What is the best shaving brush for you? There are many varieties available, with different types of hair fiber, from small “garage” artisans to Far-Eastern factories and long-established European companies. Here is all the information you must have to make an informed decision: why you should use one, the different elements of a brush, the best shaving brushes for different circumstances, how to use it most effectively, and how to properly maintain a brush. This is an update to the original article!
Takeaway Summary: What Is The Best Shave Brush?
As with all products, caveat emptor and “your mileage my vary.” This list is not sponsored: I did not get paid to mention any of these products (however see below and the Disclosures page for more information on affiliate relationships. Alternate sources can usually be found with a simple search engine query). I plan to update this post as products change, enter, and leave the market.
AliExpress (Yaqi), Amazon, APShaveCo, Geni.us, OneBlade, PAA, smallflower, and West Coast Shaving links are affiliate.
- Best Boar Hair Shaving Brush: Antica Barberia “Natural Bristle”
- Best Pure Badger Shaving Brush: Parker “Long Loft” Pure Badger
- Best Upgraded Badger Shaving Brush: Mondial 1908 “Super” Badger Brushes
- Best Silvertip Badger Shaving Brush: Shavemac Americana D01 silvertip
- Best Synthetic Fiber Shaving Brush: APShaveCo
- Best Low Cost Shaving Brush: Omega 10049
- Best Shaving Brush For The Money: PAA Amber Aerolite
- Best “Mainstream” Shaving Brush: Parker Silvertip Badger w/Faux Horn Handle
- Best Travel Shaving Brush: Muhle Travel Silvertip Fibre Shaving Brush
Contents – Skip To:
Criteria For A Quality Shaving Brush
Here’s the thing: there are a lot of excellent shave brushes out there (and a lot of junk, too)! The wet shaving niche’ is currently experiencing an “embarrassment of riches” with a huge variety of quality products.
Unlike a few years ago, there are now many fine choices when it comes to purchasing a shave brush. With so many options, variables, and sources, how can the “best” shaving brush be determined? Like the other “best” lists on Sharpologist, I think we can use some (albeit somewhat arbitrary) parameters (heaviest weighting first to narrow the field):
- Performance: how well the brush builds lather given the individual circumstances.
- Construction: materials properly manufactured and waterproofed– hairs/fibers don’t shed.
- Reputation and popularity: experiences reported on blogs, forums, and shopping sites.
- Over-all value.
- Availability and length of time on the market: there are many fine artisans but they tend to come-and-go from the market so this list gives a little more weight to established sources.
- Available in different sizes: some brush lines have different loft or handle sizes to accommodate larger or smaller hands.
Why Trust This Article?
Why trust this article and Sharpologist? Recommendations are based on over ten years of first-hand experience from Sharpologist‘s editor (me!), contributors, and readers, who have actually purchased and used the product; and extensive research of relevant blogs and niche’ forum postings. I have personally used all the brushes on this list.
Other “best shaving brush” lists often just look at well-known brushes on Amazon and don’t take into account the specific circumstances a consumer may be considering. I think this article takes a better approach.
You should be able to find a brush with virtually any budget so set yourself a maximum price and stick to it. Bear in mind that many shavers who use shaving brushes (especially those who use a double edge safety razor) eventually get another brush after they have used one for a while and have decided they have a preference for a particular aspect or type of brush.
Listing a best brush can be particularly difficult because the performance aspect is partly “in the eye of the beholder.” Some people prefer brushes that are softer on the skin; others prefer a stiffer brush with more “scrubbiness.” Some think a fan shape works best while a bulb shape has its boosters as well. I’ll try to take ideas like these into account.
Note: AliExpress (Yaqi), Amazon, APShaveCo, Geni.us, OneBlade, PAA, smallflower, and West Coast Shaving links are affiliate.
Now for the details….
Shaving brushes generally come in one of four types of bristle: boar hair, badger hair, horse hair, and synthetic material.
Boar Bristle Shaving Brushes
A brush with boar bristles–sometimes called a “natural bristle” shaving brush–are the most commonly seen in mass market outlets such as drug stores and “mega-marts.” Most of these brushes are not very well constructed and tend to require more work to get a good lather from.
