Last Updated: February 26, 2016 | This Article May Contain Affiliate Links
shaving soap for men

Shaving Soap vs Cream: Understanding The Differences

Often times when reading about wet shaving you will see the words shaving cream vs soap used interchangeably.

When I was learning about wet shaving this constantly threw me off and at first I just kinda ignored it.

However, after doing research over time and learning about both creams and soaps – they are two completely different types of products altogether when it comes to application and the expected results.

For instance, the cushioning – which is so absolutely critical between both a shave cream and soap can be wildly different – especially if you are novice testing both types of products out for the first time.

The last thing you want when you are gliding a razor across your face is a horribly uncomfortable shave followed by nicks and razor burn.

So let’s dismantle the core difference between these two unique products – shaving creams vs s0aps:

How We Get Into Bad Habits Using Low Quality Shaving Creams

learning the right type of shaving cream

Now when you turned 18, chances are that you received a box in the mail from a big name cartridge razor company that included both a razor and a can of shaving cream – cool right?

Well…not exactly.

I remember my first box – it was a Mach 3 – all the rage back in the day before 4 and 5 bladed cartridge razors were later introduced.

Now being that this can of shaving cream had some awesome labeling, and quite honestly it was all I knew at the time in the world of shaving creams, I used this shaving cream for longer than I would like to admit.

So while my skin was burning after the shave, red rashes appearing on my neck, and ultimately a dried out ashy skin – I was naive and thought “is this what it’s to be a man”?!

After all, my dad used the same type of shaving cream as well – so I thought it was the only product that was on the market for men.

I mean, when I would go to the grocery store every weekend, its all I would see, lines of aerosol shaving creams offering a great shave for those with sensitive skin and manly scents that will make you feel epic!

If this feels familiar – guess what:

After this post that is all about to change.

A quick bit of history of shaving soaps and creams:

Shaving soaps have been around for hundreds of years. They are effectively the traditional way to shave when it comes to cleaning up your face.

The more modern (and I use this term loosely) of the two is shaving cream.  Of which has been around since the 1940s – although there is history of men using animal fats as a substitute to shaving cream back in 3000 BC (that’s pretty bad ass if you ask me).

Why is this important?

You see, traditional wet shavers like the classic shaving soap.  Well because simply – it’s classic.  Their grandfather, and their grandfathers grandfather used the same thing to achieve a close shave.

However if you are first starting off, I would highly recommend that you first try out a quality shaving cream.

They have the shortest learning curve regarding application and will provide an awesome cushion and lubrication for your shave – I will touch on this further in just a bit.

Fragrance Differences Between a Shaving Cream Vs Soap

fragrances for shaving creams

Now there is a lot of chatter within the wet shaving community that shaving creams are scented and shaving soaps are unscented. While for the most part this might be generally true across the product lines – there are exceptions.

A simple search online of from your favorite retailer like ‘unscented shaving creams’ will indeed return several results.

Therefore you don’t need to feel bounded by the ideology that if you have sensitive skin and are looking for no fragrance that you must go with a shave soap – this simply is not true.

There are shaving creams out there to meet your needs!

On the flipside to that, if you are looking for a shave soap that has a scent you can easily find that as well too. I have seen in my research shaving soaps scented like pine, vanilla, sandalwood, etc.

Fragrance is highly a personal preference, therefore you shouldn’t immediately pick one product over another based on this false notion of scents.

Amount of Cushion and Lubrication That You Get From A Shaving Cream Vs Soap

applying a rich lather of shaving cream

Regarding the cushion that you derive from each one of the products can actually vary quite a bit.

For example, shaving creams are tremendous at providing an unbelievable cushion and lubrication with very little effort.

The last two words ‘little effort’ are the operative word here.

As mentioned earlier, shaving creams are relatively a modern product compared to a shaving soap. They are formulated in a way that will give you a padding with just a few whirls from your shaving brush in your scuttle (bowl) – or even directly onto your face.

This is what makes shaving creams much better for the first timers out there when getting started with traditional wet shaving.

Learning the technique of the blade across your face is tricky enough – trying to also get the right lather at the same time as learning how to wet shave is damn near insane!

Now for the experienced guys out there that have been wet shaving for some time – shaving soap is the ‘pure’ way to wet shave.

And I say ‘pure’ kinda snobbishly there on purpose – you see shaving creams will deliver a terrific cushion and lubrication just like a shave soap.

But it takes experience:

If you get in the habit of whipping up a shave soap on a daily basis – you will eventually find yourself able to generate a better lather than a shaving cream could – but this comes with a lot of practice and really great attention to detail (i.e. right water amount, type of badger brush, etc).

Therefore shaving soaps tend to gear better towards the straight razor guys out there.

Shaving with a straight razor is already pretty epic (with the stropping and all) – adding a shave soap to the daily regimen is to give yourself a full and complete picture on how men shaved over a hundred years ago.

Ingredients To Look Out For

Shaving soaps generally will contain an oil often times something like coconut, lanolin (derived from sheep wool), or a butter (usually in the shea or cocoa variety).

In addition to the natural products you might see another ingredient like glycerin. While glycerin (or glycerol) sounds a bit unsettling that its a chemical – when used in beauty products like quality shaving creams they are oftentimes derived from plant oils such soybean or palm.

