[Updated August, 2020] Shaving cream can be pretty important: it can make using shaving with a blade a pleasant, fragrant diversion–or a painful, bloody chore. What is the best shave cream? Here is Sharpologist’s annual perspective.
What Ingredients Are In The Best Shave Creams?
(This section courtesy of Alraz, lightly edited for clarity.)
In every shaving cream formulation, each ingredient plays a role. While some ingredients are essential, others only have a minor effect. The performance of the cream serves as the ultimate test for the formulation and indicates whether the correct blend of ingredients and concentrations has been used. High tier shaving creams have a common structure that includes carefully selected ingredients that have been optimized for years. Deviations from these general guidelines results in poorer performance.
Here is a typical ingredient list on a high end shaving cream: aqua (water), stearic acid, myristic acid, potassium hydroxide, coconut acid, glycerin, triethanolamine, parfum (fragrance) and sodium hydroxide. The word cocoate, usually preceded by sodium or potassium, may be found replacing coconut acid to indicate that saponification has occurred. Saponification literally means “soap making” and is a chemical reaction used to produce fatty acids from triglycerides. A triglyceride consists of three fatty acid molecules joined to a glycerin molecule, which is also released during saponification. Triglycerides are the preferred molecules used by living organisms to store fats.
In addition, shaving creams often contain other ingredients including botanicals, essential oil derivatives (citral, farnesol, geraniol, geranial, myrcene, limonene, linalool, etc.), chelators, preservatives and other chemicals. Besides modulating performance, these ingredients can add antiseptic qualities, serve as skin toners, increase shelf life, etc. but more importantly, they make each formulation unique.
Determining performance from ingredient lists is often complicated because the actual contents of the product are not listed. Furthermore, ingredient lists do not include the concentration of each ingredient or their purity. This can also be problematic when troubleshooting allergic reactions. It is important to realize that the process of selecting shaving products is not an exact science and several factors, including glycerin content, scent and other additives can modulate performance. Personal preference, allergies, etc. can be important factors in the selection process. However, the best shave creams covered here that use this foundation rank among the best in the market and are known for their performance.
Is shaving cream good for you? Check out this related post: Is Your Shaving Cream Trying To Kill You? An Ingredient Teardown
Who Makes The Best Shaving Cream? A Set Of Criteria To Judge With
So what is the best shaving cream? There are a some good shaving products, but are also a lot of ghastly shaving ones. What rises above the rest? Let me propose this set of criteria for determining which may be the best shaving cream for men (I guess it could be the best women’s shave cream too of course, but some of the scents may be unappealing to women):
- Superior performance (based on research from review sites, forums, and my own experience and the experience of Sharpologist readers)–with both “cushion” and “lubrication” better than most, resulting in a smooth shave regardless of the type of razor used.
- Ease of applying and using under a variety of water mineral content conditions (in other words it works well with both “soft” water and “hard” water).
- Good post-shave feel on the skin and doesn’t cause irritation, razor burn, razor bumps, ingrown hairs, etc., especially on sensitive skin (not overly-drying)
- Available in a variety of scents (you won’t use even the best shave cream if you don’t care for its smell) or no scent at all.
- Time on the market
- Availability (from more than just a single artisan website, though this is a lower consideration than it used to be due to robust shopping experience sites like Etsy, WooCommerce, or Shopify).
Admittedly these criteria are somewhat arbitrary but I want a way to more objectively narrow the field down. An “Honorable Mentions” list of products that I think deserve attention but don’t meet all the criteria above is also included. I have a separate article about the best shaving soaps. Since most of Sharpologist’s readers are in the United States I will mostly (but not exclusively) concentrate on products available there.
Remember, “Your Mileage May Vary” (YMMV) with these recommendations! Although there is a large majority that like these products there will always be some for which a product does not work as well. I plan to update this post regularly as products enter and leave the market. Some product links go to a “choice page” (geni.us links) where you can select where you would like to shop from.
Amazon, OneBlade, Truefitt & Hill, and West Coast Shaving links are Sharpologist affiliate.
I’m going to distinguish three different categories of results: products available in the mass market, “the mall,” and the high-end lathering products available at specialty retailers and online.
What Is The Best Shave Cream In The Mass Market?
