A long, long time ago, men would use sea sponges to lather up their faces and trim their whiskers. Fortunately, the French aristocracy invented the shaving brush back in the middle of the 18th century, and that’s what we’ve been using since then— as fun as it would be to go diving in the sea to procure your wet shaving kit, having a dedicated tool like the shaving brush saves a lot of time.
But how do you know how a good shaving brush feels if you've never used one?
When you try a shaving brush for the first time, it's important to consider the following factors. Does it have a suitable backbone? Backbone, or flex as it's sometimes called, refers to the stiffness attributed to the knot of the shaving brush. How soft are the bristles? Will it work better with shaving soap or foam? What about a badger shaving brush? How does badger hair help? Do I need a shaving bowl?
Relax! We've compiled this article so that you too can be a veritable expert when it comes to how to buy the very best shaving brush, how to use a shaving brush, what it can do for your facial hair, what types of shaving brushes there are, and their history and construction.
There are various fine brushes available and Grown Man Shave carries three types of shaving brushes: badger hair,boar hair, and synthetic brushes.
Brief History of Shaving Brushes
The shaving brush was invented sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries in the upper classes of western Europe, but most likely in France. Shaving brushes became commonplace as beards became a symbol of lower classes, soldiers, and priests while a clean-shaven face or a face with a trimmed mustache became the fashion in the nobility.
As a result of this change, tools and products were developed to facilitate the nobles' pursuit of a clean-shaven face free of irritation and cuts. Along with shaving soaps, shaving creams, and new straight razors was the shaving brush. As with all of the aristocracy's choices of how the brushes were made, second-best would never have done so while there were experiments with horse hair brushes and boar bristle brushes, the early gold standard developed was the primacy of badger brushes in terms of brushes with natural hair.
The shaving brush actually has a long and storied history - one that is steeped in greed, warfare, and ingenuity. You can read more about it here.
The Advantages of Shaving Brushes
A shaving brush isn't simply a fun, fuzzy-looking tool to have on display in your bathroom, it is actually there to serve a very important purpose. Shaving is, essentially, a traumatic experience on your face. Facial skin is amongst the most sensitive skin on the body, and the shaving brush has been developed to help with skin sensitivity.
The bristles of a shaving brush are developed to be both malleable and firm - giving your face a small exfoliation before a shave to allow your pores to open up and be prepared for the relative harshness of the razor.
There are many advantages of shaving brushes, most of them practical, as it makes for a better wet shaving experience, but also in terms of style. As we mentioned in the beginning, shaving brushes began as a status symbol and remain so today.
The Anatomy of a Shaving Brush
Shaving brushes are made from two essential components - the handle and the brush. The hair of your brush, whether it be made of natural or synthetic materials, will be attached to the handle of the brush with powerful epoxy glue. Shaving brushes vary in the construction and materials of their handles, as well as the knot and loft height of their bristles.
What do handles on shaving brushes do?
The handle is just that - the part of the brush that you hold in your hand. Handles can be made from a bunch of different materials, although these days they are most often made from wood, metal, or resin. Handles are often short, not like the handle of, for instance, a hairbrush or a toothbrush. Shaving brushes are meant to be held in your fingertips rather than your fist.
What is a shaving brush knot?
You will often see the descriptors of 'knot and loft' when shaving brushes are being described. Knot simply refers to how wide the spread of hairs is in the brush itself. While all shaving brushes have the classic concave design, you will see in photos that some will have a narrower concave while others have a wider one. Traditionally, a wider knot means that there is more hair in the brush. More hair means more luxurious brushes, which means a better shave.
What is a shaving brush loft?
The loft of a hair shaving brush refers to how long the bristles are in the brush. The higher the loft, the more flexibility in the bristles and the more of the face they can reach when being used. However, the length can also lead to the bristles being less stable, and more prone to being damaged, which makes a shorter loft sometimes desirable. Again, your personal preference should be your guide.
How to Use Your Shaving Brush
While we go into more detail here about wet shaving, here's how to best use your new shaving brush:
When you use a shaving brush, always start by soaking it in warm water. This will essentially warm up the brush for use by giving the hair time to saturate.
Apply shaving cream, shaving foam, or shaving soap to your brush after it has had time to prime. Depending on what product you use, they will often have different directions for how best to use it, but often it involves applying a small amount to the middle of your brush and mixing it in a shaving mug or shaving bowl. Once you have a lather, you're ready.
Lather up your face by using small circular brush strokes on your face (or whatever area you're shaving!) This motion will allow the maximum distribution of your lather and ensure it gets fully around each hair follicle.
Shave! We've got a step-by-step guide for that too, here.
The Different Types of Shaving Brushes
Badger Hair Brushes
Wet shavers all over the world agree that badger hairs are the best nature has to offer for a great shave. There’s simply nothing else that comes close. Brushes with boar bristles and horse hairs do work, but they’re stiffer, coarser, and not as pleasant to the touch—and face—as badger hairs.
All badger hairs come from China, where the badger is not only unendangered but classified as a pest and culled annually.
