The Difference Between Artisan Shave Soap and Artisan Hand Soap
No two soaps are created equal and one size does not fit all. A soap that performs well at removing engine oil grease from a working man’s hands would be unlikely to be the soap of choice for your pre-date shower. Still, many men continue to use the same soap for washing their hair, face and hands.
This phenomenon could be based on a lack of education into the nuanced differences that surround varying soap types or it could simply be the result of user ambivalence—most men simply don’t care.
“Soap is soap!” would be a highly probable assessment from at least some of the least-discerning men among us.
But as soap functionality need differs, so too do ingredients and quality. Perhaps the soap niche where the ingredient-function gap is most readily apparent is with artisans specialising in shave soap.
Differences in Shave Soap Function
Unlike your typical artisan bar soap or even store liquid soap, shave soap serves a much different function and therefore needs to behave differently in active use. The emulsifying micelle created by hand soap is best when it produces more froth and less of a cream-like structure, but when it comes to shaving, froth is not only less-than-desired, it is outright shunned. Ask any hardcore wet shaver about the frothy, wasteful option of canned cream available at most brick-and-mortar retail and you will get a sense of the quality differential we are discussing.
Instead, shave soap must look like soap, but act more like cream. That is, until water and a shave brush are added. When such a combination occurs the shaver will expect to see something that looks more like a cream and less like a soap.
Like hand soap, the basic shaving soap chemistry remains somewhat unchanged, but the desired function of that chemistry is very different. When we use hand soap, we want more froth and bubbles—produced by those nice little soap micelles—to remove dirt and grease from our skin. When we use shave soap, we still want micelles, but there needs to be much more. In other words, it needs to be thicker.
Differences in Soap Ingredients
While the ingredient differences between hand bar soap and liquid soap are typically minimal (they’re essentially the same with the exception of added water and stabilising chemicals), there are generally wider differences in the needed ingredients between shave soap and hand soap, especially to get to the creamy, protective function required by a shaver.
The largest and most important difference is the required fat content (whether plant or animal-based) included in either soap. Hand soap generally excludes the heavy fat base found in the higher quality shaving soaps. More fat equals a more creamy, slick texture for the glide of a smooth shave.
Animal-based fats included in shave soaps are generally preferred to plant-based alternatives. In addition, animal-based fats– like beef or duck tallow–generally tend to be sold and branded as more lavish and cost more of a premium.
Artisan Soap Should Always = Function Over Form
A great soap must first start from a great soap ingredient base. The all-too-frequent problem with most would-be soap buyers is the ever-present enamour with scent. Yes, apart from the addition of more fat content to the soap base, scent is typically the only other real difference between shave soap and hand soap.
But, unfortunately both shaving soap artisans and their customer get the scent ingredients all wrong.
It’s not that there is a wrong scent put into most shaving soaps. That, of course, is entirely a matter of personal preference. The real problem with both artisans and users is the first focus on the smell and the afterthought focus on the quality of the base.
An unscented soap with a quality base is always preferred over a good scent and a mediocre soap base. It may initially pique your interest based on smell, but the lack of proper quality tallow or fat content may not amply protect you against potential razor burn.
These types of shave soaps are what I like to call the “cotton candy” of the shave soap world: all scent and no shaving substance. Artisan hand soaps, of course, have their cotton candy equivalents as well.
Benefits of Shaving Soap Over Shaving Cream
Fat content aside, it may also be helpful to understand underlying differences between shaving soap and shaving cream. Shaving cream includes many similar cream-producing ingredients to protect the face against the scraping of an open blade, but the biggest difference between the two is the amount of liquid water that is included in the purchased mixture.
Shaving cream includes the water already added. In the case of shave soap, a little water and the application of some proverbial “elbow grease” with a shave brush can quickly produce a similar thick, creamy lather—depending on the quality of the soap.
So, what’s the real difference? Price, of course!
More water already added means a tube or can of shaving cream may last a few weeks to a couple of months. A good shave soap puck, however, even if used every day, can last six months to a year or more.
Additionally, with shave soap you can more easily control the amount of water you include in the mixture, thus allowing for more control over the thickness and richness of the lather. If you want it thinner, just add water. In the unfortunate case of shaving cream, you can certainly add more water, but if you want it thicker, there no way to add more without achieving the same consistency.
When it comes to making soap, there is a broad difference between the various functions a soap requires, depending on its use. And, a soap of lesser quality in one use-case, may provide a fantastic use if applied in a different format or setting. Hand soap and shave soap are two types that lie on opposite ends of an opposing spectrum: one serves to remove dirt, oil and grease while the other serves to protect against the potential nicks and cuts inherent in shaving with a razor. When consumers understand this fact, they are generally more apt to be more discerning and educated in their purchase decisions as it relates to something as simple as soap.
Josh Chou is a wet shaving enthusiast, advocate and evangelist at Shave.net. He helps men (and women) ditch the costly shackles and waste inherent in cartridge razors to step into the eco-friendly world of shaving with straight razors and safety razors. He provides advice to both greenhorn and experienced wet shavers looking to get a better, more customised shave. Josh resides in Seattle, Washington.
Thanks to our contributor Josh, hopefully we’ll be hearing more of him in the future, giving our male audience some air time!
Happy Movember to all taking part this year, this is an annual event where men from all around the globe grow facial hair raising awareness for men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide, so together ‘Let’s stop men dying too young’ The Movember Foundation runs the Movember charity event, you can donate or find more information here www.movember.com
Then remember, when you’re ready to shave it all off, chose soap not cream!