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Does The Shaving Brush Matter?

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If you asked me three months ago if the type of shaving brush makes an appreciable difference in the quality of my shave, I’d probably have said no.  For the dozens of shaving soaps, creams, after shave balms and splashes – not to mention razors and blades – that I’ve tried since I began this wet shaving journey in 2011, I had only used five shaving brushes until Mantic and I had a chat about this very topic.

The Brush In The Beginning

When I began – before I met Mark and before we launched Sharpologist – I bought the cheapest Omega synthetic brush I could find. For about $10, it was terrible in every way. My next two brushes were a Rooney and an Edwin Jagger. I could barely tell the difference between the two, but the Edwin Jagger was a little softer. I PIFed the Rooney to a co-worker and used the former brush for a good two years.
Eventually, though, I wondered what else was out there. I bought a very long Omega boar brush on Mantic’s advice. I liked its scrubbiness, but it didn’t seem to change the outcome of my shave. I found that it didn’t hold a lather as well as a badger hair brush, so I eventually PIFed it to another co-worker.
Finally, this year, Mark McGregor sent me his badger brush to review. I found it softer and certainly prettier than the the Edwin Jagger, and because I knew it was handmade, I began to use it exclusively. I relegated my regular brush to my travel dopp kit.
And that’s where things stood until I talked to Mark about all of this; he had recently reviewed the McGregor brush, and he wasn’t quite as moved as I was. Apparently, he had experienced much better, and to prove his point, he mailed me three brushes for comparison.
I can now admit that in some ways, shaving brushes do matter. The first brush Mark sent me was a Vie-Long Horse Hair Shaving Brush, and I hated it. Beyond the revolting smell, it seemed to irritate my face.
The second brush was a now discontinued Shaveplace silvertip badger brush. It was a gigantic leap beyond what I had experienced to date. It’s hard to describe, but I simply couldn’t feel the bristles. I felt like I was rubbing one of those finishing shammies that you dry your car with, all over my face. It did not retain the heat of the lather like Mantic told me it would (probably user error), and again, it didn’t seem to affect the quality of the shave. But it certainly made it a lot more pleasant. It felt luxurious and so appropriate for this manly ritual.
The final brush was a Synthetic model from Muhle, and if I didn’t know it wasn’t real badger hair, I wouldn’t have believed it. Not only was it hands-down superior to that first cheap synthetic brush, it performed better than every other brush but the silvertip – although it made better lather with cream than with soap.
But here’s the thing: my normally pesky razor burn has been diminished by using the synthetic brush almost exclusively these days. In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier. Maybe I’m a little allergic to rubbing a badger’s hair all over my face and neck. It’s become my go-to hardware, and I only occasionally mix it up with the other brushes.
So, does the brush really matter? Yes and no. Finer brushes certainly lead to a more pleasant shave for me, although with a few exceptions, they don’t affect its quality. The Muhle synthetic, however, strikes a balance between quality and performance, and less neck irritation was one of the main reasons I got into wet shaving in the first place.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comment section below.

Andy Tarnoff

Andy Tarnoff

15 thoughts on “Does The Shaving Brush Matter?”

  1. I have tested a few of silver badgers out there, EJ was the nicest one but once i switched to Mühle synthetic my shave became outstanding!

  2. Maybe someone can help me out. I have only gotten into wet shaving a few weeks ago, and to start I’ve been using a cheap Van der Hagen boar brush with Proraso shave cream (the one in a tube) and been fairly happy with the results. For Christmas my GF got me a really nice chrome handled badger brush from Art of Shaving. It felt really soft, but when I just tried to use it, surprisingly it did not perform well. I simply couldn’t work up a lather – it was like the cream/water just disappeared into the brush. I then tried my boar brush and it whipped up a lather just fine (both brushes were pre-soaked). And then when I dipped the badger brush into the lather and tried to lather my face, it wouldn’t! Again the lather seemed to just disappear into the brush rather than on my face!
    Was I doing something wrong? Does Art of Shaving produce stuff of inferior quality at inflated prices? I’m liking the idea of the synthetic brush.

  3. I still prefer silvertip badger brushes just something about how they mix a great lather in a bowl and they load easy. I have a boars hair that I use for face lathers.

