[UPDATED January, 2016]
What is the best shaving cream? There is a lot of it out there–the good, the bad, and the ugly. And shaving cream can be pretty important: it can make using a blade a pleasant, fragrant diversion or a painful, bloody chore.
Anatomy Of Shaving Creams
HERE is a Sharpologist article that goes into the ingredients of a shaving cream, but here’s a condensed version: the typical ingredient list on a high end shaving cream includes aqua (water), stearic acid, myristic acid, potassium hydroxide, coconut acid, glycerin, triethanolamine, parfum (fragrance) and sodium hydroxide. The word cocoate, usually preceded by sodium or potassium, may be found replacing coconut acid to indicate that saponification has occurred. Saponification literally means “soap making” (from the root word, “sapo”, which is Latin for soap), and is a chemical reaction used to produce fatty acids from triglycerides. Triglyceride consist of three fatty acid molecules joined to a glycerin molecule, which is also released during saponification. Triglycerides are the preferred molecules used by living organisms to store fats and their constitution is unique for a particular species but varies from one species to another.
In addition, shaving creams often contain other ingredients including: botanicals, essential oil derivatives (e. g. citral, farnesol, geraniol, geranial, myrcene, limonene, linalool, etc.), chelators, preservatives and other chemicals. Besides modulating performance, these ingredients can add antiseptic qualities, serve as skin toners, increase shelf life, etc., but more importantly, they make each formulation unique.
Criteria For The Best Shaving Creams?
So what are the “best” shaving creams? To be sure, there are a lot of good shaving creams, but what rises above the rest? Let me propose my set of criteria for determining which are among the best (heaviest weighting first):
- 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.
- Ease of applying and using under a variety of water mineral content conditions (in other words it works well with “soft” water and “hard” water).
- Available in a variety of scents (you won’t use even the best cream if you don’t care for it’s smell) or no scent at all.
- Availability (from more than just a single artisan website).
- Time on the market, and price.
Admittedly these criteria are somewhat arbitrary but I want a way to narrow the field down. An “Honorable Mentions” list of products that I think deserve attention but don’t meet all the criteria above is also included. I am not going to include gels or oils in this article…I will save those for another time. I have already written a separate article about the best shaving soaps. Since most of Sharpologist’s readers are in the United States I will concentrate on products available there. Remember, “Your Mileage May Vary” (YMMV) with these recommendations! Although there is a large majority that like these creams there will always be some for which a product does not work as well. This list is not sponsored: I did not get paid to mention any of these products, and the list is in alphabetical order. I plan to update this post as products enter and leave the market.
Mass Market Shaving Cream
Let’s first look at mainstream products you might find in your local supermarket, “big box” retailer, or drug store chain. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream shaving cream products are, relatively speaking, ghastly performers (all other things being equal). Most are in pressurized cans and filled with chemicals that try to compensate for the skin drying effect that propellants have. If you have no other choice than to use a mass market shaving product, at least use one that comes out of a squeeze tube if you can.
Only three brands in this category rise to the “best shaving cream” level in my opinion:
- Cremo Cream – Available in two scents (one targeted to men and one to women), Cremo Cream is reasonably widely available, found in many national drug store chains (such as Walgreens) and grocery stores, and it’s beginning to show up in “big box” outlets like Target and Walmart. HERE is Sharpologist’s review of Cremo Cream but you should be able to find a number of confirming reviews with a simple internet search.
- Kiss My Face – Although perhaps not as commonly available as other mainstream products, you will generally find Kiss My Face “Moisture Shave” creams in the “natural” or “organic” areas of supermarkets and some specialty stores. It is available in a variety of scents and fragrance-free.
- Pacific Shaving. Becoming more widely available, Pacific Shaving was originally known for their Shaving Oil. They later added a shaving cream (one targeted to men, the other for women). However the star is their recently launched Caffeinated shaving cream. Sharpologist reviewed it a while back and it is great stuff.
By the way, most people find that the performance of these products improve noticeably when used with a shaving brush.
Traditional Lathering Shaving Cream
Here I think you will find most of the best shaving creams available. They are designed to be lathered with a shaving brush, though they can be used “brushless” as well (you just have to use a lot more product). Some traditional shaving creams are lightyears ahead of mass market products and provide an excellent sensory experience as well. Don’t let the cost of these products put you off. They are so concentrated that a tub will last for months and months of daily use. I think some of “the best of the best” shaving creams include:
- Castle Forbes – Available in Limes, Lavender, and Cedar/Sandalwood. Castle Forbes shaving creams have a reputation of being strongly-scented: I like to say that using their Limes cream is like getting smacked in the face with a key lime pie . Without a doubt a luxurious product with outstanding performance (and commensurate price).
- eShave – Available in White Tea, Orange Sandalwood, Verbena Lime, Lavender, Cucumber, Almond, Floral, and Fragrance Free. eShave seems to be paying attention to both the male and female traditional shavers with their scent mix. The all perform very well, though it seems like White Tea gets a lot of the “buzz.”
- New York Shaving Company – Available in Elizabeth Street, Tonsorial, Old St. Patrick’s, Lavender, Lemon, Rose, Sandalwood, and Unscented. NYSC creams just barely make this list because they are available from more than just a single website, though still not widely available. I am glad they are though because the performance is right up there with the big boys. Their scents are a mix of classic European, “old timey” American, and natural scents. The “Tonsorial” shaving cream is a favorite of many (including me).
