If you are on the perpetual quest for the best shave of your life you are not alone. Wet shaving can often feel like an enigma, a code so unbreakable even Alan Turing couldn't crack it. Shaving cream vs shaving soap, the blue pill or the red pill down the rabbit hole we must go. Which one is the clear defining leader that delivers a smoother and closer shave, the most luxurious cushiony lather, so thick and so creamy you could frost a wedding cake with it? Ask two experienced wet shavers and you are bound to get three separate opinions on which is best.
Even the best shaving products, the sharpest of blades, the highest quality safety razor or straight razor, and sublime fine badger brush alone are only part of the equation to a good shave.
Truth be told as a traditionalist through my exploration of the resulting lather of higher quality shaving creams and soaps my personal kit will always contain a high-quality shaving soap that comes as a puck (triple milled soaps), Glycerin based, retains water very well, a ceramic shaving bowl, a stiff shaving brush, and after-shave balm that is my preference.
Aside from canned shave cream or shape-shifting gel, higher-quality shave creams and soaps both produce a creamy lather that is both luxurious and delivers a smooth and gentle shave.
But we aren't here for just a good lather or just a nice lather we are on the quest for that luxurious lather thick as clouds blocking out the sun with the consistency of a soft pillow, dense, smooth as silk, slick as the frost the highest quality shaving experience of your life!
Cream vs Soap that is the question. Ah, yes. we have come full circle. The answer is both complex and yet very simple, it depends. Both produce great lather and offer a close shave neither is definitively better than the other the two serve their purpose. It depends on your preference, it depends on your skin type, dry, oily or sensitive, it depends on what base you prefer, tallow based (animal) or vegan, the fragrance profile or lack thereof and of course the ingredients used synthetic, natural or mystical. The best shaving cream or soap is a matter of what works best for you.
Therein lies the conundrum of every wet shaver from the beginner to the experienced when shopping for shaving products which one offers the best shave let us solve the enigma by breaking down the anatomy of both and gain a better understanding of the two, and finally end the debate and answer is it better to shave with soap or shaving cream?
The Story Behind the Debate
Pitting these two shaving lubricants against each other is a tradition that goes back to 1919 when Frank Shields, a former MIT professor developed the first-ever canned cream Barbasol the first canned shaving cream solution or alternative to using a shaving brush to work lather from soap.
It was the first real progress in the shaving process since the Mesopotamians mixed animal fats with ash to create primitive soaps thousands of years ago similar to the ancient Egyptians who were the first in history to take shaving seriously.
This new cream eliminated the need for a shaving brush, providing faster shaves but also tinkering with the format of this ancient ritual. And some people didn't appreciate that, which we understand because shaving is personal.
Soap traditionalists had an opinion about this newfangled cream, and they did not like it. Too thin, too perfumed, too messy. They preferred the shave they got from soap. But Shields' cream did garner a fair amount of fans, especially those looking for convenience, and thus canned cream became more popular.
But that doesn't necessarily mean they're better. Thus was born the eternal question all men who wet shave must ask...
Shaving Soap or Shaving Cream Which Is Better?
There is an answer, one is better than the other, but we'll be straight with you right away: the winner of this exchange of views depends on your needs and preferences.
Sorry, we know that sounds like a cop-out. Unfortunately, there's no way around it. The answer really does hang on the balance of your personal preference.
So--let's nerd out on this! Let's get smart about what will work best for you and crack open the books. Set aside a few stinkin' minutes of your life and get an answer that makes you happy about your shave! If you're new to wet shaving, it's a requirement. But don't worry--It will be fun.
What Are Shaving Soaps?
Shaving soaps were introduced in the late 14th century and were the only option for shaving men until World War I. Shaving soap is the classic choice for traditional shaving that is designed to provide a protective barrier between your skin and a shaving instrument either a straight razor or DE safety razor that offers less irritation when shaving and reduces razor bumps. Shaving soaps get their texture from glycerin which is a fancy term for fat or oil (tallow-based soaps) that has a high water content that provides the perfect thick lather. Glycerin-based soaps can be both vegan and non-vegan composed of tallow, often combined with perfumes and intense fragrances or available fragrance-free.
The options are limitless from contemporary purveyors to artisanal such as Barrister and Mann from the United States or Classic Italian shaving soaps such as Cella or luxury shaving soaps from Thiers Issard of France, to the generational Taylor of Old Bond Street of England is what makes discovering and shaving with shaving soaps oh so fun. Every man or woman or however you identify can shave with shaving soap. If you love traditional shaving, you got to love shaving soap. You can like both, either shaving cream and shaving soap, but if you want a true classic shave, it will always be with traditional shaving soaps.
