Get Ready! 5 Pre-Shave Soaps That Really Work

Clean Before You Shave

I shave after showering, but even so I wash my beard at the sink before I shave. I use a pre-shave soap, rinse partially with a splash, and the apply lather (from a shaving soap or shaving cream) to my wet, slightly soapy beard.

I have experimented with various pre-shave bars. I used Baxter Vitamin E-D-A Cleansing Bars for quite a while, but then I came across Musgo Real Glyce Lime Oil soap (MR GLO), which made a noticeable difference (for me) in the quality of my shave. Through some combination of greater lubricity in the lather and the beard-softening properties of the soap’s ingredients, I really did get better shaves: this one handily survived the “week with, week without, another week with” test that I use for pre-shaves.

As a result, I stopped looking. I use the bar and just my hands to wash my beard: work up a lather with the soap, scrub beard a bit, “rinse” with just a splash, and lather. Naturally enough, different shavers use different techniques: some use a washcloth with the soap, another uses the soap somewhat like a shave stick (not to create lather for shaving, but as a way to scrub his beard), and some use an old brush with the soap, but again only to scrub the beard, not to build a lather: it’s a pre-shave soap, not a shaving soap. With my method—soap and hands only, no washcloth or brush—a bar of the soap lasts three months.

We recently hit a MR GLO drought with almost every source out of stock (temporarily, as it turned out), and that drove home to me that I should really have a good list of alternatives. My first discovery, suggested by Gary of ShoeboxShaveshop.com, was Proraso’s Sul Filo Del Rasoio pre-shave soap. This lacks the lime oil that MR GLO contains, but that’s a definite benefit if you happen to be one of the guys whose skin is sensitive to lime oil.

Proraso’s soap, like MR GLO, is high in glycerin, which seems to help the shave—and I recall that Dr. Chris Moss of ShaveMyFace.com found that Geo. F. Trumper’s Coral Skin Food made a good every-pass pre-shave, and on looking at the ingredients, decided that it must be the glycerin and found that he got the same benefit from simply using a dab of glycerin before each pass.

The thought that a high-glycerin face soap will make a good pre-shave soap suggested Neutrogrena Facial Cleansing Bar and Pears Transparent Face Soap, and both do a good job. Another excellent pre-shave soap is the Dr. Bronner line of soaps, liquid or bar. (Zach even uses Dr. Bronner’s for a shave soap.)

Another shaver has recommended QED’s own cleansing bars, and they are next up, but I’m realizing that the universe of high-quality high-glycerin facial soaps is vast indeed. Although I continue to find MR GLO supreme (and I bet it’s the lime oil), I am more comfortable knowing I have a stable of good fallbacks.

UPDATE: I have recently discovered Whole Foods 365 brand glycerin soaps, which are excellent—and less than $2/bar. Highly recommended. I would place these right after MR GLO.

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Comments

    • bsmyn0708 says

      I thought facial scrubs dry out the face? And, I don’t know of any that contain moisturization ingredients.

      • mantic59 says

        This one is kind of the “odd man out” if you ask me. The “scrub” is very mild and it does have moisturizers in it.

        • says

          Ditto for the Neutrogena Razor Defense Daily Scrub. I use it daily pre-shave. It helps exfoliate when you rub it in good because it has beads in it.

          Great way to start the shaving process daily.

  1. Midwest Blade says

    Cetaphil Gentle Facial Cleanser has a nice combination of mild cleaning and loads of glycerin to set up a great shave.

  2. MadRat says

    What I do is just splash my face with hot water, starting with one of my cheeks, chin, then other cheek. After 10 splashes for each part of my face I apply lather.

    Interesting you should mention Dr. Bronner’s because they now have a line of shaving cream.

  3. says

    Yep, there are many ways to skin the cat. Wen I consider a new method or procedure or product, I like to do a week’s shaves the new way, followed by a week’s shaves the old way, and then another week with the new way. This is what convinced me that MR GLO was much better than what I had done before. I encourage you to experiment as well—as I now shall with Dr. Bronner shaving cream. :)

  4. says

    I’ve been wanting to try MR GLO for a while, but haven’t yet. The two soaps that I currently use for pre-shave wash are Sudz C-Weed Bar Soap and VDH Shower + Shave Bar Soap.

    I also regularly use Proraso Sensitive Pre/Post Cream, which has improved my shaves.

    • says

      Indeed: Give it a try. Shaving is very much a YMMV activity, so the ultimate answer to “Will this work for me?” is to try it and see. MR GLO, for example, doesn’t work for everyone: some guys turn out to be sensitive to the lime oil. And when I tried glycerin in comparison to MR GLO, the latter was noticeably better…for me. What will work for you is something you must discover through experience and experiment. That’s what “YMMV” means.

  5. kenstee says

    I use regular hair conditioner on my stubble each morning. Wet face, apply and rub in at beginning of shower, wash off when finishing shower. For me works better than the only one of the ones listed here I’ve tried so far – Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar.

    • says

      Exactly: your own experience should be your guide. It’s good to read things and get ideas for things to try, but whether they will work for you—and whether, if they do work, will improve on your current set-up—that is something you have to discover.

  6. James says

    Whole Foods private 365 brand of vegetable based glycerin soaps are also excellent choices, particularly the “Aloe Olive” soap.

