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Pick Your Poison: Soap or Cream?

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The sink counters of men who enjoy traditional wet shaving are usually cluttered with bowls and tubs of various shaving soaps and shaving creams. These products come in a variety of textures and fragrances, and it may be difficult to know which product to choose. This article helps explain the differences (besides the obvious) of soaps and creams so that you can have the most efficient and enjoyable morning shave.

About Shaving Cream

In high school, most shavers start shaving with a gel or foam out of an aerosol can. This type of shaving cream contains excess chemicals and numbing agents that can be very harmful to the skin. Although they are widely available and inexpensive, long-term use of these products can cause severe drying and premature aging. Men who use these products are usually easily identified by rough, irritated skin on their faces and necks.

Proponents of traditional shaving will stay far, far away from any shaving cream that comes from a can. Instead, we choose shaving creams from notable vendors, such as Geo. F. Trumper, D.R. Harris, and Taylor of Old Bond Street. These shaving creams are soft and easy to lather. They can be used with any shaving brush, or even without a brush. They comprise moisturizing properties to create cushioning lubrication so that the razor gently glides over the skin while shaving. The high glycerine content provides a protective barrier and gives some men a little extra protection from nicks.

Shaving creams tend to be heavily scented. Some men enjoy the strong fragrance, while those with sensitive skin may have difficulty with it. An average tub of quality cream ranges from $15-$35 depending on the brand, and will last for approximately two months of daily use.

About Shaving Soap

Shaving soap offers a rich and stable lather against the skin, but it is sometimes difficult for a beginner to lather. Triple-milled soaps that offer the best shave have a very hard texture that requires more work from the shaving brush to generate lather suitable for shaving. Shaving soaps work best with brushes with that are more densely filled with badger hair that have a stiffer feel to them. Lathering technique varies from soap to soap, so a shaver has to experiment to get the right lather; however, once you achieve a proper lather from the soap it could give you better cushion than a shaving cream. It is for this reason that many straight-razor users prefer soaps over creams.

Because they are more subtly scented, shaving soaps may be a better choice for people with sensitive skin. However, a shaver with dry skin may have to experiment with different brands to find the right one. Many men like the lighter fragrance so that it doesn't interfere with their aftershaves or colognes.

Shaving soaps are available in a wide range of prices. Less expensive glycerine-based soaps (approx $5) provide decent quality, but hard-milled soaps (approx $30-40) smell better, better lather, and come in wooden bowls, which allow you to create lather in the bowl, store your soaps, and serve as attractive showpieces among your accessories. If you prefer, you can usually buy the puck without the bowl for approx $20. Daily use of a puck of quality shaving soap can easily last over three months of daily use.

Which to Choose?

Both shaving creams and shaving soaps are fine choices for traditional wet shavers. Much of the decision in which to choose depends on your own preference and style of shaving, as well as your skin type. Typically soaps offer a little more cushion and slickness, which many straight razor shavers prefer, while creams offer a little more protection, which is preferred those who use safety razors. Creams offer the benefit of being easier to use, while soaps can have a learning curve. Most new shavers start with creams until they are comfortable with using a brush and lather, and then move into using shaving soaps as well. You can use a soap or cream with any shave method.

If your brush collection has large, soft shaving brushes, such as Vulfix or Kent, shaving creams make an excellent choice, since those brushes hold a lot of water and do a great job at generating lather with a cream. If you have denser shaving brushes, such as Rooney or Simpsons, those really excel at efficiently building lather off a puck of soap. It is best to convince your wife that your brush collection needs to be comprehensive enough to include all sizes and densities so that you can enjoy both soaps and creams.

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