Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shave Soap Characteristics

I give a fair amount of thought and attention to shave soap because I make my own. There are two separate questions that a shaving-soap maker might ask:

  1. What makes a shaving soap great?
  2. What makes users think a shaving soap is great?
These questions seem to be the same, but they're not. In the same way that some DE users think that razor weight and balance are significant (and generally they are not; they are merely characteristics of which users are aware, and to which they attribute importance -- even though characteristics of blade angle, blade exposure, and blade gap are far more important), there are obvious characteristics of shave soap that are readily perceivable, but are less important to the actual shave-facilitation functioning of the soap during the shave.

Slickness - How well the soap allows the razor to glide over skin is a primary characteristic of great shave soap. Another term for slickness might be glide.

Creaminess - The richness, the viscosity of the lather is another quality of a great shave soap. The opposite of this quality would be thinner and more watery.

Foam stiffness - A shave lather that is creamy but not stiff is thin. A great shave soap doesn't have to have much foam stiffness, which, I believe, is referred to by some as cushion. Actually, the concept of cushion is an illusion; the act of shaving is in no way similar to pole vaulting over a high bar. However, a stiff, not-runny lather is psychologically reassuring, and a quality that makes us think a shaving soap is good.

Reuseability - This is a trait that thrifty shavers might appreciate. Reusability is the degree to which a soap -- once converted to lather -- can be dried and reused for another shave. Those persons who rinse the stubble and residual lather off their face with clean water between passes are prime candidates for reusing lather, because the lather in their bowl and brush tends to remain uncontaminated. Therefore after the shave, the clean lather can be squeezed out of the brush and, with a finger, wiped out of the bowl and returned to the soap puck to dry and be re-used rather than rinsed down the drain. Some soaps (such as Arko shave stick in my experience) cannot be reused in this way because they tend to allow microbial growth when the water content of the soap gets too high.

Tendency to dry skin - A bit of a moisturizing quality in the shave soap will offset the natural tendency of soap (and the act of shaving) to remove natural oils from the skin. So those with dry skin or in cooler climes that require indoor heating will want a shave soap that doesn't promote dry skin.

Ease of lathering - An easy-to-lather soap is another characteristic that makes users think a shave soap is great. In fact, some top-drawer creamy, moisturizing shave soaps may need a bit of extra attention to make lather, but it is the creamy, non-drying qualities -- the very qualities that contribute to make a shave soap great -- that often drive the need for a bit more attention to lathering.

Non irritability, non toxicity - Some skin is sensitive to certain soap additives or fragrances. Pure soap and natural, skin-friendly moisturizers tend to minimize the degree to which a soap irritates or might cause long-term harm.

It was the desire to make the perfect shave soap that led me to start making my own shave soap. Every month I have been circling in on the perfect balance of these qualities. I'll let you know when I get there.

Happy shaving!

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