Why does glycerin matter at all?

One word:

Moisture.

Glycerin is a natural humectant.  Humectants like glycerin are used in shaving soaps in order to make sure that the water is easily absorbed into the product.

When you get a product that traps in a ton of moisture and is ultimately applied to your face for a shave, you will have a great cushion and padding. This is critical in order to get a comfortable shave.

Another important item to look out for when it comes to shaving soaps is the milling process.

You will often times see soaps that have been triple milled are often recommended. In the production of soap, all the ingredients get mixed together in a mill and will ultimately make the bar of soap. When a soap goes through the milling process three times, it ensures an adequate distribution of and finer mixture of ingredients.

Much about soaps does indeed translate over to shaving creams as well. When looking at the ingredient list you will see glycerin and a variety of several different types of oils. These all help with the general application and of course providing a proper cushion and lubrication.

In addition, you will also see other ingredients on the label that attribute to the manufacturing process of the shaving cream as well (i.e. sodium and potassium hydroxide for solubility)

How Much Should You Pay For A High Quality Shaving Cream vs Soap?

When it comes to price, shaving creams are going to be on the higher end of the scale when compared to a shave soap.

But by higher end I don’t mean $50 or anything crazy like that – instead, a shaving cream will cost you in the neighborhood of $10 to $30.

You can indeed get a quality shaving cream within the $10 to $15 range, anything north of that, you have to be really paying attention to the ingredients to make sure you get one that is worth your money.

For shave soaps, they are for the most part pretty close when it comes to prices when compared to shaving creams – maybe a few bucks cheaper. For instance, a great shave soap like Poraso will ring in at about $10.

Generally though, between both creams and soaps the amount of use that you get out of each one will vary greatly.

Shaving creams on average last for about 2 months whereas a shave soap should last you a fair bit longer.

A Beginners Guide On How To Use Shaving Cream

shaving with different types of shaving creams

You can use shaving cream one of two ways.

Option One (without badger brush):

  1. Simply splash your face with warm water (or take a shower prior to shaving) to open up the pores and to add a layer of moisture to your face.
  2. Then you will want to take about a dime sized amount of shaving cream (typically from a tube) and lather it on to your face just as you would if you were using a shaving cream out of a can.
  3. Once well rubbed in, then you will want to make the appropriate passes with your razor.

Option Two (with badger brush):

  1. Rest your badger brush in your sink or scuttle of warm water so the bristles can fully absorb for about a minute or so (can even rest it in the water while you take a shower).
  2. Take the brush out of the water and shake out the brush lightly (still want some water to be absorbed)
    Then with the shaving cream of your choice, you will want to squeeze out about a dime sized amount into the center of the brush.
  3. Afterwards you will want to just simply apply the shaving cream all over your face with the brush in a circular motion. You want to make sure you have it well lathered up. Ideally you will be running the brush over your face for a solid minute and covering the areas with a few passes – this will also help make the cream much more denser.
  4. The use of the brush will help lift up the hairs on your face as well as provide a nice light pre-exfoliation to clear out any left over dirt and grime that may have remained after your shower.
  5. Once you built up a great lather then you will want to go ahead and make the appropriate passes with your razor.

While option two is quite a bit more extensive – you will have a much richer lather and a more comfortable shave when compared to option one.

Beginners Guide On How To Use Shaving Soap

When mixing your shaving soap, you must own a shaving brush and a scuttle (bowl) as its a critical part of the process. You can’t simply scrape out the soap with your hand and apply water to your face.  There are definitely experts out there that can get away without using a scuttle, but if its your first time, its heavily advised to use one.

Here’s how you can whip up a great lather from a shaving soap:

Just like in option two listed in the shaving cream section directly above, you will want to rest your shaving brush in the sink for about a minute or longer in order for the badger hairs to fully absorb the water.

Once absorbed, you will want to just shake out the brush slightly leaving much of the water still retained.

Then simply take the brush and use circular strokes in the shaving soap to transfer a bit of soap to the brush itself.

Once you have rich thick clumping of soap at the bottom of your brush, you will want to 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.

To build up your lather you can simply add drops of water to the mixture and continue brushing in a circular motion (much like using a mixer in the kitchen). If you begin to experience too large of bubbles in the soap – it means you added too much water and must continue brushing to try and even out the mixture.

Ideally you will want to create a cream that has virtually no bubbles and that is incredibly rich and thick.

Once your cream is made, then you will want to go ahead and apply it to your face in a circular motion. This will help raise your hairs and provide a great cushion and lubrication for your razor.

The Essentials To Understanding Shaving Creams vs Soaps

Thats it!

I hope you guys learned some great things today in this article and are no longer confused in the difference between the two products.

If its your first ever time using a higher end shave cream or soap – I would highly recommend checking out a cream first.

However as you become more experienced and comfortable with the process, then branch out and check out soaps.

Should you have any questions – drop a line in the comments section below and I will try my best to help you out!

Shawn Burns | @toolsofmen

Hi, I'm Shawn! A beard and shave enthusiast! I am an aspiring writer that wants to give guys great tips on how to pick up better grooming habits!From beard oil to using a double edge safety razor (yes I do get rid of my beard every now and again), I wanted to create this site where readers can get great information about men's grooming.

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