Ever wondered if you could just lather up your regular bar of soap and shave away? Has your latest supply of shaving soap been delayed and you’re desperate for a puck to lather? Just curious about what makes your shaving soap work? Read on to expand your understanding of this vital aspect of wet shaving.
With the advent of the internet, how-to videos and recipes for soap-making abound. But if you are setting out to create the perfect lather for a shave, you need to be aware of some vital differences between shaving soap and regular bath soap.
Purpose of Shaving Soap
To understand the differences between shaving soap and bath soap, it is important to know the purpose of shaving soap. Whereas “normal” soap has the primary purpose of dirt removal, shaving soap is different.
- Stable - When creating a lather on a shaving soap, you want to ensure that the lather is stable so it can last through the whole shave -- including multiple passes. Often times canned foams or regular soaps will lather, but it dissipates quickly.
- Slick - Another purpose of shaving soap is slickness. It is important that the lather allows the blade to glide easily over the skin to reduce irritation.
- Hydrating - Soap can often be drying. Shaving soaps are formulated to reduce this outcome by including moisturizing agents. These ingredients are also good for softening the whiskers which aid in a BBS shave.
- Nourishing/Antiseptic - Running a sharp steel blade over your face is bound to inflict some damage even with a slick, stable lather, so shaving soaps often include ingredients with antiseptic,anti-inflammatory, skin-nurturing properties.
Ingredients in Shaving Soap
The following ingredients are often found in recipes for shaving soap as they are used to create the desired outcome.
- For stability - One of the biggest differences between shaving soap and regular soap is the inclusion of potassium and sodium salts with a high stearic acid content fat/oil. High Stearic acid creates the stable lather, slickness, and whisker softening qualities that are needed in a shaving soap. Saponifying fats with potassium and sodium hydroxide helps result in these qualities. Potassium hydroxide (potash) when mixed with fats/oils causes a chemical reaction called saponification. The result is soap. Potassium hydroxide usually creates softer or liquid soaps so it is often used with a combination of sodium hydroxide-based soaps to create the final consistency. Some of the most common types of high stearic fatty-acid content oils are castor oil, coconut oil (but it can be drying in high amounts), kokum butter, palm oil, and mango seed butter. Tallow is also high in stearic acid and often used in shaving soaps. These fats will show up on the ingredients label as a potassium or sodium ______-ate. For example: soaps with a base of coconut oil will contain sodium cocoate and potassium cocoate. A tallow based soap will include sodium tallowate and potassium tallowate.
- For slickness - In addition to aiding in stability, the high stearic acid also provides slickness to the lather. Other ingredients that are known to contribute to glide are castor oil, glycerin, kaolin (bentonite) clay, & shea butter.
- For hydration - Because soap can often have a drying effect, it is important to include moisturizing agents in your shave soap. Common humectants are allantoin, aloe vera, argan oil, avocado oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, goat’s milk, jojoba oil, kokum butter, lanolin, mango seed butter, olive oil.
- For Nourishing/Antiseptic - Many of the agents that are added for their moisturizing effects are also good for nourishing the skin. Cocoa butter, jojoba oil, kokum butter, menthol, Vitamin E all serve multiple purposes. Menthol cools the skin but also serves as an antiseptic. Vitamin E (also known as tocopherol) protects the skin and neutralizes the effects of free radicals.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of shaving soap ingredients, but it gives you an idea of some common ingredients and their uses.
So, just lathering up with a bar of your favorite bath soap will lead to some disappointing results. It likely won’t provide the thick, stable lather that you need for multiple pass. It won’t provide lubrication and glide for the blade, resulting in nicks, cuts, & irritation. Additionally, it will be drying to your sensitive skin since it doesn’t contain the necessary moisture and nourishing that a shaving soap can provide. Sounds like a good day to thank an artisan for the fabulous shaving soaps available today, don’t ya think?What are your favorite shaving soaps? What qualities put them at the top of your list? Slickness? Post-shave face feel? Stability? Let us know in the comments below.