If we’re going to figure out how to make a good soap, we’d better define what that means first. There are two fundamental aspects of a good shaving soap recipe that we can all agree on:
1) They produce a good shave.
2) They’re enjoyable to use.
Let’s dive in and figure out these two factors in more detail.
A Good Shave
Everyone loves a good shave. It’s why most people get in to wet shaving in the first place.
A good shave, however, can be hard to nail down. You have to strike a delicate balance between getting rid of as much hair as possible (i.e., a close shave) while minimizing any irritation or damage to the skin underneath.
Unfortunately, hair is stubborn and coarse. Skin is annoyingly delicate.
And so, the struggle of the wet shaver begins. While stubble might be annoying, razor bumps and cuts are worse. The quality of a shave is thus defined by reducing both as much as possible.
Shaving technique and equipment play a large role, but (at the risk of offending some ascetic purist) they probably can’t get you all the way to perfection.
This is where the soap comes in. Shaving soap helps to lift and soften facial hair, while providing slip – allowing the razor to glide over the slick, moisturized skin, while still catching hair.
The soap also softens facial hair by dispersing the natural oils coating it, allowing water to hydrate the hair.
So, we can distill the qualities of a good shave contributed by the soap to hydration (of the skin and hair), slip (for the skin), and how it leaves your skin feeling afterwards.
Enjoyable to Use
Of course, a good shave is just one part of the whole experience of shaving. Shaving can be a highly enjoyable ritual with the right products and technique. Sometimes, it’s not just about the destination. The journey is important, too.
The weight of the razor, the glint of steel, the stimulating fragrances, the rich lather, the brush massaging your face – even the zen-like process itself – they all combine to produce a fantastic experience, one that is responsible for spawning communities, businesses, and hobbyists across the world.
Whoa. Sorry to wax romantic – but it’s true. The resurgence of wet shaving has as much to do with taking some time for yourself as it does with any functional aspect of the shave. Wet shaving is the pursuit of an experience, not a result; that’s why shaving soap reviews don’t simply amount to how much stubble is left behind. It’s an indulgence.
The more ephemeral qualities of a shaving soap are just as important – primarily, fragrance. There’s nothing like a sharp, clean scent to round out the tactical experience of a great shave.
(That’s right; not only are you going to become a soapmaker, you’re going to need a crash course in perfumery too. But that’s a topic for another day.)
In addition, we have to remember shaving takes place in the real world. We want a soap that produces a gorgeous, creamy, rich lather. The lather has to be stable – meaning when you whip the soap up, it holds all that bubbly creaminess as long as possible; preferably up to 15 or 20 minutes.
We don’t want to be swishing our brush around after every few strokes of the razor, and we definitely don’t want dry soap pulling all that precious moisture out of our skin half way through a shave. In that sense, a stable lather makes a soap more forgiving, allowing you to lather up your whole face rather than working piece-by-piece.
What Makes a Shaving Soap Recipe Good?
Remember, we need functional characteristics (hydration, slip), sensory characteristics (fragrance, feel), and practical characteristics (lather stability).
As you can see, crafting something to check all those boxes is going to be a science as well as an art. Don’t worry – we’re going to break it all down to manageable pieces. You’ll be a pro in no time!
What do you think makes for a good shaving soap recipe? Got a question or comment? Let me know!
Until next time,