What Is Shaving Soap And How Is It Different From Regular Soap?

Posted by Bradley Jones on

soaps lined up for curingAfter seeing the amazing benefits you can get from switching to a single blade razor, it’s likely you have also looked into switching from an instant foam/gel to a natural shaving soap.

But you may be wondering; “Can I just use regular soap for shaving?”, the answer is a resounding no.

So, what makes shaving soap special? The difference is in the ingredients used and how this affects the final product.

Regular soap is designed for its cleansing properties. It generates a lather that helps to strip the skin of dirt and oils. In short, it cleans you.

But a shaving soap isn’t meant to clean you. The point of a shaving soap is to provide a protective barrier between your skin and razor blade so you can have a comfortable shave.

Regular soaps tend to have a very thin, watery lather that is great for washing off dirt and grime but it isn’t going to provide much protection from a blade.

Shaving soaps are therefore designed to create a much bigger and denser lather to give you that protection you need. Furthermore, most shaving soaps today aim to do more than just protect your skin. Using different combinations of ingredients, modern shaving soaps can have a range of properties that affect the quality of shave you’re able to achieve.

Some of the qualities of shaving soaps:

Lather Volume - This is how much lather is generated when you work it with your shaving brush. Soaps that generate lots of lather tend to be very easy to use because they don’t take much effort or time to prepare. Many wet shavers seem to hold the view that ‘bigger lather’ = ‘better soap’ but this isn’t really the case. A big lather can be quite drying or lacking sufficient protection so it’s best to aim for a happy medium.
Slickness - Arguably the most important factor. This is how slippy the lather is; how well it allows the razor to easily glide over the skin without friction. An important aspect of slickness is whether or not it stays after the lather has been removed as we’re all prone to going back over a spot we’ve already done.
Stability - Unlike a regular soap, the lather of a shaving soap needs to stay on your skin throughout your entire shave. It shouldn’t dissipate or dry out midway through.
Moisturising - Shaving soaps don’t need to be cleansing to strip your skin of oils, which can make it dry, so instead they include moisturising ingredients that keep your skin hydrated and soften your hairs for a more comfortable shave and post-shave feel.

What is shaving cream and how is it different to soap?

A shaving cream is essentially just a shaving soap that’s used a different combination of ingredients to end up with a softer consistency. This makes it much easier to quickly lather up ready for your shave but it also tends to reduce longevity, so you’ll get through a cream faster than an equivalent sized soap.

What is better, a shaving soap or cream?

Creams and soaps are just different. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. There are lots of fantastic shaving soaps out there and there are lots of fantastic creams. You may have heard things like “soaps give better protection but can be more drying” or “creams are easier to lather but the quality isn’t as good” but this isn’t really true. As long as you’re buying good quality from a reputable brand, you should use whichever you prefer to work with.

As we’ve mentioned, the only real difference is in speed and longevity. Creams are a bit quicker to lather but soaps tend to last longer.

What about brushless creams?

There’s another form of shaving cream that you can buy that doesn’t lather up at all. Sometimes referred to as a ‘shaving butter’. The benefit of these types of creams is convenience as they don’t require a shaving brush to work into a lather. Instead, you just apply them straight from the tube onto your skin.

Again, it’s all down to your personal preference but we would always recommend you use a shaving brush when applying your lather because of the added benefits that a shaving brush provides such as lifting up the hairs and the volume of lather generated. Furthermore, if your shaving cream is brushless then you will need to use a lot more cream per shave and therefore run out much quicker than a lathering alternative.

What is a croap?

Just to add another layer of complexity, there is another type of shaving soap often referred to by many wet shavers as a “croap”. This refers to a shaving soap that is somewhere between a hard soap and a cream in terms of consistency (hence “croap”). Once again, it’s all down to preference and, all things being equal, the only difference it makes is ease of lather and therefore longevity.

Should you use unscented or scented shaving soap?

Unscented shaving soaps (or fragrance-free cosmetics in general) are usually aimed at people with particularly sensitive skin that can have an adverse reaction to the fragrance oils and essential oils used to make the product smell nice.

If your skin isn't sensitive to these types ingredients then you're in luck because one of the most exciting aspects of shaving soaps is the huge variety of scents available. Unlike an aftershave product, that is intended to be worn all day, a shaving soap is washed off after shaving and therefore the scent is unlikely to linger for more than 5-10 minutes.

Why is this a good thing?

Because it allows for a far more varied and interesting selection of scents to play around with to make your morning ritual as enjoyable an experience as possible.

For example: You may love the smell of lavender but not particularly want to be smelling of it all day. With a lavender scented shaving soap you can simply enjoy the relaxing aroma whilst you shave and it will get washed off at the end. After which, you can apply your regular aftershave product.

In Summary

It's not just a marketing ploy to get you to buy more, the difference between a regular soap and a shaving soap is significant! If you want to have a quality shave that's free of irritation and nicks then make sure you're using a soap that's been designed specifically for it.

As part of our shaving club we've tried lots of fantastic shaving soaps, croaps, and creams. Some of our favourites can be found here.

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