What Is The Best Shaving Soap?

shaving soap

[Updated July, 2015]

It seems like the old-school shaving world has been buried in soaps lately. It used to be easy to tell which were the great ones and which ones left something to be desired.  But now that they are everywhere how can you tell good from bad?  Let’s take a look at what goes into a good shaving soap and see which ones come out ahead of the others.

Anatomy Of A Really Good Shaving Soap

Wikipedia says shave soaps…”differs slightly from normal bath soap in that both potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide are used as saponification agents rather than just sodium hydroxide alone. Traditionally, tallow has been a popular ingredient in shaving soaps and is still in use in some traditional products. Other oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil are often used in shaving soap, but such oils are thought among shaving traditionalists to often produce an inferior product.” (emphasis mine)

Wow, citation please?


The fact is, shaving soaps are traditionally thought of as tallow-based or glycerin-based.  And the old school conventional wisdom says tallow-based shave soaps are superior.  But that’s just not the case anymore.  There are tallow-based shave soaps that are nowhere near “best” (*cough*WilliamsMugSoap*cough*).  And there are glycerin-based soaps that are excellent.  And vice-versa.  It all depends on the mix of ingredients, their ratios, and their quality.  The fact is that various oils such as shea butter, palm oil, olive oil, and coconut oil–in the correct proportions–can improve the performance of a shaving soap.  More recently, kokum butter and argan oil have been introduced successfully in shaving soaps.


Another variable in the making of shaving soap is the way it’s processed.  Supposedly “top shelf” shaving soaps are usually triple-milled, making it much more dense than a normal soap.  Triple-milling does make a soap last longer but the process itself does not make a soap “best” (or even “good”).  A hard soap can be either tallow-based or glycerin-based; it’s just part of the manufacturing process.  Similarly, soft soap (sometimes called “Italian style” soap) has a putty-like consistancy but is not necessarily indicative of the quality of the product.

Check some of the related posts listed at the end of this article for more information on ingredients and processes in soap-making.

Shaving Soap Recommendations

So what are the “best” shaving soaps?  To be sure, there are many excellent shave soaps, mostly from artisans making small batches with quality ingredients.  Unfortunately artisans tend to “come and go” and their formulations tend to change more often. Let me propose a set of criteria for determining what rises to the top:

  1. Superior performance (based on my own experience and what I have read on review sites and forums)–with both “cushion” and “lubrication” better than most.
  2. Ease of lathering using water with a variety of mineral content (in other words it works well in “soft” water and “hard” water).
  3. Available in a variety of scents (you won’t use even the best soap if you don’t care for it’s smell) or no scent at all.
  4. Availability (from more than just a single artisan website).
  5. Time on the market, and price.

Remember, “Your Mileage May Vary” with these recommendations!  Although there is a large majority that like these soaps there will always be some for which a soap does not work as well.  In no particular order:

DR Harris

The original DR Harris line of shave soaps are triple milled, tallow-based, and available in bowl or stick.  This may be among the last of the “old school” tallow-based shaving soaps from one of the “major” wet shaving brands.  Avoid the “Naturals” line that is glycerin-based and not nearly as good as the original line.

Almond (available in Mahogany Bowl / Beech Bowl / Refill Puck/ Shaving Stick ) – The scent has been described as a somewhat weak almond fragrance with “warm” and “woody” notes.

Arlington (available in Mahogany Bowl / Beech Bowl / Refill Puck / Shaving Stick) – The scent is described as a somewhat strong mix of citrus and fern.  Arlington is a favorite of mine.

Lavender (available in Mahogany Bowl / Beech Bowl  / Refill Puck / Shaving Stick) – This is another somewhat weak scent that some (though not all by any stretch) have said has a bit of an “artificial” element to it. No one complains about the performance though. :)

Marlborough (available in Mahogany Bowl/ Beech Bowl / Refill Puck / Shaving Stick) – Many expect this to be a tobacco-like scent because of its name but it is really a mix of woods, particularly fern and cedar.

Windsor (available in Mahogany Bowl / Beech Bowl  / Refill Puck  / Shaving Stick) – We’ve talked about Windsor before, described as a “nice citrusy, leathery scent with a bit of pepper and vetyver, and patchouli.”

RazoRock (Italian Barber)

RazoRock, the “house product line” from Italian Barber, is a set of products made mostly by old-school Italian artisans.   Although there are a number of product varieties, I think the one of the best and most consistant performing (for the criteria outline earlier) is their “La Famiglia” (The Family) line, a soft (sometimes called “Italian style”) shave soap line:

Green Tobacco, described as, well, young tobacco :) .  Not like pipe or cigar tobacco, more “spicy” or “musky.”

