Shaving cream can be pretty important: it can make using a blade a pleasant, fragrant diversion–or a painful, bloody chore. What is the best shaving cream? This is an update to Sharpologist’s popular article originally posted several years ago.
Anatomy Of Shave Creams
HERE is a Sharpologist article that goes into the ingredients of a good shaving cream. But the core ingredients found in high end shaving creams include (besides water):
- Stearic acid and Myristic acid: saturated fatty acids and used as a surfactant and has excellent emulsifying and lather stabilizing properties.
- Potassium hydroxide, Triethanolamine, and Sodium hydroxide: inorganic bases that are used to saponify triglycerides. Inorganic bases are also used to make fatty acids more soluble in water.
- Coconut acid: a triglyceride. Glycerin is a by-product of the saponification reaction.
- Glycerin: a polyol or sugar alcohol. Glycerol can retain water, thus increasing lather density and stability. For this reason, glycerol is also used as a humectant.
Criteria For The Best Shave Creams?
So what is the best shaving cream? There are a some good shaving creams, but are also a lot of ghastly shaving cream. What rises above the rest? Let me propose my (updated) set of criteria for determining which may be the best shaving cream for men (women can use them too of course, but some of the scents may be unappealing):
- Superior performance (based on my own experience and research 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).
- Good post-shave feel on the skin (not overly-drying)
- 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
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 have 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.
“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. I plan to update this post as products enter and leave the market.
What Is The Best Shave Cream?
I’m going to distinguish two different categories of results–products available in the mass market, and high-end lathering products available in specialty retailers and online.
- Cremo Cream
- Kiss My Face
- Pacific Shaving Company
- Castle Forbes
- New York Shaving Company
- St. James Of London
- Taylor Of Old Bond Street
- Truefitt and Hill
Now let’s take a closer look at each one, plus some honorable mentions.
Mass Market Shave Cream
First, a 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, poor 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 can have. If you have no other choice than to use a mass market shaving product, at least try to use one that comes out of a squeeze tube.
Only three brands in this category rise above the rest in my opinion:
Cremo Cream – Available in several scents (the original* scent with sort of a pina colada vibe, one for women,* Peppermint, Menthol and Tea Tree Oil* version that I think is particularly excellent for the summer, Coconut Mango,* and Sandalwood*), Cremo Cream is reasonably widely available, found in many national drug store chains, grocery stores, and “big box” or “megamart” outlets. 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. Cremo also a lathering cream* as well, made specifically for use with a shave brush.
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. Pacific Shaving was originally known for their Shaving Oil.* They later added a shaving cream*. However the star is their Caffeinated* shaving cream. Sharpologist reviewed it a while back and it is great stuff. They have also have their “mini’s” shaving cream single-use pods (usable with or without a shave brush) that are also excellent.
By the way, most people find that the performance of these products improve noticeably when used with a shaving brush.
Traditional Lathering Shave 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). Many traditional shaving creams are light years 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 hit in the face with a key lime pie 🙂 . Without a doubt a luxurious product with outstanding performance (and commensurate price).
Esbjerg – Esbjerg Shaving creams are still relatively unknown in the US but have been around for 35 years in Europe and have a number of interesting shaving cream scents, including Amber Cardamon, Orange Vetiver, Grapefruit, Verbena, and unscented. I tried the Orange Vetiver in particular and it performed extremely well for me, with lather that is not only voluminous but also lubricating, cushioning–and it worked really well in my hard water. Availability in the US is still a bit limited but expanding, with sources including Bullgoose, Straight Razor Designs, and The Proper Moose.
