Last updated on December 5th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
You don’t need to go to a barbershop to get a world class shave.
To have one, you’ll need the right tools and it starts with a razor.
But another tool that’s important is a protective agent that helps the blade glide over skin.
Most men will go for a shaving cream or gel because it’s widely available in pharmacies and groceries.
That’s all well and good but if you want a great shave you have to consider trying a shaving soap.
Old school product
This product is one of the oldest shaving products that exist. It’s been in production since the early 19th century and peaked in popularity during the 1950s but died down after that.
But it’s making a comeback thanks to a new generation of wet shavers who want to bring back old school.
Men who want to experience the truest form of old school shaving should try this.
Shaving soaps function like shaving cream – hydrates, protects and provide lubrication on skin while you shave.
It protects your skin from friction caused by direct contact of blade to skin and helps keep it hydrated through the shaving process and afterwards to prevent irritation, ingrown hair and razor burn.
The very best products which I’ll share in this article will provide a rich lather, slick lubricity and great post shave that’ll protect the skin from drying up.
Even if you’re a beginner, this product is worth looking at.
There are two types of shaving soaps:
1. Triple milled
Triple milled soaps are the hardest because it went through the mill three times.
What does this mean?
It simply means that after coming out of the mold, the manufacturer will break it apart again and run it through the milling process again, twice. This process increases density and supposedly makes it last longer.
Many brands claim to be “high end” because they used the triple milled process but that’s not the only basis.
This is just one way of manufacturing this product and shouldn’t be the only criteria you look at.
Biggest advantage of a triple milled soap would be longevity – a puck will last for a few months. But it’ll take the longest to prep because you’ll have to soak it in hot water before creating a decent lather.
2. Soft soap or “Italian style” soap (some call this a “croap”)
Soft soaps are softer and have a “putty like” consistency that makes it easier to load compared to a hard triple-milled soap.
Which of the two is better?
If you don’t have time it takes to prep a hard soap then go with the “croap” because it takes less than a minute to load.
But there are brands that do not require any soaking at all. One brand that comes to mind is the D.R. Harris – one of the oldest brands in wet shaving.
If there’s any reason to use a shaving soap over shaving cream. It would be the incredibly slick lather it produces where the blade will literally glide over skin.
The great thing about this product is that as you go to the 2nd and 3rd pass, it becomes slicker and provides you protection that a Barbasol can only dream of.
For men who have sensitive skin in the neck area, a shaving soap is a great option that will provide enough lubrication and moisture to prevent cuts and razor burn.
This product is that good – you just have to choose the right brand and that’s what this article is for.
Manufacturers use either tallow or glycerin as the base, sometimes both. Conventional wisdom states that tallow-based soaps are superior but that isn’t so.
I’ve seen a glycerin based soap that performed well and bad. Likewise with a tallow base soap.
It all boils down to the ingredient list and ratio to create just the right slickness and protection.
Modern shave soaps contain oils such as shea butter, palm oil, coconut oil, argan oil, olive oil, etc. that improves performance.
A good product should have the right mix of these ingredients that will provide good slickness, face feel and post shave.
Slickness refers to the amount of lubricity that will help the razor glide over the skin. The better the lubricity, the less chance of razor burn because of the layer of protection it provides.
Face feel means it feels good when applied on the face. There’s no irritation or burning sensation, it just feels good.
Lastly, post shave means the amount of lubrication it leaves on the face after you shave.
Remember that hot water opens up the pores and you don’t want your skin dry because it is most susceptible to irritation and infection. Your skin will need that extra layer of protection after shaving.
Most artisan soaps use natural ingredients so the top brands are relatively safe. But as a rule of thumb there are ingredients that you need to avoid and one of them is parabens.
Some examples of parabens include Ethylparaben, Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Heptylparaben and Isopropylparaben.
Another ingredient to lookout is “fragrance”. If you’re not familiar with that term “fragrance”, it’s a blanket term that accounts to 3,100 different chemicals that manufacturers may not want to disclose.
Frangrance isn’t necessarily bad, even good products have this but if this is an issue to your skin please avoid it.
There’s a big difference between loading up a shaving soap and cream. A shaving soap has a harder consistency that requires a different technique to load up and create lather.
Soak in hot water
First step would be soaking the shaving brush in hot water to soften and hydrate bristles.
