There is a lot of information about shaving brushes on the internet but a lot of it is scattered about and some of it is not summarized very well. So I decided to distill the essentials down into a “frequently asked questions” list.
The Shave Brush FAQ
I started out by looking at common questions related to shaving brushes that I found on search engines. If you want (a lot!) more detail take a look at Sharpologist’s “best shave brush” list. Like that article, this will be a “living document” and I plan to continuously update this list of questions and answers.
A shave brush is a way to prepare stubble for shaving by mixing lathering cream or soap with water to make an effective lubricant for a razor blade to track on.
Hydration: a shave brush mixes lathering cream or soap with water to make an effective lubricant. It also reduces the amount of air in the lather, preventing the skin from prematurely drying and possibly causing irritation.
Cleaning And Exfoliation: using a shave brush produces a mild exfoliating effect on the skin.
Lather Coverage: when shave products are applied with just fingers, hairs tend to matte to the face, making them more difficult for the razor’s blade edge to get at. A shave brush lifts hair and surrounds it with lather, requiring less work from the razor.
A Better Shave Experience: for some, that feeling of applying a warm, fragrant lather on the face is very relaxing and appealing.
Shaving brush hair knots are typically made out of badger hair, boar hair, horse hair, or synthetic material.
Unfortunately there is no standardized grading process. But here are some general guidelines:
The lowest grade of badger hair is generally referred to as “pure.” This grade is characterized by a dark color and thick, relatively stiff, coarse-looking hair. Some manufacturers will bleach the hair slightly to make it appear like a higher grade but the hair itself will still look coarse.
The next grade is usually called “super,” best,” or “fine.” These mid-tier brushes are generally better constructed and the hair is finer-looking, softer, and lighter in color. These brushes retain water and heat noticeably better–sometimes dramatically better–than lower grades.
The highest grade of badger hair is usually labeled “silvertip” (though a couple manufacturers refer to these as “Super”). These brushes are typically made to the highest standard, often with hand-crafted workmanship, commanding the highest prices. Silvertip hair is often cream colored on top with darker bands of color below and very fine but still fairly flexible hairs. These brushes will retain even more water and heat than super badger brushes, but is a less dramatic improvement.
Yes, badgers (and boars) are killed for their pelts. Horse hair is taken from grooming cast-offs: the horse is not harmed.
There are two important specifications with shave brushes: loft (the height of the hair from knot to tip) and knot (the diameter of hair at the base).
Some say a shave brush should last a lifetime but it really depends on how well built the brush is and how well the shaver takes care of it. The typical lifetime of an average shave brush is 5-10 years.
It depends on what you are looking for in a brush. Here are Sharpologist’s recommendations for the best shaving brush in different categories.
Narrow down your choices by deciding what kind of hair you want, the size of the brush, the shape of the brush top (“bulb” or “fan”) and price.
As long as the brush is properly used and maintained a stand is not necessary unless it is specifically recommended by a manufacturer.
There are some variations on how to make a good lather with different products, and it can take a little practice to get right. There are two general schools of thought on making traditional shaving lather, differentiated mostly on how water is integrated into the mix. The classic method of lather-making starts with minimal water on the brush, adding water until you get the lather consistency you are looking for. Another school of thought starts out with more water on the shaving brush which the excess is drained in a particular manner. Neither method is right nor wrong. Try both methods to see what works best for you.
Shaving brushes are fascinating, useful tools for the shaver but can sometimes be confusing to the beginner. Feel free to add your question in the comments below and I will do my best to keep this FAQ up to date!