Shaving Soap vs Shaving Cream vs Shaving Gel
If you’re looking to improve your shaving experience you’ll have questions about shaving soap vs shaving cream. You may have heard that shaving soaps and creams are rising in popularity. It’s very true. In fact, I was just in my local supermarket the other day and noticed they now sell more of those luxury shaving items. Shaving butters, soaps, creams, and gels.
What is actually different about shaving soap vs shaving cream vs shaving gel? They all lubricate your skin, soften the beard, and protect us from cuts. So how are they actually different?
Shaving Soap vs Shaving Cream
Shaving soap is what many consider to be the best option. A premium and luxury item for shaving. So, what’s all the hubbub about? What makes it truly an extravagant item?
Well, the quality is fantastic. There are a lot of artisans that make fantastic soaps. Some commercial soaps are fantastic as well. And by fantastic soap, I mean it gives your face the perfect surface for a slick and close shave. It just takes some time to apply. Like taking the time to prepare a fine, delicious, home-cooked meal vs some cheap fast food that just does the job. No comparison.
There are pros and cons to every type of shaving lubricant.
Let’s lay out a simple feature list of shaving soaps:
How long will a shaving soap last?
Typically a shaving soap is going to last longer than a shaving cream. But, there are some factors that come into play that will change how long it lasts. The main factor that I’m going to mention today is the firmness.
Softer soaps just won’t last as long and harder soaps will. Simple as that.
There are triple milled soaps, semi-hard soaps, and croaps or cream-soaps. And many in-betweens.
The harder the soap, the longer it will last because it’s more concentrated. Less water and air in it. Triple milled soaps are going to be some of the hardest. They’ve been processed multiple times. About three times. Ya know, triple. And each time it gets denser and harder.
Does that mean triple milled soaps are the go to? Not at all. Triple milled is not an indicator of quality. All that we need to know is that the firmness dictates how long the soap will last. A lot of triple milled soaps tend to be more expensive and the process doesn’t dictate how good the lather produced will be. In fact, many of my recommendations on shaving soaps are croaps. And even those can last a good amount of time.
How long exactly? It depends on how you care for your soap and how much you use. If you don’t overload your brush and you make sure your soap is dry when you put it away it can last close to 80 shaves with multiple passes on each shave. Meaning when you shave with the grain you lather, shave across the grain you lather, shave against the grain you lather. And your triple milled soaps can last even longer.
Comparing shaving soap vs shaving cream in how long they will last, the shaving soap will most likely beat out a shaving cream. Especially if it’s a harder soap.
Shaving soap produces the best lather
Is that really true? The difference between the lather of a great shaving soap vs a nice shaving cream is going to be minimal. Everyone has their own preference but, it takes some time to develop the knowledge and skill to get your shaving soap lather there.
It takes much more skill and experience to create a good lather using a shaving soap. Both because it takes longer to make and there’s a little bit of a learning curve to do it. How much water do you add? What is the right consistency? Do I need to bloom the soap? What is that? Shaving cream will have a little learning curve too, but not as much.
I’ll go over a few of these in the shaving soap application section.
A quality shaving soap or cream is definitely important when it comes to getting a very close shave.
The ingredients in a shaving soap or cream are going to be the major contributors toward a fantastic shave. Have a look at some ingredients in shaving soaps.
Shaving soap ingredients
Ingredients are quite important when it comes to a fantastic soap. Fantastic creams too. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for us to know which combinations of ingredients make the perfect shaving soap.
A specific soap may have a lot of hydrating ingredients and good stuff for making a shave slick but, it might still be a lousy shaving soap. Take a look at my recommendations below for shaving soaps that have awesome reviews. Branch out and see what soaps work best for you.
For example, bentonite clay can be a great ingredient for a shaving soap because of its slipperiness. But, if you add bentonite clay to a regular bath soap, that doesn’t mean it even works as a shaving soap. Some sellers may claim it’s instantly a great shaving soap just because of that one ingredient. Not the case.
Also, how much of that specific ingredient is used in the soap you’re looking for. If .01% of your soap has a great ingredient, does that even make a difference? Not likely. They don’t list percentages on the ingredient lists. The best way to tell a great soap from a bad soap before you buy is just to read reviews and recommendations.
Some debate has come up about tallow vs. vegan based soaps and what is better.
Tallow vs. vegan based soaps – What’s better?
This is a major difference in shaving soap vs shaving cream. Most creams don’t have tallow. It’s not necessary in the cream making process.
Tallow-based soaps are simply soaps that use tallow. Tallow is animal fat that has been rendered, processed or broken down into something useable. In this case useable for making soap. The properties of tallow make it ideal for soap making. Specifically the fatty acid composition.
