Shaving Soap vs Cream: A Complete Guide

When you decide to make the leap to wet shaving, it can be confusing as to which product you should use to shave with. There are traditional shave soaps and there are creams. There are advantages and disadvantages to each one of these, and it is good to understand about these products when you start your shaving journey.

Each one basically serves the same purpose, which is to make shaving your stubble off better, but it is good to see how they are similar and how they are different. These are essential to achieving a close and comfortable shave, so it is important to have as much knowledge as you can.

Which Is Better?

Shaving cream is easier to use because it does not require a shaving bowl. You can just apply the cream to your face and lather with a brush. A shaving soap has more scent choices, and it will last a lot longer than a cream. These are the main differences.

Shaving creams are typically sold in small tubes, and they are easy to use because you just squeeze some out. Plus, once you put the cap back on, there is no mess. When it comes to ease of use and clean up work, the cream wins hands down.

Shaving soaps are sold in pucks or in plastic tubs. To get a lather out of them you will need to soak them for a bit in warm water to soften them up. After it is soft, you will then need to use a shaving brush to build a lather in the bowl or tub. Once it’s ready, you can apply it to your face and shave.

Comparing that to the cream, that is a little more work. With shaving creams, you just apply a little to your face and then build a nice thick lather with a wet shaving brush.

While the creams are easier to use and more beginner friendly, there are not as many options to choose from. There are some standard brands like Proraso, Cremo, and Taylor Of Old Bond Street, but there are just not many manufacturers of shaving cream.

On the other hand, their are many manufacturers of shaving soaps and this includes artisan brands. Think of artisan shaving soap like craft beers of the beer scene. Because there are so many, this provides countless choices for ingredients and scents. You may find soaps in crazy scents like apple pie and chocolate, but you won’t see a large manufacturer of creams making something like that.

As far as efficacy goes, it will be a personal choice as to which one will give you the best shave. The best thing that you can do is to try several brands of each. This way you can get used to how each one performs, and then you can find out which is the best for you facial hair.

Shaving Soap

shaving brush and straight razor

A shaving soap is a puck of soap, that is designed for shaving.  It is produced in a similar manner as a bath soap but the ingredient profile is different.

The ingredient profile differs from a bath soap because it serves a completely different purpose.  Every single ingredient in a bath soap or shaving soap has a purpose.  For example, a common ingredient in shaving soaps is stearic acid.  Stearic acid helps to make soap harder. One type of soap that is very hard is triple milled shaving soaps.

The ingredient profile is designed to produce a creamy, stable lather, and the lather needs to remain thick and creamy throughout the duration of a shave.

Shaving soaps have been around for a long time.  Williams Mug Shaving Soap has been around since the 1840’s.

Shaving soaps are lathered with a shaving brush.  They can be lathered in the container they come in, or they can be lathered in a shaving soap mug or bowl.

They can be hard like a bath soap or they can be a little softer.  Some shaving soaps are somewhat soft, and you can stick your finger in it to make a dent.

We have of list of the Best Shaving Soaps on the market if you want to take a look at some soaps that will provide you with an outstanding shave.

  • Requires more work
  • Need more hardware (shaving brushes, shaving mugs, bowls, etc.)
  • Better All Natural options
  • Better Natural scent choices
  • More scent choices
  • Produces better lather than aerosol creams/gels and brushless creams

Shaving Cream

Creams serve the same purpose as soaps, but, well, they are creams. These became popular in the 1940’s, and they have had several changes since then.

Traditional shaving creams come in tubes where you can squeeze the cream out, and they can also come in tubs like shaving soaps.

If you can stick your finger in the container and swirl it around, it is a cream.  It will have a similar consistency to yogurt.

These are products that are designed to be used with a shaving brush.

Once you apply a small amount of cream to your wet face, you can take your shaving brush and work the lather into your stubble.  This will provide copious amounts of lather similar to a shaving soap.  There is a difference between a brushless cream and one that requires a brush.

The lather from a quality traditional shaving cream will produce a much better lather than a brushless cream. Proraso is a well known brand of traditional shave cream.  Their cream comes in a tube or you can purchase it in a tub.

These are similar to shaving soaps in that you need some hardware to use them.  Specifically, you will need a shaving brush to help lather up the cream like you would the soap.

  • Inexpensive (aerosol and brush less creams)
  • Better Availability
  • Easier to travel with
  • Lather better in hard water
  • Easier to use
  • More Beginner friendly
  • More synthetics and likely to have more chemicals
  • Can use with shaving brush if desired
  • More expensive per shave (traditional creams)

How Are Ingredients Different

When it comes to ingredients in creams and soaps, there are a lot of differences. Creams usually have more chemical sounding ingredients in them while soaps usually have natural oils and butters. Some examples of these are avocado oil and shea butter.

If you take a look at most any artisan shaving soap whether that is Barrister and Mann, Catie’s Bubbles, or Mike’s Natural Shaving Soap, they are loading with ingredients like tallow, shea butter, and coconut oil. You know, ingredients that you recognize.

If you look a lot of the creams on the market you may see surfactants and foaming agents listed on the label. You will find way more soaps available that have a more natural ingredient list. However, there are global brands that put those chemical surfactants in soaps, but there are so many choices out there where you can easily avoid them. For creams, that is a lot harder.

What Is The Purpose of Shaving Soap And Cream

shave soap in bowl

The general purpose is to aid in wet shaving.  It does this by softening the hairs, it lubricates the skin to help the razor glide better, and it aids in the removal of the natural oils on your face and hair.

Removal of the natural oils helps water penetrate your hair better, which means it will be easier to cut with a razor blade. Soaps and creams also improve the life of razor blade.  A razor will last longer if it can easily cut through hair.

It also provides protection for your face, and it provides slickness to aid in the razor blade cutting through your hair. Each product does the same job, but they both have their own advantages and disadvantages.

What About Shaving Gel

Shaving Gels came to market in the 70’s.  These are basically gels in pressurized cans that turn into shaving foam once it hits the skin. These are very popular, and they line the shelves at every big box store’s grooming section. These are neither soap or cream.

Shaving gel is what most people use when they start using a razor. They are advertised well, they are cheap and easy to get. If you have irritation from shaving, then you should look at wet shaving with real soaps and creams. Many wet shavers prefer not to use gels. Once you invest in a quality safety razor, it’s only natural to use better products to shave your beard.

Alternatives To Soaps And Creams

Aerosol Shaving Foams

In addition to the gels, another beginner product is aerosal foams.

These came to the market around 1950 and shortly after, they became a large portion of all shaving cream sold in the USA.  If you walk down any men’s grooming aisle, you will see tons of aerosol shaving cream cans from multiple brands.

These products use gases like pentane or isobutane as propellants to push the foam out of the can. The performance on these are lacking and when used with a cheap cartridge razor, they can sometimes irritate your skin. If you are comparing shaving creams vs aerosols, then the cream wins every time.

Brushless Shaving Creams

shaving cream tube

This is probably the most common type of cream that you will see in pharmacies and grocery stores.

Cremo is a brand that seems to be filling up shelves at retailers and online. You simply squeeze some cream out of the tube and rub it into your stubble.  Some may require warm water to help activate the lather.

This will provide a thin film of cream over your stubble which will help your razor glide through the hair you are shaving.  It will also provide some cushion or protection.

These are more popular because they can be used by anyone.  You do not need to have a shaving brush to properly use this cream.

While they provide adequate lubrication, they do not produce an abundant amount of lather, as they are not designed for that. While brushless creams are a step above gels and foams, traditional shaving creams vs brushless will win every time.

Summary

As we stated earlier, it is a personal choice on what you choose to shave with. Both shaving creams and soaps are great for a high quality shave. Each will make for a comfortable shave with a good safety razor so you can’t go wrong with either.

You just need to decide what factors are important to you, and you need to evaluate what you are currently using.

If you are perfectly happy using an aerosol shaving gel, and you have no irritation, no razor bumps, you enjoy the scent (if there is any,) like the cost, etc., then you probably are good with continuing to use the same product.

Having said that, how do you know that a brushless shaving cream like Cremo will not give you a much better shave.  Maybe you will enjoy the scent of their Bourbon Shaving Cream, and think “wow, why haven’t I used this before.”  The cost is similar, so you don’t have much to loose.

If you are a guy who likes the finer things in life like expensive suits, nice cigars, a fine scotch, you wear niche colognes, etc.  Does a two dollar can of shaving foam match your lifestyle?

If you are a college student who has no interest in the art of shaving, fragrances, traditional shaving, and none of the benefits of shaving soaps or traditional shaving creams appeal to you, then you may be a perfect match for almost any aerosol shave cream or brushless cream.

If you are just slammed in your personal life, busy with life, kids, family, work, etc., your free time is valuable, and you just want a quick and inexpensive shave, and you get all you need from any canned foam off the counter-Boom, you are set! (Although, I would encourage you to at least try a cream like Cremo.  It is a vast improvement over aerosol foam.)

About James Woods

Hi, I am James Woods, the founder of Beardedblade. I have extensive experience working in the men's grooming industry. I have worked in the beard care and shaving industries, so I have first hand experience working with products in those areas. I also enjoy all things outdoors and topics related to men's lifestyle. I am an avid camper, hiker, biker, and all around outdoor enthusiast.

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