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Shave Cream vs. Shave Butter vs. Shave Gel vs. Shave Soap: Are They Really All The Same?

Let me tell you about the time in my life when I decided to never eat at Subway again.

Yes, I know this article is about shaving solutions, but let me get there on my own time. It’ll make sense, I promise.

When I was younger, I would eat at Subway all the time. This is like 15/16/17-year-old me. I would get a pizza sub or an Italian combo. I went there all the time for two reasons:

  • I liked the novelty of the store. I could choose the ingredients. I had the control over my own bread. I had the power. No, Mom, I can get what I want!
  • A good friend of mine worked there and always handed out extra stickers to fill up our Subway cards. You remember those cards? You filled up I think 8 spots and you got a free sandwich. I think we got 23 stickers for buying a “vegetable” sub. At least that’s what he rang it up as on the till.

You’ll notice something about those reasons:

I didn’t eat there because I thought it was good.

In fact, I was always disappointed by my subs. I never really LOVED them. And I was always left unsatisfied, even though I could get a couple free ones any time I wanted.

And here’s what I would normally do.

I would never get just a couple items on my subs. I would pile on the pickles, the tomatoes, the lettuce, the jalapenos, the onions, the olives…and top it off with at least two or three sauces.

In theory, Southwest and Ranch and Italian Dressing are all delicious sauces, and should be even better together. But that was not the case.

So, I decided that I would never eat at Subway again because I never liked the food.

It went like that for a couple years. I held my ridiculous ground that Subway was no good, while everyone around me thought I was crazy.

After a while, I matured and realized what my problem was.

There were too many choices!

I thought to myself, “Self, if I could limit myself to just a couple veggies and one sauce, my food would be amazing.”

So, that’s what I did. And I love Subway now. I have my order down pat, and my food always comes out amazing. A meatball sub; jalapenos, red onions and a dash of Southwest sauce. Perfect.

Great. Now I’m hungry.

Shaving Cream Choices – Creams vs. Butters vs. Gels vs. Soaps vs……Whatever Is Popular Next Week

I get why you struggle with shaving solutions:

There are so many options at the store for shaving creams. It’s overwhelming!

I just hope that you’re not like me; confused by all the choice and decide to give up altogether. I think nobody wants that.

When you browse online, read a few blogs, or walk into the store, you’re confounded by dozens of options.

  • Shaving butters.
  • Shaving creams.
  • Shave gels.
  • Shave lotions.
  • Shave serums.
  • Shave soaps.
  • Shave bath bombs. (You never know. That could be a thing)

I want to use my knowledge for good. I want to use my experience eating sandwiches to help you through this mess.

I’m going to break it down for you so that you can ignore the options you don’t need and instead focus on what works for you.

Why Do I Need Shave Solution

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you’ll already be well versed in the topic of shave solutions. So, feel free to skip to the next section if you been following along.

However, if you’re new here, Welcome. Continue on, dear reader.

Note: I’m going to refer to the entire gamut of shaving options as shave “solution”. That way I can refer to the general group of shave solutions while also referring to specific shaving “creams”, “lotions”, or “gels”.


Shaving solutions do have a purpose. However, they are not the most essential item in your bathroom.

I know of one guy who has shaved in the shower for the last 20 years and has never used any sort of shave solution. He simply uses the hot water from the shower and a bar of soap that serves as his multipurpose soap for everything.

I’m not condoning that, but there you go. Those people exist.

But shaving solutions do have a purpose. 3, actually:

  • Moisturizing – The harsh reality of shaving is that it dries out your face. You’re scraping away the hair as well as the top layer of skin cells of your face.Your body works hard to keep a layer of sebum (secreted oil) on your skin to protect it. When you shave, you scrape away that layer of sebum, exposing your face to the dry, harsh elements of your world.If you live in a dry climate, it’s all the worse for you. Your skin gets itchy, red, and raw. It can look worse smooth than having a layer of stubble on your face.That’s where a shave solution works for you. It protects and moisturizes your skin against that harsh, dry condition. It acts as a protective layer that prevents your face from drying out and looking red raw.
  • Lubrication – This is just a general rule for life: you probably need more lubrication than you are currently using. But that’s another article for another day.Shaving solutions are no exception. The easiest way to shave is to have a lubricated face. It allows the blades to pass over your skin without pulling or tugging the hairs.You know that feeling of having an un-lubricated part of your face and you think, “It’s no big deal. I’ll just do a quick pass”.You dddrrrraaaaaaagggg that razor over and it feels like it’s pulling out every hair by the root rather than cleaning shaving it off.That’s when you know that your shaving solution lubricates your face to make it easier for you to shave it.
  • Softens the Hairs – Actually, the real hair softener is the hot water you put on your face in the shower. Steam and hot water loosen, untangle, and soften the hairs of your beard so that it’s easier to shave off.

