There are many products on the market for wet shaving, available in different scents, shapes, texture and sizes. They include shaving soaps, creams, foams, and gels that come in tubes, jars, cans, tubs, and even wooden bowls.
This is part of a series about traditional wet shaving:
Selecting the right shaving product can make the difference between healthy skin and skin that is irritated by ingrown hairs, razor burn, nicks or cuts. In a continuation of our personal grooming coverage, I’d like to share a guide to shaving cream with a shaving soap guide soon to follow. I compared 40 different products, and I am sure the final extensive comparison table at the end of the article will help you to find the right product for your face.
Brief History of Shaving Cream
Although shaving soaps have been around for centuries, shaving creams did not actually gain large scale popularity until WWI. In 1941, canned shaving creams entered the market. The promise to provide fast and easy access to lather with a mere press of a button was a novelty that seemed intriguing for most men. In the following decades, the popularity of foams significantly affected the market for creams, which have become harder to find, especially in the U.S. In Europe, Asia or the Middle East, it is easier to find traditional shaving creams, though even there they are usually to be found at specialty men’s grooming shops or high-end drugstores. Today, shaving gels and cream foams are most popular not because they are better, but simply because they are easy to use and almost effortless to find.
Traditional Shaving Creams
This article is all about high-quality shaving creams that you have to lather yourself.
Shaving Creams are similar to lathering soaps in terms of results. Unlike traditional soaps, the shaving creams require a little less elbow grease to generate lather. The cream can be applied with either a shaving brush or your fingers. The brush has the added advantages of producing warm lather, further lifting the beard off your face, and gently exfoliating the skin.
Shaving creams are often considered the best and most effective product for a wet shave: Creams generate a rich lather without taking a lot of time, they also protect and lubricate the skin, leaving it smooth and moisturized.
Lather-up creams are sold in jars or tubs, or in small tubes for traveling convenience. They contain between 30 and 50 percent fat (usually coconut oil, an-all-natural oil that does not penetrate the skin), as well as glycerin, which is why their lather is so rich and thick, providing the best possible protection.
The British brands Truefitt & Hill, Geo F. Trumpers, D.R. Harris as well as Taylor of Old Bond Street all produce great shaving creams with a variety of different fragrances. But London is not only the home of traditional barber shops –within the last couple of years, new types of barber shops with Spa-like experiences have popped up all over town, such as Murdock London, Pankhurst, and Gentlemen‘s Tonic , just to mention a few. They have all created signature shaving and grooming products — some of which contain rather exotic ingredients (such as Babassu Oil and Manuka Honey in the Gentleman’s Tonic product) — to their customers’s approval. Now, these niche products are sold around the globe, and the quality shaving trend continues with the opening of new shaving parlors in luxury hotels in Hong Kong and Dubai.
Fortunately, excellent traditional shaving creams are not only available made in England. For example, Claus Porto is a centenary Portuguese soap manufacturer that produces shaving products under the brand Musgo Real that are highly recommended by shaving enthusiasts.
Proraso is the number 1 cream in Italian barber shops, a genuine Italian product made in Florence since the 1940s. Over all these years, Proraso has maintained its secret formula based on Eucalyptus Oil.
One of the most recent shaving product brands comes from New Zealand. Triumph & Disaster was founded in 2011 by young, enthusiastic entrepreneurs. With cool marketing and a great product, they were able to get noticed in Europe and the USA in less than two years.
How to Lather Traditional Shaving Cream
There are three options for how to use shaving cream. On the one hand, you can lather it like soap in a bowl or mug, or use your hands. You can also lather it directly on your face. First, let’s discuss the latter option:
- Wet your fingers and face or the brush‘s bristles with hot water.
- Dip your fingers into the jar to apply the cream directly on your face, or to the center of the brush’s tip. Since the cream is concentrated, two fingertips worth will do the trick. If you use a brush, an almond size amount of cream should be enough (you only have to use this much cream with a brush, and it will last you about twice as long).
- Lather up the cream on your face with circular motions using your fingers or a shaving brush.
- Again, the longer you whisk, the richer the lather, and the more your skin will be protected and your shave comfortable.
- Adding a touch more hot water will provide re-lathering for second or third passes if required, without using any more cream.
Personally, I found the video demonstration of different of brush lathering below very useful:
If you prefer to lather the cream in a bowl or your hand, here is the way to go:
- Fill the mug with hot water and let your badger hair brush soak up the water for a few minutes. The water will not only benefit the brush but also preheat your mug for a warm lather.
- Empty the mug and shake the water off the brush. Add the cream to the bowl and start to lather in circular motions.
- Add little drops of water and not more, as the lathering won’t work otherwise. With a bit of practice, it shouldn’t take you longer than a minute.
- Squeeze out all the lather from your brush. Check that it is thick and creamy with a delicate sheen.
- Apply the lather to your face with the brush.
