Unless you’re going full society-shunning hermit, shaving is an unfortunate necessity of every man’s routine. Even if you are growing a masterful beard, you’re going to need to pick up a razor once in awhile to do some shaping.
But picking the ideal gear can be a head-scratcher, if the idea even enters your mind at all. Because as dudes do, we choose one type of product in our teenage years and stick with it for the rest of our lives. With the excuse being: “whatever, this is probably fine.”
But you deserve better than fine. So depending on your facial hair, your time constraints, and the size of your bathroom, you may well need to check out something other than your dusty old favorite.
Old fashioned shaving soaps have had a real resurgence in the last few years. Enticing tins with, like, a fox in a monocle, a penny farthing, or an old-timey bare-knucke boxer with a waxed mustache lure you in with the promise of you becoming even more ruggedly handsome should you use shaving soap.
But then you find you have to buy a brush to apply it, and a mug to mix it, and, oh man all these rules! Why would I even bother?
Well, the thicker lather created by mixing and applying a hard soap provides extra lubrication and moisturizes the skin at the same time. The longer you mix, the richer the lather will become, protecting your skin for a much more comfortable shave.
To get your whiskers as soft as possible, all the oil needs to be removed from them so that the water can penetrate the hair, making the follicle easily removable by your razor. Thick soap lather is easily the best out of all the products at doing that.
The problem with this method is the accoutrements that are needed, such as the badger brush and shaving mug, and the extra space required to store and use them. This isn’t the most suitable method say, for the Manhattan guy living in an apartment the size of a cupboard. Also, even though mixing up the soap only takes an extra two minutes, at 7.45 when Mr Peterson wants you in the boardroom by 8.30, those extra 120 seconds can seem like a lifetime.
The initial outlay cost of everything you need may seem expensive, but over time they become much cheaper and longer lasting than anything else, and make your shave experience feel like a real touch of luxury.
Extra thick lather that draws out oil from whiskers, making them easier to shave off
Low cost, once you bite the bullet and invest in a brush and mug
Especially moisturizing for your skin, resulting in less irritation
Extra equipment required, which takes up space
Mixing process adds time to your already-rushed morning routine
Shaving creams gained real popularity in the early 1940s, abandoning the use of the brush and mug method for a quicker application directly to the skin. Typically non-lathering, a tiny amount of cream can go a long way, hydrating and desensitizing the skin and prepping the hairs on your face with lubrication ready for the razor blade.
The ubiquity of pressurized aerosol foams later in the decade pushed creams to the wayside of men’s grooming products, but modern renditions containing natural ingredients such as coconut oil and manuka honey are now back and gaining traction in the market.
If you’ve got a cast iron set of balls and wanted to experiment with a straight razor, cream would be the preparation of choice. The cream would allow for a deeply hydrating shave with an easier view of where the razor is going, as apposed to the super thick lather of soap, or the foam from a gel.
No extra equipment required
Quick and easy to apply
Usually made of natural ingredients that hydrate and nourish the skin
A little goes a long way
Can be harder to find
Natural ingredients often mean it can be more costly
The first time you use shaving oil can be a strange experience. You only really need two to three drops of the stuff rubbed into your palm then applied to your face, and the closeness of the shave can be intense.
Oil and water don’t mix well, which is what makes your razor glide so smoothly across the skin. Shaving oils are usually made with a plain old vegetable oil base, and don’t contain any unnecessary perfumes or chemicals, meaning it’s a good choice for anyone who experiences irritation with their normal product. Any last bits of the oil on your hands can also be run through your hair for a bit of extra sheen.
The tiny amount of oil needed per shave also means bottles are tiny, which is nice for traveling or maintaining an uncluttered sink (especially helpful if your partner rules the roost when it comes to bathroom products).
And because there is no lather, it’s the perfect choice for dudes who need good sight lines with beards and mustaches to keep everything even and not miss any spots.
No unnecessary chemical ingredients
No lather means it’s great for shaping beards and moustaches
Usually only found in specialty grooming shops
The unfamiliar feeling takes time to get used to
Not protective enough for use with straight razors
Most of the men in this country are dedicated users of this stuff: foams or gels from an aerosol can. It's far from ideal, but that’s just the way it is. The convenience of use, the ease of being able to buy the same can just about anywhere, and the low cost are all powerful motivators.
First introduced in 1949, the aerosol cream has been a market leader ever since. But it's also the worst of the bunch if you're interested in a smooth, comfortable shave. And if you experience any sort of bumps or shaving rash while using one of these, it may well be caused by the chemicals in the formula. Parabens (compounds found in shave foam to prolong the life of the product) haven’t conclusively been found to cause side effects, but we figure that you're better off without.
Quick and convenient
Cheap and easily available at any drug store
Can be used with any type of razor
Sometimes contains dubious ingredients that can cause irritation
Much harsher on skin than the other more moisturizing options
Here’s a little bonus tip: if you find you’re out of shaving cream and, for some reason, clearing away your stubble absolutely cannot wait until you have a chance to run to the store, grab some moisturizer. It’ll provide a smooth enough shave, and won’t clog your razor.
- Fine for emergencies
- Isn’t made for shaving... so get the tissues ready. You're gonna get a nick or ten.
Which is best? Well, that's kind of up to you. Choose whichever best suits your need for convenience, or an ultra close shave, or style points, and go from there.