Shaving solution maintains that soft hair, even after you’ve been out of the shower for a while. It keeps you from having to reapply hot water or a hot towel to your face after a few strokes.

Common Shave Solution Myths

If you’re going to talk about shave solutions, you’ll probably be aware of some myths. Let me dispel a couple of those now.

Myth #1: Shaving Solutions Open Your Pores


This one always gets me. Because you hear this on just about every commercial and skin care product there is.

The myth is that shaving solution opens up your pores, giving you a better, closer shave.


Your pores don’t actually open or close. You’ve probably heard that your pores open with hot water and close with cold water. Not true!

In truth, the hot water loosens up the sebum in our pores, making them appear bigger. Yes, it’s all about the appearance.


Myth #2: Shaving solution prevents bumps

This has nothing to do with your shaving solution and more to do with your shaving technique. I’ve found that if I’m getting razor bumps, it’s a good sign I need to change out my blade or pay more attention.

Razor bumps are little ingrown hairs that have curled in on themselves and are growing underneath the skin.

If your razor isn’t cleanly removing the hair at the level of your skin, you’re probably applying too much pressure, or your blade isn’t sharp enough to cut it cleanly.

Even with the best shaving soap or gel, you’re still going to see bumps if you aren’t using the right blade or stroke.


I don’t want you thinking too hard about these myths. I’ve never found them to have much credibility in the shaving world. Shaving solutions make the job easier. And that’s that.

Choosing Between Shaving Creams, Butters, Gels, and Soaps

Most of the time, you’re going to come across one of these 4 options. You have to understand what you’re comfortable with to make the best selection.

They will all perform the basic 3 tasks every shaving solution should perform, namely:

  • Moisturize
  • Lubricate
  • Soften

It comes down to preference. Let’s drill down into what these all are before we discern between them.

Shave Gels vs. Shave Butters vs. Shave Creams – Are They Really Different?

You probably started your shaving journey with one of these options. They are essentially the same in composition and application.

The only note here is shaving butter. Up until recently, whenever somebody mentioned shaving butter, it always reminded of that Seinfeld episode when Kramer started shaving with butter and accidentally roasted himself while sunbaking on the roof. Remember the turkey scene:


I can assure you; shaving butter isn’t actual butter. The key difference is in the makeup. Gels and creams contain some sort of lathering agent. Usually a Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) to bring out the bubble.

A shaving butter can contain many more natural ingredients because it doesn’t lather up. It can much more sustainable and environment friendly, a good choice for those concerned about the planet.

They apply quite easily, and you don’t need to understand much about them to make them work. So, it’s perfect for 18-year-old me who needed to shave but wasn’t sure how to shave with a shaving solution.

If you’re short on time, I’d suggest using of these options. They apply easily, the whole process can be over with quite quickly, and you aren’t stuck going through an entire process simply to shave a little stubble in the morning.

That’s not to say this should be your only option, but it’s a good one to have around.

Shaving Soaps

Caveat: This section is mostly about shaving soaps, but some creams out there perform best like a soap. Read the instructions when looking at some of the shaving creams.

Here’s the bottom line:

If you’re into shaving and you like the process of it, you’re going to love shaving soap.

If you like the routine, and you enjoy taking your time to get it done right, I would suggest starting here.

A shaving soap looks like a hockey puck. It’s a hard disc that doesn’t resemble anything you’re used to. That’s your first clue that this isn’t going to be your traditional shaving experience.

You need a couple things before you can use a shaving soap on your face. Let’s touch on that now.

