Shaving cream. Shaving soap. What is the difference? Is there a difference? Which one should you use for wet shaving?
These are all common questions that many avid wet shavers ask.
Shaving cream and shaving soap are both used to help soften hair and lubricate the skin in order to get a smooth, safe, and close shave, reducing the risks of nicks, cuts, and razor burn.
So, is one better than the other? First, let’s look at the primary differences between shaving cream and shaving soap.
Table of Contents
- Shaving Cream and Shaving Soap: What is the Difference?
- Let Your Razor Drive the Shaving Cream vs. Shaving Soap Decision
- Let Your Razor Drive the Shaving Cream vs. Shaving Soap Debate
- Is your soap actually soap?
- Detergent vs. soap: what’s the difference?
- Why is detergent mistaken for soap?
- Shaving soap will get you a close, clean shave
- Allergic to certain soaps? Maybe not…
- It’s time to say goodbye to shaving cream
- Shaving soap is designed to get a good lather
- Upgrade your shaving routine to high-class
- Shaving Soap is More Customizable Than Shaving Cream
- Shaving Cream vs. Shaving Soap: Which is Better For Your Shave?
Shaving Cream and Shaving Soap: What is the Difference?
Let’s first start with the more familiar and popular product: shaving cream. And we aren’t talking about the cheap aerosol can of shaving cream; we are talking about traditional shaving cream.
Sure, it might be a cheap product to use for shaving, but canned shaving cream can often do more harm than good for your skin. Canned shaving cream is infamous for containing potentially harmful, cheap, and questionable ingredients. These ingredients can dry out skin, cause breakouts, and even worsen razor burn.
On the other hand, traditional and high-quality shaving creams contain natural and more beneficial ingredients, such as natural oils, aloe vera, and even shea butter. These ingredients contain vitamins and nutrients that help moisturize and soothe skin. Higher-quality shaving creams typically come in a tube or a tub.
Once you dive into the world of shaving soaps, you will discover that there are multiple types available. For example, there are triple-milled soaps, semi-hard soaps, and “croaps”. “Croaps” are essentially a blend of a cream and soap.
The primary differences between the different types of shaving soaps are consistency (and price). Some wet shavers prefer a thicker consistently over a thinner consistency. This really comes down to personal shaving preferences—and budget. You might have to experiment with different types of shaving soaps in order to find the best option that works for you.
Triple-milled shaving soaps are often the more expensive type. This is because they are seen as a “luxury” shaving soap since they produce a dense lather.
The Pros and Cons of Shaving Soaps and Shaving Creams
Now, that you have a better understanding of the differences between shaving creams and shaving soaps, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each:
- Quick Lather. Many wet shavers prefer to use a shaving cream because it produces a quick lather. And with little time in the morning to spend on shaving, the convenience factor typically outwins a better shave.
- Most shaving creams are relatively cheap. Canned shaving cream can be found at any pharmacy or drug store for $1-$2. Again, we don’t recommend using canned shaving cream under any circumstances; however, even tubed shaving cream is a fairly cost-effective product.This could be considered a pro and a con depending on your shaving needs and budget.
- No Scent. One possible advantage to using a shaving soap over shaving cream is the lingering scent. There are more shaving soaps that are offered in unscented varieties. However, if you enjoy that nice scent that comes from using a quality shaving soap, then you can choose a scented shaving soap.
Again, this could be considered a pro and a con depending on your shaving preferences. If you prefer to go the “no-scent” route, there are fragrance-free shaving soaps available. If you prefer that lingering scent, you can also opt to use a scented shaving soap or even a scented aftershave.
- Difficult Lather. As we mentioned above, shaving cream is easier to work up a lather, mostly because the lather is already there. Because the texture and consistency of shaving soap are a little different, it can take a little longer—and a fair amount of practice, technique, and skill—to work up a sufficient lather.
If after some experimentation, you find that you are struggling with both shaving cream and shaving soap, and are at the point of frustration, the issue may not be you or a lack of skill, it could be your water.
