Shaving Soap: The Real Man’s Way to Shave
Considering the importance of using sharp razors, properly preparing your face/facial hair and using the right method/strokes, the type of shaving cream you use and how you lather it may seem a bit inconsequential. However, the truth is that shaving cream plays an equally important role as these other factors.
While many men continue to shave with cheap, canned creams, body soap, or worst of all, with nothing but water, the fact is that using a high quality shaving soap can easily help you get a closer shave and also reduce or eliminate razor burn, skin irritation and other common problems.
We’ve already discussed how a traditional wet shave can make shaving a more enjoyable experience and improve the overall results, and the only way to wet shave is by using either a classic lathering cream or a shaving soap, along with a shaving brush. Be sure to check out our articles on the best shaving soaps and shaving brushes so you are sure to not waste your money.
If you’re like most men, you’ve probably never used any of these products before, so we’re here to give you tips on how to use shaving soap. It’s true that getting a good lather from shaving soap will take a bit more time, but once you try it and see how much better it feels, you’ll surely be hooked for life. However, before we get into the basics of how to use it, let’s first look at why shaving soap is so superior to the various other products.
Advantages of Using Shaving Soap
Although we’ve already mentioned it many times, the benefits of wet shaving cannot be stressed enough, as it definitely leads to a closer shave with much less irritation. Still, the benefits don’t just like in the method, but also the means (i.e., shaving soap and brush).
One of the major problems with the majority of canned shaving creams is that they are loaded with chemicals and artificial lubricants (although there are a few decent, more natural options), which are necessary to keep the propellants used to expel the cream from the can from drying out your face. Shaving soaps on the other hand are usually made from mostly natural ingredients that work to nourish, hydrate and protect the face, while also typically providing better lubrication to allow the razor blade to gently glide over your skin.
Along with the other artificial ingredients in canned shaving creams are artificial fragrances, most of which smell more like cheap deodorant than anything pleasant. Again, this isn’t a problem with shaving soaps though, as you can easily find them in a huge range of more pleasing scents (woody, citrus, spicy, musky, etc.) that both you and those closest to you will love.
A Quick Note on Scent Selection
When buying shaving soap, try to smell as many different products as possible to help you decide which you like best (it wouldn’t hurt to get your significant other’s opinion as well). If you don’t wear cologne, you can easily go with something with a stronger scent, as the smell will fade with time. However, if you do wear cologne, it’s best to go with the lightest scent possible, or better still, with an unscented soap—otherwise you risk the smell of the soap and that of the cologne mixing together into something much less pleasant.
How to Use Shaving Soap: Choosing Your Method
There is really no right or wrong way to use shaving soap, as there are a number of different methods that can be used. Nonetheless, there are really only a few minor differences between various lathering methods. When it comes to deciding which method to use, it will usually depend on the quality of your shaving brush, how much time you’re willing to spend and the specific shaving soap being used. So, this means it may take a bit of experimentation on your part to determine which method works best for you.
Preparing the Soap and Shaving Brush
Just as it’s vitally important that you properly prepare your face for shaving by washing it and ensuring the hair is wet before you begin, it’s also equally important that you prepare the soap and brush by soaking them in warm water.
Soaking the soap is important, as it softens it up to allow it to be loaded on the shaving brush. The amount of time the soap needs to soak will vary from product to product, but in most cases it won’t hurt to let it sit for 10-15 minutes, which is why many men do this step before getting in the shower (after all, your face needs to be clean and warm before shaving anyways).
If you’re using a bar or puck of shaving soap, submerge it in the sink or a cup/bowl of warm water. For soaps that come in their own tub or container, you can simply pour the water into it so that the surface of the soap is fully covered. It is not essential, but you can take your shaving experience to the next level with a quality shaving bowl or scuttle, we have an article on the best shaving bowls here.