Here a video of how to lather the foam in your hand and in the bowl:
Shaving Cream Foams and Gels
Generally you should stay away from gels and foams unless it is your only choice. They often contain synthetic perfumes which are considered the number one cause of skin irritation. They also contain artificial colors and dyes, preservatives, and alcohol, all of which make the shave very uncomfortable and leave the skin susceptible to razor burn. And if that’s not enough, they often contain numbing agents that can promote cuts, nicks, and irritations. Foams and gels can also contain unhealthy gases, such as isobutane or propane, which is what makes them foam in the first place. The foam that comes out of a can may appear deceptively rich, but in fact it contains lots of gas and provides very little protection for your skin. Usually, you can immediately tell whether something is a lathered foam or a canned foam when you have it in your hand. In addition, the toxic propellants from the can and gel generate a cold lather, which closes the pores and stiffens the beard (rendering it less manageable), making for a truly uncomfortable shave. You’ll yield much better results by choosing other products.
How to Use Shave Cream Gels & Foams
Real, hand-whipped lather should only add about two minutes to a canned foam shaving routine, but if you find it absolutely necessary to use a foam or a gel – you are in an airport and don‘t have your shaving gear on hand, or you are in a remote part of the world and it is the only thing available – make sure you apply it to a well-prepared, wet face. Apply the foam directly to your wet face, or dispense a small amount of gel into your palm, mix it with water, smooth it over your face and neck, and then shave.
If you travel a lot and don‘t have access to hot water you can always opt for the 3D Shave product developed by the British brand The Gentry Grooming Co. It is a shave oil, shave cream and moisturizer in one. It can be used without water, which makes it perfect for dry shaving when traveling. The formula is based on over 93 percent natural ingredients and it has a very peculiar black pepper and mint scent as well.
Selecting the right product
When selecting products for your wet shave you should look for products containing natural ingredients such as natural oils (coconut, avocado, almond, and jojoba) and natural essential oils. Despite their name, they are not oily, and they evaporate almost immediately upon contact with the skin. Essential oils are 100 percent natural, concentrated essences of plants, roots, fruits, or flowers. In shaving creams and soaps you will often find essential oils like Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Cypress, Bergamot, Lemon, Lime, Patchouli, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Vetyver, Lavender or Rose.
Look for products that have a few drops of essential oils blended into an all-natural base. Castle Forbes and The Art of Shaving products are very good choices to enjoy natural essential oils. While the barbershop chain and retailer The Art of Shaving belongs to the parent company of the Gillette brand Procter & Gamble, and is well known in the US, Castle Forbes is more of an insider tip. The private perfumery at the Castle Forbes in Aberdeenshire, Scotland restricts their retailers to a select number, due to the fact that they are only able to produce shaving cream in batches of 500 per year; it is definitely one of the highest performing shaving creams I tried so far.
If you have sensitive skin you should also look for shaving creams including Aloe Vera. Most ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, Persians and Indians, applied the Aloe Vera extract as ‘first aid’ for wounds, burns and other skin conditions because of its antiseptic properties. The renowned brush and razor manufacture Edwin Jagger from Sheffield in England offers an Aloe Vera-based shaving cream that performs exceedingly well.
Natural ingredients, unlike their synthetic counterparts, are biodegradable and work in harmony with the body’s natural functions and cycles. You would be surprised at how many products out there wreak havoc on your skin. It is always good to check out the ingredients list, and if the list contains a lot of the following ingredients you should consider avoiding the product:
- Chemical dyes like FD&C colors, D&C colors, and HC colors are found (green shaving gels and blue shaving foam, etc.). They are harsh chemicals that can cause allergic reactions and rashes.
- Synthetic perfumes can cause headaches, allergies, dizziness, skin rashes and irritation. Most allergic reactions from cosmetics are caused by their synthetic or artificial fragrances.
- Detergents, such as TEA, DEA MEA, and sodium lauryl sulfate are ingredients added to products to help generate foam and to strip the skin of basically everything on its surface. They can cause dermatitis and dry skin.
- Petrochemical by-products, such as paraffin, mineral oil, and petrolatum, are used as cheap substitutes to natural oils that are harmless to the skin but expensive. Petrochemical by-products clog pores and prevent the skin‘s natural respiration process.
- Any product name that finishes with -ol is an alcohol or alcohol-derivate. And anything that contains alcohol can cause skin dryness, peeling, burning, swelling, and skin eruptions.
Choosing the Shave Cream Scent
You can choose your scent either by skin type or just by personal preference:
- Scentless, lavender, and rose oils are good for sensitive skins and skins which are prone to razor burn, rashes and soreness.
- Lemon, Lime and Bergamot oils are good for skins prone to cuts and nicks
- Cedarwood, Peppermint and Sandalwood are very cleansing and caring for the skin, useful for skin prone to breakouts.
Brands like Truefitt & Hill and Geo F. Trumpers offer sample packs to make it easier to pick your favorite scents from their wide product range:
Here are some of my personal favorite fragrances:
- D.R. Harris‘ Arlington is a subtle refreshing blend of citrus and fern that never gets on your nerves.
