Last updated on November 28th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
Reading through grooming blogs such as this, you must have come across the term shaving soap or shaving cream. I’ve used it quite extensively in this blog.
And this question pops in your head.
I had those same questions when I was starting out.
The only knowledge prior to doing this research I had about shaving creams was those shaving gels sold by Gillette which really is a not something I’d recommend.
Short answer is both of these products provide lubrication that our skin needs when raking a piece of sharp metal on it.
A lot of men fail to realize that lubrication is needed to achieve a close and irritation free shave.
They think only a sharp razor is needed but that’s probably the biggest mistake anyone can make.
But that’s another topic all together. To learn more about wet shaving please head over to this guide.
Before buying anything off the shelf you must first understand the very product you are buying and the differences in composition.
Different between shaving cream and gel
Some people get shaving gel and shaving cream mixed up. These are different products.
First let me get this out of the way. Cheap aerosol cans like Barbasol or Gillette you see at Walgreens isn’t what you call a true shaving cream.
It’s marketed as such but unless you want constant irritation you do not want to use these.
If you look at the ingredient list, these products contain propane and fragrance that could irritate skin. It’s not something you’d want on sensitive skin.
Good brands such as the Pacific Shaving Company, Proraso, Taylor of Bond Street, Williams and such disclose all of the ingredients they use. As much as possible you’d want to avoid a product with “Fragrance” in it.
A true shaving cream usually comes in a tube and has a thick consistency. And you don’t need a lot to create a rich lather – usually an almond sized drop is enough.
Shaving soap usually comes in a tub and has a very hard consistency (triple-milled soaps are the hardest) similar to a bar soap – hence the term shaving soap.
The harder the consistency the longer the prep time because of the time needed to soak it.
If you don’t like to wait there are some brands that have a softer consistency. Obviously these products aren’t triple milled hence it’s softer.
Enthusiasts like to call this product a croap since it isn’t as hard as a tiple-milled soap which makes it easier to load.
You can use these products with either a cartridge or safety razor. In fact, you’d get a much more comfortable shave by switching to a true shave soap or cream.
I’d highly recommend that you switch from a cartridge to a safety razor because there will be less irritation and you’ll save literally thousands of dollars.
The choice between these two products will boil down to personal preference.
Sure these products will cost more but each container will last for months. And the best part is you’ll have much less irritation and have a much more comfortable shave.
There’s a lot of talk in the wet shaving communities about shaving creams having a scent and shaving soaps not.
That simply is not true. While most shaving creams sold have scents, there are variants that are unscented.
A quick search in Amazon reveals that there are scented shaving soaps available.
Choosing between something scented or unscented will all boil down to preference but remember to check if the product has the ingredient called “fragrance” which is a blanket term used for any of the possible 3,000 artificial scents.
This will vary quite a bit depending on the brand you use. Other factors come into play as well like the type of brush you are using and water supply.
It would be much more difficult to create a rich lather if you’re using hard water as compared to soft water so you’ll be using more soap or cream.
All things being equal, it is much easier to create a rich and thick lather using a shaving cream compared to a shaving soap.
The formulation of these products allows it to produce a thick lather in just a few swirls.
If you’re doing this for the first time then a shaving cream would be the better option. As you master technique and want to experience a wet shaving in its truest sense then you can move to a shaving soap.
When it comes to producing a really slick and thick lather, it’s hard to beat a shaving soap. But it will take lots of practice and patience to master the technique.
This makes it a great option for men who use a straight razor. But regardless of the type of razor you use, having that extra lubrication does not help.
Good brands regardless whether it’s a shaving cream or soap will contain natural ingredients such as natural oils such as coconut, avocado, jojoba and almond.
And essential oils from plants, fruits or flowers that often times give it scent. Some examples of essential oils are lemon, lime, peppermint, lavender and sandalwood.
A lot of shaving soaps available right now have oil like coconut, butter or lanolin.
Some have glycerin – an ingredient found in a lot of cosmetic products like soap and facial cleansers.
Glycerin if you’re not familiar comes from plant oils such as palm or soybean oil.
This ingredient helps shaving soaps absorb water thus providing that protective layer to shield your face from friction brought about by a sharp blade. I think this is one thing that separates shaving soaps from creams or gels.
Another thing to look for in shaving soaps is the milling process. During the manufacturing process everything is mixed through a milling process.
When shopping for a shaving soap you will notice that some brands have gone through a “triple milled process” that simply means it has gone through the milling process three times. The result is a harder product with ingredients evenly mixed.
The biggest difference between a shaving soap and shaving cream/gel would be the prep time. Triple milled shaving soaps require some time to soak in order prior to loading.
Shaving cream does not need any prep time and you’ll be able to create lather with very little water. This makes it a great alternative for men who don’t want to spend extra time soaking shaving soap but still want to wet shave.
But to truly experience the best protection and lubrication you should try a shaving soap. This is how our grand fathers shaved before shaving creams were available.
So to summarize, shaving soaps provide better lubrication but at the expense of prep time while shave creams will almost create a rich lather instantly.
But these products are not the same.
Shaving gels will not produce any lather at all. In fact you don’t need to shaving brush to use it, your fingers are enough.
Using this product with shaving brush can ruin the bristles.
Shaving gels work great for men who don’t want the hassle or the extra expense of a shaving brush. Since it does not create any lather, it works very well with wet/dry electric shavers.
It’s also a popular option for men with sensitive skin since these good brands are pretty mild on the skin. The ease which it is to each is what makes this popular regardless of skin type.
One of the biggest misconceptions a lot of people have about these products is the price. The truth is you don’t need to spend a lot of money.
Don’t let the price discourage you because a tub of this will easily last for months depending on the growth rate of your facial hair.
Shaving creams are more expensive, well at least the high end brands are. For example a 6.8 ounce tub of Castle Forbes will cost around $34.
There are cheaper options available such as the D.R. Harris and Piccadilly. So cost will vary depending on the brand and size of the container.
Choosing between these two products will boil down to preference and experience. If you have even the basic knowledge of how to lather shaving soap but what to step up and experience what it feels like to shave in the 1950s then a shaving soap is a good option.
For men who want something easier to use or still learning the craft then a shaving cream would be the better option.
Also cost is another consideration would be cost, high end shaving creams will cost more than a high end shaving soap.
Men with sensitive skin will have to look for something more gentle on the skin and definitely should consider something without any scents.
If you have dry skin, you may want go with a shaving cream or get as these tend to hold moisture in better.
Scents is a subjective matter but one thing to note is scents in a shaving soap tend to dissipate faster than a cream or gel. Not a big deal if you’re wearing cologne but if you’re relying on any of these products for scent then it’s something to look at.
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.