Then the question becomes, is there a difference between my shaving soap and the Irish Spring you see in the supermarket?
Shaving soap is made with ingredients that lubricate, hydrate, and sterilize your skin, soap is made to wash the day away. Perfect for prepping your face for a shave but not too strong for scrubbing other parts of your body.
Sounds simple, right? Shaving soaps are used for shaving. But there's more.
There are a few different types of shaving soaps and not only that--it can get a little confusing because there are creamy soaps and later we'll see creams, and they're not the same thing.
Shaving Soaps Types
Triple Milled soaps
Regardless of its namesake shaving soaps aren't soaps. Soaps are dehydrating and formulated to remove dirt and grime while shaving soap is formulated to do the opposite; hydrate and moisturize, disinfect, add effortless glide and of course, offer a thicker lather.
To understand what is shaving soap we must first understand the manufacturing process behind it. Shaving soap can be triple-milled, which indicates that the soap was first grated, then melted, and finally pressed into a shape what we call a "Puck". This process evaporates the extra moisture from the soap, yielding a milder, longer-lasting, and generally superior product that requires a shaving brush to lather, and is the most popular in our online shaving store.
Then there is "croap soap" cream + soap = CROAP, which shares the same qualities as shaving creams and soaps such as Cella De Barbera due to the amount of moisture they contain, croaps do not require a brush to render lather.
The third categorization is semi-hard soap, which is a hybrid between triple-milled and croap soap or cream soaps. More solid than soft shaving cream and has plenty of stable, creamy bubbles. The texture of this semi-hard soap is harder than many shaving creams and softer than soaps but can still have the shape of a puck and doesn't last long.
The truth of the matter is that no matter which you choose, shaving soap or cream, you always have to read the ingredient list. Here's the key to understanding what it all means:
Understand your preferred balance of ingredients
Find a maker that gives you the best combination of the most beneficial parts
Okay, so that takes a fair amount of care, and we think it's worth it but even if you don't, knowing what you're looking at can at least help figure out what to do if you decide you want a change in the future.
Traditional Shaving Soap
Thank the ancient Sumerians over 5,000 years ago for the first soap recipe: oil and ash. Not much has changed. To make shaving soap oils and fats are boiled with alkalis (sodium or potassium hydroxides). The best shaving soap hasn't strayed much from this formula.
There are plant and animal fat-based soaps. Here are some of the most common:
Tallow (animal fat)
Soaps also contain ingredients with high stearic acid, which help make it slick and to lather up. When mixed with the fats, it creates a "saponifying" effect, which as this amazing word suggests, is the act of something turning into soap.
Because soaps can be drying, the best manufacturers add moisturizing agents. Look for:
Butters and milks, like cocoa butter, kokum butter, goat’s milk, mango seed butter
Other ingredients like allantoin, aloe vera, beeswax, or lanolin
All of the above elements work in concert to disinfect and nourish the skin. Vitamin E (tocopherol) is protection that also fights free radicals. Menthol cools the skin but also serves as an antiseptic.
One last word: creamy shaving soaps acquire their smooth texture with glycerin (fat or oil) which gives them the smooth texture.
Not all shaving creams are made with the exact same things but they are all made the same way. The ingredients have a dual action - cleaning dirt and grease and softening the skin.
Lathering and cleaning Agents:
Emulsifiers (holds onto the skin):
Polyoxyethylene sorbitan monostearate emulsifiers
Emollient or Skin Softener:
Different Forms Of Shaving Soaps and Creams
All things considered, here are the various forms of shave soap available...
Shaving Stick:A shaving stick is within the category of shaving soaps that comes in the form of a cylinder or stick that can be applied directly to wet skin, lathered in your hand, or used on a brush hand lathered or brush lathered or brush lathered in a bowl. It's also great for touch-ups while wet shaving to easily apply more soap where it is needed.
Who would use a shaving stick? Shaving sticks are compact and take up less counter space, they are great for stuffing into a Dopp kit for traveling, weekend getaways in a toiletry bag, or for anyone who has limited storage space or counter space.
Shaving Bar Soap: If you can remember a time before disposable razors and close your eyes and think of a wet brush a safety razor, and lather dressing the bathroom sink, or a barber lathering warm water in a shaving bowl you will be transported back to a time of traditional shaving. The kind your grandfather used to do, that's shaving bar soap. Originally produced for men's beards to soften a beard before straight razor shaving or with a classic double edge safety razor shaving soaps are the most preferred choice among wet shaving aficionados.