- Piccadilly – Now available in two scents, Sandalwood and Limes, Piccadilly is another shaving cream cut from the cloth of traditional British brands. Also becoming more generally available, including Amazon.
- St. James Of London – Another British brand new to the US, St. James of London is now available from multiple retailers, including Amazon. Their scents are “traditional with a twist:” Mandarin & Patchouli, Cedarwood & Clarysage, Black Pepper & Lime, and Sandalwood & Bergamot. I was lucky enough to score a tub of the Black Pepper & Lime from the first batch produced and I was duly impressed with the quality.
- Taylor of Old Bond Street – Available in Sandalwood, Jermyn Street (for sensitive skin), Lavender, Mr Taylor’s, Grapefruit, Coconut, Natural (preservative & fragrance free), Lemon/Lime, Almond, Rose, Avocado, Shaving Shop (I hear this scent may be discontinued but it is still available at the moment), Eton College, and St. James scents. Taylor’s creams have a wide variety of both classic and modern scents but are a bit inconsistent in my mind. Some are outstanding performers (here is my review of Grapefruit a while back, and Sandalwood is a consistently listed as a favorite shaving cream on Amazon) while others are slightly less so. They also tend to have a slightly runnier consistency compare to other top-shelf creams. So while I think might be at the bottom of the top shelf, they’re still on the top shelf!
- Truefitt & Hill – Available in 1805, Almond, Grafton, Lavender, No. 10, Rose, Sandalwood, Trafalgar, Ultimate Comfort, West Indies Lime scents. There’s a good mix of “natural” and cologne-like scents here, some popular with younger men (1805, Ultimate Comfort) while others are more classic (Trafalgar is one of my all-time favorite scents, though some consider it–as well as Grafton–an “old man” scent). The No. 10 cream is meant to be used brushless but is very “brush friendly” anyway. For myself Truefitt and Hill creams may be ever-so-slightly less cushioning than other creams in this category but I think the difference is subtle. Most agree the performance is excellent.
- Trumper – Available in Coconut, Sandalwood, Rose, GFT, Violet, Almond, Limes, Eucris, and Spanish Leather scents (Eucris and Spanish Leather are only available in small containers). Trumper’s scents tend to stay in the classic, conservative realm. Some scents even seem a bit foppish but you might be surprised how downright masculine a Rose or a Violet scent can be. In any event, almost everyone considers these shaving creams as superior in their performance.
Honorable Mentions – The Best Of The Rest
There are a number of shaving creams that are excellent but don’t pass the criteria I have set for the best shaving cream. I think they still deserve some love though, so here are “the best of the rest.”
- DR Harris – Available in Almond, Arlington, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Marlborough, Rose, and Windsor scents. I may catch some flack for not including DR Harris shaving creams in the Best Traditional Lathering Shave Cream section and they may be right. They are another old-school English shaving cream with interesting scents (Arlington is a personal favorite of mine!) and they perform very well. But I think their shaving soaps are better than their shaving creams. Maybe it’s my hard water that makes the difference.
- Jack Black Supreme – Available in a single scent but can be used either with a brush or brushless, Jack Black Supreme consistently gets excellent reviews.
- Kiehl’s White Eagle – Though some might have trouble with the fairly strong Menthol and Camphor ingredients, Keihl’s brushless White Eagle cream performs really, really well. Even fussy Sharpologist co-founder Andy Tarnoff is a fan of this cream.
- Lucky Tiger – Lucky Tiger’s “Liquid Shave Cream” is reasonably widely available, in a single (mildly citrus) scent. As the name implies it is less firm than many other creams (I think it has a consistency of an aftershave balm) but the performance–with or without brush–is a stand-out among its peers.
- Nancy Boy – Available in several difference scents from a single source, Nancy Boy shave creams consistently get rave reviews from those who have tried them (their “Signature” cream is a particular stand-out). Though it can be used with a shave brush it is a low-lathering product, so don’t expect the luxurious experience you might get with other creams. The performance makes converts though.
- Speick – Reasonably widely available but in a single scent, Speick is an awesome German-made lathering shaving cream. Its unique, spicy scent is appreciated by most who have tried it. And it is inexpensive to boot!
- The Art of Shaving – Available in Unscented (for sensitive skin), Sandalwood, Lemon, Lavender, and Ocean Kelp scents. Art of Shaving may be another controversial choice here, I admit. Some will say it deserves to be on the regular list, while others will say it should not be on the list at all (though mainly for more emotional, “part of a giant conglomerate company” reasons I think). My personal opinion is their shaving cream performance may not be as good as it used to be before a reformulation a couple years ago, but I think Art of Shaving creams are solid performers and their wide availability makes it a great “gateway drug” into good shaving!
- William Neumann – Another artisan shave cream with a number of creative scents like “Old Fashioned Soda” and “Heartwood,” Wm. Neumann shave creams are among the best I have ever tried. Another fairly “liquid” consistency cream, it is dispensed from a convenient pump bottle and can be used with or without a brush.
Did I miss something? Disagree with a rating? Leave your suggestions and comments below!