We are into week two of Sharpologist’s 30 Days To A More Enjoyable Shave challenge! Last week we started the challenge with a look at shave preparation. This week, perhaps the most enjoyable yet possibly inscrutable part of wet shaving: lather.
The Mysteries Of Shave Lather
Sharpologist as covered some of the mysteries of shave lather before, from the anatomy of shave creams to some of our favorite shaving creams and soaps. This week’s challenge is to make the most enjoyable lather with the product(s) you have selected to use based on last week’s homework. The key point here is to make applying and using shave lather something that appeals to your senses of touch and scent.
Before You Lather
Be sure to prepare the area as discussed last week. You may have found that you don’t need all the time that was set-aside to do it, which is fine! Personally, I only need about a minute’s worth of washing and rinsing, but it can take longer, dependng on the person…that’s OK too.
Using “Canned Goo” (Products From Pressurized Cans)
Don’t. Just don’t. There may be a couple canned shaving products that perform reasonably well (Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal is sometimes mentioned as one of the better canned products) but all things being equal putting canned shaving product on your skin is the least acceptable method of shaving. It usually does not smell good (if it smells like anything), it is not as good for the skin (the propellants will dry out the skin so manufacturers have to add additional artificial lubricants), and it’s really just as messy as other methods of lather. You may be saving yourself 90 seconds of building an amazing, enjoyable lather, but it is not worth the time saved.
Using Brushless Cream Or Gel (From A Squeeze Tube)
Still probably not the best option for a truly enjoyable shave but using a “brushless” cream or gel, applied with your fingers, can certainly give you a good shave. Hopefully you’ve found a brushless product with a scent you enjoy.
Applying a brushess product is reasonably straight-forward but a lot of people just don’t spend the time to do it correctly. Here’s where your ten minute set-aside will come in. Like last week, you probably won’t need all that time. After you have prepared the area:
- Wet the area to be shaved with warm water (remember to pay close attention to the neck if you are shaving your face!).
- Wet your hands with warm water.
- Squeeze a generous dollop of cream or gel into the palm of one hand then rub hands together to distribute evenly.
- Massage the product onto the skin with relatively slow, circular motions. Do this for at least 30 seconds. Enjoy the scent of the shaving lather. Pay attention to it. Concentrate on it! Feel it on the skin.
- Wet hands again (don’t wash off any remaining lather from your hands, just get them wet again).
- Continue to massage product into the skin for another 15 seconds.
- Wait 30 seconds. Use this time to wash your hands, tidy up the area, and admire your good looks.
Now shave as you have been. If you shave in passes, lathering for each pass, you don’t need to wait 30 seconds before shaving on later passes, just the first one. But be sure to briefly rinse between passes to keep the skin wet.
Using Lathering Cream Or Soap Applied With A Brush
Here is your best opportunity to truly enjoy your shave. Not just a good shave–an enjoyable shave. Lathering cream or soap offers a huge variety of scents: woods, spices, colognes…”real” scents that can evoke memories or scenes in your mind, not just the smell of the latest body spray or underarm deodorant (ewwww…). And the bonus is you can gently warm the lather to give it an extra dimension. Does it take (a little) longer to make, compared with other types of lather? Yes, but it is worth the trouble.
The key here is the shaving brush. Sharpologist has lots of information about shaving brushes but here is a good starting point:
(If you have trouble viewing this embedded video HERE is a link to an HD version on YouTube.)
There are some variations on how to make a good lather with different products, and it can take a little practice to get right, but the payoff can be a dramatically better shave. There are two general schools of thought on making traditional shaving lather, differentiated mostly on how water is integrated into the mix. The classic method of lathermaking starts with minimal water on the brush, adding water until you get the lather consistancy you are looking for. The other school of thought, sometimes called “creamy” (vs. “frugal”) lathermaking starts out with much more water on the shaving brush, letting overflow spill out unused. Neither method is “right” nor “wrong.” Try both methods to see what works best for you (or discover your own method!). You may need to use most of your ten minute set-aside time to experiment if you are not versed in the art of lather-making. Don’t worry though–once you get the hang of it you can cut that time way down.
(By the way, you can usually use a classic lathering shaving cream “brushless” as well. You just need to use a lot more product than you would use with a brush.)
Making shaving lather the “classic” way starts with soaking both the brush and the cream or soap in water.
Fill a sink with warm-to-hot water and place the shaving brush in the sink. How long the brush needs to be soaked is dependent on the type of brush: boar hair, horse hair, and low grades of badger hair (such as “pure black”) need to soak longer (probably several minutes) than higher grades of badger (perhaps less than a minute). Synthetic brushes do not need to be soaked at all, just thoroughly wetted.
If you are using a puck of shaving soap put it in the sink as well (or if it is in a container or bowl put the hot water in that). If you have a jar of shaving cream that has been used for a while it is probably worth pouring in a little water as well. The key point in these circumstances is to loosen the outer “skin” of the product to make loading easier. More on that shortly.
