what does shaving cream do when applied to your face?

What Does Shaving Cream Do When Applied To Your Skin?

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Shaving cream is one of those necessary products that go along side any sort of razor of your choice.  Whether you choose to use a disposable, cartridge, electric, straight edge, or even the best double edge safety razor – men (and women) always have asked themselves time and time again ‘What does shaving cream really do when applied to your skin?!’

I have to be honest for a minute here:

When I first started shaving in my teens, I used to use the gels that were marketed heavily with the cartridge razor.  As it was often exclaimed shaving cream was going to provide a way more comfortable of a shave and would bring out the best qualities in the razor blade…

While a little older and a little wiser, when you cut through the marketing fluff you can actually pick up some pretty great shaving creams on the market that will likely hands down crush their gel counterparts.

But before clicking that buy button – we will answer that nagging question on so many peoples mind and break down what a shaving cream actually does when it is applied to your skin:

First and Foremost Shaving Cream Keeps Your Hair Moistened

shaving cream provides moisture

So when it comes to shaving cream in general, one of the most important properties is retaining the heat and moisture upon your skin.  That means a shaving cream is classified as being an emollient.

While we go in great depths in this article on how to get a close shave, here are a few of the key takeaways:

It may be quite inherit for some, but its often needs reminding, before the blade ever touches your skin you really need to take a shower.

Showering helps to swell up your hair follicles and open your pores to ensure less tugging and pulling when the blade comes in contact with your facial hair.

Now when you are out of the shower and dried off, a shaving cream will help to ensure that the heat and moisture is retained in the skin with its rich lather.

Therefore your follicles will remain swollen (or swell more) from when you were in the shower, along with allowing your pores to stay open as well.

Shaving Cream Provides Lubrication To Your Skin

lubricates your skin

Now while we are firm believers in the effectiveness of a pre shave oil, one of the key benefactors that a shaving cream has when applied to your skin will be to provide ample amounts of lubrication.

This lubricating property is what sets budget shaving creams apart from the higher quality ones on the market.

The lubrication in any quality shaving cream will allow the blade to glide effortlessly across your skin.

When your hair follicles are swollen and pores open, the lubrication allows the blade to get an incredibly clean cut on your whisker.

In addition to the clean cut, the lubrication will also protect your skin in a way that prevents the actual blade from skipping or chopping across your skin.

Should the blade ever skip, which may be common with inferior shaving creams, it will cause micro abrasions on your skin which will cause general skin irritation (i.e. razor burn).

A pre shave oil in combination with a quality shaving cream is an extra layer of lubrication between your skin and the shaving cream.  It’s definitely a product worth checking out.

Application Of Shaving Cream Can Make A Difference

shaving brushes make a difference

Lets face it, men love to get their hands dirty.

However, when it comes to applying shave cream, its actually better if you don’t use your hands.

Instead, what traditional wet shavers prefer is the use of a shaving brush.

Brushes, typically made of badger hair, are great at whipping up an incredibly rich lather and will help to bring out more of the key properties found in the high quality shaving creams.

Shave brushes help to make your whiskers stand on edge and will make it much more easier for the blade to get a clean cut.

Whereas if you use your hands, the hair follicles will get matted down and will require additional passes of the blade, and even worse, more pressure from the blade to effectively cut the hair.

You can check out some of our preferred shave brushes in this post.

Does The Type of Shaving Cream Really Matter?

shaving brush with shaving cream

With all the shaving creams that exist in the market today, it easy to get overwhelmed with all the options.

However there are a few things that you can easily keep in mind when trying to decide on one.

First and foremost the ingredient profile found in a shaving cream is critical to the comfort of the shave.

Generally speaking you always want to try and avoid as many chemicals as possible.  Chemicals in general will completely dry out your skin that will leave your face feeling pretty dry afterwards.

However there are ingredients like glycerin that may be vegetable derived and are a natural humectant.  A humectant is another way of saying that it retains moisture.  As we just covered above, moisture is incredibly important when it comes to understanding the primary uses of a shaving cream.

Also when looking at the ingredient list, we largely recommend to never pick out a shaving cream that contains alcohol.  Alcohol will dry out your skin post shave and may leave your face looking ashy afterwards, and even worse, you may experience some general flaking of the skin.

Unfortunately when you go to the local drug store or even a big box grocery or general retail store, the store shelves are primarily dominated by the big name manufacturers.

As an alternate, if you live in a suburban area in the U.S. you will likely be find a Art of Shaving store relatively near by.  They do provide excellent shaving creams, however, they do tend to be a bit on the more expensive side.

Personally we love Amazon as all the shaving creams we recently reviewed can be easily purchased there with only a couple of the clicks of a mouse.

What About The Razor Blade Quality?

razor blade quality

Quality of blade definitely has an impact on the comfort and effectiveness of your shave.

Whether you are using a top of the line cartridge razor or disposable razor where the blades are pre set to the optimal cutting angle (30 degrees) or a double edge razor that you have to manually hone in on the correct cutting angle at every contour of your face, a sharp razor is necessary in order to get a close shave.

All the lubricating and moisturizing properties won’t mean much, unless your shaving tool is being used to its fullest potential and of course, properly.

Generally speaking, when it comes to double edge safety razors you should be sure to swap out the blade on a weekly basis or after 5 shaves.

If you are new to the whole traditional wet shaving world or are even an expert, its always good to test out different blades to see which one provides the most comfort.  We would recommend a variety pack for those looking to test.

For the cartridge razors, see your manufacturers website for additional info as the cartridge lifespan can vary from one brand to another.

Lastly, if you are using an electric foil or rotary based razor, be sure to also swap out your heads on a regular basis.

Shaving Soap Is An Excellent (and More Affordable) Option To Shaving Cream

shaving soap vs shaving cream

Now one of the thing with shaving creams is that they are versatile and can be used by beginners and experts alike.

However, the men who really want to harken back to the days of traditional wet shaving may also want to use a shaving soap.

Shaving soaps are very similar to shaving creams, however, they allow a lot more control when it comes to whipping up a lather.

This is of course for better or worse.

A beginner may falter and make their lather to dry or wet.  However, if you follow this guide you should be able to generate a perfect lather time and time again.

Where shaving soaps really shine is that when the lather is made perfectly, you can get a much richer and slicker lubrication when compared to a shaving cream.  This is why shaving soaps are preferred by men who really want full control over their shaving routine.

It of course helps too that shaving soaps tend to run a bit cheaper than their shave cream counterparts.  But still all holds true as we mentioned above for shaving soaps – quality ones are terrific at retaining heat and moisture to allow for a better shave when compared to their low quality counterparts.

You can check out a full review of the best shaving soaps in this recent buyer’s guide.

With a shaving soap, be sure to also pick up a shave brush, as they are required to use the product.

Where To Find Some Great Shaving Creams To Increase The Comfort of Your Shave

As we mentioned above, quality shaving creams are incredibly hard to find especially when the big brands crowd the shelf space at your local retailer.

In rare occasions you may be able to find a shaving store, especially if you live in a larger metropolis area such as NYC, LA, etc.

However, most men prefer to simply order it online and have it show up to their door in only a couple of days.

Amazon does offer a terrific selection of shaving creams, including the highly rated Taylor of Old Bond Street.


About The Author

Shawn Burns

Shawn is the founder and senior editor at Tools of Men, the leading style and grooming source trusted by men in 187 countries. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. He is an expert in all things men's grooming related. His work has been mentioned on countless sites including The Wall Street Journal, NBC, AskMen, Vice, WikiHow, and the New York Times.

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