Thursday, January 15, 2015

Shaving Brush as Olympic Power Lifter?

I chuckle every time I read a comment from a shaver that repeats one of the silliest shaving myths that I've heard:

The action of applying shave soap to face with a brush "lifts" the whiskers
in the lather, thus making them "stand up" for the shave.

The brush and lather "lifts" stubble like an olympic
power lifter raises heavy iron? Um, not a chance.


If you shave every day as I do, the hair is too short and wiry to have its natural orientation changed by swirling lather over it with a moisture-softened shaving brush. In fact, my stubble is so coarse, I believe I could use it instead of sandpaper to smooth wood. [UPDATE: Also, if the hair is longer, then the shape of it may change in the lather, but the first key fraction of a millimeter at the skin level does not change significantly, does not make shaving more effective.] If you think that a brush lifts a day's growth of stubble any more or less than simply wetting and washing one's face, you need some kind of surgical logic implant.

I also kind of chuckle when a badger brush is extolled as being soooooo much better than boar. Different, yes. Somewhat softer against the skin, yes. Way better? Really? Seriously? Could it be that that evaluation is simply a rationalization of the silly price that some pay for a simple shaving brush?

However, I have repeatedly, objectively seen that bristle type can matter with some soaps when building lather directly on the face. Whether boar or badger doesn't matter much in my experience, but I have objectively, repeatedly seen a difference in the lather-making capability of my little Omega brand Syntex brush. When compared to either boar or badger, the synthetic bristles don't build thick lather as efficiently. This is most evident when face lathering.

When lathering my preferred shave soap, it has some significant superfatting* to be more skin friendly, but it also therefore requires a technique adjustment to make good lather. Another consequence of this superfatting is that my synthetic-bristled brush makes fine lather in a five-inch lathering bowl, but not so readily when I skip the bowl and instead face lather. My natural-bristled brushes (both boar and badger), on the other hand, make lather in a bowl or on my face just fine.

Omega Syntex.
Why is my little Omega Syntex an inferior face latherer? Could be a number of factors. I suspect that the bristles tips are different than natural ones; the synthetic tips are likely more blunt. The synthetic bristles are also stiffer. The knot is also tighter, more cylindrical, less fan shaped on my Omega Syntex. Whatever the underlying reasons (and if I had to bet, I'd suggest it's the blunt bristle tips), the synthetic bristles on my brush don't seem as capable to whip the necessary air into the soapy slurry to transform it into rich lather.

This implies that the Omega Syntex likely won't be the travel brush that I had originally envisioned. I had thought that I'd skip lugging aq bowl altogether, and just bring a stick of shave soap and a small, light brush, and face lather with it.

However, if I'm wrong about its ability to lift whiskers, maybe I can use the brush to lift some boxes into my attic.  ;-)

Happy shaving!

*Superfatting is a soap-making term that implies that residual fatty acids are left in the soap after all the alkaline reactants are used up. This is usually done to ensure that the soap is less harsh, less drying on the skin.

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