First a look at mainstream products you might find in your local supermarket, “big box” retailer, or drug store/chemist chain. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream shaving products are, relatively speaking, poor performers (all other things being equal). Many are foam in pressurized cans and filled with chemicals that try to compensate for the skin-drying effect that propellants can have. If you have no other choice than to use a mass market shaving product, at least try to use one that comes out of a squeeze tube.
Only a few brands in this category rise above the rest in my opinion (in alphabetical order):
Cremo Shave Cream
Available in a variety of scents (I think the Peppermint, Menthol and Tea Tree Oil version is particularly excellent for the summer) and unscented, Cremo shave cream is widely available, found in many national drug store chains, grocery stores, and “big box” or “megamart” outlets. HERE is Sharpologist’s review of Cremo shave cream but you should be able to find a number of confirming reviews with a simple internet search. Cremo also has a lathering cream as well, made specifically for use with a shave brush.
Gillette Pure (Cream)
Although relatively new to the market Gillette’s PURE shave cream performs solidly for its niche, works well with a variety of razor types, and it is shave brush friendly to boot. Check out Sharpologist’s recent article about Gillette Pure for more information. Also available in a gel but this version has not been tested.
Pacific Shaving was originally known for their Shaving Oil. They later added a shaving cream. However I think the star is their Caffeinated Shaving Cream. Sharpologist reviewed it a while back and it is great stuff. Although promoted as a “brushless” shave cream, the performance of Pacific Shaving Caffeinated for me improves even more when lathered with a brush.
Van Der Hagen “Shave Butter”
New to the list this year is Van Der Hagen Shave Butter. Brushless and low-lathering, I think it’s surprisingly good for a low-cost shave product. It’s also widely available which can be a real plus when you need something “in a pinch.” Van Der Hagen also offers a shave gel but it has not been tested here.
What Is The Best Shaving Cream At “The Mall?”
A step up from the “mega-mart” but not at the level of a high-end, specialty retailer, the typical enclosed shopping mall in the U.S. may have some outlets for the shaver looking for a good shave cream.
Body Shop Maca Root
The Body Shop store, found in some malls (and Amazon), stocks an excellent lathering shave cream. Available in a single (mild) scent.
CO Bigelow (Proraso)
Bed Bath & Bodyworks stores found in some malls stock CO Bigelow shave cream. It is very similar to Proraso shaving cream (it is, in fact, blended by Proraso): mildly mentholated for a cooling sensation while shaving.
Jack Black Supreme
Jack Black Supreme – Is available in a single scent from some mid-tier department stores in the mall. It can be used either with a brush or brushless, Jack Black Supreme consistently gets excellent reviews. Jack Black Beard Lube is also very good.
The Art Of Shaving
The Art of Shaving – The line-up recently expanded to include more interesting scents (though they still have an unscented version made for those with sensitive skin). My personal opinion is their shaving cream performance is maybe not quite as good as it used to be before a reformulation a few years ago (and admittedly not a particularly good value). But I think The Art of Shaving shave creams are more-than-solid performers and their fairly wide availability makes them a “gateway drug” into good shaving. They also have a solid line up of other grooming products.
What Is The Best Shave Cream In Specialty Distribution?
Here I think you will find most of the best shaving creams for men available, especially if you’re using an “old school” razor for a close shave. They are designed to be lathered with a shaving brush, though they can be used brushless as well (you just have to use a lot more product). Many traditional shaving creams are light years ahead of mass market products and provide an excellent sensory experience as well. Don’t let the cost of these products put you off: they are so concentrated that a tub will last for months and months of daily use. I think some of “the best of the best” shaving creams include (also in alphabetical order):
Castle Forbes shaving creams have a reputation of being strongly-scented: I like to say that using their Limes shave cream is like getting hit in the face with a key lime pie 🙂 . Without a doubt a luxurious product with outstanding performance (at a commensurate price).
Cyril Salter – The “youngster” (!) of the classic British shave product lineage, having been around since “only” the 1940’s, Cyril Salter is still often mentioned in the same breath as the Trumper/Truefitt/Taylor gang. Salter’s Vetiver shave cream was the only game in town in that scent up until just a few years ago, and all their products give off a classic vibe. Check out Sharpologist’s mention of their Rose shave cream.
Esbjerg Shaving creams are still relatively unknown in the US but have been around for over 35 years in Europe and have a number of interesting shaving cream scents (plus unscented). It performs extremely well for me, with lather that is not only voluminous but also lubricating, cushioning, and it works really well in my hard water. Availability in the US is expanding.