- Truefitt & Hill Sandalwood is a very elegant and fresh smelling scent with sandalwood as a predominant note.
- Geo. F. Trumpers Rose range has a warm, uplifting and intensely English fragrance that somehow brings up memories from old candy shops.
- Klar Classic, has a very discrete spicy leather note; a true classic scent for men.
- Gentlemen‘s Tonic is a very distinct, modern bergamot-based scent.
- Musgo Real Classic is an addictive vetiver and patchouli combination that reminds me of Mediterranean barbershops.
- Castle Forbes Lime is my favorite lime oil based shaving cream.
- Triumph & Disaster Old Fashioned Shave Cream has a really refreshing and uplifting scent, perfect for an early morning shave.
- Edwin Jagger’s Aloe Vera smells like Aloe Vera is supposed to smell and it does not seem to use any artificial scent.
The Ultimate Shaving Cream List
The following list contains 40 shaving creams and soaps we consider worth mentioning. Do you know of any cream that is not on the list? Let us know.
|Brand||Price||Where to Buy||Rating 0 -5||Weight||Price per Ounce / 30 grams||Origin|
|Acca Kappa||32||Shop||4.5||125 grams / 4.4 oz||7.27||Italy|
|Anthony Logistics||16.5||Shop||3.5||170 grams / 6 oz||2.75||USA|
|The Art Of Shaving||25||Shop||5||142 grams / 5 oz||5||USA|
|Baxter of California||16||Shop||2.5||236 grams / 8 oz||2||USA|
|Billy Jealousy||20||Shop||4||236 grams / 8 oz||2.5||USA|
|Bluebeard Revenge (UK) / Dreadnought (US)||19||Shop||4.5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||5.43||UK|
|Castle Forbes||38||Shop||5||200 grams / 7 oz||5.43||UK|
|Caswell-Massey||22||Shop||4.5||236 grams / 8 oz||2.75||USA|
|Confianca||16||Shop||4.5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||4.57||Portugal|
|Crown Shaving||30||Shop||4||236 grams / 8 oz||3.75||Canada|
|Dovo||15||Shop||3.5||150 grams / 5.3 oz||2.83||Germany|
|D.R. Harris||29||Shop||5||150 grams / 5.3 oz||5.47||UK|
|Edwin Jagger||22||Shop||5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||6.28||UK|
|eShave||22||Shop||4.5||120 grams / 4 oz||5.5||USA|
|Geo F. Trumpers||30||Shop||5||200 grams / 7 oz||4.29||UK|
|Gentlemens Tonic||30||Shop||5||125 grams / 4.4 oz||6.82||UK|
|The Gentlemens Refinery||28||Shop||4.5||150 grams / 5.3 oz||5.28||USA|
|The Gentry Grooming Co||24||Shop||4||100 grams / 3.5 oz||6.86||UK|
|Floris London||38||Shop||4.5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||10.86||UK|
|Institut Karite||24||Shop||2||75 grams / 2.5 oz||9.6||France|
|Jack Black||23||Shop||2.5||236 grams / 8 oz||2.88||USA|
|Kent||30||Shop||3.5||119 grams / 4.2 oz||7.14||UK|
|Kiehls||16||Shop||2||128 grams / 4.5 oz||3.56||USA|
|Kyoku||27.5||Shop||4||170 grams / 6 oz||4.58||USA|
|Nivea Mild Razor Crème||8.5||Shop||4||100 grams / 3.5 oz||2.43||Germany|
|Molton Brown||24||Shop||4.5||125 grams / 4.4 oz||5.45||UK|
|Mühle||31||Shop||5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||8.86||Germany|
|Musgo Real||15||Shop||5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||4.28||Portugal|
|Murdock London||44||Shop||4||200 grams / 7 oz||6.2||UK|
|Palmolive||8||Shop||3.5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||2.28||USA|
|Pankhurst||38||Shop||4.5||125 grams / 4.4 oz||8.6||UK|
|Proraso||10||Shop||4.5||147 grams / 5.2 oz||1.92||Italy|
|Penhaligons||50||Shop||5||150 grams / 5.3 oz||9.43||UK|
|Simpsons||25||Shop||4.5||125 grams / 4.4 oz||5.68||UK|
|Tabac||11||Shop||4.5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||3.14||Germany|
|Taylor of Old Bond Street||14||Shop||5||150 grams / 5.3 oz||2.64||UK|
|Triumph & Disaster||30||Shop||5||100 grams / 3.5 oz||8.57||New Zealand|
|Truefitt & Hill||30||Shop||5||165 grams / 5.8 oz||5.2||UK|
|Vintage Shaving||24||Shop||4.5||150 grams / 5.3 oz||4.53||UK|
|Zirh||25||Shop||3.5||250 grams / 8.8 oz||2.84||USA|
This is part of a series about traditional wet shaving: