Many people who change from cartridge razors to DE safety razors also upgrade their shaving cream at the same time. Some opt for high-quality creams and others use a traditional puck of shaving soap. I personally prefer the quick and easy lathering of creams over hard soaps, but I always keep a puck of soap on hand – and not for shaving. No matter what you use it’s good to keep a puck of soap on-hand, and here’s why:
How soaps and creams work
First, it’s helpful to understand how shaving soaps and creams work. Soap is a combination of fat (typically beef tallow, palm, coconut, olive) and lye (the stuff used in drain cleaner). They combine to create soap, which has unique properties. It has the unique ability to bond to both fat and water. This allows it to cling to the oils and dirt on your skin while also rinsing cleanly with water. These properties also give soap its characteristic slickness.
The process of saponification (the chemical reaction that creates soap) also creates glycerin. Glycerin is a humectant, which attracts moisture from the environment to help keep your skin moist.
Shaving soap is simply a formulation that provides mild cleansing (it won’t strip all of your skin’s oils), good conditioning (it helps moisturize), and rich lathering (due to higher percentage of oils that lather well such as palm, coconut and tallow.)
The difference between high-quality and low-quality soaps
True soaps are a natural product, and many of the things we refer to as “soaps” are actually synthetic detergents. Body wash, for instance, is not usually soap. This doesn’t mean that one is necessarily better than the other. There are some fantastic “cleansers” and some awful soaps (and vice versa).
But when we compare actual soaps side-by-side, there are some key differences in quality. The first is the glycerin content. Glycerin is an important ingredient in soap to keep skin from drying out. But it is also a valuable product with numerous uses. In the mass-production of soap the glycerin will often be removed and sold for other purposes. This is one of the reasons that a bar of hotel soap will leave your skin dry and rubbery while an artisanal soap will leave your skin feeling healthy. The main ingredients in both are the same, but the artisanal soap retains its natural glycerin.
The second difference in quality involves the fat content of the soap. “Superfatting” is the process of adding more fat than necessary in the soap recipe. The lye will have plenty of fat to saponify, but the leftover fat will help to moisturize your skin. Higher quality soaps will often have better conditioning properties due to the quality and quantity of fats.
The final difference is the cleansing quality of the soap, or its ability to remove dirt, grease and oil. Soaps with a high cleansing properties often have low conditioning properties (or put another way, if it cleans really well it probably won’t moisturize at the same time). A soap isn’t necessary “low-quality” just because it has high cleansing properties, but cheaper soaps tend to focus on cleansing at the expense of conditioning.
Other uses for shaving soap
With all of that background out of the way, here is the point of this post – shaving soap is a great all-purpose bathroom soap – even if you don’t use it for shaving. I keep a puck in the soap dish next to my sink. Here are some ways the puck of soap is helpful in the bathroom and why you should always keep a puck of soap on-hand:
Hand washing – Even though shaving soap is very mild it still has enough cleansing properties for hand washing. It’s never going to remove motor oil and heavy grease from your hands, so it’s not the best choice for a utility sink. But it is definitely up to the task of washing pomade or shaving oil off your hands without drying them out like liquid bathroom hand soap. Good quality shaving soaps last a very long time, so you can expect a puck to last for several months even with regular use.
Face washing – Shaving soap is designed to be used on the lower half of your face, but it also works well at removing excess dirt and grease from the rest of your face. Most shaving soap is all-natural, very mild on the skin, with just enough cleansing properties to be effective. It’s probably not a replacement for a good daily face cleanser, but if I often reach for the bar of shaving soap if I just need to clean up quickly.
Body washing – Shaving soap works well as a body soap. In fact, Van Der Hagen actually markets their Luxury Shaving Soap this way. This is especially convenient for people who like to shave in the shower. Not to mention that shaving soaps smell good by design. Some will have fragrances will stick around for a while (the Fine Platinum Soap in this picture has a deep smoky scent that lasts for hours), while others will rinse cleanly away (the Van Der Hagen Luxury Soap is a citrus scent that disappears with water.) I don’t use shaving soap in the shower regularly, but it has helped me out in a pinch when I have run out of soap.
Treating “Soap Acquisition Disorder”
Many people want to try new creams and soaps – especially when they are new to wet shaving. But good soaps last a very long time and you can only shave a limited number of times per day. I have heard this called Soap Acquisition Disorder (SAD) – the accumulation of far more soaps that you will ever need. Using shaving soap for hand, face and body washing gives you the opportunity to discover new brands and scents without accumulating a medicine cabinet full of unused and half-used soaps.
I personally prefer the lather of shaving creams over soaps. If I didn’t keep a puck of soap on my sink for these other uses I probably wouldn’t buy much hard soap. That would be a shame, because there are a lot of really good soaps out there that I do enjoy using from time to time. Using shaving soap for these other purposes gives me the opportunity to work some hard soaps into my rotation to explore new soaps that I may enjoy.
In summary, shaving soap can be used anywhere other soaps are used (except in the most heavy-duty, degreasing applications.) If you have an interest in exploring new brands, scents and formulations, then using shaving soap in other applications will give you more opportunities to work different soaps into your rotation. Even though good shaving soaps cost more than drugstore soap, they also last far longer due to a lower water content. Regardless of whether you use soap, cream, or cans of aerosol, there are benefits to keeping a puck of good quality shaving soap nearby.
The purpose of this blog is to share how double-edge shaving can help men get better shaves and clearer skin. Here are some additional posts you may find interesting:
Intro to Wet Shaving – A primer on how DE shaving helps give better shaves and clearer skin
Shaving Technique – A “how-to” guide for shaving with a safety razor
DE Shaving Cost Comparison – Analysis comparing the cost of DE shaving vs cartridge shaving (spoiler: DE razors are cheaper than dirt!)
Gear for Beginners – The low-cost tools that introduced me to DE shaving
Razor Aggressiveness Basics – An explanation of what makes a razor “mild” with recommendations for beginning DE shavers