Executive Shaving out of the UK has had their own brand of shave creams out for a few years now, and they are getting some deserved attention.
New York Shaving Company
New York Shaving Company (NYSC) shave creams performs right up there with the big boys. Their scents are a mix of classic European, “old timey” American, and natural scents. They also have a sample pack! The “Tonsorial” shaving cream is a favorite of many (including me). Here is Sharpologist’s review of the Brooklyn shave cream.
Nancy Boy – Originally formulated with only a single scent, Nancy Boy added a couple additional scents a few years ago (all their scents are very mild). Limited availability but stellar performance (with or without a brush) and they have an excellent reputation in the wet shaving enthusiast community.
St. James Of London
Another British brand now in the US. I like to refer to St. James of London shave cream scents as “traditional with a twist:” Mandarin & Patchouli, Cedarwood & Clarysage, Black Pepper & Lime, Sandalwood & Bergamot, etc. Performance is excellent across the line.
Taylor Of Old Bond Street
Taylor of Old Bond Street – The performance of TOBS shave creams had become inconsistent in my opinion: the most-recently launched products performed well but many of the older formulations didn’t. That problem seems to have been shaken out, as my research (and my own recent experience) indicate that the performance across different shave products has evened out to a predictable level. Taylor Of Old Bond Street has a wide variety of both classic and modern scents and some versions are formulated specifically for sensitive skin. Their Sandalwood is a often listed as a favorite shaving cream on Amazon.
Truefitt & Hill
Truefitt & Hill shave creams are a good mix of “natural” and cologne-like scents, some popular with younger men (1805, Ultimate Comfort) while others are more classic (Trafalgar is one of my all-time favorite scents, though some consider it–as well as Grafton–an “old man” scent). The No. 10 cream is meant to be used brushless but is “brush friendly” anyway. For myself Truefitt and Hill creams may be ever-so-slightly less cushioning than others in this category but I think the difference is subtle. Most agree the performance is excellent: here is my review of the Apsley shave cream.
Trumper shave cream scents tend to stay in the classic, conservative realm. Some scents may seem a bit foppish but you might be surprised how downright masculine a Rose or a Violet scent can smell. In any event, almost everyone considers these shaving creams as superior in their performance.
Honorable Mentions – The Best Of The Rest
There are a number of shaving creams that are excellent but don’t quite pass all the criteria I have set for the best shave cream. I think they still deserve some love though, so here are some “the best of the rest” (again, in alphabetical order):
Burke Avenue – Burke Avenue is getting a ton of “buzz” for its quality and performance. Many say the post-shave moisturization is exceptional, though it comes in a single (mild) scent. Here is Sharpologist’s article about the background of this product.
Captain’s Choice – While I’ve found the scents of Captain’s Choice shave creams to be a bit inconsistent, performance has always been excellent (with lather stability being a stand-out). Check out a recent Sharpologist article that review’s Captain’s Choice’s take on Creed Aventus.
DR Harris – Another old-school English shaving cream with interesting scents (Arlington is a personal favorite of mine) and they perform very well. I actually think their shaving soaps are even better than their shaving cream but the creams are still very good.
eShave seems to have come through a “rough patch” relatively unscathed. A few years ago I noticed they had cut back on their offerings and reformulated some of their products. But things seem to have stabilized and eShave shave creams are still excellent (I’m a fan of their White Tea scent–it’s also a favorite on Amazon).
Lucky Tiger – Lucky Tiger’s “Liquid Shave Cream” comes in a single (mildly citrus) scent. As the name implies it is less firm than many others (I think it has a consistency of an aftershave balm) but the performance–with or without brush–is very good.
OneBlade – OneBlade’s “Black Tie” shave cream is only available in a single, moderately-strong lavender scent. But the performance is really excellent: it can build a rich, thick lather and the ‘cushion’ aspect is particularly noteworthy.
Taconic – Missing the main list only by “the skin of its teeth,” Taconic has a relatively new line of shave creams in a pump bottle that performs especially well. Their original shave creams are quite good as well.
Keeping An Eye On
There are a number of other shave creams that I’m keeping an eye on for possible inclusion in a future update. Some are relatively new to the market. Others have had a recent change in their business circumstances. Some have recently changed their formulation. And some are here simply because I don’t have enough information for a full evaluation yet.
Did I miss something? Disagree with a rating? Leave your suggestions and comments below!
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