Shaving Equipment

Shaving soaps require more equipment. Namely, you’ll need a bowl and a brush.

If you want to use a shaving specific bowl, they do exist, but I think it looks just as authentic to use a mug. That look harkens back to the 1950’s and looks like you’re a serious shaver.

Shaving soap brushes are traditionally made from badger hair. There are plenty of synthetic options that work just as well.

If you want to go the full measure, find a good quality badger hair brush. It looks BADASS sitting on your counter.

Because shaving soaps need some time to lather up before you put on your face, you need something that can work up a good lather quickly.

You know how I mentioned some shaving creams apply here? Lathering shaving cream also need to be lathered up before you apply it to your face. You can’t lather it on your face like you would a shaving gel or butter.

Your brush also serves another function. You use to apply the lather to your face after you’ve worked it up in the mug/bowl. The brush lifts and separates the hairs on your beard. As you apply it, spread a thick, even layer over every section you wish to shave.

A warning here:

This process does take time. Many men appreciate the feel of a good shaving soap. You can control the consistency, and you don’t need much to work up a good lather. But it will take you a few minutes to work up the right lather. Don’t do this if you’re in a rush in the morning.

But if you’re going to be the kind of guy who appreciates the art of shaving, this is the best option. I would suggest pairing this with a good quality straight razor or safety razor.

Put the needle down on your gramophone, wipe the steam off your polished bronze mirror, and the scene should be complete.

Common Ingredients Found In Various Shaving Products

When looking at the ingredients of a shaving solution, I favor high-end products. I’ve seen some of the products on the shelves at the supermarket, and I can NOT condone them. They aren’t that high quality, they contain a lot of synthetic ingredients, and for those with sensitive skin they can cause more aggravation and irritation.

Also, REAL shaving cream does NOT come in a can. I’m not even going to go there. And neither should you.

Higher-end products are worth the money you spend on them. They are made from more natural ingredients and perform better. There are plenty of synthetic ingredients, but they aren’t going to cause major issues like a cheap cream would. (Even big brands like Taylor of Bond Street produce shaving creams full of synthetic ingredients. Still, I would choose them over anything in a can, any day)

Shave Gels

Gels tend to be different. They’re put out as a convenient option for those without much time. They don’t lather, so you can easily see your lines. They’re also easy to apply without much fuss.

But they also can be packed with low quality ingredients. Often, you’ll find parabens in the gel.

Parabens are one of the most ingredients founds in all cosmetics. They often aren’t even listed on the package. Parabens can be classified as an industry secret in fragrances so companies aren’t required to divulge if they are in the product.

What’s so bad about parabens?

Well, the jury is out.

We know that parabens can easily penetrate the skin. They are small enough to cause allergic reactions among some people, and some studies have suggested correlations to cancers. There are no defined links, however, between parabens and cancer.

Over in the European Union, parabens are heavily regulated, but over here in North America, we don’t have those restrictions.

I’m telling you this so that you can be aware, not to scare you.

I’m actually a fan of gels. They’re convenient. They are pretty cost-effective, and they travel well with you. But they do contain some ingredients that could interact with sensitive skin.

If you want to use a shaving gel, I would suggest using an aftershave balm afterwards. I’ve found that the denatured alcohol found in most gels can dry out your face. You can counter-act that with a good quality aftershave balm.

But you should be using a balm in any case.

Shave Cream vs. Shave Gel vs. Shave Butter vs. Shave Soap – Which Is The RIGHT Choice?!

So, it all comes down to this:

What’s your preference? Among all the options, what do you like?

If you want to stick with a traditional, artisinal product, shaving soap is your best bet. It takes longer, but it lathers well and gives you control over your shaving experience.

If you need a quick shave in the morning before work, I’d suggest a shaving butter or a gel. They apply easily, and they give you good control if you’re shaving along beard and mustache lines.

If you want a good all-rounder, I’m partial to a good latherless shaving cream. It performs like a butter or gel, and it also moisturizes your face pretty well.

Once you’ve found your preference, stick with it. You’ll come to love your brand and your method of shaving.

You can appreciate the options out there, but you’ll always get the best shave with your particular shaving solution.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more.

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