Hard water can have an impact on working up a sufficient lather, especially if you use a shaving soap. “Hard” water is basically water that has high mineral content. Hard water also tends to dry out the skin more than “soft” water.
If you know for a fact that you have hard water, try shaving with distilled water and see if you have any luck working up a lather while using a shaving soap.
Let Your Razor Drive the Shaving Cream vs. Shaving Soap Decision
Your razor–whether you use a cartridge razor, a safety razor or a straight razor–should be the tail that wags the dog on your accouterments decision. The shave cream, shave soap, shave foam or shave butter you eventually use should ultimately be determined by your razor, not the other way around.
The first step in your shave process is to choose a razor that best fits your shaving needs. Whether you choose a cartridge razor, a safety razor or a straight razor, will depend on the sensitivity level of your skin, the time you have to get a shave in and the quality of your shave.
If you want a higher quality shave, we suggest a safety razor or a straight razor. A single blade provides more control over your beard reduction and, especially in the case of the sensitive shaver, provide a less irritating shave.
When it comes to choosing a cream to match your razor, that decision will depend on a number of factors. Let’s discuss each as it relates to the varying type of razors.
Cartridge Razors + Cans & Foams
A more recent invention, the cartridge razor was meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution, marketed to the masses of shavers out there. It requires less know-how, customization and sophistication to operate.
The downside to cartridge razors in their closely-set, multiple-blade design. When the hair is long or course or if the shaving soap/cream is too thick, the area between the blades on a cartridge razor can more easily get gummed-up with post shave stubble and lather.
The upside here is that most cartridge razors actually include some type of lubricating strip mounted to the cartridge head itself. The pivoting action of the blade and the side guard also help in preventing against cuts. This also means that the cartridge razor can be effective under a less creamy environment. Canned shave foams or even the regular shave in the shower are each more easily performed with a cartridge razor than a safety or straight razor without experiencing too much discomfort.
Safety Razor + Thicker Soaps & Creams
Unlike its cartridge razor cousin, the safety razor includes only a single blade set in a razor head with varying degrees of exposure, depending on your safety razor head type. The single blade design allows for a thicker swath of hair and lather to be scraped off the face with each pass. There is much less concern that a thick lather and long facial hair tug and pull against the lubricating against several closely-set blades, like what is had with the multi-blade cartridge razor.
The lack of additional guard protection and a lubricating strip also demands that you use something a bit thicker for protection against the blade. Canned shaving cream works for your safety razor, as long as you take the other necessary steps in preparing your face for your shave, but canned foam does not provide the thick protecting lather that can be had from a quality shaving soap or shaving cream.
There is additional benefit from a thicker, higher-quality lather as well: the smell. Canned foams and creams are made to be function over form and often lack the robust aroma of a quality shave soap.
Straight Razor + The Thickest a Man Can Get
If you determine to use a straight razor, you’re in for a treat: you are encouraged and can easily get a great shave with the thickest possible accouterments available. That’s because there’s no protecting bar to get cream and hair clogging the razor. Keep in mind, there is also nothing preventing you against literally cutting your throat.
As perhaps the most manly of shaving hardware, the straight razor allows the user a direct cut of the hair with no protection. This means the cream or soap should be at its thickest level possible.
Because shaving soap allows for a more customized viscosity, depending on the amount of water you apply to your puck or tin, I typically advise west shavers who use a straight razor, to opt for shave soap over shave cream. You can usually produce a thicker lather by simply adding less water.
As you determine the best shaving hardware + software combination for your face, consider the following:
- Pick a razor based on customize-ability
- Pick a shaving soap or shaving cream based on its ability to produce a quality lather
- Pick the soap based on its aroma, scent or flavor
Above all, make sure that your cream or soap decision is driven by the razor your use. Remember, canned shaving cream was invented to match the features of the cartridge blade and not the other way around.