Boar bristles are also quite “stiff” and provide more of a scrubbing or exfoliation action on the skin.
However that is not to say that all of these types of shaving brushes are substandard. On the contrary, a well-made brush of this kind may provide years of service and can work quite well after a break-in period. Sometimes these brushes are dyed to look like badger hair brushes. Boar hair retains less water than badger hair but selecting a boar hair brush with a higher “loft” (see below) can help compensate for water retention.
Best Boar Shaving Brush
The Antica Barberia “Natural Bristle” shave brush is unlike any other boar brush I have used:
- It doesn’t smell bad (or hardly at all, for that matter).
- The handle is firm and hefty in my hand instead of cheap plastic or lightweight wood.
- The knot is well-packed and secure.
- The brush “splays” better with less “scratchiness” than other boar brushes I have used.
- It “broke in” very quickly (though I did use the accelerated break-in method).
- It builds a really good lather in a short time.
Alternatives: Omega Pro 48 is a well-respected and popular boar hair shave brush. Likewise, the Semogue 620 has an excellent reputation, though an extended break-in period is common before it starts to perform well.
Related Post: Boar Brush Bounty
Badger hair brushes have been historically regarded as the preferred material for shaving brushes and can generally make a better lather, more quickly. They also can retain more heat and water than brushes of other types. However there are several different grades of hair (taken from different areas of the animal), and 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.” Pure badger hair 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. A pure badger hair brush is not necessarily a “bad” brush–there are high quality, well-made examples that perform quite well.
- The next grade of badger hair is usually called “super,” best,” or “fine.” These mid-tier brushes are generally better constructed and the badger hair is finer-looking, softer, and lighter in color. They retain retain water and heat noticeably better–sometimes dramatically better–than lower grades.
- The highest grade of badger hair is usually labeled “silvertip” (though, confusingly, Simpson and Edwin Jagger refer to these as “Super”). These brushes are typically made to the highest standard, often with hand-crafted workmanship, commanding the highest prices. Silvertip badger hair is often cream colored on top with darker bands of color below and very fine but still fairly flexible hairs. Silvertip badger bristle will retain even more hot water and heat than super badger brushes, but is a less dramatic improvement.
Two Band vs. Three Band Badger Knot
Then there’s the “two band vs. three band” badger bristle debate. Generally this refers to two sub-grades within the mid-grade (super/fine/best) tier, though some apply it to other badger hair grades as well. Visually it refers to the colors seen on a brush’s hair knot as seen from the side: two-band have a lighter color on the upper part of the hair and a darker color on the lower part; while three band brushes have a light color on top, a darker “stripe” in the middle, and a lighter color on the bottom.
Very broadly-speaking, two-band hair is a bit thicker and stiffer while three-band hair is a bit thinner and more flexible–though both are still “soft” on the skin.
Some manufacturers bleach or color their brushes which confuses matters further.
You may see references to “gel tip” silvertip badger shaving brush knots. This is badger hair that have a ‘hook’ at the very tip of each hair. They’re very soft on the skin.
If you’re about to buy your first badger hair shave brush my recommendation is not to worry about the nerdy details but to get a decently-made brush at a price you can afford from a reputable source.
Best Pure Badger Shaving Brush
Pure badger hair is characterized by dark, relatively stiff, coarse-looking hair (more on this later). Many low-end, pure badger brushes are not well-made and do not last. One I can recommend is the Parker “Long Loft” Pure Badger shaving brush (US $35)–Parker’s best-selling brush and pretty widely available, too. Very good performance. Knot: 22mm.
An alternative is the Simpson S1 in Pure Badger, a small-ish brush and somewhat expensive for its size but it enjoys a good reputation.
Best Upgraded Badger Shaving Brush
Previously popular upgraded badger shave brushes from well-established brands like Vulfix and Edwin Jagger seem to have fallen out of favor over the past few years (though the Simpson name still carries weight with some shave aficionados). Many brush makers are making a strong transition to synthetic fibers, as they perform as well as upgraded badger brushes without the animal cruelty stigma.
The Mondial 1908 “Super” grade brush line uses a higher-quality badger hair than many other “Super” grade brushes, and I find them more densely-packed and better-built than other, perhaps more well-known (in the US) brands. They are available in a number of handle styles, lofts, and knots.