Submerging the shaving brush in water is important as it allows it soak up enough liquid to build a good lather. In this instance, the amount of soaking time needed will depend on the type of hair the brush is made from. For most horse or boar hair brushes, as well as lower quality badger hair, you’ll probably want to soak the brush for at least a few minutes (or however long you’re soaking the soap for). Higher quality badger hair brushes may only need a minute or two of soaking, while synthetic brushes only need to be run under water for a few seconds.
Lathering It Up
Once your face is prepared and your brush and soap have been soaked, it’s time to start preparing your lather, and here is where the methods diversify. In general, there are two basic schools of thought—one that calls for minimal water and one that calls for lots of water (and results in a much creamier, richer lather). For our purposes, we’ll stick with the creamy, extra water method (if you want to experiment with the other, simply use much less water).
However, no matter which method you’re using, you also have the choice to create the lather in a bowl, the palm of your hand, or directly on the face. Again, you may need to experiment to find which creates the best lather, as some soaps foam better in a cup or bowl, while others need to be lathered directly on the skin. Still, in our opinion a cup or bowl is often the best option, if only for the fact that warming it up before you begin will transfer some of the heat to the lather, which feels fantastic on the face and helps to give a closer shave.
When you’re ready to start building the lather, first remove the excess water from the brush by giving it a quick light, shake. If you poured water into the container of soap, dump it out as well.
Loading the Brush
The first step to building lather is to load the wet brush with soap by rubbing it in a circular pattern on the soap. You want to make sure to press just hard enough so that the bristles begin to become splayed. As your brush should still be quite wet, some excess water and soap may spill out at first, but don’t worry, just keep swirling the brush until you the bubbles in the foam are tiny. The point of this process isn’t to build lather yet, just to coat the brush well enough with soap. Still, you’ll probably be surprised by how little product it actually takes, so don’t go overboard, as this can make the cream too stiff.
Building the Lather
Once your brush is loaded with soap, you can then start building the lather by swirling it in your cup/bowl or directly on your face. If you’re doing it in a cup or bowl, you may want to add just a few drops of warm water to it first. The soap will start to slowly build up a lather as you swirl the brush around, and after about 30 seconds, dip the tip of the brush back into the water before continuing the process. Depending on the soap, it may take as much as three to five minutes before you’re satisfied with the consistency of your lather, but its well worth the time.
One thing to note, shaving soap will almost never lather up as much as the canned creams you’re used to, and instead you’ll probably end up with something a bit looser and more watery. However, the more you work it with your brush, the more it will lather, but you’re goal should be a foam that forms small, rounded peaks when you pull the brush away.
Once the lather is ready, use the brush to evenly apply it to the face, again using small circular motions. This motion helps to draw up the hairs and ensure everything is fully coated. Check out this video/article on how to create a lather with a shaving brush which is fairly similar to creating a lather with shaving soap.
Experimentation is Key
As we’ve said, it may take you some time to find the precise method that works best for your brush and soap. There is no right way or wrong way how to use shaving soap, so don’t be afraid to experiment with longer/shorter loading and/or lathering times, more/less water, etc. If after trying many different methods, you still can’t seem to get a proper lather, your problem is likely related to hard water, as the minerals in hard water can sometimes effect the lathering potential of many shaving soaps. If you think this might be the case, try using a bottle of distilled water to see if the results improve, or test your home for hard water to find out for sure.
It definitely takes a bit of time to learn how to use shaving soap properly, but once you finally get the hand of it, it will surely be a rewarding experience—helping you on the way to a more enjoyable shaving experience. Don’t forget to pick yourself a quality safety razor as well to achieve that perfect baby bottom smooth shave we all desire. Check out the top safety razors here to see which one is right for you.
Ben Rose is the founder and senior editor at Prim&Prep, the definitive guide to male grooming. He is a wet shaving expert and body grooming aficionado. His work has been featured on many other prominent publications including Good Men Project, Addicted to Success, Steven Aitchison, and Sharpologist.