  7. Jay says

    I am using a 350g block of French milled lavender soap to prime my shaving brush and then add a small glob of shaving cream (currently Trumpers violet) to palm of hand and continue to hydrate the brush and cream mixture. This results in a very nice lather suitable for three or more passes. I have a new puck of Babassu shaving soap from Soap for Goodness Sake to try today. A new favorite is Avalon Organics Lavender moisturizing cream. It is suitable to use without brush and is translucent and very slick. Visibility through the cream is a very different shaving experience for me. I like being able to see the stubble that is there prior to cutting it. I get a great shave with this product.

    • says

      Interesting. But I don’t quite see the connection between comment (on various sources of lather) and the post (on pre-shave soaps used to prepare the beard before making and applying lather). Do you use a pre-shave soap?

      • Jay says

        Rather than just saying I don’t use a particular “pre-shave” product, I described a technique that I prefer. If I want to add the slickness of glycerin I make an uberlather instead of the superlather described. The Avalon Organics product contains a glycerin. Sorry that my comments came across as a drift.

  8. says

    You can actually find good face cleansers at Wal-Mart for a fairly decent price. What works for me is exfoliating in the shower using either Clean & Clear Deep Cleansing Face Scrub or Gillette Thermal Face Scrub, then washing my face at the sink with Clean & Clear Foaming Face Wash for sensitive skin. Then I follow the shave with a coldwater rinse, pat dry, and either an alcohol based aftershave or aftershave lotion or balm. Nivea makes some very good shave products as well, as I use their Replenishing Post Shave Balm.

  9. Sumit says

    Did you try the Proraso sul filo del rasoio pre shave glycerin soap? If so, how did you like it? Sul filo del rasoio from what I know means ‘the cutting edge’

  10. Sumit says

    You said you ‘discovered’ it and talked about it in a very general way, ” one of the guys whose skin is sensitive to lime oil,” but i’m asking what you thought of it personally, you didn’t really say much about that other than what glycerin “seems” to do. How would you compare it to MR GLO?

  11. says

    Ah, I see. Well, I thought it was clear, but perhaps not. I tried all the soaps that I reviewed. I thought the Proraso was good, though I like MR GLO better. The Proraso and the other high-glycerin soaps do a similar job of imparting lubricity to the shave. MR GLO seemed to me to do a better job, but you do understand that there is considerable variation among shaver responses to any number of things in shaving, the thing we refer to as YMMV, so ultimately you will have to go on your own experience. I do recommend these as worth trying, but I expect you to be the final judge for yourself.

    Since writing the review I have tried Whole Foods 365 glycerin soap, $2/bar, and it’s quite good—better (for me) than the Proraso and right up there with MR GLO. Perhaps it has more glycerin.

    A couple of other things I’ve since discovered or figured out. One reason, I strongly suspect, that some guys report that MR GLO (and probably the others, but it came up with MR GLO specifically) doesn’t help their shaves much at all is because they have hard water: I had focused so much on how hard water affects shaving soap that I had overlooked that of course it will affect any soap as well, including glycerin soaps. I don’t run into that myself because I happen to live where the water is soft. But if someone lives where the water’s hard and tries MR GLO (or any of the other glycerin soaps), it’s not going to help because the hard water will form a soap scum.

    The other thing is that glycerin soaps melt easily, and if you leave one in a car in the hot sun, the bar gets more than soft.

    One more note: a guy asked how long a bar of MR GLO should last, and I reported that a bar lasts me, shaving 6 days/week, almost exactly 3 months. He said his bar lasted two weeks—but it turns out that he shaves in the shower. I told him that glycerin is very hydrophilic and will absorb water, and undoubtedly simply melted in the humidity of the shower. That warning will be in the next edition of the book (along with a recommendation to try Whole Foods 365 brand glycerin soap).

    Hope this helps.

  12. Sumit says

    Thanks very much. That helped a lot actually and cleared up my confusion. I have hard water and I am glad you talked about that, compared to others maybe my water isn’t too hard, but still not soft and it does seem to affect some soaps that seem more sensitive to it and not tolerant of the water quality. That’s why I’m glad you brought up the whole foods bar. Before I go out and spend $15.98 including shipping on a proraso bar, which i was planning on doing, I’ll go to my local, very close-by whole foods and pick up a 365 bar for 2 bucks to see if the hard water affects that and if it improves my shaves. One more question, and forgive me if this is something I missed in your article above, but which book are you referring to?

  13. says

    MR GLO is just $6/50/bar: Take a look. I liked it better than the Proraso, but it does have lime. And I think the Whole Foods 365 bar is as good as the Proraso and also comes in a wide selection of fragrances as well as non-fragranced and a Vitamin E version.

    Try a distilled water shave and see if that makes a difference. It’s quite easy because the volume of water involved for a shave is small: about 1/2 cup. Take a look at the link.

    The book is Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving. I’m working now on the 6th edition.

  14. Larry says

    I am a shower shaver. First wash with Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint oil soap, Followed by Neutrogena Skin Saving Latherless shave cream, and then apply shaving cream by brush on top. The neutrogena isn’t much of a shaving cream by itself, but makes a dynamite lubricant to prevent nicking and razor burn under your lather.

  15. says

    I use cleansing milk as pre-shave which I discovered thanks to mine girlfriend who let me try it, and its a very mild way to wash your face prior the shave.

    But once in the week I use a face scrub to scrub mine face well.

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