Vegan soaps will use an oil like olive oil instead of tallow.
During the soap making process the tallow or oil is broken down into fatty acids and that’s what you’re left with. So if someone says a tallow based soap is rubbing animal fat on your face, that’s not really true.
The only difference is the fatty acid composition of the soap. Tallow soaps are not just 100% tallow either. Soaps get many ingredients added to them.
So what’s better? One is not better than the other. Many will argue that they like the feel of a tallow based soap more when in reality so many things are added and adjusted that it makes no difference. A good soap is a good soap. So just find your favorite soap!
The only time a distinction is needed is if you’re against buying animal products on principle alone. And that’s totally fine.
Shaving soaps have a large variety of scents and unscented soaps too. For a shaving soap, these scents typically don’t linger after you shave. It’s more of a pleasant smell to make the shaving experience better.
Artisan made shaving soaps tend to sell out quickly, they are usually kept in small batches. Soaps come in a nice little tub which is great for loading your brush. These are some of the best soaps for shaving.
Barrister and Mann Tallow Shaving Soap – My top recommendation is shaving soaps by Barrister and Mann. Barrister and Mann is a well-known artisan for their quality shaving soaps. Their soaps are made in the USA. There are a number of different scents for every man’s taste. These soaps tend to be more “thirsty” than others. Meaning they might require a bit more water to create a great lather. Experiment by adding a few extra drops of water at a time. Barrister and Mann’s soaps are croaps. Cream soaps so they are softer than a triple milled soap. But, expect to get plenty of shaves out of them because they are still firm.
D.R. Harris Marlborough Shaving Soap – A classic shaving soap made in England. This one is triple milled so it’s a harder soap that you’ll get a lot of shaves out of. The quality of this shaving soap is definitely worth the extra price.
It’s not complicated but, it will take a little bit of practice to get a feel for it.
- Soak your brush in hot water (in your bowl) for a few minutes
- Bloom your soap if necessary
- Squeeze out your brush and shake off excess water
- Dump the water out of your bowl and pour the bloomed soap in
- Load the brush with your soap
- Move to the bowl and create lather adding water to it
The first step is pretty self-explanatory but, let’s talk about blooming your soap.
Blooming the soap is basically softening it up to make the brush easier to load. You’ll just add a touch of hot water to your soap and let it soak for a bit. You only need a very small amount of water to do this. It’s essentially melting the top layer of the soap.
Is it necessary? That’s up to you. Some men always bloom their soaps and others never do it. Harder soaps will benefit more. But, others will be fine with just your soaked brush.
Not all men use bowls to build lather either. You can build it on your face if you wish. Experiment with the process to feel out what works best for you.
What’s the right consistency? That will come with time. Slowly add water to your shaving soap to see what will work best for you. But, we’re shooting for a creamy yogurt-like consistency.
Don’t be afraid to mess up. It’s worth the practice to see exactly how much water you need to add. A good idea for practice is to add a little water, test it out, add more water, test it out, etc. Until you know that you’ve added too much. It will help you pinpoint that sweet spot a little better.
Brushes and bowls
Regardless of what you’re using, shaving soap vs shaving cream, to create your lather you’ll need a brush and a bowl for both shaving soaps and shaving creams. For a bowl, you won’t need anything special. But, for a brush, there are a lot of different options and all kinds of price ranges. Badger and boar brushes are the recommended with badger being the most popular.
Omega Boar Bristle Shaving Brush – This is a fantastic starter brush. I say that just because it’s low in price. This one is a boar bristle brush which is not the most popular type of material but, it’s still a wonderful brush. Omega is a great company for shaving brushes.
Kent BK8 Shaving Brush – This one here is a silvertip badger brush. Where the Omega was at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of price range, this brush is much more of a premium and luxury brush. Badger bristles tend to be the most popular for shaving brushes.
Perfecto Deluxe Chrome Razor and brush stand – Of course we want something to hold our razor and brushes. This brush stand is perfect.
Shaving mug from Detroit Grooming Company – Nothing too fancy here just a great little bowl that works well for producing lather.
Shaving soap pros/cons
- Shaving soaps are better for the environment. No cans.
- Lasts a long time
- Hydrates the skin making it easier to cut hair but not skin
- Pleasant scent while you shave
- Cheaper in the long run
- Requires upfront cost on a brush and bowl
- A learning curve for great lather
- Takes a little extra time to prepare
Shaving cream (not from a can)
I won’t go into as much detail about shaving creams as I did for soaps. The main reason being that the difference between quality shaving soap vs shaving cream really isn’t that big. The feeling might be a little different. And creams already have water added to them which makes them easier to lather. Otherwise, they both have scented and unscented versions and great ingredient lists.
