Shaving Soap Guide

The Shaving Soap Guide

A few weeks ago, we presented  our ultimate guide to shaving creams and while many men prefer to use shaving cream products today, the classic way to create a rich lather is to use shaving soap.Therefore, we created a similar guide for shaving soaps as well.

Shaving Series

This is part of a series about traditional wet shaving.  Make sure to check out:

  1. Double Edge Razor Guide

  2. Straight Razor Guide

  3. Shaving Brush Guide

  4. Shaving Cream Guide

Historical Tidbits about Shaving Soap

The oldest soap recipe in the world – containing oil and ash – comes from the Sumerians. Since then over 5,000 years have passed but the principle of soap manufacturing has remained essentially the same. Oils and fats are boiled with alkalis (sodium or potassium hydroxides) to create a soap base.

Shaving soaps made their first appearance in the fourteenth century and were extremely popular until World War I, when shaving creams became widely available. Until today shaving soaps still remain in high esteem with shavers who savor the traditional aspect of the wet shaving experience.

Handmade shaving soap

Handmade shaving soap

What Makes For A Quality Shaving Soap?

A quality shaving soap contains a high level of fat (vegetable or tallow) and glycerin. Glycerin, derived from vegetable oil, is important because it serves as a humectant, which locks in water and hydrates the skin. It is also an efficient emollient because it softens the beard and leaves the skin smooth and moisturized. The fat content is essential because it provides the necessary lubrication and protection for the skin during the shaving process, so that the blade glides over the surface of the skin without irritating or nicking it.

 

So, when you choose a shaving soap, look for a soap that has high fat content (30 to 50 percent). You should also be careful with inexpensive products, which are often bath or shower soaps in disguise. They don‘t provide any protection during the shave and can leave the skin dry and irritated.

Good quality soaps are often triple-milled, which increases the profuseness of the lather and produces tremendously creamy foam, leaving the skin extremely smooth.

For centuries, London’s traditional barber shops, chemists and perfumers have been offering tripled-milled shaving soaps. In my experience, especially the soaps of Truefitt & Hill, Geo F. Trumper and D.R. Harris produce exceptionally good lathers and can be bought in elegant wooden bowls.

The oldest German soap manufacturer „Klar“ goes even further. The soaps of this family-owned company from Heidelberg uses a five-rolling process instead of three rolling/milling operations. As a result, Klar shaving soap is particularly compressed and provides a great lather. While the tin jar makes them perfect for travel, it is more difficult to create lather directly from the jar.

 

How to Use Shaving Soap

The traditional shaving soap is lathered up with a shaving brush in a container – a mug, bowl, deep dish, and jar or directly from a stick. To build up a good lather, follow these steps:

  1. Wet your brush under running hot water or fill up your sink with hot water and leave the brush in the water for at least a minute. A badger hair brush is always a good choice. Unlike synthetic fibers, badger hair is naturally soft and retains water like a sponge
  2. Make sure the brush bristles have soaked up the hot water. The point is to retain the moisture in the brush so that it gets directly to your face to soften your beard hairs and open pores. So, don‘t tap too much excess water off the brush.
  3. Lather up the soap using circular motions directly in the container. At first, the bubbles will appear large, but as you keep going, they will increase in number and become smaller and smaller until you can barely see them at all. After 25 seconds, you should have achieved a thick, warm lather.
  4. Apply and massage the warm lather with the soaped brush evenly across your face in circular motions. This will also increase the lather‘s density, soften your whiskers, and allow them to stand up, allowing the razor to sit close to the base of the hair follicle. The longer you whisk, the richer the lather, the smoother the shave and the more your skin will be protected.
  5. Adding a touch more hot water will normally provide re-lathering for second or third passes, if required, without using anymore soap.
  6. Empty excess water from the soap container and leave it open so it can air-dry.

The Scottish Fine Soaps Company produces shave soaps with beautiful presentation, including a ceramic bowl that makes the lathering for beginners very easy.

Also, you can watch the lathering guide below:

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Difference Between Shaving Soap & Cream

The difference between a shaving soap and cream is basically the time and effort you have to invest to get a good lather. Shaving creams are easier to work with but won’t last as long. If you use a good product, it is nearly impossible to make out a difference between the lather of soap and a cream. The advantage of a concentrated soap lies in the cost per shave; it is cheaper due to the fact that it will last much longer. Shaving soaps will last even through daily use over several months.

If you cannot decide between soap or cream, use a soft Italian shaving soap like Boellis or Valobra, both of which I like very much. The consistency is like modeling clay and you can create lather with both methods described above. Otherwise, take a look at our comparison table.