You can leave it inside a mug for a minute or better yet soak it while you’re taking a hot shower. This should give it enough time to absorb water.
Make sure to put just enough water to soak the bristles halfway.
Remove excess water
Please don’t let water reach the handle because it can erode the handle, especially if it’s wood. Water can also damage the adhesive that holds the bristles in place.
Knock off excess water then you’re ready to load. When I say knock off, you don’ have to wring the bristles, just shake off excess water and you’re ready to go.
The next steps would depend on your preference. Some men like to soak the puck in hot water to get a better lather.
Others would just prefer twirling it around the puck without loading. Whether going clockwise or counterclockwise it doesn’t matter.
Loading will take between 30 seconds to a minute. It’ll take longer if the soap is hard. One telltale sign that the brush has enough soap is if the bristles clump up.
After that you have two options – loading it on a mug or your face. It’ll be all up to you.
A technique that a lot of wet shavers use if using a triple-milled soap would be soaking it in hot water to reduce prep time. Some brands will not even need soaking even if it’s hard.
Softer soaps will load easier even without soaking.
Before I go to the specific product recommendations, let me briefly go over some important points.
Manufacturers are either artisans or mainstream.
Artisans are independent manufacturers that only produce limited quantities but use high quality ingredients.
Unfortunately, these brands can come and go and their formulations do change in the course of time so availability will be an issue.
Mainstream products are available in more places because these companies have more resources at their disposal.
The ingredient list may not be as natural as artisan brands but it’ll be easier to find these products because of the reach these companies have.
A good example of a mainstream brand is the RazoRock.
What are the best shaving soaps?
A hunt for alum sticks for his father-in-law led to Joseph Abbatangelo to a grooming business named RazoRock.
RazoRock XXX is an Italian shaving soap that now uses the new Super Tallow recipe that includes tallow, shea butter, aloe vera, argan oil and lanolin.
These ingredients combine to provide excellent moisturizing properties even up to post shave.
You will not need to apply aftershave when using this!
The softer consistency means this will be easy to load and you don’t need a lot to create a rich, luxurious lather.
Men have describe its scent as “traditional Italian” inspired by Acqua di Parma Colonia Classica.
There’s also a hint of citrus with the orange, lemon and bergamot complimented by earthy scents.
- Very slick
- Excellent lubrication and hydration
- Easy to load
- Great post shave
- Natural ingredients
- Scent is subjective
- Price on the high side
If there’s one good reason to buy an artisan product, it’s the high-quality ingredient list. This product is no different and it reflects in the rich lather it produces.
Just to give you an idea how this product performs, watch this video…
Why is it a favorite?
This product is a favorite by a lot of wet shavers and the video above shows you why. It loads easy, has very slick lubricity and post shave is great.
A slick lather will allow you to shave closer even without going against the grain with a very sharp blade.
Even if you do multiple passes, it’ll provide enough protection to prevent razor burn and tugging.
This is available in Amazon for about $13 and it comes with free shipping!
Bottom line: The RazoRock XXX is a great option for men looking for a slick soap that’ll help them get a close shave. This is classified as a croap so it’ll take around 30 seconds to load. It isn’t the cheapest but you don’t need a lot to create a rich lather so a tub will last a long time.
If you’re familiar with artisan soap makers then Catie’s Bubbles should be a familiar brand to you.
This family business is based in Forked River, New Jersey and named after the owner’s daughter, Catie.
The Le Piment de la Vie scent which in English means “The Spice of Life” is their most popular scent. It’s a combination of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
They also have other scents available:
- Le Marché Du Rasage
- A Midnight Dreary
- La Terre Verte
- Un Jour Gris
- Le Nude
- Irish Coffee
- And much more…
What makes this a popular option is its incredible slickness and post shave moisture thanks to the coconut oil and glycerin content.
The glycerin content makes this “hygroscopic” in nature which means it can absorb large amounts of water.
If you shave at night, you will not need to apply aftershave because the soap itself will provide enough post shave protection.
- Excellent slickness and lubricity
- Easy to load
- You don’t need a lot to create a rich lather
- Masculine scent
- Top notched quality of lather
- Great post shave
- Scent can be subjective
Some have describe the scent as “sweet with a kick”. But the subject of scent is very subjective so your mileage may vary.
You’ll read in some reviews that some men did not like the nutmeg part of the scent but again, it’s subjective so it’s not something that’ll please everyone.
