A quirky man & his odd soap – Review of Dr. Bronner’s Shaving Soap

When my daughter was born the hospital recommended using Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap to wash things that would come in contact with her mouth.  I hadn’t heard of it before, but they explained that it is an organic, all-natural vegetable-based soap that rinses cleanly without any residue.  We have kept a bottle in our house ever since and we use it for various applications.  When I saw Dr. Bronner’s Shaving Soap at our local health food store I knew I had to try a bottle.  Here are my thoughts.

Note:  I purchased this product at full price and received no compensation for this review.

A little background

If you are already familiar with Dr. Bronner’s (the man and his soap) feel free to skip this section.  If not, hold onto your seat and read on…

Emanuel Bronner (born Heilbronner) was born in 1908 in Heilbronn, Germany to a family of Jewish soapmakers.  He became a master chemist in the soap industry and took on the title “Dr. Bronner”.  During the rise of Nazism Dr. Bronner emigrated to the US to work as a consultant in the soap industry, dropping the “Heil” from his name.  Dr. Bronner encouraged his parents to move to the US with him given their Jewish heritage and the rise of Nazism.  However, his parents refused and they did not survive the Holocaust.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust Dr. Bronner developed a philosophy that he called the “Moral ABC” which preached religious tolerance (among many, many other things).  He was so fanatical about his message that he was committed to a mental institution where he received shock therapy.  He managed to escape to continue spreading his message.

He held talks to spread the news to anyone who would listen.  Participants would receive a bottle of his soap as a thank you gift.  After realizing that people would take the soap without listening to the message, Dr. Bronner began printing the message on the bottle.

What resulted was a label with thousands of words in tiny print.  They are printed in every possible direction and occupy every square inch of real estate on the bottle (take a look at the quart-sized bottle sometime!)  It’s tough to grasp exactly what Dr. Bronner is trying to say in many cases, but it leaves you with a pretty positive overall message about unity, inclusiveness, fairness, ethics, and natural living.  It’s hard to disagree with any of those things.

Here is an excerpt so you can get the feel of the messaging:

Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Who else but God gave man Love that can spark mere dust to life! Poetry, uniting All-One! All brave! All life! Who else but God! “Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!” Einstein, 1939, after Nazis & Commies united, proposed spacebombs that destroy all, unless we finally teach the Moral ABC’s the real Rabbi Hillel taught Jesus to unite all in All-One-God-Faith. As teach astronomers Abraham-Israel-Moses-Buddha-Hillel-Jesus-Spinoza-Paine-Sagan & Mohammed, inspired every 76 years, 6000 years by the Messenger of God’;s Law, the sign of the Messiah, Halley’s Comet: “WE’RE ALL ONE OR NONE!” “THERE IS NO GOD BUT GOD!” “TEACH LOVE THY ENEMY!” “LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!”


The company is now in its third generation of leadership.  They have revenues exceeding $100 million annually and sell a bottle of soap every three seconds, on average.  As the company continues to grow they insist on paying fair wages (starting at over $18/hr) and the pay for the executive leadership is capped at 5x the lowest-paid employee

There is no doubt that Dr. Bronner is an interesting person.  He preached a religious message with the fervor of a street-corner evangelist but somehow managed not to alienate or offend anyone (at least nobody I have met, but then again I haven’t discussed the Moral ABC at length with too many people).  He also practiced what he preached, giving a huge percentage of his profits to charity and embracing fairness in all of his business dealings. Whether you buy the message or not – you want to like this guy and his soap.

The enigma of Dr. Bronner’s Shaving Soap

Shaving soaps come in all shapes, sizes, textures, and scents, but most soaps have some similarities.  They are pucks or creams, often white or cream colored, and the scents are usually a combination of woody, citrus, floral or oriental fragrances.  We all know what shaving soap is supposed to look and feel like, right?

Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t care what it’s supposed to look like.  It is both confusing and interesting.  Here are some of the oddities of Dr. Bronner’s shaving soap:

Consistency = thin maple syrup

It is a liquid soap, but not like the soap in gas station bathrooms.  It is a lot thinner than that.  It is very runny – to the point that you have to be careful not to make a mess.  If you tip the bottle too carelessly you’ll have a half cup of soap in your hand before you can get the lid snapped shut.

Main ingredient = sugar

Organic Sucrose (sugar) is the main ingredient, followed by organic white grape juice.  They claim that sugar is an excellent humectant (it draws moisture from the environment into the skin).  This could very well be true…I was just surprised to see it as the first ingredient.

Scent = toasted marshmallow

The bottle I bought was actually unscented.  It may not have any fragrance added but it definitely has a scent.  My unrefined nose smells toasted marshmallows and caramel.  I assume this comes from the sugar being heated during the soap making process.  Note: it does come in other fragrances like peppermint, lemongrass and lavender.

Color = brown

The color of the soap is brown, like a thin brown gravy or light maple syrup.  This was probably the biggest surprise.  I have seen soaps of all colors, but never one that looks quite like this.

My take

This is an odd soap and I have been getting decent shaves with it.  It has some good things going for it, but there are also some aspects that you will have to get used to if you use this soap regularly.

The soap doesn’t lather at all – it’s not supposed to.  You are supposed to apply it with your hands.  But I use a brush out of habit and preference. The brush makes this soap foam a little but the foam is very light and airy and collapses almost immediately – definitely not a lather.

But what it lacks in lather it makes up for in lubricity.  It is surprisingly slick and the blade glides across my skin easily.  It also stays slick after it has been shaved off, which is helpful for touchups.  I have used it with an Edwin Jagger 89 with Feather and Gillette Platinum blades.  I haven’t had any razor burn, bumps or cuts.  It is very average when it comes to drying/conditioning properties.

My biggest complaint about this soap is that it is messy.  It is so thin and runny that it can easily spill out of the bottle.  And since there is no lather to speak of, the soap tends to run down my neck. If you don’t rinse the mess off it can get pretty sticky because of the sugar.  As long as you rinse well it is not a problem, but if you miss a spot you’ll feel the stickiness as soon as all the water has completely dried.

I have only had a few shaves with this soap, so my opinion of it may change over time.  In a nutshell, I think its worth buying a bottle to try for the sake of novelty – if you are into that sort of thing.  You may love it or hate it, but I can’t imagine you’ll ever come across a shaving soap quite like.  That’s worth something in my opinion.

I will keep the bottle around, but this soap probably isn’t for me.  I think some people will really appreciate the “soft benefits” – it’s vegan, organic, and the company is dead serious about corporate responsibility.  If so, those people will probably embrace the quirkiness of this soap and enjoy it more than me.  Either way I am glad I gave it a try.

Further reading

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

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