In either situation, shaving soap vs shaving cream, you’ll need a brush. Both to create a good lather and to apply it. Just like the shaving soaps, shaving creams tend to last a long time because you don’t need to use very much.
We always see in advertisements that men have a thick cream on their face for shaving. It’s not really necessary. We only need a thin layer for shaving. A lot of what goes into a good lather is simply water.
Shaving cream application
So you’ll mix water plus a small amount of shaving cream in a bowl with a brush. Then apply to the face with the brush. A good brush should last you a long time.
How much shaving cream? A very small amount, think dime or almond sized.
Shaving cream is typically pretty easy to create a lather with and apply compared to shaving soap. It will still take some trial and error to figure out exactly how much water to add. But, overall it will just lather up much faster without as much effort.
Shaving soap vs shaving cream scents
I mentioned that shaving soaps have scents that tend to only stick around while your shaving. The difference between shaving soap vs shaving cream in terms of scent comes from creams having a little bit stronger of a scent. That doesn’t mean it’s going to stick around all day. And it can greatly vary from cream to cream and soap to soap.
It comes down to the individual product.
Pros and cons of shaving cream
A shaving cream from a tube or bowl (not from a can) is going to be extremely similar to a shaving soap. Of course, there are many different creams and soaps with varying degrees of quality but, for the most part, these are the two major differences between shaving soap vs shaving cream:
- Shaving cream is easier to create lather with, less of a learning curve
- It takes less time to make lather compared to shaving soaps
Don’t let those steer you away from soaps though. It’s worth giving both options a shot because as many in the shaving community will say, your mileage may vary.
Crabtree and Evelyn Shave Cream – A luxury shaving cream that lathers well and has a nice scent to it. It even comes with a cool little key that helps you get every last bit as you roll up the tube.
Taylor of Old Bond Street Shaving Cream – This is a go-to starter cream for many men. It has tons of fantastic reviews on Amazon. Quite the popular cream.
Shaving soap vs shaving cream vs canned shaving foam
Most of us are familiar with shaving cream. But, unfortunately, a lot of us are familiar with the bad kind of shaving cream. And that’s the kind of foam that comes from a can.
Why is canned shaving foam bad? Okay, it’s not horrible but, it’s definitely not the best type of shaving lubrication. Many think it’s really bad because it has a lot of chemicals in it. What doesn’t nowadays huh? But, some of these canned foams can indeed irritate your skin due to those specific chemicals. Especially for those of us with sensitive skin.
The canned creams and foams typically don’t focus on hydrating ingredients to really prep your skin for a great shaving experience. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. For those of us with more sensitive skin, the canned shaving lubricants are a recipe for irritated skin and cuts.
There are tons of great benefits to a higher quality shaving cream or soap including reducing irritation and cuts.
What ingredients are bad?
Sulfates – Sulfates are used in many many products. From canned shaving creams to shampoos to toothpaste. These are what make those products lather up very well and very quickly. Super effective. But, it can be harmful to your skin.
The main issue with sulfates is causing skin irritation in the form of dry skin and rashes.
Isobutane or propane – These types of ingredients are really what makes the can work. They propel the foam out of the can.
Once again these types of ingredients can cause dryness and irritation.
Propylene glycol – Another ingredient found in canned creams and gels which can once again cause skin irritation.
Canned foam/shaving cream application
Canned shaving cream typically doesn’t produce the best type of lather you can get. There are other options that will provide you a smoother shave. A smoother shave = how easily the razor glides, how much protection your skin gets from the blade, and how close a shave you’ll get. That’s what creating your own lather will do for you.
With canned shaving cream, you’ll most likely be using your hands to apply it instead of a brush. Although you can use a brush if you so choose. Just don’t use a brush with shaving gel. This kills the brush.
It all comes down to personal preference for what you want to use. However, if you’ve never tried anything else but canned shaving cream I’d recommend giving something else a shot.
Shaving gel compared to shaving soap vs shaving cream
Shaving gel can come from a can or a tube.
Just like with canned shaving cream you most likely won’t be using a brush to apply shaving gel. And that’s because shaving gel will ruin your brush. Especially if your brush is made of natural badger or boar hair. Some of the chemicals in these canned products destroy the brush.
Once again the tube is going to be much better than the can for shaving gels.
Shaving gel tends to be thicker and great for very sensitive skin. It’s a little less drying for your skin than the foam is. But, a shaving cream or soap is still going to be better. The razor glides more easily with gel.