As with many artisan shaving soaps, other scents come and go.  My personal favorite is Don Marco.  With the scent of Bergamot Neroli…”think Orange Creamsicle” according to the official description.  But I think it is much more complex than that simple description.  Citrus, yes, but underlying notes of spiciness that somehow give it an Italian twist.  You can find RazoRock soaps on Amazon and other sites, as well as the Italian Barber website.


Proraso’s popularity, value, and performance cannot be ignored.  Available in the classic Menthol & Eucalyptus, “Sensitive” with green tea and oatmeal, and Sandalwood.

Mama Bear

Mama Bear is an artisan who has been around for a while and is now branching out her distribution! You can now find her soaps at places like Amazon and Shave Nation in addition to her own site. Mama Bear shaving soaps come in a WIDE variety of scents like Sandalwood Vanilla, “Ye Olde Barbershoppe,” and British Leather, among many others.  Some shaving aficionados say that glycerin-based shaving soaps cannot perform as well as tallow-based shaving soaps.  Mama Bear proves them wrong.

Honorable Mentions

Insanely expensive, very difficult to get, and often out of stock, Martin de Candre shaving soap is at the top of many shaver’s “best” list.  Originally in a single “Fougere” scent they have recently “branched out” with some variations.

No “best soap” list would be complete without mentioning Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap.  Widely available but only in one (mild) scent, some consider it the only shave soap they will use.

Similarly, Tabac Shaving Soap is another shaving soap that is very popular and widely available but only in a single scent.  Although it has a reputation of a top-shelf performer, it’s tobacco flower scent usually gets a “love it or hate it” reaction.

Institut Karite is a shaving soap that has been around for a while, albeit “under the radar.”  Those that have tried it love its performance.  The single scent is generally regarded as “mild” and “powdery” and predominantly “soapy” though some have said there are notes of licorice or floral in the mix.

Arko is reasonably widely available and ridiculously cheap, though in a scent many describe in less-than-glowing terms.  Still, it performs almost as well as much more expensive products.  Available in a Soap Stick and a more traditional Bowl.

Cella (AKA “Cella Crema da Barba All’Olio Di Mandorla”) is a single-note scent (almond) soft shave soap that has gotten very high marks among those who have tried it, including Sharpoligist’s own Andy Tarnoff.

Strop Shoppe “Special Edition” shave soaps are “old school” tallow-based shaving soaps that have an excellent reputation.


Related Posts:

Anatomy Of A Shaving Cream

6 Tallow Myths

Amazon’s Best Selling Shaving Soaps

5 Shaving Soaps That Shaving Cream Guys Should Try


If you use a line of shaving soaps that match the criteria but aren’t listed be sure to leave a comment defending your favorite!  I plan to update this post as products arrive and leave the market.


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  1. John Glover says

    A newcomer to the market is the “Chiseled Face” shaving soap line. My son gave me the recommendation and although I have only tried one (Ghost Town Barber), this may be the best soap ever and I have used a ton of different soaps over the years.

  2. Darren Gray says

    My dad told me he really enjoyed menthol shave soap, but he couldn’t find it anymore. I searched Amazon, and ran across Mama Bear’s menthol glycerin soap. Got one for him, and decided to get one for me. Good decision on my part. Nice hit of menthol, but not overpowering. Lathers up nice. Nice to see they have a website. Look forward to seeing what else they have.

  3. Doc says

    I have two questions, but it might help explaining how I got here. I started wet shaving in an effort to reduce the chemicals I am exposed to and quickly realized that the hard soaps used in traditional wet shaving have the least chemicals. So I selected a soap from Soap for goodness sake because it had 4 ingredients; Saponified Orbignya Oleifera (Babassu) Oil, Distilled Water, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Kaolinite (White Clay).
    Unfortunately I don’t like the smell of Babassu oil and have a burning feeling after shaving.
    My questions are, is there a good shaving soap that meet your criteria with few chemicals in it and is there anything I can do with my soap other than throw it away?

  4. Clindsay says

    I love to try different soaps but always come back to my two favorites. Of course one is DR Harris (I have a few favorite scents and the soaps last forever). The other that you MUST try is WSP (Wet Shaving Products) Rustic Shave Soap. I prefer the Blackbeard scent and Mahogany, but I’m have tried many of thier other scents and none are bad. The soap is rediculously easy to load and lather and is of incredible quality. Availability is not an issue as they are available on Amazon, eBay and etsy as well as thier own website. My only recommendation is to get full size tins not the smaller trial tin. The small tins are difficult to use.

  5. John says

    I’ve tried may of the soaps on your list but my new favourite is Dr Jon’s. Aphrodite and Anne Bonny. Lather like crazy with good slick and have few ingredients that are all natural.

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