that works for almost everybody without being the best in anything. I have one and it’s one of my benchmarking brushes when trying soaps and creams for the first time. Price $89.
4. Da Vinci UOMO 290 Silvertip Badger Shaving Brush $ 165
One of my newest favorite brands. Besides the fantastic look, the handle is extremely comfortable, but what impresses me most is the knot: very dense, silky soft tips, and feels outstanding on the face – simply superb! Of course, quality has its price and at $165 it is not inexpensive but worth every penny in my opinion.
5. Kent BLK12 Silver Tip Badger Shaving Brush, Black $250
For those that want the ultimate and most luxurious shaving experience. No one beats the softness of the Kent Silvertip tips. Super fine and super soft. It’s like rubbing down feathers on your face. Note that it’s not dense, and some might even say “floppy”. So if you want density or a scrubby feel, this is not your brush. Caution, this brush is it’s huge and comes with a glorious handle – definitely made to impress. $250 buys you the softest silver tip brush out there.
6. Simpson Chubby 3 Best Badger Shaving Brush (CH3B) $210
The ultimate soap brush. Shoot, some say the ultimate brush, period. Huge and just about the most dense brush you can find. Packed with the Simpson Best, it’s a beast. Soft, with loads of firmness, and ideal for the ones who feel the Kent BLK12 is too soft for them. Handmade in England, it retails for $210.
7. Mühle Edition Classic, Sophist, African Blackwood , silvertip, 23 mm L $190
The author’s favorite. Perfectly Balanced and marvelous haptics even when wet. Extremely soft and absorbent silver tip badger hair. Priced at $190 or €110.
8. Omega 10048 professional, boar bristle shaving brush $9
Many Italian barbers use this brush, and one of the best boar bristle brush on the market. Priced at $9 you can’t go wrong and you should definitely buy one just to see how you like boar bristles.
How to Use a Shaving Brush
Fill the sink with hot water, dip or leave the brush in it until the bristle hairs are completely soaked with hot water and then remove the brush; alternatively, hold the brush under a hot running faucet. Do not tap too much excess water off the brush. The point is for the bristles to retain as much water as possible so it can keep your face hydrated and protected during the shaving process. With circular motions, run the bristles over the soap to generate lather. The longer you whisk, the richer the lather, and the more protection it provides to the skin. Twenty seconds should do.
If you are using a lathering cream instead of soap, wet the tip of the shaving brush slightly, open the center of the brush, and place two fingertips‘ worth of cream into the center of the brush. Close up the tip and submerge it in hot water for about twenty seconds. Remove from the water and begin lathering. If you feel you need more water during the course of shaving, dip the tip of the brush in water and flick it gently to removing excess, if necessary.
Once the brush is on your face, it‘s important to use just the right amount of pressure. Too much can cause bristles to flatten on your face, which flattens whiskers, to little won‘t provide enough friction for good lather.
Here is a good video of how to use, store and clean a shaving brush:
Prior to their first use, new brushes should be washed well using warm soapy water. The distinct odor of new animal hair brushes goes away after a few uses. Never use chemical detergents to clean the brush or to get rid of the initial smell.
To care for your badger brush, do not leave the lathered brush standing. It‘s important to rinse it well after each use under warm running water. Otherwise, soap residue can destroy the bristles. Remove excess water and dry the brush by repeatedly shaking out the remaining water, then hang it up with the bristles facing down. When moist do not keep the brush in closed containers such as toilet bags. This ensures that it‘s kept away from moisture and mildew, which softens the glue that holds the bristles to the handle, causing them to fall off.
You will know it is time to replace your brush when the bristles fall out or start to disintegrate in the water.
This is part of a series about traditional wet shaving. Make sure to take a look at: