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Can Circular Lathering Motions Damage A Shaving Brush?

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Samut writes:

I have recently been told some interesting things I am very unsure about. I have told the person that told me these things that “a credible source”, you, has stated that what the person is saying is not necessarily true. What we were talking about was how to use a shaving brush in order to minimize the amount of bristles lost, since it was a boar, and just how many bristles are lost on average. I was told that almost every brush loses an average of 100-150 bristles or hairs in the case of badgers in the first 20-30 shaves. I was very surprised when I heard this as I have only heard this by one person in particular who says that he knows many brush makers and many master barbers….

He also said that a brush should only be used in a “paint brush” motion to only apply the lather and not create it on the face in particular. I told him that “a credible source”, once more I was referring to you, has demonstrated that face lathering in a circular motion doesn’t harm the brush and produces a great lather. However, this person said that he does not agree with my source and “even though he is entitled to his opinion, I would not say what he is saying is accurate.” Today I tried lathering in a paint brush motion using an italian soft soap or “shaving cream soap” as it’s called which I have recently purchased. I used the Omega 31064 boar brush because my Omega 636 seems to not produce the lather it used to after I left it in a highly concentrated vinegar solution mixed with water after I forgot that I had left it soaking and took it out 20 minutes later. It didn’t seem damaged and I rinsed it with some soap and water as someone recommended on [a shave forum], but it still doesn’t produce the lather it used to when I first got it and that’s why I decided to go with the Omega 31064 boar brush after reading about boar from LeisureGuy and at the recommendation of the person who tells me that brushes lose an average of 100-150 hairs or bristles in the first 20-30 shaves and using a brush in the circular motion can damage a brush. I had learned first to shave with a double edge razor using your videos, so now I just feel thoroughly confused as to what is true and what isn’t.
I have also heard the opinion that only “paint brush” motions should be used.  They say that circular or massaging motions will break the hairs.  I can say that it is a minority opinion based on several years of reading all the shaving discussion boards and that I have never had that problem myself.  It might be possible to eventually damage a brush with circular motions but the motions would have to be very vigorous and the brush would have to be pushed all the way to the skin.  Proper brush technique is to push down the on the brush just a little.  And for myself, I have always alternated the direction of the massaging circular motions as I lather–I will lather clockwise for a while then counter clockwise.  I will say however that I do not use circular motions for the entire lathering process: once the lather is fully built I will use a paint brush motion to even out the lather on my face.
Likewise I find the comment that “…almost every brush loses an average of 100-150 hairs…” is simply not accurate.  To be sure, almost all brushes will lose a few hairs in the first month or so of use, but I have never lost anywhere near 100 in any of my brushes (not even the cheap drug store boar brushes I have).  Every time I see a comment to that effect on the shaving discussion forums the general agreement is that the brush is defective and to be returned.


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

17 thoughts on “Can Circular Lathering Motions Damage A Shaving Brush?”

  1. It seems bizarre to me that this would even be a point of contention. Most important, buy a quality brush! It’s worth it. You get what you pay for.
    I’ve only bought two brushes since I started wet-shaving, I use circular motions when building the lather and paint-style motions when applying. The first (cheap) brush I bought definitely lost hairs (but not nearly as many as described above) and the one I have now (for which I paid $40 perhaps?) I have owned for several years and it rarely loses hairs.
    But, again, the whole thing strikes me as know-it-all- ism. Seriously, who lectures someone on proper brush technique?

  2. Even if circular motions did cause damage to the brush, – and I think we can all agree that we’ve never seen that happen – a shaving brush is a tool, it’s not an ornament. Eventually you may have to (gasp) buy another. Oh, the hardship…

  3. I just bought a Simpsons brush which came with a little pamphlet describing how to use the brush. It clearly states not to use a circular motion, but to use as a paint brush. Continual use of circular motion(depending on pressure) will flatten the hairs of the brush and weaken the core.

    1. I’ve been wet shaving for almost 30 years, and always used an Omega boar brush. I’ve bowl and face lathered in circular motions, using paint brush strokes, and what not. I’ve used creams, soft soaps, and hard soaps. A good brush should be able to endure all that, without shedding excessively.
      I always soak my brush before shaving, and rinse it well after a shave. Then I hang it upside down to dry. A few times a year, I give it a gentle wash with regular shampoo.
      My brushes give me great service, and Omega creates quality products.

