Shaving is not something to be treated lightly—whether it’s your face or your scalp. And over millennia, humans have experimented with various accessories and perfected methods for shaving. One of the oldest and strongest games is the wet shave—and the star player is a traditional shave soap.
Shave soap has an ancient and storied history—from ancient Egyptians to European noblemen to early 20th century barbers. And although canned shave creams have dominated the shaving industry since WWII, shaving soaps are making a resurgence.
There are some subtle differences between shaving with canned shaving cream and using a shave soap. So if you’ve never done it before, this blog will teach you how to get an incredibly smooth shave with shave soap.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
There are a few things you’ll need before getting started, namely a shave soap, shaving bowl, shaving brush, and a razor. Below is a rundown of each.
While shave soap can be used to wash your hands, face, and body, not all soaps can be used as a shave soap. Traditional shave soap is a hard soap designed to specifically produce a rich, creamy lather that will soften and moisturize a beard or head in preparation for a shave.
Not only is it cleaner than shaving cream—with no can or unwanted additives—it is much more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. You don’t’ have to toss cans into the bin every month, and a quality bar of shave soap can last for months.
Like all tools, not all shave soaps are created equal.
The Beardbrand Utility Bar was formulated to be a truly versatile do-it-all soap. It’s perfect as an ultra-hydrating skin and face cleanser, beard moisturizing wash, and gentle hair shampoo. But what sets it apart from other soap bars is its ability to produce that rich lather needed from a good shave soap. The Utility Bar is made with all-natural ingredients, including cocoa butter, mango butter, and coconut oil. Each bar is cured for three weeks to ensure that desired hardness. And at a hefty 5 oz, it’s a hockey-puck of cleansing, fresh-smelling goodness—and the ultimate tool for the cleanest shave of your life.
The Beardbrand Utility Bar is a body soap, face wash, beard wash, shampoo, and shave soap.
SHAVING BOWL OR SHAVING MUG
With a wet shave and shave soap, you need an appropriate receptacle to form the lather. Just like a barista will use a specific mug or cup for certain espresso drinks, wet-shavers can get quite particular about what they use as a shaving mug.
Without getting too deep into the weeds, there are three basic options: shaving mug, shaving bowl, or a shaving scuttle.
In general, the mug is smaller than a bowl. The size of the mug, combined with the size of your brush, can either prevent or produce the infamous ‘clanking’ sound when you whip up that lather.
A scuttle has an additional section where you pour warm water to ensure your face is warm. Ideally, a scuttle will have a bit of texture on the bottom that will assist in lather-making.
Beyond that, the options are up to your preference. Some use a cappuccino mug or a cereal bowl. Others prefer a premium paired scuttle and brush or a perfectly-sized and personally engraved mug.
There is no wrong option, as long as it fits your shave soap.
The next arrow in your shaving quiver is the shaving brush—a small, handheld brush with a hard handle used to whip up shaving lather and apply it to your face. The shaving brush is to the shaving mug as the mortar is to pestle—they compliment each other and work together.
Like shaving mugs, there are heaps of options for brushes. The bristles can be natural, made with hair from badges, boars, and horses, or synthetic. You can find them with bone, hardwood, or even stone handles.
Some factors you’ll want to consider are the softness of the bristles, the way they hold water (which will affect how well they produce lather), and how long they last.
This list is a great resource if you’re looking to dive deep into shaving brushes.
Remember—just like with the mug, there is no wrong option, as long as it works for you.
The final tool is one you’re likely familiar with: the razor.
It will be no surprise that, just like the other three items you need for a great wet shave, your razor options are boundless. Multiple blades, single blades, safety razors, straight razors… you name it, it’s out there.
If you’re looking to compare, check out this comprehensive guide with all you need to know about razors.
Personally, we are partial towards the single-edge razors from Supply. Simple, clean, easy to use, and built to last, these razors are designed to prevent skin bumps and irritation. They are perfect for your beard, head, undercarriage, and more.
Now that you’re supplied, let’s get into actually shaving.
HOW TO SHAVE WITH SHAVE SOAP
Ready for an incredible shave? Follow these seven steps:
- Soak your shaving brush.
- Bloom your shaving soap.
- Load your shaving brush.
- Build and apply your lather.
- Apply a post-shave balm.
- Properly store your shave soap.
1. SOAK YOUR SHAVING BRUSH
Without getting too nerdy, you can think of lather making as a simple science equation: soap + water + friction = lather.