There are a number of worthy competitors to this brush, including Parker’s Best Badger shave brush in white and chrome,
Best Silvertip Badger Shaving Brush
Shavemac’s “D01” silvertip brush stands out in the silvertip crowd for being unusually soft and dense at the same time. For those who think there isn’t that much difference between the higher-end Super/Best/Fine grades and “silvertip” grade (and you would be right, there usually isn’t that much difference). the Shavemac luxury silvertip experience may be the exception that changes your mind.
A Special Note About Boar And Badger Hair
“Are badgers killed for shaving brushes?”
Badgers (and boars) are killed to harvest their meat and hair so if that is a concern you may want to select a brush with synthetic or horse hair (see below). Virtually all badger hair used in shaving brushes come from China where the badger is considered a pest and controlled under license but there is some controversy over how humane the “harvesting” process is.
Some brands and vendors, including The Art Of Shaving, Edwin Jagger, New York Shaving Co., Executive Shaving in the UK, and others have pledged to discontinue selling badger hair brushes.
Synthetic Brush Knot Shaving Brushes
Synthetic shaving brushes can range from brushes with simple nylon bristles to those with more specialized synthetic material. In the past their price and performance usually fell between those of boar and “pure” badger brushes. However significant improvements have taken place over the past few of years and the latest generations of synthetic materials are now equal in performance to quality mid-tier and even “silvertip” badger brushes!
The ingredients of some “brushless” shaving products (like a gel or a foam) may damage a brush’s natural hair so if you are unsure of the ingredient reaction consider using a brush with synthetic hair.
Synthetic fiber shave brushes have a number of advantages over animal hair products:
- No break-in period
- No animal smell “funk”
- Quicker to dry
Different synthetic fibers have characteristics that emulate other types of hair.
See Synthetic Shave Brushes – Are The Days Of Badger Hair Shave Brushes Numbered? for a complete discussion.
Best Synthetic Fiber Shaving Brush
This is a particularly tough decision to make. The latest generations of synthetic shave brushes from all sources have gotten really good, with performance meeting (or beating!) that of a good badger brush.
While they may perform like the best badger hair brushes they may not feel like one on the skin. But that’s not necessarily bad! Some shavers prefer a softer brush while others may like a firmer-feeling fiber on their skin.
Some brushmakers are now producing quality shave brushes with not only different sizes but also different types of synthetic fibers to more closely match the preferences of the customer. I think one such established maker is APShaveCo.
Alternatively, I can recommend the Muhle Synthetic Shaving Brush because it is not only an excellent performing brush but it is also available in different sizes. And it is still an excellent line of brushes.
Horsehair Shaving Brushes
Horse hair shave brushes returned to the market after being out of favor after an anthrax scare around World War 1. They are generally made from the grooming castoffs of a horse’s mane or tail (or a mix of both) and the animal is not harmed.
The performance is roughly that of a boar brush (though less stiff) and it is considered the most “natural and animal-friendly” variety.
Note that horse hair shave brushes can smell very “funky” for a while, much more-so than ones made of animal hair brushes. More on “the funk” later.
Unfortunately there were really only two reliable artisans of horse hair shave brushes and the most well known one, Vie Long, ceased operations in 2023. Semogue offers a limited line of horse hair brushes.
Sometimes you have specific reasons for a certain kind of shave brush. Here are some ideas.
Best Low Cost Shave Brush
There are a lot of low-cost shave brushes. Unfortunately most don’t perform well, are poorly built, and don’t last. There are a handful of exceptions, though. Here is a decent brush that goes for under US $10:
Best Shaving Brush For The Money
Some shaving brushes are known for “punching above their weight” and being a great value for the money spent.
The Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA) Amber Aerolite synthetic shaving brush uses synthetic fibers that I think come closest to both the feel and the performance of a great brush made of badger bristles, for a fraction of the price (US $20).
I have a lot of shave brushes but the PAA Amber Aerolite is my “go to” shaving brush for everyday use.
The PAA Peregrino uses the same fiber knot with a slightly larger handle.