  4. Andy, welcome to the Synthetic brush club. Many people who have allergies to animal hairs and skin sensitivity issues have come to the same conclusion as you have when you get a higher quality synthetic brush. The Generation 3, 3.5 and Generation 4 fiber types provide people with a solid choice in brushes.

  5. For myself it doesn’t matter the razor, the products, the technique, time or prep – ultimately I do not get a great shave if I don’t use a brush. When I try to “skimp” and just use the same product brushless it winds up being just an “OK” shave. The brush becomes a critical component of my shave.

    1. Definitely. I sometimes use 2 brushes. One for soap, which I rinse off, apply a cream, on a softer brush, and then shave. It helps produce a BBS

    2. Definitely. I sometimes use 2 brushes. One for soap, which I rinse off, apply a cream, on a softer brush, and then shave. It helps produce a BBS

  6. I prefer synthetics. Between my Kent Infinity, and a Black synthetic Kabuki brush that dries in 7 minutes, my badger decorates the shaving stand unused. Agree about the decrease in my razor burn too.

  7. Interesting point about the razor burn being diminished by switching from synthetic. I have suspected that I have a similar issue with reacting to the badger brush (since I have allergies to a lot of animal hairs) and getting some irritation around my Adam’s apple despite very careful technique (and some in the upper cheek area too, where I don’t actually touch a blade too, but the brush touches a bit while lathering).
    For a while i have been on the fence about going back and trying a synthetic brush, since I started with a cheap-o synthetic (when I was still using the old proglide fusion, but at least using brush and soap), that was awful when compared to my current best badger brush. It’s encouraging that others have similar issues and that going back to synthetic helps, and also that getting a good quality synthetic brush won’t sacrifice the quality of the shave (I’ve been eying the Edwin Jaegger Synthetic Silvertip brush, since I’ve heard rave reviews putting it up there with most high-end silvertip badger brushes on the market).

    1. I predict you will be very happy with the Edwin Jagger Synthetic Silvertip. If purchased new this year, it will most likely have a Muhle STF V2 knot–arguadly the finest synthetic currently on the market. EJ makes very fine handles and its synths offer considerable cost savings.

      1. I have the EJ Synthetic Silvertip on order, once it arrives I’ll have to take it for a spin and see if it makes a difference.

      2. Just got the EJ synthetic Silvertip brush (arrived home from vacation the day my brush arrived…), I’ll include a review once I give it a week of shaves…
        Will test it with my usual shower, pre treat with trumper coral skin food, trumper coconut oil shave cream (bowl lather) with the brush, feather blades (WTG, ATG, finishing techniques), and finish with cold rinse, shavex alum block, cold rinse, trumper coral skin food.

        1. I’ve given the EJ synthetic Silvertip a few days of testing, and figured I would share my results. I’ve given it a test with the above mentioned prep (I should note, the razor is a Merkur Futur dialed to 3.0).
          First I noticed that with my normal soaking of the brush (while putting on my deodorant after the shower, and quick re-wetting of the face, and application of the pre-shave skin food), the brush retains significantly more water than my Best Badger brush, and retains heat a bit better. It lathers fast and effectively (due to the better water retention, I would say it lathers a bit faster, because I find that I don’t need to re-wet the tips as much throughout the process). The quality of shaves that I’ve gotten since the switch is on par with what I got with the old brush (maybe slightly better, in that I’ve noticed that I have less touching up to do after the normal passes, this morning’s shave was probably one of if not the best I’ve ever had, effortless BBS, whereas I can usually get BBS, but with more effort in the finishing).
          Most notably, after the first shave, I noticed a drastic reduction in the lower neck irritation that I have been dealing with for years, and within 3 days, the irritation was gone (confirming my theory that my skin was reacting to the badger hair…).
          Definitely satisfied with this brush, and happy I made the switch!

          1. I also have an EJ synthetic (new to DE shaving and never tried another brush, so no reference to compare). I enjoy it, but find it cannot retain heat and clumps together when wet. After 1.5 month’s use, i find it has developed a divet in the center and splays a little more easily. I worry it will become floppy one day. There are not nearly enough reviews on synthetics out there, appreciate to see one on EJ no less.

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