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The Highland Soap Co. Natural Shaving Soap

PRICE: This soap retails for 6.50 GBP a puck, and with shipping set me back a toal of 9.00 GBP. Pricewise there is little difference between this puck and a refill from any of the 3T's or DR Harris. That being said, you get a generous 175g of shaving soap, which comes in a sturdy hard plastic container with a metal lid which is much nicer than what you get from a lot of cottage industry soapmakers.
Also, if you look at the ingredients list, there are a lot of quality, skin care ingredients in this soap and it is generously scented with essential oils.
Not being a triple-milled soap, it is also somewhat soft and I had worn a noticable divot in the centre of the soap the first few times that I lathered up with this. As mentioned, you get 175g so the lifespan shouldn't be too big an issue, but it will wear down quite quickly.
Overall, it is not too bad, but you will get a better shave from triple-milled soap for roughly the same price.
QUALITY: As noted above, this soap comes in a nice container and is full of quality ingredients. Also, the puck comes wrapped with a tartan ribbon, which although merely decorative, is the kind of added extra which makes a difference. The inclusion of Olive Oil in the recipe however, means that the quality of the lather and the overall shave quality aren't as good as other alternatives that are out there.
SCENT: While the true kings of scent intensity, Castle Forbes and QED, won't lose any sleep worrying about this soap, it has a stronger scent than many other soaps out there, and it is 100% EO based.
The soap utilises a blend of Lavender and Patchouli. The Lavender has a definite minty aroma, a sign of the quality of the base materials and something which isn't always apparent when lower quality ingredients have been used. The balsamic, herbaceous note of the Lavender is complemented perfectly by the earthy tone of the Patchouli and you can tell that some thought has gone into the blend because neither scentis overshadowed by the other.
One thing I have noticed about this soap is that the scent has a tendency to stay on the skin for a long time. Normally when I have finished shaving, the scent of the soap du jour is gone almost immediately, but with the Highland Soap Co. product the scent lingers on my skin most of the day, and I often catch reminders of it. It's not overpowering, but it is perfect for layering with fragrances containing lavender.
Lavender is a funny ingredient, many companies retailing Lavender products market it as being suitable for sensitive skin, whereas those with sensitive skin often have real problems with it. I have skin that has shown sensitivity to a number of ingredients, but never Lavender, however, with this soap I noticed a light burning sensation with my first use. It has subsided since, but if a don't rinse the remainder of the soap off after each pass, it can leave my skin feeling somewhat tight.
LATHER: Oh dear, this is where the soap really falls down. The culprit? Olive Oil. It is the main ingredient in this soap, and while this product is head and shoulders above the majority of Olive Oil soaps out there, it does have a detrimental effect on the quality of the shave.
Olive Oil is known for three things, great skincare (which we'll come to later,) producing incredibly slick lather and producing lather that vanishes about half a second after you've applied it to your face. The first time I used this soap, I loaded up my badger brush and no sooner had the lather hit my face than I heard the dreaded fizzle of doom and watched as the lather promptly vanished from my face.
I won't bore everyone with a rundown of everything I tried, suffice to say I went though a huge number of brushes, lathering techniques and soap/water ratios in an attempt to get a working lather from this soap. I eventually settled on a combination of a cheap boar brush (the fact that it absorbs less water than a badger brush is the key,) and using Reverse-Osmosis water to soak my brush (being a 100% natural soap this doesn't contain any surfactants so water quality has a big impact on the lather.) If I lather on a dry face I then get lather which should just about last for the pass; but I do have to reload the brush before each pass and it is a race against time to finish before the lather has evaporated.
Olive Oil does make an incredibly slippery lather, so the shave is often better than the thin lather would have you believe. The Highland Soap Co. Shaving Soap cuts a lot closer than many, but because of the lubricity it doesn't leave your skin feeling raw.
EFFICACY: As per the reasons listed under lather, the soap scores higher than you would think. That's because the lather doesn't shave as badly as one would expect from it's consistency. The end result is a very smooth shave, without any razor burn. It doesn't come close to thick mountains of tallowey goodness you'd get froma traditional, triple-milled Tallow based soap, but in and of itself it works, and it works surprsingly well.
MOISTURIZING: Skincare is the area where Olive Oil soaps really excel, and this soap would have rated a 10 were it not for the slight irritation I get from the Lavender EO that I already mentioned.
The ingredients list for the soap is as follows:
Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, organic Palm Oil, Zea Mays Corn Oil, Aqua, unrefined Shea Butter, unrefined Cocoa Butter, Castor Oil, Lavender EO and Patchouli EO.
As you can see the soap contains a lot of moisturizing, skin-friendly ingredients.
My skin feels noticably softer after the shave, and in the time I have been testing this soap I have noticed that my skin has improved considerably. It looks brighter and clearer than before and nothing else in my skincare routine has changed, so I think I can attribute this to this particular shaving soap.
MANUFACTURER: The soap came the day after I ordered it, with a friendly note and, as already mentioned, wrapped with a tartan ribbon. I never had any problems or complaints with the actual order, so I didn't have any contact with a real person, but the order was handled quickly and efficiently and I will try some of their other products in the future based on the level of service.

In summary, I really wanted to like this soap; It would have been nice to have a British soapmaker whose products were able to compete with what the rest of the world has to offer, but unfortunately this soap isn't it. It is less than the sum of it's parts and consequently I wouldn't recommend it based on it's merits alone. If you have other Olive Oil soaps and like the skincare and lubrication they provide then this soap may be worth trying. It is a lot better than many other Olive Oil soaps. The quality is definitely there, but Olive Oil is a limiting factor. I was determined not to be beaten by this soap and spent an inordinate amount of time experimenting with it, and whilst my end results saw my estimation of the soap grow, many people won't want to spend so much time learning the ropes with this soap when there are many others that they could try and enjoy immediately.
I enjoy it for the skin care benefits, but I doubt I will restock when this one runs out.
The discussion thread for this review can be found here http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showthread.php?t=68760
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