Last time, we looked at the most important criteria for a great shaving soap. Of course, there’s more than one way to shave a cat! (It’s more politically correct than skinning them, OK?)

Today, we’re going to examine a few different types of shaving soap out there, and take a look at the differences between the ingredients and processes used.

Hard Soaps

Types of shaving soap: Colgate shaving ad 1930s
1930s advertisement for Colgate shaving soap

The standard shaving soap of today hasn’t changed a whole lot since before World War I. Well, it’s not sold by talking ducks on behalf of a toothpaste company, but you can’t have it all.

It’s a hard puck of soap, sometimes sold in a tin, tub or mug. Traditionally, it would be made using tallow (rendered beef/mutton fat). Hard soaps typically use mostly sodium hydroxide (lye), but most also use a proportion of potassium hydroxide (potash). (We’ll cover the different characteristics and uses of these two types of caustic compounds in another post)

Soft (Italian- or French-Style) Soaps

Italian-style or French-style shaving soap, or simply soft soap, is (surprisingly) softer than the run-of-the-mill hard soap. These soaps have a putty-like consistency, typically due to a different alkali ratio. Other than being a little easier to load on to your shaving brush or transfer to another bowl, there’s not many important differences here.

Shaving Creams

No, not the pressurized stuff out of the can. (Come on.)

Shaving cream has not had its ship entirely sunk by those mediocre mass produced products. Rejoice, fellow cream men!

Shaving cream lives on in its more traditional form, which still requires lathering up with a brush. It lasts for an incredibly long time, produces a beautifully rich lather, and provides a wonderful shave, just like shaving soap.

The lather can deflate a little faster than that of a shaving soap, though. Still, cream is just as good as soap.

As for making it, cream soaps are notoriously fickle. We’ll focus on hard soaps first, but a cursory look at shaving cream recipes in the future isn’t impossible. We’ll need to know all the same information, and the chances of an unusable failure is lessened with regular soap.

Shaving Gel

Just… just don’t. These products usually contain substances you’d never need or want to put in your soap, like isobutane, isopentane, triethanolamine (TEA), and so on.

Even if you’re not the type to take a second look at ingredient lists or fret about what may or may not be toxic or dangerous, there’s really no need to use this disappointing goop. It just doesn’t work very well most of the time, and if there is one that does, I’ve never heard a convincing reason to use it over soap or cream.


Keep in mind that these aren’t hard and fast categories – there are softer ‘hard soaps’ and harder ‘soft soaps’. There isn’t really a strict, objective way to decide where a soap that lands in the middle should belong. That being said, there are similar ingredients and techniques used in shaving soaps (such as triple milling) that can reliably influence hardness.


Thanks for reading! I’m having a great time writing and researching these posts, watching the blog begin to accumulate followers, and interacting with new people. Even though we’re only covering basics so far, I’m already learning a lot, and I hope you are too!

Which is your favorite – hard soap, soft soap, or shaving cream?

Catch you next time!