In late 2021, shaving sites started reporting that the original Tabac tallow-based shave soap formula had been replaced by a non-tallow formula. I’ve tried both and here are my thoughts.
Tabac is a product name that most traditional wet shavers will recognize from its long presence in the market. According to Mäurer & Wirtz (M&W), the product’s Stohlberg, Germany-based manufacturer (www.tabac.de/tabac-original), the Tabac line has been around since 1959.
According to online posts, the formula changed because M&W’s tallow provider went out of business in late 2020. M&W’s media department did not respond to my questions about the formula change so I can’t confirm this but the information appears solid.
The result was a new formulation for Tabac shave soap. The new version (versus the “original’) does not include tallow, which raises the question: How does tallow-free Tabac stack up against the original version?
For this article I spent a week shaving with each soap, using a Merkur 34C razor with Feather blades. To test the duration of the soaps’ fragrance, I applied Nivea’s Sensitive Soothing Post Shave Balm after most shaves. The Nivea balm isn’t completely scent-free but its fragrance is very mild.
I used a rating scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) for each of the following factors:
- Easy lathering
- Lather moisture retention
- Post-shave skin feeling
Responses to fragrance are personal so I discuss it qualitatively without a score.
Original Formula Tabac
You can still find the original formula Tabac soap for sale. As of mid-February, you could find the soap selling for around $20 for a 4.4 ounce soap puck packaged in a reusable ceramic bowl with a (unscrewed) plastic lid. Refills without the bowl also were available under $20.
The key to spotting the original Tabac is the presence of tallow in the ingredient list:
Potassium Stearate, Sodium Stearate, Potassium Tallowate, Potassium Cocoate, Aqua, Sodium Tallowate, Parfum, Sodium Cocoate, Glycerin, Potassium Hydroxide, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Sodium Hydroxide, CI 77891, Limonene, Hydroxycitronellal, Linalool, Citronellol, Coumarin, AlphaIsomethyl Ionone, Benzyl Salicylate, Geraniol, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Isoeugenol, Benzyl Alcohol, Citral, Eugenol.
If you don’t see tallowate, you’re looking at the new formula.
The original Tabac gave me very good shaves and I enjoyed using it.
- Ease of lathering: I scored this a 5 with a badger brush and 3 with a synthetic for an average of 4. The results with the badger brush were impressive: easy to load with a fast buildup of copious amounts of lather. I had lather spilling over the Tabac bowl and my shaving bowl in less than a minute and the load held up for all three passes.
- Moisture retention: Very good through the entire shave. Score: 4.
- Lubrication: Very good slickness. Score: 4
- Protection: No nicks, no hot spots. Score: 4
- Post-shave skin feeling: Also very good. Score: 4.
Total score: 20/25.
New Formula Tabac
As of mid-February, online prices for the new formula were mostly similar to those for the original. Be careful before clicking the order button, though, and take a minute to review the product ingredients, which some sites don’t list. The ingredient list in the new formula does not include tallow:
Potassium Stearate, Sodium Stearate, Potassium Laurate, Sodium Laurate, Glycerin, Aqua, Parfum, Lauric Acid, Limonene, Linalool, Hydroxycitronellal, CI 77891, Isoeugenol, Pentasodium Pentetate, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Citronellol, Coumarin, Benzyl Alcohol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Geraniol, Benzyl Salicylate, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Citral, Eugenol.
I’m indifferent to the use of tallow. If a soap doesn’t include it but still produces a good shave, that’s great. But in this instance, I believe dropping the tallow was a mistake.
- Ease of lathering: As with the original formula, I scored this a 5 with a badger brush and 3 with a synthetic for an average of 4. But there was a major difference between the original’s lather and the new formula. The original produced a dense, silky lather while the new version was much lighter and less dense. I don’t know how chemists score density so I’ll use a dairy analogy. The original formula was like a low-fat yogurt—OK, not exactly and without the fruit—while the new formula was like whipped cream from an aerosol can. The difference on my face was noticeable and that concerned me because less dense lathers have produced inferior shaves for me in the past.
- Moisture retention: Fair. The new formula required a thicker, Santa Claus-type application to retain its moisture for the full shave. Score: 2.5
- Lubrication: Good slickness. Score: 3.5
- Protection: No nicks, no hot spots while shaving. Score: 4
- Post-shave skin feeling: These shaves were odd. Performance during the shaves was fine and my post-shave my skin was acceptably moist. But after the last pass my skin quickly became very tender and it stayed that way for hours. There were no obvious hot spots or irritation but touching my face was unpleasant. Score: 2.
Total score: 16/25.
I saved a discussion of fragrance for last. According to a translation from the M&W website, Tabac has top notes of pepper, bergamot, petitgrain; heart notes of lavender, clove, geranium; and base notes of sandalwood, musk and vetiver.
Also from the Tabac site:
“The brand name of Tabac Original is due to its distinctive, tart-spicy fragrance composition. However, it has nothing to do with the common processed tobacco, which smells completely different and was never one of the ingredients of Tabac Original.
Rather, it was the blooming tobacco plant fields as well as their aromatic fragrance aura that served as inspiration for the brand name. Tabac Original contains a characteristic Fougére fragrance note with spicy, herbaceous-aromatic hints. With precious woods, musk, amber and floral notes, the fragrance world after the shaving ritual underlines the personal charisma.”
The Tabac staff obviously have better senses of smell than I do. In the bowl, on my face and after the shave I experienced a lightly but indistinguishably scented soap. No specific fragrances stood out—for me, the olfactory experience was “meh.” Not terrible, not great. I asked my wife to smell the soap in the bowls and after I shaved and the fragrance reminded her of Ivory soap. That’s an acceptable scent for a body soap, but it’s not my first choice in a shave soap.
The new formula’s scent is persistent, though. The plastic bowl lid does not screw on and the soap was like a bathroom fragrance plug-in that filled the room. The original formula was similar but more subdued. Both versions lingered on the face. I applied a scented balm once with each soap and the Tabac overwhelmed the balm.
The original formula Tabac gave me good shaves. I didn’t care for the soap’s scent but the shave performance was very good. That wasn’t the case with the new formula, which left my skin surprisingly tender with a post-shave scent lingered much too long. If you’re a Tabac fan, I’d stock up on the original soap while you can.