After soaking dump the water out of the container of soap or cream and shake the brush three or four times to get rid of the excess. Now you are going to load your brush:
If you have a shave soap puck or a jar of shave cream, spin the brush onto it, pressing down slightly, to coat the brush’s bristles with product (an alternative for the jar is to scoop some out with a small utensil and place it directly into the center of the brush). You are looking for more than just a light foam on the bristles–you want a relatively thick coat.
If you are using a tube of shave cream, squeeze out an almond-size amount directly into the center of the brush.
Now you’re going to build lather. You can do it in an empty bowl of some kind or directly onto the face. An advantage of using a bowl is that you can get a better idea of how the brush is generating lather. And if you gently heat the bowl beforehand you can get a warmed lather than can feel…well…really great. On the other hand building lather directly to the face can save some time.
Start massage the brush into the bowl or on the face using circular motions and pressing the brush down slightly. Some advocate using a painting motion vs. a circular motion but let’s start off with circular. Massage for about 30 seconds then dip the tips of the brush in water and repeat. It may take a several minutes for the lather to build on the brush to the right consistancy, depending on the type of brush, the type of product used, and the mineral content of the water. Whether you’re building in a bowl or to the face, you are looking for a shiny, somewhat “loose” consistancy (runnier than what might come out of a can or brushless tube) with soft “peaks” (like a cake batter) without any bubbles. Once again, while you are doing this, enjoy the scent of the shaving lather. Pay attention to it. Concentrate on it! Feel it on the skin.
Here is a video that might help:
(For those who have trouble viewing the embedded video above click HERE for a version from YouTube.)
Here’s how Michael “Leisureguy” Ham describes making “Creamy” lather:
If you have a boar or horsehair brush, wet the knot thoroughly under the hot-water tap and let the brush stand, dripping wet, on its base while you shower. That serves to soak and soften the knot. Then:
For soap and harder shaving creams: Wet brush fully—sopping, dripping wet—and hold tub of soap over the sink on its side and brush briskly and firmly (enough so that the bristles splay somewhat) until the bubbles being formed are microscopic, at which point the brush is fully loaded.
At first, some water and some loose sloppy lather will probably spill into the sink, but pretty soon you’ll see real lather. But keep brushing: the focus is loading the brush, not making lather, and you want the brush fully loaded with soap.
Brush the soap until the bubbles being formed are microscopic—creamy rather than foamy—then bring the brush to your (wet, washed) beard and work the lather up and into the stubble, taking your time. If the lather seems a little dry or a little stiff (too much soap), then run a driblet of water into the center of the brush and work that into the lather on your face. I’ve never had lather that’s too wet with this technique, but sometimes I do need to add a little water.
Do several to practice. Try loading for shorter and longer times. Try adding little driblets of water, working it into the lather, little by little, until you can tell the lather’s too wet. I.e., play around with it to get experience and try things out. (Since making good lather is a matter of experience, get as much experience as quickly as you can.)
I’ve found that the “microscopic bubble” indicator is the most reliable sign that the brush is fully loaded.
If the lather’s still bad, suspect hard water and try a distilled water shave. Hard water doesn’t affect shaving creams so much. Note that hard water is not softened by using a Brita filter (which removes particulate matter, not dissolved minerals). Bottled drinking water is hard: hard water tastes better.
For soft shaving creams: If it’s a firm, hard cream (like Figaro, for example, or Tabula Rasa, or Coate’s Limited Edition or Dr. Selby’s 3x Concentrated Shaving Cream), make lather as if for a soap, as described above. If it’s a relatively soft cream (AlsShaving.com shaving cream, TOBS Avocado, Castle Forbes, or the like): wet brush well, shake it a couple of times, and twirl the tips in the tub. (If the cream’s in a tube, squeeze out a little and put it on the brush or smear it on your wet beard on your cheeks.)
Then use the brush to spread the cream over your entire beard, so that your beard is coated with a thin layer of almost pure shaving cream. Run a driblet of water into the center of the brush, and brush your beard to work the water into the shaving cream. Repeat as needed until you get the lather where you want it.
Again, play around: keep adding little bits of water until the lather’s too wet, testing it perhaps along the way between thumb and forefinger to see how slick it is. Slickness will increase, and then when the lather’s too wet, slickness will fall off sharply.
The more you play around with test lathers, the faster you learn to make good lather.
Whatever You Try
Now shave as normally. But remember, however you build lather, making the experience enjoyable is a key point to getting an enjoyable over-all shave.
(For those of you having trouble viewing the embedded video, try the YouTube link HERE.)
Be sure to leave a comment here after you have had an opportunity to experiment with your lather.
Homework For Next Week
Next week we go into razors and shave technique! Before we tackle that however I want you to carefully map the direction(s) the hair grows in the area you are going to shave. Assuming that is your face, there are three facial maps listed on the footer of the Sharpologist page. Download one and use it: let the hair grow out for a day or so then with a mirror (magnifying if possible) gently rub your fingers along the skin from different directions. The direction where the skin feels least rough is the “grain” of the stubble. We will use this information next week.
I also want you to think about the razor you are currently using and whether you think it is the best choice for you.