Best “Mainstream” Shaving Brush
There are several brushes that are well-known for the sheer number of units sold, particularly on Amazon. Unfortunately, from a quality and value perspective, uneducated consumers are often selecting brushes of dubious quality. Setting those aside, there are shave brushes that are both popular and a reasonable choice for the shaver who is just looking for a middle-of-the-road, reliable brush recommendation. Here is a good one:
The Parker Silvertip Badger w/Faux Horn Handle (US $65)
The Best Travel Shaving Brush
Really you can take any brush with you when you travel–you just need to keep it in a container that can get some air flow (I use a prescription pill bottle with a few holes drilled into it). But there are brushes that lend themselves to travel more readily.
More recently I have taken a Muhle synthetic fiber travel brush. Synthetic brushes by their nature dry more quickly and are less susceptible to picking up weird things from the environment.
Why Should I Use A Shaving Brush? Is A Shaving Brush Worth It? What Are The Benefits?
Simply put, a shaving brush is the perfect way to prepare stubble for shaving. And not just for a single reason–there are a number of ways in which using a shaving brush benefits the shaving process:
- Cleaning and Exfoliation
- Lather Coverage
- A Better Shave Experience
Whether you’re using cheap canned shaving foam (just don’t…) or the most expensive shaving cream, it’s really water that does the “heavy lifting” for a shave, preparing the skin and the facial hair. But water alone is far too “volatile” to use by itself for most people (though admittedly some can just have a wet shave in the shower with just water as long as there is a continuous flow available). Shaving products (such as foams, gels, creams, etc.) exist to stabilize and hold water against the skin–and yes, provide even more lubrication and cushion with additional ingredients.
Using a shaving brush further mixes product with water making an even more effective, rich lather for the razor blade edge to track on (and reducing the amount of air in the lather as well, preventing the skin from prematurely drying and possibly causing irritation). Plus the shaving brush usually needs less product to make a good lather: traditional shaving creams and soaps may cost more up-front but you use so little of it at once it will last far longer and the cost per shave can be quite low.
Cleaning And Exfoliation
Because a shave brush is most often used with a lathering shaving soap or cream, using a brush can reduce (replace?) the need for a pre-shave routine of washing or cleansing the skin. Using a shave brush also produces a mild exfoliating effect on the skin: think of it as helping sweep away tiny bits of debris from around hair stubble.
When shaving products like shaving cream 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. When used properly (more on this later), a shaving brush lifts hair and surrounds it with lather, requiring less work from the razor blade edge(s).
A Better Shave Experience
Beyond the more practical aspects of using shaving brushes, it can also enhance the shaving experience–it can feel really nice! Ever get a barber shave with the towels and the warm lather? You can get a similar experience with a shave brush. And for some, that feeling of a warm, fragrant lather on the face is very relaxing and appealing. It’s almost a “Zen” or meditative experience.
Brush Knot Size And Brush Loft
Brush dimensions are typically expressed in millimeters and are often divided into three sections: loft, knot, and over-all height.
- The loft is the length of the actual hair from the top of the handle to the tip of the hair.
- The knot is an indication of the amount of hair packed into the handle. The knot dimension can be a little ambiguous because hair can be packed tightly or loosely (the best shaving brushes generally have relatively tight knots, regardless of hair type).
- Finally the length of the handle is factored in to determine the over-all height of the brush.
Generally, larger brushes tend to work better at lathering large areas more quickly (think legs or skull), while smaller ones offer more control. Brush sizes cover a very wide range but I think its safe to say that the average loft is about 50 millimeters and the average knot is about 22 millimeters.
Brush size and shape are a little more ambiguous. The tips of the loft can be shaped into a fan-like shape (some are essentially flat) or into a bulb-like shape. Each style has its advocates but there’s no real agreement about it.
Shaving Brush Handles
Handle material, size, and shape is yet another personal preference.
In the absence of knowing what you want I suggest measuring the distance from the palm of your hand to the pad of your thumb and let that measurement be the maximum length of the handle.
How To Use A Shaving Brush
Here is your best opportunity to enjoy your shave. It takes (a little) longer to make a lather but it is worth the trouble.