Here’s a lather review done by Nick Shaves on the hand and bowl…
It did not take too much effort and product to create a rich lather. A tub of this can easily last a few months even if you shave every day.
Another video review, this time a shave review…
This product has everything you need in a shaving soap – exceptional slickness, easy to load and great post shave. Scent is subjective but this is a popular scent so give it a try.
You can buy this from stores like West Coast Shaving for around $14 for a 4 ounce tub. It’s also available in Amazon but a bit more expensive.
Bottom line: Catie’s Bubbles is a popular shaving soap for good reason. It’s easy to lather, has excellent lubricity and great post shave – it’s basically checks all the must haves. Definitely not the cheapest but you’ll only need a little to create a luxurious lather so that offsets the price.
D.R. Harris is one of the oldest brands in the grooming industry.
Established in 1790, they literally have centuries of experience in making high quality shaving products. Their product may be the last “old school” soaps with tallow.
Their product line has a number of scents that will suite any man’s preference:
- Almond – combines almond fragrance with warm, “woodsy” notes
- Arlington – a mixture of citrus and fern
- Marlborough – some describe this to have a tobacco-like smell but it’s a mixture of wood (fern and cedar)
- Windsor – men have described this to have a nice citrusy, leathery scent with a hint of pepper, patchouli and vetiver
One unique property of this product is the ease of which you can load even if it’s a hard soap.
This is a huge time saver because a lot of triple milled soaps needs soaking.
Lather is rich, luxurious and thick with a lot of slickness. Post shave is also great. In short, it has all the characteristics you want in a shaving soap but it comes at a price. A 100 gram refill puck will cost around $15 in Amazon.
- Excellent slickness and rich lather
- Easy to load
- Great range of scents available
- Slickness allows you to comfortably shave even with a sharp blade
- Very expensive
Bottom line: D.R. Harris is one of the last old school brands that produce tallow-based soaps. Performance is superb thanks to the styric acid and tallow content inside. It’s easy to load and has a luxurious lather that’s very slick but this is one of the most expensive soaps here. If you can afford this, by all means purchase one but there are other brands that perform as well that are cheaper.
Soap Commander is another artisan soap maker that has “commandeered” a lot of following in the wet shaving community.
This company was born out of necessity because their daughter had eczema.
They did not sell shaving soaps when starting out. Instead it was a handmade soap from natural ingredients to help soothe the itching that plagued her skin.
Eventually they’ve expanded to the wet shaving niche and the rest is history. Darren (the original Soap Commander) is a retired Navy veteran which explains the name.
One thing to note – their soaps needs some pre-soaking to get the best lather.
- Comes in a huge 6 ounce jar – it’ll last a long time!
- Rich and slick lather
- Great option for men with sensitive skin
- Lots of scent options
- Takes time to load
- Needs soaking to soften
Men with sensitive skin will benefit from this product because of the moisturizing properties it provides along with the slickness. The razor will literally glide on the face with this.
Even with a sharp blade like a Personna, it’ll offer enough protection that’ll prevent razor burn.
Bottom line: Soap Commander is a big reason why artisan soaps are awesome. You need to spend a little bit of time to pre-soak this but the results will be worth it because it provides great protection and post shave. You’ll get the best deal when you buy this direct from their website.
Tiki Bar is a tallow-based soap created by Amanda who resides in Alabama.
I’ve read that Amanda is a true artisan in every sense of the word. Being a chemist is a big plus because soap making require a lot of knowledge in chemistry.
All her products are handmade which means she does not use any machines so availability is an issue in most cases. But if you can get your hands on this, it is worth a try because it is that good.
Her shaving soap mixture includes tallow, stearic acid, coconut and lanolin which make it easy to load and create a rich lather. If you’re allergic to lanolin, you may want to steer clear of this but it’s a rarity.
The Set Sail Scent combines lavender, cedar wood, rosemary and mint so it’ll have a minty scent with herb mixed in. Other scents include “Into the Forest Tallow”, “Barber Shoppe Tallow”, “Fougère Vegan”, “Pumpkin Lager Tallow” and much more.
This is a soft soap (or a croap) so it’ll be very easy to load. It won’t take a lot of time to create a rich lather.
Slickness is great as well as moisturization – things you’d expect from a great artisan brand.
But since this is handmade availability is an issue because it’s always out of stock.
