Thursday, January 8, 2015

Canned Shaving Lather Inferior?

If the shave quality of a shaving lather depended on the thickness and stiffness of the foam like in the first picture shown here, then everyone who wet shaves would be getting their shave cream out of a can. Right?

Yet most wet shavers, especially those who consider themselves aficionados or hobbyists, reject the canned-cream products precisely because they, allegedly, don't  provide the best shaves.

But wait... there are shaving forums on the Internet in which shaving hobbyists actually admire photos of thick, stiff foam piled high in a bowl and on a brush: so-called lather porn. Based on a photo of thick, stiff lather, shavers will actually ask for a given shave-cream product. They assume that thick, stiff lather equals excellent shaving protection.

Again, if that were true, wouldn't we all be shaving with foam from a can?

But many if not most shaving aficionados reject canned foams and gels despite the thick, stiff foam or the dense gel foam. The reason most commonly given is the ingredients that include propellants and other artificial ingredients that diminish to some degree, ultimately, the quality of the shave.

I stopped (or greatly reduced, actually) my use of canned-shaving-cream products many years ago primarily for reasons of their ecological impact and to some small degree their cost. Truth be told, I did not quit the canned goo because of their quality of shave.

In fact, it's been so long since I've used a shaving lubricant out of a can, I couldn't accurately tell you how good the shave is. I have to repeat that: I don't remember the quality of the shave using stuff from a pressurized can.

So this morning I pulled out a can of Barbasol -- just like the one pictured here -- from my closet shave box and gave it another go. I even used my normal minimalist beard prep, which is rubbing in some cool tap water and nothing more.

I have to admit, much to my surprise, I got an excellent shave. Three passes with a little fussing, and in terms of the shave, I have no complaints.

What does this mean? Has the Earth suddenly reversed its magnetic poles? Will the mighty Mississippi start to flow northward? Why do I feel disoriented? (Just kidding... I don't really feel disoriented.)

Do you hear that silence? That's the sound of another myth being busted. Does the canned shaving goo provide an inferior shave? No, it's just newer and different from the older method of soap and brush. Objectively, the stuff from a can allows a fine shave. If it didn't, it never would have achieved such broad market acceptance for so many years.

However, that's not the end of the story. It does mean that a preference for shave soap and brush can no longer be justified by the superiority of its protection. But there are more factors than just that.

Some prefer to apply lather to face with a brush rather than fingers. Some recognize the foolishness of using products with a heavier ecological load, with hardware that must be disposed of, not recycled, month after month. Some simply like the variety of various shaving soaps and creams.

I suggest that we ditch the canned goo anyway. The flaw in the product isn't the result; it's the packaging. We should be reducing our ecological impact in every way reasonably possible, including not using products with an unnecessary packaging-disposal burden. Think about it.

Happy shaving!


  1. I dont believe barbasol is equal with soap and brush in slickness. Yes the foam feels nice and thick and stands well, but it doesnt protect quite as well as even some other canned goops like Nivea, Proraso, Pinaud Clubman,and Speick.
    I wouldnt use a straight razor with Barbasol. Id attempt it with Nivea foam or gel in a can because its slick.
    I think Barbasol is good enough for most cartridges, but not straights or aggressive DE razors.

  2. I would have thought so too. Since I am a shaving soap maker, not only was I aware of the main ingredient in Barbasol (and most other lathers/gels), I also knew it would be sufficiently slippery, which it is -- both between one's fingers and for using a single blade such as a DE razor. What I didn't expect was that it would provide a fairly low-irritation shave.

    I expected the propellants and other "engineered" ingredients to make it more harsh, more drying. It might have left a *touch* more skin irritation in its wake after the shave, but if so, not much. As those of us know in and around the health-care business as well as those who have studied marketing (I have done both), the placebo effect is alive and well. That is, belief affects perception. Price affects perception. Image affects perception. Pre-conceived ideas affect perception.

    I am not an advocate of using canned goo; like I said, I even make my own custom shave soap, which is pretty damned good. However, I can't really criticize Barbasol's performance; it's the packaging, the ecological un-friendliness that is a problem. However, we are each entitled to our own opinions, whether based on belief or empirical testing. ;-)