Let Your Razor Drive the Shaving Cream vs. Shaving Soap Debate
If you’re like most guys, you grew up learning to wet shave with shaving cream. However, by the time you graduated from high school, you probably saw at least one of your buddies using shaving soap. If you weren’t curious about it then, you should be now. Shaving soap is your ticket to a clean, smooth shave.
Believe it or not, shaving soap is probably the only real soap in your house. Unless your soap is hand made by a real soap maker, it’s a good bet the substances you use to wash your body and shave your face are, in fact, not soap. Allow me to explain.
Is your soap actually soap?
How much soap do you think is in your house? Chances are, none. That’s because most products perceived to be soaps are actually detergents. And it’s not a matter of semantics – there is a chemical difference between soap and detergent.
Detergent vs. soap: what’s the difference?
In daily conversation, the word “soap” has become synonymous with anything designed to clean a person or object. However, soap has a legal definition according to the FDA, and detergents don’t meet that definition. True soap is made from natural ingredients like glycerin, essential oils, clay, fats, oats, honey, and milk. Detergents are synthetic and made from chemicals, mainly petroleum.
Real soap retains the moisture in your skin thanks to the glycerin. Synthetic, petroleum-based detergents, including commercial shaving creams, dry out your skin by stripping away oils.
You should be shaving your face with real, pure soap – not a synthetic detergent.
Why is detergent mistaken for soap?
Most people don’t differentiate between soap and detergent because they didn’t grow up with a soap maker in the family. For instance, kids are constantly reminded by parents and teachers to wash their hands with soap after getting dirty or using the restroom. What they’re washing with, however, isn’t soap.
Although “soap” has a legal definition, the FDA allows manufacturers to use the word “soap” on the label even when the product is full of synthetic chemicals, or is actually classified as a drug (like acne treatment). Thanks to this leniency for labels, you might be unknowingly washing your body with detergent.
Shaving soap will get you a close, clean shave
While detergents aren’t good for shaving, it’s not because they strip away oils. To get a close shave, you want to remove the oils from your face and hair. Removing the oils allows water to penetrate your hair more thoroughly, softening the hair and making it easier to cut. However, you don’t need to use a detergent to accomplish this. A high-quality bar of shaving soap will gently remove oils while you shave, and remoisturize your face by the time you’re done shaving.
Retaining moisture is critical for shaving. Shaving soap made with glycerin will trap the most amount of moisture while you’re lathering up. Trapping moisture is the key to achieving a good amount of cushion to get a smooth shave.
A detergent won’t remoisturize your face. Worse, detergents contain toxic chemicals like triethanolamine (TEA) and Isopentane – ingredients linked with hormone disruption, cancer, dizziness, headaches, and throat irritation. No thanks!
Allergic to certain soaps? Maybe not…
After using detergents regularly, many people end up with dry skin and rashes, and mistakenly believe they’re allergic to the “soaps” they’re using. In reality, they’re allergic to the synthetic chemicals in the detergent they’ve mistaken for soap.
Shaving cream is a huge source of skin irritation that gets mistaken for an allergy. Corporations want you to believe you just have sensitive skin or you’re experiencing razor rash. Razor rash is real, but it’s not always what’s going on.
Many guys report having no symptoms of razor rash after switching to a straight razor or safety razor, and assume the razor made all the difference. While straight and safety razors won’t tear up your face like disposable and multi-blade razors, the other factor to consider is the soap. Guys who switch to straight and safety razors also tend to also switch from shaving cream to shaving soap. It seems like a mortal sin to use shaving cream when shaving with a straight razor.
Switching to shaving soap eliminates skin problems for many guys because it doesn’t contain harsh, drying chemicals. Instead, it contains ingredients that leave your face moisturized at the end of your shave like aloe, shea butter, and coconut milk.
It’s time to say goodbye to shaving cream
Shaving cream has been on the market since the 1940s. it’s popular because it takes zero effort to create enough cushion for a good shave. Just a few swirls of your brush and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, that convenience comes at a price.