  4. What I can say that I have seen many brushes in the barbershops in Turkey which were used for along time and you could see that the hairs in the middle of the loft, where the pressure and the action is most, were visibly damaged and shorter, but these were cheap brushes made of not quality boar hair. But these brushes are used 6 days in a week intensively. In Turkey most of the barbers use Arko shaving stick soap and they lather by holding soap in one hand and the brush at the other hand and rub the brush to the soap with circula and twisting motions aiming the soap in the middle of the brush and than apply the lather on the face the same way: especially a lot of circular motions on the chin. At home my father had a small boar brush which was used by my grandfather and later on by my father. It was a cheap boar brush and had the same look: worn in the middle. Just like the worn brush on this site
    These brushes were never maintained. I have noticed that the hair of the cheap boar brushes tend to split into two in the middle and later on worn and broken. At the end the brush will get worn anyhow and for sure the circular motion will apply more pressure on the hairs, but if you have a good quality brush and take good care of it, then you will be able to use it for a long time.

  5. Personally I use a combination of both. I have a Simpsons Beaufort Pure Badger that I got in a starter kit from SRD. Anyway, it’s a great brush, and I use swirls to load, and also when bowl and face lathering. When on my face, I typically use swirls to start, and then switch to a paintbrush motion, back and forth and up and down, and this seems to really thicken the lather on my face.
    As for hair loss, really minimal no matter which technique I use. I’ve had the brush since October 2012, and have lost less than 10 hairs.

  6. Pingback: The Weekly Link | The Close Shave

  7. The statement that “everybrush loses 100-150 hairs in the first 20-30 shaves” is malarky. I have a handmade Rodney Neep silvertip that to my knowledge has not lost the first hair, after months of use. I have an $23 Semogue 830 that I got about 2 weeks ago(and turned me into an instant Boar convert,no more expensive Badger for me!) that has lost 2-3 bristles after about 30 lathers(when I first got it, I built about 12 lathers back to back in my palm to break it in). Misuse is the only thing that will make a decent brush lose 100s of hairs…hell the knot would probably fall out if you lost that many!

  8. For what it’s worth I don’t think any of this really matters. I’m a great believer in just doing what works for you and ignoring all the hype and advice. One other thing the vinegar cleaning method does work but it’s probably best not to leave the brush to soak for too long in a very weak solution. I’d also add a few drops of glycerine to the final rinse of the brush this seems to recondition it. To me a more preferable method to clean a brush is to use borax and mix a paste which should be massaged into the hairs of your brush right down to the base of the knot.

  9. If I recall correctly, a video from The Gentlemen’s Shop ( stated that using the brush in a circular motion would cause excessive wear. That might be one origin of this bit of information. Perhaps Mr. Johnston could be enticed to write an article here at Sharpologist sharing his insights? The man is both a trained barber with 30 years experience and a wetshaving retailer, so his views should prove informative and enlightening.

  10. I think there’s a difference between “damage” as in “make unusable” and “damage” as in “diminish this object as a highly-priced ‘collectable’.”
    I think the people grousing about circular lathering are in the latter camp. They paid $250 for that super-grade silvertip with the hand-turned handle and they want it to remain pristine. More power to ’em, but I buy my shaving goods to be used, not collected and revered.

  11. I have been shaving for more than 50 years and have used a circular motion for that period of time. One brush has been in my rotation for at least 25 years and is in great shape.
    My question to those who say using a circular motion is harmful. How do you load the brush? Do you use a painting motion or a circular motion? If the latter isn’t it contradictory to say using a circular motion to load the brush is OK but harmful to apply lather?

  12. Ultimately, a shaving brush is a consumable thing; use it enough and it will wear out. You can probably make some arguments that one method or another will wear it out faster or prolong it’s life, but if you use it enough in any way, it’s going to wear out. I am pretty aggressive with my brushes: I like to “soap up the breech” so I end up mashing it down into my soap tin and/or scuttle. I figure I’m not being any harder on the hair than the badger was, living in a hole in the ground.

  13. Circular motions, paint brush motions, hang the brush upside down, don’t hang the brush upside down. There are so many differing opinions on all of these subjects, it’s enough to drive one to drink. My recommendation/thoughts on this, if what you are doing works for you, stick with it. I’ve been wet shaving for over 50-years and I use boar brushes about 95% of the time. I soak my brushes before I use them, I hang them bristle down to dry, I use both circular and paint brush motions, and I bet I have not lost 150 hairs in 20-years.

  14. I can’t say I’ve noticed any damage to my brushes through ‘circular motion’, but i would say lather itself is a noticeably better quality when made using paint brush strokes.

    1. I’ve never been able to get a good lather using the “paint brush” strokes. For me, the lather dies almost immediately in that instance; if I use circular motions, I get a nice, thick, long-lasting lather that’s very easy to work work. As always, I’m sure the YMMV factor plays some part in the differences.

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