A few weeks ago, we shared our ultimate guide to shaving creams. 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.
Historical Tidbits about Shaving Soap
The oldest soap recipe in the world – containing oil and ash – comes from the Sumerians. For over 5,000 years, the principles of soap manufacturing have 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.
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.
When you choose a shaving soap, look for a soap that has high-fat content (30 to 50 percent), though few producers identify their fat content on the packaging. Unfortunately, determining if the fat content is high enough requires trying the product first. 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 a jar or directly from a stick. To build up a good lather, follow these steps, or check out our Shaving Guide for a complete video:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Adding a touch more hot water will normally provide re-lathering for second or third passes, if required, without using more soap.
- 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.
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||$24.00||Shop Now||150 grams / 5.3 oz||$4.80||4||Italy|
|Arko||$2.40||Shop Now||75 grams / 2.65 oz||$0.96||4||Turkey|
|The Art Of Shaving||$30.00||Shop Now||94 grams / 3.3 oz||$9.09||5||USA|
|Boellis||$50.00||Shop Now||250 grams / 8.8 oz||$5.68||4||Italy|
|Caswell-Massey||$16.00||Shop Now||94 grams / 3.3 oz||$4.85||3||USA|
|Cella||$37.00||Shop Now||1000 grams / 35 oz||$1.06||4.5||Italy|
|Czech & Speake||$38.00||Shop Now||90 grams / 3.2 oz||$11.88||5||UK|
|D.R. Harris||$15.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$4.30||5||UK|
|Edwin Jagger||$9.00||Shop Now||65 grams / 2.3 oz||$3.91||5||UK|
|eShave||$25.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$7.14||4.5||USA|
|Crabtree & Evelyn||$9.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$2.57||4||UK|
|Geo F. Trumper||$16.00||Shop Now||80 grams / 2.8 oz||$5.71||5||UK|
|Golddachs||$15.00||Shop Now||60 grams / 2.3 oz||$6.52||4.5||Germany|
|Floris London||$46.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$13.14||5||UK|
|Institut Karite||$15.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$4.28||3||France|
|Kent||$23.00||Shop Now||120 grams / 4.2 oz||$5.48||3.5||UK|
|Klar||$28.00||Shop Now||110 grams / 3.9 oz||$7.18||5||Germany|
|La Toja||$7.50||Shop Now||50 grams / 1.75 oz||$4.28||4.5||Spain|
|The Mens Soap Shop||$12.95||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$3.70||4||USA|
|Mühle||$11.50||Shop Now||65 grams / 2.3 oz||$5.00||4||Germany|
|Musgo Real||$8.00||Shop Now||164 grams / 5.8 oz||$1.38||5||Portugal|
|Penhaligans||$30.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$8.57||5||UK|
|RazoRock||$10.00||Shop Now||119 grams / 4.2 oz||$2.38||4||Canada|
|Scotish Fine Soaps||$21.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$6.00||5||UK|
|Speick||$5.50||Shop Now||481 grams / 1.7 oz||$3.23||5||Germany|
|Tabac||$15.00||Shop Now||125 grams / 4.4 oz||$3.40||4.5||Germany|
|Taylor of Old Bond Street||$13.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$3.71||4.5||UK|
|Truefitt & Hill||$26.00||Shop Now||100 grams / 3.5 oz||$7.43||5||UK|
|Valobra||$15.00||Shop Now||150 grams / 5.3 oz||$2.83||4||Italy|
|Wilkinson||$11.00||Shop Now||125 grams / 4.4 oz||$2.50||2||UK|
|Williams||$1.50||Shop Now||50 grams / 1.75 oz||$0.86||3||USA|
The D.R Harris picture was contributed by Teiste from the shavenook.
This article is the result of a collaboration between Karl H. Lincke and Sven Raphael Schneider.
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