As I've evolved the formulation of my shave soap from the original #1 to the latest, #10 (although I have not yet tested #9 [UPDATE: actually, I now have: click here to see the report on SS#9]), my shaves have generally gotten more comfortable and simpler -- though some of the formulations have been dead ends. But the evolution through soaps #4, then #6, then #8, and most recently #10 have helped me learn about soap recipes while showing a nice progression in shave quality. The soaps have been increasingly effective. I currently shave only with cold, not hot, water, and my pre-shave preparation is merely a few splashes of cool water on my beard, then wetting the brush with cool water, loading the brush from the soap puck, and face lathering. That's it. No extensive heating and wetting of my face and beard. No pre-shave oils. No protracted lather-building process.
[UPDATE: Since experimenting with reducing the number of passes in my average daily shaves, I don't currently even use the alum block.]
Similarly, my after-shave process is just a cool-water rinse, a total face-neck rub with the alum block, a clean up of the sink and my shave tools, and a final cool-water rinse to remove any alum residue. That's it; no balms, moisturizers, etc. All this simplification is a big change from my former rituals with store-bought soaps, when in those days I used pre-shave oils, and after-shave balm with added drops of oil.
What surprises me about this whole matter is that this modest little soap can make such a difference. Had I not been doing the tests myself, I probably wouldn't have believed it. Frankly, the soap itself seems kind of average in terms of look, smell, and feel. My tests have shown that you can't judge a shave soap by its look, the appearance of the lather, even the slipperiness of the lather in the fingers; no, it has to be evaluated by shaving -- and not even the shave itself; you have to complete the evaluation an hour or so after the shave. SS#10 has no pretentious look or smell, and has no particular special feel to the puck or to the lather; but when I have finished my shave, I am smooth and my skin feels good without any special after-shave procedures.
This latest soap, to minimize skin irritants and like all my formulations to date, has no added fragrance; it just has the ultra-subtle scent of real soap made with natural ingredients. Its color is simple white, the natural color of this particular soap. It lathers easily -- even in my hard water -- and works well even with cool water directly from the tap wetting the brush for just a few seconds. No elaborate lathering ritual is necessary; just load the damp brush with soap from the puck, and face lather briefly to a creamy flat layer. Yet the shave is comfortable both during and after. Even with no special added moisturizers in the current formula, the result is not drying -- even after using the alum block, which is among other things a desiccant.
This SS#10 is unlikely to be the exact formulation that I will offer to the public, but it certainly will be part of the development lineage that will continue to be tuned and tested. I certainly got a comfortable, close shave with it this morning.
Next post may delve into the details of judging a shaving soap or cream.