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Shaving Soap: The Ultimate Soap Quality Test for the Soap-Making Artisan

Many soap customers (and even some artisans) fail to recognize some of the stark differences in use-cases among varying types of soaps available on the market. Nowhere is this difference starker than in the world of shaving soaps versus hand soaps.

If one were to look at the artisan soap world generally, it would become quickly apparent that most of the products produced in this market are specifically targeted at what would appear to be middle-aged women who appreciate a good-lathering, sweet smelling and visually-appealing hand soap for the bathroom counter. But artisans, in their aim to target the same demographic, sometimes fail to realize they may be missing other—perhaps larger—markets.

Hand Soap vs. Shaving Soap

Enter shaving soaps. Unlike artisan hand soaps or other mass-produced bar soaps, artisan shave soaps typically include the same types of ingredients touted by the more popular artisan hand soaps, but with some variation.

While hand soaps are made to create a nice emulsifying lather for removing dirt and grease, shaving soaps—once lathered—are meant to act more like a thick, protecting cream. The creamy lather produced by a quality shave soap—most often used for the face, but also used on legs and underarms for men and women---provides a protective barrier to the skin against the scraping of a very sharp blade.

For wet shavers with an eye toward a higher quality shave, a good shave soap provides a more holistic protection against the single blade of either a safety razor or a straight razor than does the run-of-the-mill shaving foam purchased from any local grocery or convenience store. Discerning wet shaving enthusiasts often look for specific ingredients they have come to expect from soaps the provide the best lather for their pre-shave preparation.

Artisan Shave Soap Differences

Ingredients like greater fat content, including items like duck or beef tallow add to the slickness and creamy adhesion of the shave soap to the face during a shave. These ingredients can sometimes add to the cost of the product, but they also are what make the greatest difference between a cleansing hand soap and a rich, creamy shave soap that lathers like a king.

Ingredients like various animal tallow also provide the proper wet shaving function for a proper razor blade glide across the face (or legs—depending on your preference).

Smell is important, but when it comes to judging a good shave soap, its more about function over form. Once the soap has been scraped, the lingering scent is most often the accompanying aftershave and not the soap itself. So, the most discerning shavers will more often opt for a quality lather over a sweet smell.

Achieving a Quality Lather

When was the last time you washed your hands with bar soap—whether artisan or some generic brand—and thought about the thickness or slickness of the soap or the peaks in the lather?

Likely never.

But when it comes to lather peaks or soap slickness, wet shavers are borderline obsessive-compulsive. Follow any traditional wet shaver on social media and the OCD with cream quality will become immediately evident.

Achieving that quality lather requires a tweak to the ingredients for most hand soap artisans looking to break into the growing world of wet shaving soaps. Understanding there is a discernable quality (or at least an ingredient) difference between hand soaps and shave soaps is critical to nailing the lather.

When comparing hand soaps to shave soaps, lather is king.

A quality shave soap usually includes more fatty carbon chains in its mixture than what is typical for artisan hand soaps. Consumers of shave soaps can sometimes be more discerning than even the most critical artisan hand soap snobs. Thus, the skills of artisans of shaving soaps are truly tested as to their ability to provide a quality, lathering soap that not only performs but also smells great.

Believe me, we wet shavers know when we’ve been sold a hand soap disguised in a shave soap tin and when we have actually purchased something that we would recommend to a fellow wet shaver.

Josh Chou is the chief wet shaving evangelist and enthusiast with Shave.net. An avid wet shaver, Josh has been using his safety razor for over a decade and he is constantly looking for ways to get more people hooked on shaving with straight razor and safety razors. He lives in Seattle, Washington.