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What Is A Barbershop Scent? A Data-Driven Answer

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[Updated July, 2020] “What does a barbershop smell like?”  It’s a question I’ve been asking myself–and others–for a while now.  So I decided to apply some data to the question.


In a previous article I said:
There is no doubt in my mind that one of the attractions of old school shaving is getting the “vibe” of a barbershop.  Whether it’s based on an early childhood memory or even a romantic notion of what a barbershop should smell like is almost irrelevant.  It’s like a racial memory.

But it seems like neither shavers nor artisans/brands can agree on just what individual smells make up a barbershop scent, other than it’s made up of several individual notes.  So let’s try an experiment.  Based on a number of conversations I’ve had with both other shavers and cream/soap artisans recently, I’ve created a list of individual scent elements that commonly come up when discussing barbershop scents.
Then I created a survey for respondents to pick the top 3-5 scent notes that they think belong to a barbershop, from:

  • Talcum Powder
  • Leather
  • Tobacco
  • Ink (newspaper, magazines)
  • Wood (like Mahogany)
  • Alcohol (think Barbacide or another disinfectant solution)
  • Sandalwood
  • Citrus
  • Bay Rum
  • Pinaud Clubman
  • Other

I posted the survey link here on Sharpologist as well as a number of shaving forums and ran it for a week or so to gather data.  There were almost 300 survey responses, which I then collected into a spreadsheet (you can look at the raw data I put into a Google Docs spreadsheet HERE).

I’ll be the first to admit this is not a “scientific” survey.  But I do think there are enough answers to make some general comments.

What Does A Barbershop Scent Smell Like?

The most-selected individual ingredients include:

  • Talcum Powder (73%)
  • Pinaud Clubman (46%)
  • Alcohol (like a disinfectant) (38%)
  • Leather (26%)
  • TIE: Wood, Sandalwood (24%)

Clearly some kind of “powdery” element is important (critical?) to a barbershop scent.  Pinaud Clubman aftershave is also a common scent element.

It’s worth noting that Pinaud Clubman in itself is a combination scent.  Most agree it’s made up of citrus (lemon, orange) and floral (mostly lavender) notes over musky base.

Perhaps more interesting is looking at the combinations that were most frequently selected per answer (second tab in the spreadsheet):

  • Pinaud was selected by itself (the only answer selected) 18 times.
  • Pinaud, alcohol, and Talcum Powder were selected 14 times.
  • Pinaud and Talcum Powder were selected 9 times.

These combinations account for about 13% of the responses.  Add in the various similar combinations and in this respect Pinaud becomes an even more impactful element.

Shaving Like You Are In A Barbershop

From the survey results it looks like “the barbershop experience” can be divided into two general categories, powder and Pinaud. 🙂  But what shaving products match those categories?  Luckily that job became easier when I discovered that shaving blogger and frequent Sharpologist contributor Joe Borrelli is a huge enthusiast of barbershop shaving soaps!  I showed him the survey results and asked which of the shave soaps he had matched the categories that the spreadsheet found (currently available, in alphabetical order):

Powdery, “Talc” Shave Products

[Note: Amazon, PAA, and West Coast Shaving links are affiliate.]

Pinaud Clubman-Like Shave Products

Some Other Suggestions

Joe made some additional suggestions that don’t fit into either category above, but that he still considers “barbershop:”

The European Connection

I should note that the scents and products above call back to American barbershops.  The “vibe” of a European barbershop is completely different.  There the predominant scent is generally considered to be almond.  Products like Cella* and Razorock p.160* would fall into that category.  Another common scent is that of Proraso*.

*affiliate link

So there you have it!  Looking to get that “barber experience” at home?  Get yourself one of these soaps and a good shaving brush, deluxe it up with warm towels and a single blade razor, and give yourself a treat!

Have another suggestion for a “barbershop” product?  Leave a comment below!
(Did you find this article interesting?  Be sure to share it!)


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

11 thoughts on “What Is A Barbershop Scent? A Data-Driven Answer”

  1. UNCLE JON’S BARBERSHOP. Surprisingly one of the most well balanced barbershop soaps. I think it is one of best Pinaud type. The leather in it is incredibly smooth. I think SC is a bit too sweet and Ghost town is too heavy in the gun powder and leather. Great article! Aspiring barbershop soap aficionado myself. Also, dapper dragon signature is a very fun twist to traditional barbershop scent if anyone is looking to mix it up.

  2. Brian Fiori (AKA The Dean)

    Talc, leather and a few of the others, are certainly in the mix for what I remember as the smells of the barbershops in my youth. But only one brings it all together, full force: Pinaud Clubman aftershave. I didn’t even know what it was until I bought a bottle of Clubman a couple of years ago. SLAM! “That’s the smell!” I instantly thought.
    I don’t wear it, or any scent, often (I find it pretty inconsiderate). But when I’m just chilling by myself, or with a special woman who likes the smell, I’ll splash a bit on.

  3. One scent that I will always associate with barbershops, but did not make the list is Campbell’s Liquid Shave Cream. Almost every barbershop I’ve ever been in has a latherizer and the vast majority of those with a latherizer are using Campbell’s. According to my barber it is the recommended brand for Lather King machines and although some of the barber supply shops have a house brand, there are very few alternatives. It’s kind of strong, but pleasant citrus scent. I’m really not sure if there are any other notes.
    I remember seeing in one of the interviews that Mantic conducted that Will from Barrister & Mann had “accidentally” made Seville smell like Campbell’s.

  4. I noticed that The Soap Commander’s new barbershop scent “Honor” was not included in this list. Is that because the shave soap scent did not fit into any of the note characteristics or did it miss a deadline for entry since it is a fairly new scent for Soap Commander?
    I have been close to purchasing this product since introduction but have not seen enough reviews to make an informed decision. I was hoping your article would shed more light on it.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi David!
      I own SC Honor and think it’s an awesome product. It’s very balanced and has a talc-like scent with a very light citrus undertone. Reminds me of an old school barber shop with SC’s modern touch and performance.

  5. Great article and I applaud your research. I can’t comment on the American barbershop scent but the European barbershop connection differs greatly per country.
    Italian barbershops often use Cella and ProRaso, those are your almond/cherry and menthol scents. Turkish barbershops often use an Arko soap that smells totally different (a bit like those citronella candles that you light to repel mosquitos). Great Britain has a strong barbershop tradition as well, where citrus and fougere scents are more commonly used.

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