Regardless of your current facial hair preference, one thing is true for all men; when a boy ages into his teenage years he begins to have noticeable facial hair. At this point in his life, he must learn to shave.
If your experience was like many men, someone gave you a cheap razor and a can of shaving cream and told the equivalent of have at it. These men were the lucky ones as many other men were never given any form of instruction and were, either, left to figure it out for themselves or were destined to have the lowest form of a mustache humanly possible. When we got to a place where shaving became part of our daily routine, it became a labor of love as we were often left with cuts, nicks, and irritated skin. Odds are your face, during this time, looked like a tribute to Japanese culture as small strips of toilet paper over small cuts makes the perfect tiny flag of Japan.
As we were finding our way in this new world of shaving, we often don’t look at the tools and creams of the trade. We never stopped to ask questions like, “What does shaving cream do” and “Would a different method of shaving be better for my specific face?”
While no one would fault you for not doing the research as a 15 year old, a surprising amount of men have still not modified their routines or looked at better understanding of what shaving creams true function is to date. So in this article and its follow ups, we strive to do the work for you. There is no better place to start than with this simple question, “What is Shaving Cream?”
History of Shaving Cream
When looking at shaving cream, it is important to look at a quick history of the product. Many men take for granted that shaving cream in a can has been around for centuries but this is not the case.
Shaving cream, like we have today, didn’t become a popular product until the mid 1950s. When it came out, it was considered revolutionary as soaps and, further down the road, shaving soaps had been the main option for shaving up this point.
Standard soap was used for shaving up until the early 1800s. Sometime around 1840, a company, Vroom and Fowler, concentrated soap down to tablet form so that it had more foam and the first soap for shaving, Walnut Oil Military Shaving Soap. Many new shaving soaps followed closely behind.
Close to 100 years later, Aerosol canisters were invented. While they were originally invented to be used as “bug bombs” to deal with insects that carried malaria and other lethal diseases throughout the war, the shaving industry saw potential and created the first aerosol shaving cream in 1950. The product took off quickly and had captured over 20% of the shaving liquid market almost instantly. The reason being that shaving cream offered a more robust lather with the simple act of pressing a button. Since then, shaving cream has become the universal standard for most men. In fact, it's hard to find shaving liquids in most big box stores that aren’t shaving creams. It, like many products, is easier and quicker to use so it has mass appeal.
What is the Difference Between Shaving Soap and Shaving Cream?
While these two products are intended to do the same thing, their method of application and ways of use couldn’t be further apart.
As we stated above, shaving soap has been around for a long time. While shaving cream has been the most popular of the two, recently, shaving soaps have always had and still do have their loyal clients. These shaving soaps can come in a variety of prices.
One term that you will commonly see with shave soaps is “milled” or “double milled, triple milled” etc. The act of milling soap is grinding the soap that has been already molded again and again. The more often a shaving soap is milled, the higher quality the soap tends to be. Milling is helpful because it mixes the soap components so that they are completely incorporated while riding the soap of unwanted moisture and air. Cheap soaps are only milled once and the soap is less dense and potent as a result. Since the soap hasn’t had its air removed through multiple milling, it is cheaper to produce.
Using a shaving soap almost always requires a shaving brush to get needed lather and the soap must be allowed to sit in water for at least a minute so that it can create foam. Men who use a shave with shaving soap, deem it the superior shave product because the lather is slicker and allows for a smoother razor glide. Shaving soap tends to last much longer and ends of being cheaper (though some products can be rather pricey).
Shaving creams, typical, come in tubes or tubs. Shaving creams lather much easier and quicker than shaving soaps. Shaving creams can be squirted directly to the hand or brush (we will make a case for a brush later on in this article). While many people think shaving cream is the stuff that came in a cheap can that your dad used, that isn’t actually the case.
Shaving Cream vs Gels vs Foams
Many people lump shaving creams, gels and foams into one broad category but they should be considered three distinct products. For this reason, it is quite common for the term shaving cream or shaving gel to be concluded as the stuff that comes in an aerosol container.
First things first, shaving cream does not come in a can and the stuff that comes out is actually shaving foam. Shaving foam gets its name because it contains a large amount of air so that it seems very pillowy and has a nice lather. While this is an easy way of shaving for some men, the amount of air in the product can actually prohibit the process of making hairs stand upright for a better quality of shave. When this happens, men are forced to apply more pressure to the razor which heightens the odds of the razor dragging across the skin and causing, the dreaded, razor burn. As a result, many men have started to move away from the basic shaving foam for a better shave.
Shaving Gels can come in a can, as well as tubes and bottles, but they are not near as air filled so they do produce a slightly better shave. When the gel comes out of the container it does not have the level of lather that shaving foam does. Some modified gels do produce some lather but a true shaving gel is not intended to do such. It should be applied to the face in a manner similar to lotion and shaved off.
A huge problem with both canned gels and foams is that they usually have alcohol within them. Alcohol is one of the worst things that can be placed on the face when shaving as it dries out the skin and, often, causes far more pain than it prevents.
All shaving gels are not alike. The gels that come in a tin or a tube are not near as bad for shaving. These products usually don’t contain alcohol and substitute it for great lubricants like glycerin or jojoba. These will cost more but will provide a better shave without question. They are meant to be applied to the skin as is and do not require the addition of water to make a lather.
True shaving cream is hands down the best at providing the richest, most robust, most lubrication for the skin. They are often glycerine-based so they don’t dry out the skin and provide a very comfortable shave.
What is in Shaving Cream?