To get a phenomenal, comfortable shave, you need to ditch the shaving cream and start using shaving soap. All you need is your soap, a brush, and a scuttle (bowl). To get started, run your shaving brush under the water for about a minute to fully saturate the bristles. Shake the brush out lightly, so most of the water remains in the brush. Using a circular motion, transfer a bit of soap to the brush.
With a little bit of soap on your brush, Tools of Men explains how easy it is to work up a lather:
“Once you have a rich thick clumping of soap at the bottom of your brush, you will want o then transfer the brush to a scuttle. Again, you will want to move the brush in a circular motion to build up a rich lather.”
Shaving soap is designed to get a good lather
Shaving soap isn’t like regular soap. If you’ve ever tried to wet shave with bar soap, you know it never turns out well. No matter how much lather you create, it’s always a rough shave. Shaving soap is different. Shaving soap is specially formulated with a high level of solid oils to create a thicker lather and slip for an easy glide over your skin. The trick is having the patience to learn how to create a rich, thick lather.
Upgrade your shaving routine to high-class
Lathering a puck of shaving soap with a shaving brush is classier than shaking up a can full of toxic, neon gel. Be sophisticated. Shave with the kind of tools your grandfather shaved with.
Engage the learning curve and take pride in your appearance. When you’re done shaving, you might want to put on some slacks instead of those skinny jeans.
You don’t need to use a straight razor if you’re not ready to go all-in, but at least try using a safety razor. Stop using detergent and other toxic chemicals on your face. Embrace and master the kind of shave your grandfather would be proud of.
Shaving Soap is More Customizable Than Shaving Cream
Run-of-the-mill cartridge razor shavers are typically less-discerning when it comes to both their razor and chosen cream or soap.
Not only are not all soaps created equal. There are varying degrees of customization to be had from different types of soaps and creams:
- Smell & Aroma Customization
- Lather Thickness Customization
Canned shaving foam and shaving goo generally lacks customization in both categories.
First, most canned shaving goods do not offer a wide array of choices when it comes to flavor. In fact, even the one-size-fits-all can smells like the chemicals it’s made from, not the bay rum, sandalwood or tea tree oils included in higher quality shaving soaps.
Second, and perhaps most importantly shaving creams do not allow the wet shaver to customize his/her shave using a shave brush and bowl.
For instance, when a wet shaver uses shaving soap and builds his own lather in a bowl, he can more easily customize the level of thickness of the cream. If you want less thickness, add more warm water to the puck and lather with your brush. Less thickness? Keep whipping your lather as you drain off excess water.
It may sound overly simple (and perhaps it is), but it’s unfortunate that most retail creams do not allow for the customization factor of a standard bowl or mug shave soap and almost none of them smell as good.
Even higher quality shaving creams like those produced by Cremo Company. are not as customizable as even the least expensive Ogallala Bay Rum shave soap puck.
This is at least one of the reasons your razor of choice does more for determining which shaving soap or cream you use than perhaps any other factor.
The final factor that I usually tout to wet shavers as the begin to determine whether they will use shave soap or shave cream as their accouterments weapon of choice is this: pound-for-pound shave soap almost always give you more bang for your puck (pun intended).
Because shave soap comes in concentrated containers that require the addition of water in order to build your lather, they are, by far, the cheapest shaving accouterments per pound of any other. A quality shave soap puck or tin will last you 6 to 12 months or more, depending on the size of the tin/puck and your shaving frequency.
So, as you make your own internal determination as to whether you should use a soap or a cream, it really just depends on personal preference, but I typically opt for the brush and a puck every day of the week.
Shaving Cream vs. Shaving Soap: Which is Better For Your Shave?
Now that you have a clear understanding of the differences between shaving soap and shaving cream, which one will provide you with a better shave?
As we have outlined above, both shaving creams and shaving soaps have their advantages and disadvantages. Both are great for lubricating and protecting your skin while using a razor. However, depending on your skill level and water, working up a lather may be easier or more difficult when using one over the other.
All in all, regardless of which option you choose, just about any option is better than canned shaving cream.
The right choice for you really comes down to personal shaving preferences, technique, and budget.