What Is The Best Shaving Soap?

shaving soap

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?

Ingredients

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.

Processes

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.  Let me propose a set of criteria for determining what rises to the top:

  1. Ease of lathering using water with a variety of mineral content (in other words it works well in “soft” water and “hard” water).
  2. 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.
  3. Available in a variety of scents (you won’t use even the best soap if you don’t care for it’s smell).
  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.

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.”

How To Grow A Moustache

I was actually a bit conflicted about whether to include HTGAM Synergy shave soaps in this list because they have not been around nearly as long as some of the other brands on this list.  But they are available at more than one website, they continue to expand the company, and the soap has impressed so many people–including me–that in the end they made the list.

The most widely-available Synergy soaps come in a five-inch-wide, half-pound tin in the original scent line: Bay Rum, “Cavendish” (pipe tobacco), Lavender & Cedar, Lime, Scentless, and “Vanetiver” (Vanilla & Double Distilled Vetiver).

Coconut Bay (w/ Lime) and Gondolier (mildly scented with Rose, Juniper, Jasmine, Cedar), also in a half-pound tin, are slightly more expensive.

Selected scents are available in a smaller 4 ounce tin, and/or a shave stick.  New scents are being added all the time so check the How To Grow A Moustache Store for the latest.  Amazon, Italian Barber, and Maggard are among the other channels for purchase.

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:

Nonno Michelino Sandalwood: a “sandalwood” scent is always a bit of a gamble, as there are a number of different variations.  HERE is Wikipedia’s entry on sandalwood for more information.  This one is described as an “Italian sandalwood,” and “inspired by enveloping oriental woods.”

Cumba Cheech, described as Orange Blossom & Jasmine.

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–currently out of stock–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, West Coast Shaving, Chicago Shaving, Straight Razor Designs, as well as the Italian Barber website.

Petal Pusher Fancies

Petal Pusher Fancies shave soaps are often compared to Synergy shave soaps, and they do share some of the same ingredients.  But they seem to be around for the long-term, use quality ingredients, and are available from more than the artisan’s website so I think they belong on this list.

PPF’s most widely available soaps are available on Amazon in small tins of Black Tea, Coconut, Neroli, Sandalwood, and Unscented.  The line is also available at Maggard and Italian Barber.

Here are their scent descriptions (FO is fragrance oil, EO is essential oil), taken from their website:

Amber (FO & EO) – Amber with a blend of Sandalwood and Musk. Warm, and Sweet.

Black Tea (FO & EO) – A strong, striking scent blend of Tea, Tobacco, and Musk. Many feel this is very similar to a “Barbershop” scent.

Briar (FO) – A sweet, warm Tobacco blended with Vanilla, Wood, and Oak Moss.

Coconut (FO) – Great full coconut scent without being flowery.

Cucumber (FO) – This smells like a bowl of sliced cucumbers in water. Very light and refreshing!

Neroli (FO & EO) – Neroli is the scent of the bitter orange blossom. It is citrusy, sweet, and metallic, a very interesting unisex scent.

Oakmoss & Sage (FO & EO) – All the best of both scents. Deep, earthy, forest. No evergreen tones.

Sandalwood (EO & FO) – All the deep base notes of a great, purely sandalwood scent.

Unscented – No fragrance or essential oils.

Honorable Mentions

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.

RazoRock XXX (and XX).  RazoRock’s XXX was their best-selling product until they had to suspend production.  It will return to stock at the end of April, according to the Italian Barber website.  An interim soap, XX is still very popular and more widely available.

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.

 

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

Artisans: The Heart of Traditional Wet Shaving

 

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.

 

Mark H Mark H (518 Posts)

also known as "Mantic59." Shave tutor and sharpologist.


Comments

  1. I would like to share this list. Copy paste this and safe it!

    SOAP
    ———-
    Dr Dittmar
    Klar Klasik
    L’Ocitane
    Institut Karité
    Pre De Provence
    Savon du Barbier
    Martin De Candre
    Calani (lanonlin & sheep’s milk)
    Valobra
    Tcheon Fung Sing
    RazoRock
    The Strop Shoppe
    La Saponeria Artigiana
    Mitchell’s Wool Fat
    Mike’s
    Jabonman
    Queen Charlotte
    Stirling
    Dr Harris
    Petal Pusher Fancies
    Mystic Water

    CREAM
    ————-

    I Coloniali Rhubarb
    Simpsons Luxury
    Truefitt and Hill Ultimate Comfort
    Fitjar
    Musgo Real
    Castle Forbes
    Acca Kappa
    ———————-
    Honerable mentions: Taylor of Old Bond Street, Speick, Tabac, Cella, La Toja

  2. Much respect to you Mark, but the prime function of a shaving soap is to allow a great shave. And nothing does that better than Arko. And the fact that it is incredibly cheap shouldn’t allow it to be forgotten.

    By the way, the little green Palmolive sticks are nearly as good.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Does the tobacco one really smell nice? Haha, can’t imagine it being a desirable smell but you’ve described it quite nicely.

  4. Is there any danger of men turning into women and vice-versa? Realy wierd looking at men talking about soap…

  5. I recently purchased a 3 pack of the Taconic Shave Soaps on Amazon.(Bay Rum, Eucalyptus Mint and Lime). I have only used the Lime soap so far, but I can tell you this is a high quality soap. The lather is really rich and the razor glide is the best I have experienced with any soap. The scent is pleasant, and my skin feels nice and moist after shaving. I think there is a contender here that you did not put on your list of top soaps!

  6. p.s.
    the one thing I really like about the African Black Soap Shave Butter Crème are the ingredients; all natural and organic.

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