One thing most men probably have figured out by now is that hair that is wet and softened shaves easier and more uniformly. While this is a huge purpose of shaving cream, water alone can do that so there is much more to shaving cream that just softening the hair.
Shaving cream provides a protective barrier for the skin that fights off the harshness of the razor and leaves a lingering layer of moisture that calms and hydrates the skin. While on face value this seems rather straightforward to accomplish, anytime you are dealing with the face it is much more complex than it seems. The moisture barrier left from shaving cream must have a pH level that is perfectly in tune with the skin’s pH. If the skin is overly alkaline or acidic, it can do far more harm that good.
When you begin to dive into the various shaving cream ingredients, you will find that many companies fight to keep their makeup and process under lock and key. While we don’t know exact quantities of ingredients in most formulas, we can look on the back of the container and see recurring ingredients in most shaving creams. In most shaving creams, we will find most of these ingredients:
- Stearic acid
- Polyoxyethylene Sorbitan Monostearate
While some of the middle ingredients of the list above are substituted for similar products, the goal of all shaving creams is to have a surfactant like Triethanolamine and Stearic acid which attracts dirt and grease to rid the skin of it. Other ingredients like Lanolin can work as emulsifiers which bind water to the skin and Glycerin works as a solvent and emollient that softens skin and makes it smoother. All shaving creams seek to do the same thing (some do it better than others) while putting out slightly different perfumes and odors.
How to Use Shaving Cream
- Allow your shaving brush to soak for at least 3-5 minutes before using. As many men shave after their shower, it is a good idea to soak your shaving brush while in the shower so that it is preparedfor use immediately following the shower.
We recommend shaving after your shower or at least wash your face with warm water prior to shaving. In addition to removing all debris from the face that can impede the shave, it will soften the hair and prepare it to be cut.
We will go into detail in the next section for why we recommend using a shaving brush. You should soak the brush in warm water because, just as with beard hair, it will soften them up and allow the brush to produce a more robust lather.
- As we said above, shaving after a shower is a good idea but if you aren’t able to do such, wash your face with warm water at this point. A razor cuts wet hair much easier than dry and it will be far less painful.
- Apply shaving cream onto the bristles of the brush. It normally doesn’t require more than a 1/2 to an inch of shaving cream to develop the lather needed for a great shave.
- Produce a lather. Begin to work the brush around the shaving mug, bowl, or cup with quick strokes until a nice lather appears. It shouldn’t take much effort.
- Lastly, apply it to the face. Make sure that all the areas you intend to shave are completely covered so that you do not see any skin underneath and shave your face. The better and more thorough the later and coat on the face is, the better the shave will be.
Applying Shaving Cream
Shaving Cream appears to be rather simplistic applied as it goes on the skin and hair that is intended to be shave. While the application is straightforward, most men don’t actually think about ways that they hinder the effectiveness of shaving cream.
The large majority of men apply shaving cream with their hands. The problem with this is men’s hands are very often dirty. Even if one applies shaving cream after a shower, odds are they didn’t give much attention to their hands.
To properly clean your hands, you must rub your hands palm to palm with a decent amount of force for a minimum of 20 seconds. You must make sure to get every surface of the hands include the back of the hand, wrists, between fingers, and underneath fingernails. If you are not doing this every time before you shave, you are allowing dirt, foreign materials, and bacteria to interact with the skin that will be made extremely susceptible through shaving opening up pores. Additionally, the hands do not provide the the level of lather than using a brush can.
For both of the above reasons, we suggest you look into getting a shaving brush for your shaving cream application. They range in a large variety of prices and materials. Some are made from badger hair while others are made of boar hair. Some are made with a synthetic bristle and some are more than a few hundred dollars.
In addition to cleanliness and a better lather, shave brushes lift the hair up so that it is easier to be clean cut. Using the hands can matt down hair and make a shave that requires more passes of the razor and the use of more pressure which can cut and damage the skin.
How to Choose the Best Shaving Cream
Just a walk down the shaving cream aisle can show what a daunting task this can be. Before you get frustrated and just grab the can with the coolest design, there are a few things that you must know.
- The more natural the better
By now you have probably noticed a trend in men’s grooming. The less chemicals you can have interact with your body, the better. The same is true with shaving cream. Chemicals are cheaper and easier to manufacture but the rule of thumb for them is that they will dry out the skin and leave the face feeling sensitive and lacking moisture as a result.
Look for ingredients like glycerin that comes from plants to work as a natural moisture retainer or humectant. Most brands that put a president of being natural clearly state that on the package so try to gravitate towards that.
- Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol dries out the skin as much as just about any substance that can be placed on the skin. It will leave skin feeling flaky and purge the skin of the much needed natural oils.
- Don’t go cheap
Shaving creams that have good quality ingredients, tend to cost a bit more. While you will pay more upfront, you won’t have to apply additional creams and lotions to counteract the trauma that cheap shaving cream can cause the skin. Buying nicer shaving cream will pay for itself within the first can or two with the health of your skin.
- Find a great scent
Since you will be using this product often, make sure you love the smell of it. If it is too strong or an odor that isn’t pleasant, you will regret the purchase. Additionally, avoid a scent that will conflict with any other scents you are wearing like cologne, body wash, and even deodorant.
Shaving, whether you view it as a necessary evil or enjoy the process, can be greatly improved with good quality shaving cream. Shaving cream aides in the shaving process and keeps the skin healthy and happy. Let this article guide give you a further understanding of what shaving cream is and does so that you can take your shaves to the best level possible. Thanks for reading and we wish you many happy shaves in the future.
Main image courtesy: Ezio Gutzemberg/BigStock.com