NOTE: The first few times you use an animal hair shave brush (particularly the less expensive ones) you may notice a not-particularly-pleasant wet animal smell–often referred to by shaving aficionados as “the funk.” This is normal and should go away after a week or so of use. You may be able to knock it down more quickly by thoroughly washing the brush hair with pet shampoo, rinsing thoroughly, and letting it dry completely. Repeat if necessary.
The Lathering Process
There are some variations on how to make a good lather with different products, and it can take a little practice to get right, but the payoff can be a dramatically better shave. There are two general schools of thought on making traditional shaving lather, differentiated mostly on how water is integrated into the mix. The classic (sometimes called “frugal”) method of lather-making starts with minimal water on the brush, adding water until you get the lather consistency you are seeking.
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. You may need to set some time aside time to experiment as you learn the “art” of lather-making. Don’t worry–once you get the hang of it you can cut that time way down.
The type of brush you are using can make a difference. Here is an example of lathering with different brushes:
Making shaving lather the “classic” way starts with soaking both the brush and the cream or soap in water (if you’re using a synthetic material brush you can just swish it in the water, you don’t have to soak it. Though soaking should let it retain heat longer). Here is a video on YouTube that may help show the process:
An alternative to the “classic” way of making lather is a method I call “perfect” lather. After soaking grab the brush by its handle, hold it inverted with one hand (hair down, handle up) and with your other hand circle the hair with your thumb and forefinger like you’re signaling “that’s perfect,” and gently give it a squeeze.
If You Are Having Trouble
It’s safe to say everyone has experienced trouble making traditional shaving lather at one time or another. Here are four shortcuts to making a better, more stable lather, more quickly.
Priming the brush with a shaving soap then adding shave cream (often called “Superlather”) can be an effective (though perhaps a bit messy) way to get a stable lather. Loading a large, fairly wet shaving brush with shave soap (or even a gentle glycerin-based facial soap) will “trap” water and hold it where it needs to be. Then adding a shaving cream will fully hydrate the lather and also create a really slick cushion to work with.
A trick similar to “Superlather” is “Uberlather.” Uberlather is the process of adding a few drops of pure glycerin to the shaving brush before lathering with cream or soap. The extra glycerin will create a more stable, longer-lasting lather. Glycerin can be found at your local mega-mart, drug store, or large grocery store, usually in either the skin care or first aid isle.
Sometimes lather is not very good because your local water has too many minerals or contaminants (e.g. “hard” water). If you have hard water try mixing in some distilled water. Just heat some up (not to boiling!) and pour it into your sink (with the stopper closed, of course).
Another tactic to try for hard water is a tiny amount of Citric acid. It can often be found with the canning supplies at large groceries and mega-marts. Again, you may need to experiment a little with the amount to add but start out with just a tiny bit–just a pinch of citric acid to a whole sink full of water. Using too much citric acid will change the pH of the water and you may not get any lather at all!
After You Are Finished
Most shavers rinse their brush after every use, though there are some who advocate leaving it loaded.
After you’re finished with your shave, rinse the brush thoroughly in warm water, gently “pumping” the water through the brush until it rinses clear.
Then–gently!–squeeze the water out of the brush and wipe it on a dry towel, “fluffing” the hair to break up any hair that might be clumped together.
Do not shake or “flick” the brush vigorously! Doing so may weaken the glue knot holding the hair into the handle over time: one day you may have a hairy projectile flying through the air!
Store your brush in a ventilated area–NOT in a closed cupboard.
A brush stand is useful but not required (unless a manufacturer recommends one).
“How long do shaving brushes last?”
A typical shave brush properly maintained should last for at least five years (and often ten years or more).
There are some variables involved but all but the cheapest shave brushes should last you for several years of regular use. Some of the high-end ones may last a lifetime but most will show a noticeable decline in performance after five-to-ten years.
A Shave Brush Deserves To Be In Your Shaving Kit
In conclusion, a shaving brush is an important tool for a close, comfortable shave. There are many factors to consider when choosing the best brush for your needs, such as hair type, bristle stiffness, and handle length. With so many options available, it can be difficult to know which brush is right for you. Hopefully, this article has provided some guidance in making that decision.
Have I answered all your questions? If not, leave a comment below!
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Over to you. What do you think? Do you have any of these brushes? Any other recommendations? Leave a comment!