The gold-standard of shaving brushes for centuries
Fantastic water retention and fine bristles allow for a rich lather
Very soft on the skin for minimal damage
Softer than other brushes so less exfoliation
Reputation for being expensive
Imitation silvertip badger brushes are flooding the market
Boar Bristle Shaving Brushes
Boar shaving brushes do not quite make the most luxurious brushes like badger hair does, but they have their own advantages. Boar brushes hold less water and lather than badger hair, but they also filter out water that can sometimes oversaturate a lather when using badger hair, which is very absorbent. A boar brush is also coarser than badger hair, meaning it can help exfoliate dry skin before shaving.
Will soften over time
Deals well with dense shaving creams
Effective at lifting hair from the skin
More brittle compared to badger hair
Retains less water than badger hair
Less popular than other natural hair brushes
Horsehair Shaving Brushes
While horse hair brushes have gone out of style compared to the boar brush and the always-classic badger shaving brush, horse hair shaving brushes can still be found if you look hard enough. However, we do not carry horse hair shaving brushes in stock.
Mid-ground between coarse boar hair and soft badger hair
Makes an excellent lather
Higher loft, meaning different lathering motions (up/down vs small circles)
Floppier than boar or badger hair brushes
Often needs to be combed
Types of Badger Hair Shaving Brushes
Best Badger Hair Shaving Brushes
Best Badger or best badger hair brushes are an upgrade from pure hair and the most affordable quality badger brush we stock. They are generally darker and slightly firmer than either Super badger hair or Silvertip badger hair and come from the back and sides of the badger or belly where the hairs are more pliable, finer, and longer. They still do the job admirably, retain water more effectively than pure hair, and whips up some good lather. They make for a great starter brush and are certainly better than using a sea sponge.
Easy to maintain
Coarser bristles allow for exfoliation
Coarser than other badger hair
Fewer actual hairs in the brush
Super Badger Hair Shaving Brushes
Super Badger is finer and softer than Best badger hair. As such, more are required to fill the badger brush, hence the difference in price. A black band goes around the midsection of Super badger hair, transitioning into a mellow golden-white towards the top.
Nearly indistinguishable from silvertip badger hair
Good balance of affordability and quality
Not the highest quality hair
Can be damaged with misuse
Silvertip Badger Hair Shaving Brushes
Silvertip hairs are found in the neck area of the badger. These badger brushes are the highest quality—most luxurious, plushest, softest, and finest silvertip hairs. Silvertips are by far the rarest and most desirable of badger hair and have been the gold standard of badger hair brushes since they were first made.
Best quality of shaving brush
Incredibly soft badger hair
Excellent water retention for a rich lather
Most expensive type of badger brush
Becoming increasingly rare
Softness doesn't offer exfoliation/massage when using
How Badger Shaving Brushes Are Made
Badger shaving brushes of the highest quality are still made in much the same romantic way that the French crafted them in the previous millennium—by hand and using traditional tools.
First, the hairs are weighed to ensure that each brush gets the same, abundant amount. They are then inserted, head-first, into a concave metal mold to give them the signature dome-like shape. Next, the bundle—as it is called—is tied, the bottoms of the hairs sheared off, and stray hairs removed by going through it with a fine-toothed comb. Finally, the hairs are carefully glued using special, near-indestructible epoxy, into the handle.
A variety of materials may be used for the handle. In the past, when brushes were more of a status symbol, it was not uncommon to see handles from ivory or even gold.
The handles on the brushes we carry are made from wood, metal, or the highest quality resin, designed to imitate ivory, ebony, or horn.
If badger hairs are the best nature has to offer to the wet shaver, then synthetic brushes—the ones we carry, that is!—are the best man has to offer. The properties that make badger hairs so soft and effective for whipping up luxurious lather have been carefully studied and reproduced by man-made synthetic bristle fibers. But it is only recently that synthetic brushes have been regarded seriously — it took time for technology to catch up with nature.
As to the question of which is better—badger hair or synthetic brushes—that’s a subjective matter that every wet shaver will have to decide for himself.
The advantages of a synthetic shaving brush are that it’s absolutely vegan and cruelty-free and that because the fibers don’t soak up water, less lather is needed to shave.
In terms of care, because synthetic fibers don’t soak up water like natural hairs of fine brushes, they’ll dry much faster than natural hair and will not develop mildew. They should still be allowed to dry fully between shaves, though, just like badger shaving brushes.
Choosing the Best Badger Brush
The best badger brush is going to be the one that best suits your needs right now. A badger brush that is affordable and easy to maintain is probably one of our Best badger brushes. If you're looking for something mid-range with a beautiful tricolor array of hair, super badger brushes may be up your alley. If you're looking for the optimal shaving brush from the finest hair on the badger's body, then a Silvertip brush should be your choice.
Caring for Your Shaving Brushes
The brushes we carry are made with great dedication and expertise, and should easily last for more than a decade and even longer. Like any other carefully crafted object, though, they do require the right kind of care.