New York Shaving Company – Available in Elizabeth Street,* Tonsorial,* Old St. Patrick’s,* Lavender,* Lemon,* Rose,* Sandalwood,* Brooklyn, and Unscented.* NYSC creams are reasonably widely available. And I am glad they are 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. They also have a sample pack!* The “Tonsorial” shaving cream is a favorite of many (including me). Here is Sharpologist’s review of the Brooklyn shave cream
St. James Of London – Another British brand now in the US. I call their scents “traditional with a twist:” Mandarin & Patchouli,* Cedarwood & Clarysage,* Black Pepper & Lime,* and Sandalwood & Bergamot.* Performance is excellent across the line.
Taylor of Old Bond Street – Taylor’s creams have a wide variety of both classic and modern scents: Sandalwood,* Jermyn Street (for sensitive skin),* Lavender,* Mr Taylor’s,* Grapefruit,* Coconut,* Natural* (preservative & fragrance free), Lemon/Lime,* Almond,* Rose,* Avocado,* Eton College,* and St. James,* “Platinum,” and Aloe Vera.* The performance of TOBS shave creams are a little inconsistent in my opinion: some–particularly the most-recent launches–are excellent (here is my review of Grapefruit) while others are…less so. Sandalwood is a consistently listed as a favorite shaving cream on Amazon. They also tend to have a slightly runnier consistency compare to other top-shelf creams. But while I think they 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,* and Apsley (my review) 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 “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 may seem a bit foppish but you might be surprised how downright masculine a Rose or a Violet scent can smell. 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 quite 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.”
Beau Brummell – Scented with a mild Sandalwood-and-something-else note, Beau Brummell’s shave cream* is an excellent performer, right up there with the top-shelf British creams in my opinion. It lathers easily and luxuriously, even in my hard water, and the “cushion” aspect is exceptional for me. The post-shave feel is quite good. Here is Sharpologist’s article about their grooming line. The single scent and relatively limited availability are the only things keeping them off the main list.
Burke Avenue – A new product developed by “Craig The Barber” Whitely, Burke Avenue is getting a ton of “buzz” for it’s quality and performance. Many say the post-shave moisturization is exceptional. Here is Sharpologist’s article about the background of this product. Burke Avenue just became available on Amazon* too.
DR Harris – Available in Almond,* Arlington,* Eucalyptus,* Lavender,* Marlborough,* Rose,* and Windsor* scents. Another old-school English shaving cream with interesting scents (Arlington is a personal favorite of mine) and they perform very well. I actually think their shaving soaps are better than their shaving creams but the creams are still excellent.
eShave – Available in White Tea,* Orange Sandalwood,* and Verbena Lime.* eShave seems to have pulled back a bit, discontinuing some of their scent profiles. All perform well, though it seems like White Tea gets most of the “buzz.”
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.
Lucky Tiger* – Lucky Tiger’s “Liquid Shave Cream” is reasonably 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.
Speick* – Reasonably widely available but in a single scent, Speick is an excellent German-made lathering shaving cream. Its unique, spicy scent is appreciated by most who have tried it. And it is inexpensive to boot!
Tabula Rasa – Many will say “Tabula Rasa is a line of shaving soap, not shaving cream!” Admittedly, many vendors (West Coast Shaving, Maggards, Smallflower, and Amazon*) classify Tabula Rasa as a shaving soap. But I think the product’s consistency is somewhere between a cream and a soap (a “soft” soap or a “hard” cream?) and since the shaving soap universe is pretty crowded right now I’m putting them here to give them their due. “Steam Punk” is a personal favorite of mine but really the whole line is quite unique. Try some then leave a comment with your decision about whether it’s a cream or a soap.
The Art of Shaving – Available in Unscented (for sensitive skin),* Sandalwood,* Lemon,* Lavender,* and Ocean Kelp* scents. Some may say it deserves to be on the main 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 is not quite 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 availability makes it a “gateway drug” into good shaving!
William Neumann – An 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: if they were available more widely I would put them on the main list in a heartbeat. Another fairly liquid consistency cream, it is dispensed from a convenient pump bottle and can be used with or without a brush. The Old Fashioned Soda is one of my favorite shaving creams, and I’ve tried a lot of shaving creams!
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