Shaving cream or soap ... which is better?
Grooming Journal

Shaving cream or soap ... which is better?

One of the most important differences between more traditional shaving products and the gels and foams found in supermarkets is the type of ingredients used to make them. Many of the creams and soaps you'll find in our range contain a number of natural ingredients that not only produce a great lather and a comfortable shave, but also help to soothe, nourish and moisturise the skin. In practice, this generally means much less irritation, even for those with sensitive skin. In fact, there are some products designed especially for sensitive skin types which you can see below.

Shaving Creams

Broadly speaking, shaving creams produce a lather more easily than a soap and are a good choice for someone new to wet shaving or looking for a fast and easy solution. They are soft and a little goopy in consistency, which means it is possible to apply a shaving cream directly to the face with just your fingers and a little water. However, for best results we strongly recommend the use of a shaving brush to build a lather and prepare the skin for the shave.

Despite the ease of use, a quality shaving cream will produce a thick, creamy lather that will help the razor glide over the skin and leave behind a great post-shave feel.

Selecting a shaving cream from our range is largely a decision on your preferred scent, though each brand of shaving cream will offer something slightly different. The Taylor of Old Bond Street range produce an exceptionally slippery, cushioning lather, whilst the Proraso range of creams are a great value option packed full of things like aloe vera, shea butter or menthol to address more specific needs.

Shaving Soaps

The most obvious difference between a shaving cream and a soap is that soaps are set firm or hard compared to the soft consistency of shaving creams. This means that they generally require more water to build a lather, and a brush is always required.

Getting the water ratio right can take some practice to master, making soaps better suited to those with a little more wet shaving experience.

By way of ingredients, shaving soaps can be approximately divided into three main types: tallow-based, glycerine-based and ‘hybrid’ soaps.

Tallow-based soaps contain a high percentage of tallow – a hard, fatty substance derived from animals. These are the most traditional form of shaving soap and have seen a revival of sorts in recent years from brands like Barrister & Mann and Phoenix & Beau. They provide outstanding cushion and glide for the razor, and given their artisan status, often feature the most complex scent profiles. Tallow-based soaps also leave the skin feeling moisturised and nourished after the shave.

Glycerine-based soaps such as those from Colonel Conk use the natural moisturising properties of glycerine to hydrate the skin as well providing the necessary glide for a comfortable shave.

Finally, the ‘hybrid’ soaps may contain tallow or glycerine, but in much smaller amounts – instead relying on other ingredients to provide the desired properties. Some of these soaps, such as those from Proraso, opt for components like plant-derived stearic acid and glycerine to produce a vegan-friendly formula.

Shaving Gels

Shaving gels are non-lathering and remain clear during use, which makes them perfect for tidying up beard lines where accuracy is important. The gel can be applied directly to the cheeks using your hands, without the need for a shaving brush.

When it comes to ingredients in shaving gels, be sure to look out for the essentials. Ingredients like glycerine (a humectant that attracts moisture from the environment around you and brings it to your skin) and Tocopheryl Acetate (also known as Vitamin E and renowned for its reparative properties especially against free radicals) will serve you well.

Which is best?

A quality shaving cream and shaving soap will each produce a thick, cushiony lather that will help the razor glide over the skin and offer protection from irritation. The ease of use of shaving creams makes them a great choice for beginners and their excellent performance means they'll work just as well for an experienced wet shaver.

Meanwhile, lathering a shaving soap can take a little practice to master, but the resulting lather and post-shave conditioning is often excellent thanks to a high tallow or glycerine content. Artisan manufacturers take shaving soaps further by producing them with unique and complex scent profiles that are often unmatched in shaving creams.

And last but not least, shaving gels are great if you’re only looking to do minimal shaving like fine-tuning beard lines.