Brand
Average Price
Where to Buy
Weight
Price per Ounce / 30 grams
Rating 0 -5
Country of Origin
Acca Kappa$24.00Shop Now150 grams / 5.3 oz$4.804Italy
Arko$2.40Shop Now75 grams / 2.65 oz$0.964Turkey
The Art Of Shaving$30.00Shop Now94 grams / 3.3 oz$9.095USA
Boellis$50.00Shop Now250 grams / 8.8 oz$5.684Italy
Caswell-Massey$16.00Shop Now94 grams / 3.3 oz$4.853USA
Cella$37.00Shop Now1000 grams / 35 oz$1.064.5Italy
Czech & Speake$38.00Shop Now90 grams / 3.2 oz$11.885UK
D.R. Harris$15.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$4.305UK
Edwin Jagger$9.00Shop Now65 grams / 2.3 oz$3.915UK
eShave$25.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$7.144.5USA
Crabtree & Evelyn$9.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$2.574UK
Geo F. Trumper$16.00Shop Now80 grams / 2.8 oz$5.715UK
Golddachs$15.00Shop Now60 grams / 2.3 oz$6.524.5Germany
Floris London$46.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$13.145UK
Institut Karite$15.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$4.283France
Kent$23.00Shop Now120 grams / 4.2 oz$5.483.5UK
Klar$28.00Shop Now110 grams / 3.9 oz$7.185Germany
La Toja$7.50Shop Now50 grams / 1.75 oz$4.284.5Spain
The Mens Soap Shop$12.95Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$3.704USA
Mühle$11.50Shop Now65 grams / 2.3 oz$5.004Germany
Musgo Real$8.00Shop Now164 grams / 5.8 oz$1.385Portugal
Penhaligans$30.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$8.575UK
RazoRock$10.00Shop Now119 grams / 4.2 oz$2.384Canada
Scotish Fine Soaps$21.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$6.005UK
Speick$5.50Shop Now481 grams / 1.7 oz$3.235Germany
Tabac$15.00Shop Now125 grams / 4.4 oz$3.404.5Germany
Taylor of Old Bond Street$13.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$3.714.5UK
Truefitt & Hill$26.00Shop Now100 grams / 3.5 oz$7.435UK
Valobra$15.00Shop Now150 grams / 5.3 oz$2.834Italy
Wilkinson$11.00Shop Now125 grams / 4.4 oz$2.502UK
Williams$1.50Shop Now50 grams / 1.75 oz$0.863USA

The D.R Harris picture was contributed by Teiste from the shavenook.

Shaving Series

This is part of a series about traditional wet shaving.  Make sure to check out:

  1. Double Edge Razor Guide

  2. Straight Razor Guide

  3. Shaving Brush Guide

  4. Shaving Cream Guide

This article is the result of a collaboration between Karl H. Lincke and Sven Raphael Schneider.

24 replies
  1. Vito
    Vito says:

    Wet-shaving is great. I have loved it ever since I discovered it a few years back. I use the Proraso Shave Soap and I love it. It’s a fantastic product. I’m trying to get all my friends to convert to this method of shaving. I don’t know why we ever left this for the cheap plastic replacement.

    Thanks for another great article! Cheers!

  2. J.A. Shapira
    J.A. Shapira says:

    As an almost exclusive straight-razor shaver (safety razor on a busy day), I really enjoy shaving soaps and while I do use a cream as well, I find that the soap lasts that much longer. Currently, I use Truefitt & Hill shave soap and Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood shaving cream. I’m very happy with both products and for anyone using the bargain-basement brands, I would highly recommend upgrading, regardless of what type of razor you use. You will really notice a difference. Just remember not to buy soap unless you have a brush to apply it with.

  3. Martijn Koop
    Martijn Koop says:

    Yeah, Alex, I like the l’Occitane too. Always great.

    For now sticking to my sandalwood Taylor of Old Bond Street soap though (next to the Oscar shaving cream that I sometimes use as well). I like it!

    Happy shaving!
    Martijn

  4. Tim
    Tim says:

    Thank you for this incredibly useful article. I would like to recommend that any readers steer AWAY from trying Williams brand shaving soap. I have used Williams for a few years now, as it is the only shaving soap stocked at my local supermarket, and I have found the lather it produces to be very poor. I was in fact surprised to see it rated as highly as a “3” on your chart! Rather than let my negative experience with a single brand put me off of shaving soaps altogether, however, I will use the resources you have provided here to try different brands until I find one to my liking.

  5. Park Jacob Weatherby
    Park Jacob Weatherby says:

    Greetings Mr. Schneider,
    I enjoyed this informative article on shaving soaps ( as equally as well as I did the one on shaving creams) my preference however is shaving soaps in addition after reading your information and viewing the videos I’ve been able to learn more about the preparation of shaving soap I know this will certainly enhance my shaving experience.

    Best Regards,

    P J Weatherby

  6. Elliot Nesterman
    Elliot Nesterman says:

    There is an inexpensive and little considered alternative to traditional shaving soaps, and that is Dove brand soap. It is formulated to be very gentle and its composition includes 25% moisturizers. It lathers well and the moisturizing cream in it makes for a smooth shave that won’t dry the skin. In fact, Dove is the soap most pediatricians recommend for newborn babies, which speaks to its gentleness.

    The only drawbacks are that it has not the cachet of manliness of shaving soaps and its oval shape does not sit that well in a mug. But it does give a smooth and gentle shave.

    But be sure to get the un-fragranced version, unless you want to smell like a maiden aunt.

  7. Claudio Cannizzaro
    Claudio Cannizzaro says:

    Funny coincidence! Just one day before you published this article I was in London and at Penhaligon’s in Burlington Arcade I’ve bought their shaving soap in wooden box.
    Despite my young age I prefere to use shaving soap, well my grandfather was a barber in his young age and I’ve learned some “tricks”, after this moment in My closet there’s no more foam

    Regards

    C. Cannizzaro

  8. Lorenz
    Lorenz says:

    Great advice, as usual. My main reason for using soap bars instead of liquid shaving creams is also that I can easily carry them as hand luggage when traveling. And usually they are more natural, without all that Sodium Lauryl Sulfath that just dries your skin…

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