California based, Soap Smooth provides no history or timeline on its website, but states it mixes its own formulas and manufactures its products in the US. This maker used to be called “Seifenglatt” before changing their name to the somewhat catchier “Soap Smooth” (hereafter “SS”), which is what the German word means when it’s not misspelled.
“Frankincense & Myrrh”, Soap Smooth. ($14.00 for 4.0 oz tub of soap.)
Ingredients: (From mfgr website): Kvas water, Stearic acid, Tallow, Castor oil, Coconut oil, Glycerin, Shea butter, Lanolin, Argan oil, Potassium hydroxide, Sodium hydroxide, Sodium lactate, Fragrance.
I originally avoided this brand when I found it in Pasteur’s because their original iteration was a typical MdC clone formula (which usually means hell for my sensitive face, between less cushion than tallow and the minimal post shave care components) and also mainly because the scents in the tub were unimpressively weak.
Recently, SS decided to make a new tallow based soap with considerably fancier ingredients. Besides the usual glycerin and coconut oil, they are now chucking in castor oil, lanolin, argan oil, and shea butter, making this a much more expensive base to produce, along with offering potentially better cushion and face feel for we sensitive types.
There is also the mysterious kvas water, which apparently is a fermented mix of honey and rye bread, cut with distilled water. The manufacturer website does not tell us what this is supposed to do, but it appears to be a trendy way to differentiate one’s product from competitors. Other makers have taken this approach with goat’s milk, beer, wine, etc. but in most cases, the water replacer makes little difference in performance, and I would have to say the kvas water does not feel or behave much differently in SS than I would expect regular water would. (With one minor possible quirk, to be mentioned later…)
The main reason I picked this soap up to test though is due to the reasonable price point and the much nicer and more powerful smell. Frankincense & Myrrh (hereafter “F&M”) has a powerful, refined scent in the tub, and other new tallow based soaps in the line like “Sandalwood 10” also have interesting scents that project with much greater intensity than the older vegan based SS line. (Still available in many scents for a higher price in a bigger tub, if the idea of buying a lot of a weakly scented soap appeals to you…)
So how did the F&M perform?
Lather Ease: Lots of pretty slick lather quickly with minimal water needed. Ease of production is right up there with premium tallows (Barrister & Mann, Mickey Lee, Cold River). A 45 second loading will give you more than enough lather for a three pass face lathered shave. I did not test this with hard water, but I would estimate based on performance of comparably easy latherers that this will probably do well in harder water environs. The SS lather also stays well hydrated both on the face and on the brush during a shave, and both need only a splash of water added between passes to produce a good quality second coat of lather. 5 of 5 points.
Lather Quality: Slickness / glide is impressive, not quite up to the triumvirate of tallow makers cited above as industry leaders, but competitive, especially at the lower average price point. Cushion is very good, not great, feeling more like some of the better vegan makers (e.g. Wholly Kaw ) but somewhat inferior to say Tabac or Stirling. The lather has good lasting power, and gives some lubrication even after it has been visibly removed during a pass (“ghost lather”). The actual follicle elevation / removal performance is excellent, and a good close, long lasting shave can be had even with a non-aggressive razor blade combo. (For me, 10 hrs of no stubble feeling WTG with a Bevel razor and a Derby blade.)
I am giving this 4 of 5 points for the category. The lack of cushion left my neck sore on both test occasions, and the post shave is not quite enough to fix things up.
Scent During Shave: I am a sucker for incense scents, so this was a pretty appealing shave for me. The overall effect is like a sweetly scented mildly spiced wood smell, with a slight hint of sharper cedar notes in the base. Frankincense is a bit like pine and citrus mixed together, while myrrh is a bit like licorice. Benzoin is also found in here, mainly to emphasize the scents of the incense and myrrh. All in all, this is a slightly medicinal scent with equal parts of spice, woods, and sweetness. A very appealing and complex scent!
Sounds like a perfect score eh? It was heading in that direction, but after a few minutes of letting the lather sit for a bit on face and brush, I started picking up a faint clay odor. As the formula does not appear to have clay in it (no bentonite or kaolin, the two most popular clays found in shave soap bases) I am at a loss as to where this note comes from. It persists to the end of the shave, and is neither unpleasant nor dominant over the main scents, but it is odd enough to take a point away from what was a perfect score. Could this be the kvas water effect? No idea, but 4 of 5 points awarded.
Post Shave Feel: Much like the cushion effect, SS is well above average here, but not quite up to the Big Boys. If your skin is red and sore at the end of your shave, it will stay that way after using SS unless you add in some balm and moisturizer. One shave for me with no post shave treatment added was OK, just a bit dry, but the second one had a red sore irritated area on my neck that stayed sore and red for a couple hours.
Realistically, I know my own face and so always add at least a balm and usually balm plus moisturizer after a shave. I think with something like Nivea balm and sensitive moisturizing gel, my visage would be just fine after a SS shave. However, to be a contender In the highly competitive technical performance field in artisan soaps these days, you need to offer a more or less all in one solution for both shave and post shave. When Stirling offers better post shave feel for cheaper, I would call this a problem for the SS brand.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that SS has all the fancy stuff crammed in the formula and it still manages only to be about as effective as a simpler vegan base formula might be. This failed potential nudges me from rounding up my 3.5 to rounding down instead, so 3 of 5 points awarded.
Value: SS gains ground here. $3.50/oz for pretty good soap is a nice deal. Stirling is cheaper per ounce, but their scents are not quite as sophisticated as this particular soap from SS. (CF “Ben Franklin”…) f you just want great, cheap performance, Stirling is the better deal, but if you like interesting scents, SS may be worth the slight added cost. Certainly with some soaps hitting $6/oz, it’s good to have some lower priced products that do not completely abandon ambitious scent designs. 4 of 5 points awarded.
Total Score: 20/25. Which amounts to a grade of B. SS has come a long way from their “Seifneglatt” days. Product design is now competitive, if not cutting edge, and they have figured out how to do a complex, powerful scent that also does not melt the user’s face. This is pretty hard to do, and a big step forward.
If they could cut their price per ounce down to Stirling levels, this would be an immensely appealing option, or if they could fine tune their formula a bit to get better cushion and post shave while keeping the same general price point, this would be a rival to any of the major tallow soap players. They also need to do something about that odd clay note, but that should not be a main concern at first.
We have a “most improved” award being handed out here, but with the current wet shaving software market being so brutally competitive, we will see if SS can last long enough to upgrade their soap to highest industry standard levels while still keeping their corporate profit to loss ratio favorable.
Into My Rotation? A reluctant yes; I am a sucker for the F&M scent, and am willing to try to remediate the cushion and post shave deficiencies by using some “special team” players in the post shave.