Shaving soap bars are the hard soap that is triple milled in the shape of a "Puck" traditionally triple pressed into a solid consistency with an indentation for direct wet lathering with a brush by hand in a shaving bowl that provides some would say a superior creamy thick lather and protective barrier between the skin and the shaving instrument.
Who would use shaving soaps? Shaving soap has seen a great resurgence in popularity and is readily available to purchase online. If you hold your daily shaving ritual in high esteem and savor the traditional aspects of the wet shaving routine, value having a bit more control over one of the most essential products used in your shaving regimen then shaving soaps are the preferred choice. Shaving soaps are long-lasting, the most economical choice, and no more complicated than off-the-shelf shaving gels or creams and let us not forget the perfect lather.
Creamy shaving soaps (Morbid Shaving Soaps): Soft shaving soaps that have a smooth, moist texture and soft consistency. A great example of creamy shaving soaps is Taylor of Old Bond Street, which offers equally excellent results. The only difference is the water content vs triple pressed soap pucks thus requiring you to purchase them more frequently.
Who would use creamy shaving soaps? The performance vs hard shave soaps is just about the same no matter the skin type in terms of shaveability and protection against razor burn and skin irritation the only difference is economics. Creamy soaps don't last as long, although a bit more luxurious it doesn't fit in the economical bracket if that is a concern.
What Are Shaving Creams?
Shaving creams are extremely well known in the shaving community who hasn't heard of Proraso shaving cream. Shaving creams soften your skin and hair in preparation for wet shaving, but they carry more moisture than shave soap. They are a little easier to work into a lather than soap and work on many different kinds of stubble and skin types.
Types of Shaving Creams
Latherless Shaving Creams: Can be applied directly to wet skin without having to work into a lather
Lathering Shaving Creams: Water needs to be added to the cream, which can be worked into a rather on the skin, in your hand, or in a bowl.
A Brief Mention of Shaving Gels and Foam
Innovation may breed ingenuity, but it can't guarantee taste. Thus: aerosol shaving gels and foams--solutions that work in a pinch still create foam but provide an otherwise terrible wet shaving experience. A long time ago marketers labeled them as creams but don't get them confused. If you push a button to make something transform its shape and nature or it lights on fire, it is not true shaving cream.
Here we talk about shaving creams in the traditional sense, made with fine, natural, non-combustible ingredients.
The Relationship Between Soap and Brushes
You can make a tough face all you want. Facial skin is still amongst the most sensitive skin on the body. Shaving brushes are designed to prepare your face for the up close and personal experience with a razor blade. Even the best shaving soap requires a brush. You can use a stiff brush or a soft brush, just not no brush.
The bristles of a shaving brush are malleable and firm. Pushed into your skin, they help your pores to open up and be prepared for the relative harshness of the razor.
It's easy to pass off a brush as a little too much pageantry, but they're fully functional and the secret weapon for many wet shavers.
Here are a few tips:
Use stiffer and harder brushes with hard soaps
Use a softer brush for creamier soaps
A badger bristle brush is higher quality than synthetic, but you can find good versions of both
Shaving brushesare so important to shaving we wrote about them too! If you already have one, we have a complete guide on cleaning your shaving brush.
Ok So Which Is Better Cream Vs Soap The Verdict
As you can see it really does depend...
Both shaving creams and shaving soap have their advantages and disadvantages. Some say creams are easier to lather but shaving soaps cost less to buy. Creamy lathers are too thin, say some, soapy lathers are too thick, say others. Use creams in the home, soaps on the road, says the man about town. Use soaps or creams just don't use shaving gel, says the guy who's tried it all.
It all depends on what you need.
For a premium shaving experience, a good quality shaving soap will be great, but so will a shaving cream.
Hard shaving soap is the most durable of all shaving lubricants.
This really depends on the ingredients. Glycerin soaps provide moisture and lead to an irritation-free shave.
Shaving cream requires fewer steps, but are you really saving that much time?
Sticks are great for travel. Toss them in your bag and go.
Since your cream or soap determines how you'll smell up close, make sure to follow your nose, too.
So Which Is It? Cream or Soap?
Why pick? Can't you enjoy both? Shouldn't you be able to enjoy a soap when you want a more traditional experience and cream when you want something a little different? Why can't you have a stick for on the road and a tube for in the house?
You can, fellow wet shavers, you can! Start off with a few different products and eventually you'll find one you will love.
Lathering 101 How To Lather With ShavingSoapsAnd Creams
How to Lather with a Shaving Soap
Shaving soap requires a little skill. This scares some guys off, but they weren't cut out for shaving anyway.