The best way to introduce water is to soak your brush. Soaking traps water particles in the bristles, keeping the water close to the soap when introducing the friction. This forces the water to react to the soap in the right way. A dry brush will just gunk things up.
Soaking is simple. Just drop your brush into your mug or scuttle, and let it soak up that water as you prepare for the next steps.
2. BLOOM YOUR SHAVING SOAP
Most traditional shave soaps are hard soaps. The harder the soap, the longer it lasts. That said, hard soaps are often dry, which means that in order to produce the lather you want, it’s better if you prepare the soap. This is called blooming and is done through soaking in water.
How long you bloom for can come down to preference, but for most soaps, soaking for 5+ minutes will do the trick. If you use the Beardbrand Utility Bar, you can bloom by using the soap in the shower before you shave.
However you do it, know that blooming the soap will do wonders.
Pro tip: Use the bloom water to wet your face or head to soften and moisturize your skin and hair before shaving.
3. LOAD YOUR SHAVING BRUSH
With your wet brush in one hand and your utility bar in your other, you’re ready to rumble. Run that brush onto the bar, finding your own rhythm—swirling it clockwise, counterclockwise, twisting and twirling, dabbing, etc.
The amount of swirling and time needed will vary depending on your brush and your soap. The goal is to get a good amount of soap into the wet bristles. This is called loading the brush. A well-loaded brush will have bristles that clump together.
4. BUILD AND APPLY YOUR LATHER
Remember that mug/bowl/scuttle we talked about? This is its moment to shine.
Put a small amount of water in the mug. Then you take your loaded brush and swirl it around in the mug, increasing speed.
Here is where people might talk about the ‘clank’ sound, which comes from the handle banging into the side of the mug. Some people love the clank, others hate it—you decide. The important thing here is to swirl until you form that rich lather. When ready, it should look like freshly foamed cappuccino milk: light, airy, and fluffy.
Dip your brush deep into the lather, scooping up as much of the foam as possible, and then dab and apply it to the area you want to shave. Remember, the soapy lather will help raise the follicles, moisturize and soften the hair, and prepare your skin—so make sure you don’t miss a spot.
The lather should be light, airy, and foamy.
Shaving is a subtle art, and each hairy canvas requires a slightly different artistic approach. In short, your shaving routines should be best tailored to you.
The best way to find out what works for you is to try a few well-known methods and decide what you like best.
For example, you can shave with the grain of your hair, which is often known for reducing the chance of irritation. Alternatively, you can shave against the grain, which has a higher potential for irritation but offers a closer shave. You can shower beforehand, using steam and warm water to open up your pores, or you can apply the shave soap directly to a dry face, which can cause the hairs to stand up in a way they won’t when wet.
You can shave daily to maintain a sense of morning habits and promote a stubble-free life. Or you can let it go longer and shave once the hairs are a bit longer.
There are many ways to shear a sheep. It’s important to find your favorite shaving tools and routines and stick to them.
6. APPLY A POST-SHAVE BALM
One great way to prevent irritation, bumps, or that dreaded itchy feeling, is to apply a post-shave balm. Your skin often gets dry under a beard, and once the hair is removed, your skin no longer has the protective barrier it was used to. Battle this was a post-shave balm.
Beardbrand Utility Balm is a great post-shave option. The shea butter, mango butter, apricot kernel oil, and jojoba oil found in Utility Balm are outstanding skin moisturizers that help soften skin after a shave. Shea butter, in particular, is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that soothe dry and irritated skin. This helps prevent bumps and red marks and can even help any cuts and nicks heal quicker.
If your shave was just partial, rub the balm on both your skin and the remaining head or beard hair, as it provides a conditioning effect and helps your beard from drying out.
7. PROPERLY STORE YOUR SHAVE SOAP
A bar of high-quality shave soap is built to last, but you can drastically increase its lifespan with proper care.
When you’re done with your utility bar, rinse off the lather. Store your soap away from running or dripping water in a way that allows it to dry—on all sides. This usually means a soap rack that allows the soap to drip and properly shed all the water.
Care for your soap so it can care for your skin.
Have questions about shaving, the Utility Bar, or your beard? Text “STYLE” to 512-879-3297. Our resident beard and style expert will text you back with personalized advice—for free.
Keep on Growing.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan is a writer and rock-climbing routesetter currently based out of Stavanger, Norway. He has worked as a magazine editor, a corporate storyteller, and his fiction is represented by Jabberwocky Literary Agency. When he’s not wielding words or making people fall off walls, he’s probably outside somewhere, hiking or climbing or surfing poorly.