In the world of wet shaving you have three types of shaving products: creams, soaps and gels. Each one has different properties but they all have the same purpose: to soften your beard and cushion the blows of the razor against your face. This post will be the battle of shaving soap vs. shaving cream. We'll look at the differences between them and try to determine which one is better. As for the pros and cons of shaving gels and foams, we'll explore them separately.
Before comparing shaving soaps and creams, let's explore what they actually are.
What is a Shaving Cream?
When we talk about a shaving cream we refer to the stuff that comes in a tube or a tub. You can lather it up with a brush or just rub it vigorously on your face. Unlike gels and foams, shaving creams don't come in an aerosol can and do require you to lather them up.
Shaving creams have been around since the 1940s and remain a staple shaving product even today.
What is a Shaving Soap?
Shaving soaps comes two forms: soap bars and tubs. They can be glycerin-based or triple-milled. Regardless of their variety and form, all shaving soaps are solid and require a shaving brush to lather up.
In different shapes and forms, soaps have been around since the beginning of time. With the invention of the shaving cream and later the introduction of the shaving gels and foams, the shaving soap's popularity decreased. In the last several years, however, the return to the classic wet shaving has popularized the use of shaving soaps. The proliferation of numerous shaving soap brands has exploded and brought this nearly forgotten product back in fashion.
Regardless of their reignited popularity, the question still remains: is it better to shave with soap or shaving cream?
Let's find out.
Criteria & Ranking
We'll evaluate shaving soaps and creams on the following criteria:
- ease of use,
- Performance & Lather, and
We'll rank each product on a scale 1-5, where 5 is the absolute best. Since both shaving soaps and creams are great shaving products, the rankings will be close and the battle will be fierce. Read on to find out who wins in the end.
Shaving Soap vs. Cream: Ease of Use
As I mentioned before, both types of products require a shaving brush to work up a lather. When it comes to ease of use, the main difference between shaving cream and soap is that you can use the former without a brush. In general, creams have more water in them and you can easily scoop them up and use your fingers to rub them into your skin. You will not get a good lather but you still can use them this way.
Shaving soaps, on the other hand, are hard and cannot be used without a shaving brush. You can bloom them (that's the geek term for letting the soap soak in hot water) and use the soapy water on your face. The results will not be stellar.
Therefore, if you travel and you need to pack light, a small tub of shaving cream is the way to go. If you bring a shaving soap on the road, you'd need to get a shaving brush too.
Besides their pure convenience, shaving creams are easier to lather up. This is especially true if you live in a region with hard water. If the mineral content of your water is high, it is harder for any cream or soap to form a good lather. You can't choose your municipal water but you can choose between a soap and a cream. If you have hard water, go with the cream. It will lather up faster and easier.
What if the water is not an issue? Still go with the cream, especially if you are starting out with wet shaving. Overall, creams are more convenient and easier to use.
Ease of Use
Shaving Soap: 2/5
Shaving Cream: 4/5
Winner: Shaving Cream
Shaving Soap vs. Cream: Performance & Lather
An important difference between shaving cream and soap is how they perform their main function: to soften your beard and protect your face.
Soaps may be harder to use but once you have a lather going, it is slick and cushiony. I rarely get weak and runny lather when using a soap. If I do feel that my lather is too bubbly, I just keep lathering up the puck until I get a good density.
Shaving creams can produce excellent lather too. Creams, however, are more sensitive to the amount of water you add to them. It is easy to produce a lather but the lather often can be thin and runny. Regardless of the amount of water I add, some creams never produce thick lather.
Whether you pick a shaving soap vs. a shaving cream also depends on your razor. If you use a straight razor, you may want a little extra slickness. In this case, you would want to use a shaving soap. If you are using a safety razor, you may be looking for more protection and may opt for a shaving cream.
Overall, I find shaving soaps to give me better lather and, hence, better performance when shaving. In this category, shaving soaps have the edge.
Performance & Lather
Shaving Soap: 5/5
Shaving Cream: 4/5
Winner: Shaving Soap
Shaving Soap vs. Cream: Price
The price has no bearing on whether shaving soaps or creams are better. Yet, it is an important consideration when choosing one.
The price ranges of shaving soaps and shaving creams are more or less the same. Other wet shaving bloggers tend to agree with this statement.
If you are really pinching pennies, you can find a really cheap shaving cream (around $5) at your local drug store. If you want to go high end you can find really expensive shaving creams too. Acqua di Parma Collezione Barbiere shaving cream retails for around $100 (even though you can get it for less on Amazon).
If you are looking for a rock bottom price on shaving soap, prepare to pay around $3.50 for a tub of Colonel Conk small shaving soap. If money is not a thing, then Czech & Speake can offer you a soap for $150.
That being said, most shaving soaps and creams usually cost between $15 to $35. For this money you are getting superb quality. Paying more than $35 for a soap is shelling out some cash just for the brand name.
When it comes to actually buying a shaving soap or a cream, what would make a difference is not the price but the availability. You can easily find a wide range of shaving creams in any drug store. Even if you live under a rock, your local gas station would carry a tube of some cream.
Finding a shaving soap is a bit trickier. Some drug stores carry Proraso but not consistently. Your best bet is to go online or in person to stores like MenEssentials (Canada & USA) and West Coast Shaving (USA). As shaving soaps gain more popularity, it is likely they will be easier to find in more place.
Shaving Soap: 5/5
Shaving Cream: 5/5
What about Scent?
The popular opinion is that shaving soaps are less fragrant as compared to shaving creams. Hence, shaving soaps are better for sensitive skin since fragrance oils could cause skin irritation.
I've tested numerous shaving creams and shaving soaps and I don't find any difference when it comes to scent. I don't think the scent in a cream is stronger than the scent added to a soap. The difference in scent strength comes from the amount of fragrance oils added to the mix. The texture of the mix doesn't make a difference.
The Moment of Truth
We've tallied up the differences and crunched the numbers and here we are in the moment of truth. Both shaving soaps and shaving creams rank pretty closely to each other. Both shaving products can give you a great shave. One is easier to use and the other gives you better lather but, as you can see from the scores, these differences are minor. The important thing is that whatever you choose, you can hardly go wrong.
If you are a beginner to wet shaving, start with a shaving cream. Not sure how to pick the best shaving cream? Check out our guide here: How To Pick The Best Shaving Cream for Wet Shaving.
Once you develop the technique, you can move on to shaving soaps. Here's our quick guide to How to Use Shave Soap.