- Easy to load
- Great slickness and moisturizing properties
- Wide range of scents
- Nice post shave
- Availability an issue because it’s handmade
Bottom line: This is a must try shaving soap if you can get your hands on this because of its slick and rich lather that provides excellent moisturizing protection thanks to the lanolin content. It’s a soft soap so it won’t take a lot of time to load but this is very difficult to find because it’s always out of stock.
Not a lot of men know about Sir Hare.
Part in reason is the failure of their first formulation didn’t lather well.
Wet shavers in forums have claimed that this second formulation will perform better.
This shaving soap contains tallow, shea and mango butter so it’ll moisturize, shave smooth and leave a great post shave.
It comes in a “Classic Barber” scent that’s not too overpowering but if you’re into timeless scents this is a good option.
But it already has a tub so it saves you money from buying one.
- Scent not too overpowering
- Easy to lather and provides good moisturizing properties thanks to the Shea and mango butter
- Comes with a tub so you don’t have to buy one
- Great post shave
- Natural ingredient list
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a classic scented shaving soap that isn’t too overpowering then give this product a try. It’s another option for men with sensitive skin because of its moisturizing properties. The tallow content helps in terms of slickness for a smooth shave.
Barrister & Mann is yet another astrisan soap maker based in the USA. Its tallow-based soap but it won’t have any issues with hard water according to the Sharpologist.
Scent is a combination of aquatic, sandalwood, bergamont and jasmine fragrance. Nick Shaves describe this to be “masculine and fresh”.
The infusion of argan and shea butter means this will moisturize well, leaving a layer of protection on the skin up to the post shave. Loading is easy so novices will also like this soap.
- Easy to load
- Slick lather
- Very good post shave
- Won’t break the bank (if you buy it direct)
- Good scent variance
- Tallow based so it may have issues lathering with hard water
Bottom line: Barrister & Mann is another great option for wet shavers because it’s easy to load and offers excellent moisturizing properties and post-shave thanks to the glycerin, argan and shea butter content. Other scents have issues with hard water but this should fare better.
Mama Bears is another artisan maker who specializes in handmade soaps and this includes shaving soaps! They offer a wide range of scents that include British Leather, Aged Spice (smells like old spice), Sandalwood Vanilla, Frankincense and Myrrh, Lavender and Vanilla and much more.
Their soaps are very easy to load and provide excellent lather but it is a bit lacking in slickness. This brand may not work for men with sensitive skin due to the slickness deficiency but your mileage may vary.
Tabac is another popular product because of its thick lather and strong masculine scent that lingers.
This soap uses a scent that’s considered the most famous men’s fragrance in Germany. Its equivalent to what Oil Spice’s scent is to Americans.
Not a surprise with a fragrance company making this soap.
The scent is sophisticated that combines “peppery spicy notes and elegantly rounded off by exotic woods, musk ambergris and floral complex”.
To some it smells like cologne but this scent will be subjective. If you don’t like strong scents, this soap may not be for you.
Despite being a hard soap, this will be easy to load. Lather is rich and luxurious but it’s lacking a bit in terms of slickness.
The lack of slickness is somewhat troubling since this is considered a high-end soap priced at over $3/ounce if you buy it with the tub.
There you go, just summarized the best shaving soaps that are available in the market. Soaps above “other options” are recommendations while “other options” are also good choices but have some potential drawbacks that does not justify the price.
Here are some tips to help you further narrow down your choices. For those who live in areas where there is hard water, try to avoid tallow-based soaps because hard water affects the lather it produces. It can be tricky creating a great lather.
D.L. Harris is one of the oldest brands that make shaving soaps from tallow and triple milled. And despite being a hard soap, this still loads easy. Having tallow and styric acid helps it in terms of slickness and moisture so if your area doesn’t have hard water, this is a good option.
RazoRock is a favorite by a lot of shaving Vloggers like Nick Shaves and ShaveBusta because of it’s slick nature and great post shave. It’ll allow you to use a sharp blade like a Feather but still provide enough protection to get really close without irritation.
The Tiki soap is another great option again because of its skin friendly ingredient list. Like all the top soaps in this list, it’s easy to load but the biggest con is availability. This product is often out of stock because it isn’t mass produced.
Garrick spends his days researching and writing about grooming. When he’s not in front of his computer, you can find him hanging around with his wife and son.