It is of extreme importance that the brush is cleaned and dried fully between shaves. You want to start by rinsing it very well after each shave. Then, give it a few good vigorous shakes over the sink until water no longer comes out.
In case you don’t have one, you can leave it standing upright. Either way, your brush wants to be in a cool, dry place with some ventilation—not inside your medicine cabinet or in the shower stall.
If for whatever reason, the hairs develop mildew, you can soak them in a solution of borax, which can be obtained from any pharmacy.
Shaving Brush Frequently Asked Questions
Why is a good-quality shaving brush important?
A high-quality brush will bring out the best in each aspect of shaving. A comfortable shave is important, so investing in a quality shaving brush is just as important. Depending on the quality of your brush, you can expect a better wet shaving experience - each aspect of a good brush builds on the next: the fineness of the bristles will impact the lathering process. This will make a richer lather from your lathering soaps or shaving cream. The richer the lather, the smoother the shave. All of this is built on the back of the quality of your shaving brush.
Do shaving brushes make a better shave?
The short answer for this is yes.
The long answer for this is that the badger hair in the shaving brush is also designed to whip up the shaving cream into a nice lather, and the richer the lather, the less resistance there will be when using your razor. The shaving brush bristles are also great for making sure that the lather gets evenly around, between, and over each hair follicle on your face, rather than just being slapped on with your hands. All around, shaving brushes simply make shaving easier on your face.
Do you need a brush for shaving soap?
Yes - to best use shaving soap, shaving foam, or shaving cream, you're going to want to use a shaving brush. Shaving brushes and their fine bristles are designed to maximize the efficiency of the soap or cream, creating a rich lather with it that simply using your hands or some other tool will not produce.
This lather will help give you a smoother shave and keep your facial skin optimal after a wet shave.
What shaving brush should you buy?
Your shaving brush should be exactly what youwant from it. We can explain the trends, aspects, and different things that other people find important and relevant, but ultimately it should be up to you to figure out what kind of shaving brush first your personal preference.
How do I choose the right shaving brush?
The best choice of a shaving brush is based on what you prize most - is it the highest quality, top-of-the-line brush? You are best served with a silvertip badger brush (see below/above for an in-depth explanation of the different badger brushes). Are you looking for a rougher touch on your face? Boar shaving brushes might be up your alley. Are you looking for something that is completely cruelty-free and vegan? We'd recommend a synthetic shaving brush.
However, there are more considerations than simply what the brush quality is on bristles alone. You'll be holding this tool in your hand every morning if you're a daily shaver - so having a handle that suits your comfort and needs might be your top consideration.
Our recommendation for how to choose the right shaving brush is to first determine what exactly you want from your particular shaving brush. With any brush, you're going to get the baseline good wet shave and smooth face, but consider what is most important to you in terms of bells and whistles. From there, check out our extensive selection to choose which brush best suits you.
How often should I replace my shaving brush?
You'll often come to the conclusion yourself, but a shaving brush should last in the ballpark of 10 years. However, there are some important caveats to this.
All shaving brushes shed, especially those made from badger hair, but this shouldn't be an indication of their longevity. Boar bristles will also be a little more brittle than the other, softer bristles used in brushes. As a result, this kind of brush might need to be replaced earlier than, say, a brush of pure badger hair.
Synthetic shaving brushes have a longer lifespan than shaving brushes that use animal hair like boar brushes, horse hair, or badger brushes. You're unlikely to need to replace something with synthetic bristles before 15 years.
Then, we hesitate to say, there must be the consideration of how you actually take care of and maintain your shaving brush. If you don't properly care for your shaving brush, like leaving it resting on its handle instead of hanging it upside-down with a brush stand, you will surely decrease the lifespan of the brush.
What can I do about shedding?
Shedding is inevitable especially with a new brush, so please, don't freak out and send us an email telling us we didn't warn you - consider this your first warning.
Brush shedding usually occurs within the first few shaves. We estimate that by your fifteenth or twentieth shave with your shaving brush, the hair will stop shedding. Shedding, of course, occurs a little less with synthetic bristles since it is not a badger hair brush with actual animal hair being used.
If, however, hairs keep coming off after the first three or so months of use, it's time to inspect the brush. First, note what kind of hairs are coming off - are they full-length bristles that have glue on the bottom? Or are they short hairs?
Short hairs coming off your brush may mean breaking rather than shedding - it means that somehow, the hairs are becoming brittle and breaking off when being used. This will often happen if you don't let the brush soak in warm water before use. Hot water will sometimes make the epoxy glue fracture, but cold water or no water at all will mean that the hairs in your shaving brush don't get a chance to actually 'warm up' before a shave and may thus be too rigid to do their job, and break.
It is also important to remember that in the case of badger brushes (or boar or horse hair shaving brushes) that they are still made of hair, and should thus be treated like you'd treat your own hair. From time to time, they could do with a good washing with shampoo and combing to get rid of any stray shedded hairs.
If, however, your brush continues to lose hair despite you doing your utmost to maintain it, it is time to contact your shaving brush's manufacturer and ask for a replacement, as there may have been an issue in the manufacturing process.