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Can Great Lather be Generated from Any Reasonable Quality Shaving Soap or Cream?

At their core most shaving soaps and creams consist of saponified fatty acids. Can any reasonable quality shaving soap or cream generate great lather with the right technique?

Over the past two years I've added a number of good commercial shaving soaps and creams to my rotation. This rotation includes soaps such as Mitchell's Wool Fat (tallow), Arko, Williams, Cyril R. Salter, D.R. Harris, Tabac (new formula), Razorock What-the-Puck, Van Der Hagen, TFS, custom blends and Razorock soft Italian soaps. Creams include Cyril R. Salter and LEA. The above include both tallow and vegan based products. These products use ingredients that work well for shaving including fatty acids such as tallow or stearic acid, potassium hydroxide for saponification (provides more stable lather, glycerin for slickness and lanolin for post shave feel. Note Van Der Hagen uses surfactants to help generate lather.

Price points range from a dollar or two for Williams and Arko to soaps like Mitchell's Wool Fat and D.R. Harris that can range up to $20 per puck.

In the areas related to core shaving performance, that I define as lathering ease, slickness and lather stability, I've found that the right technique can generate great lather from any of these soaps and creams. With each of these products the key seems to be loading the right amount of produce and achieving the ideal soap to water ratio (nothing new here, this has been covered in many B&B posts). I've been able to achieve this by adjusting my technique by product type as follows:

  • Hard Pucks: Load directly on the puck for at least 45 or so seconds while building pro-lather at the same time. Extra time and use of a stiffer boar brush for my hardest soaps such as Williams. Process enabled with containers or apothecary mugs with plenty of extra vertical capacity above the puck. Finish with face lathering. The key is to put in the effort needed to load enough soap. Note that face lathering is my preference, one could easily finish with bowl lathering if preferred. Wetter/slicker lather tends to work best with these soaps.

  • Soft Italian Soaps:Scoop the desired amount of soap out and press into a lathering bowl. Build lather, adding small amounts of water repeatedly until the desired consistency is achieved. I've found that when loading my brush directly from the container I often did not load enough product resulting in weak lather. By scooping one can ensure that enough soap is loaded. The key with these (all TFS/Razorock products ) soaps is to use plenty of product. With enough product I always get great lather. Another advantage of scooping is to avoid contaminating the soap. Per B&B posts these softer soaps have a greater tendency to go bad over time than hard pucks. While soft enough to scoop these soaps are not soft enough to apply directly to the face.

  • Shaving Creams: Scoop or squeeze from the tube and spread the desired amount of cream on my face and then face lather. Interestingly for the two brands of cream I use, LEA and Cyril R. Salter, I've found that a denser lather works best in the core shaving performance areas. I scoop plenty of product and start with a dryer brush adding small amounts of water until I hit the right consistency. Note that scooping is a personal preference as creams are soft enough that one can likely ensure enough product is loaded directly onto the brush for products that come in tubs.

The bottom line is that I've yet to acquire a quality commercial shaving soap or cream that I could not get to work well with the right technique.

A corollary of this is that some B&Bers only prefer to use a specific lathering technique and will rule out products that don't work with the desired method. Fully respect this. For example, one former member would only use softer, mostly artisan, soaps that could be loaded in 10 -15 seconds due to arthritis.

Note that this question is for shaving soaps and creams with the right quality ingredients for good lather, not dollar store products that are really bath soap that has just been labeled as a shaving product. Of course there are benefits beyond core shaving performance such as post shave feel, scent, container artwork, etc. that one may prefer. Also some B&Bers have water quality issues that affect shaving product performance and others have found experienced irritation from some shaving soap ingredients such as lanolin, citrus or those for other scents.

Barring water quality or irritation issues have you been able to adjust your technique to get almost any shaving soap or cream to work for you? If not is this due to a preference for a specific lathering method that only works with some shaving soaps and creams?
 
My experience is similar but the way I would phrase it is I can get good enough lather to have a good shave from any reasonable quality soap or cream — and that's including soaps not marketed for shaving per se. But there's definitely some soaps and creams I enjoy more than others, and I'm not sure I could work any soap or cream into an equally great lather, at least for me.
 

EclipseRedRing

I smell like a Christmas pudding
I have yet to try a soap, including several hand soaps, or creams, canned foam, gel etc, at any price point, with which I could not get an acceptable shave. In the absence of shave soap I can get a perfectly good shave using hair conditioner, shampoo, dish washing liquid, or just plain water. It may not be as enjoyable as my regular soap, and I would not want to do it on an ongoing basis, but it can be made to work if necessary.
 
Geo F Trumper hard pucks had a reformulation several years back. The lather feels like washing up liquid foam and disappears off the face within seconds. I tried making it work, but threw it in the end. No other soap ever gave me this much trouble, even ones that cost 5 times less.
 
The bottom line is that I've yet to acquire a quality commercial shaving soap or cream that I could not get to work well with the right technique.

Almost. I was getting good lather from Williams, Mitchell's, Arko, etc. long before I was told that wasn't possible. Oh, well...

The only ones that stymied me were Scalpmaster and Lightfoot's. Even bath soaps like Dial and Dove worked well. I do have my favorites (WMS, MWF, Dr. Jon's, Haslinger's, Stirling, B&M), but like @EclipseRedRing I can make-do with almost anything.
 
Geo F Trumper hard pucks had a reformulation several years back. The lather feels like washing up liquid foam and disappears off the face within seconds. I tried making it work, but threw it in the end. No other soap ever gave me this much trouble, even ones that cost 5 times less.
I had a similar experience with a hard puck of their Extract of Limes. The lather was really foamy and it dissipated quickly. However, it was exceptionally slick! I strongly suspect that their hard pucks require a rather stiff brush and the load time is probably twice as long as I would employ on a puck of TOBS Sandalwood (circa 60 seconds).

Tempted to try it again though but then I am a glutton for punishment....
 
With amendment of one's technique most soaps should work well. Proraso Green for example is a humble soap, yet I get fantastic lathers with it. On the other hand I have used artisan stuff that I've struggled to dial in...
 
I too use many different soaps and rarely have an issue. Although I will say that I have never had a great shave with soaps from Shannon's Soap. More water, less water....same result with a non slick shave, even to the point of the razor skipping
Shannon's lists good quality ingredients so this could just be YMMV. That said this sounds similar to my initial experience with TFS Ciotola Rosa "Red Bowl". Turned out the issue was that with brush loading directly from the original tub I never pulled enough product. Solved the problem by scooping out plenty of product and bowl lathering. Started by scooping lots more product than actually needed and dialing in from there.

Recommend you try bowl lathering or if you already use that method scoop out 2-3x of product compared to what you have used in the past and just add small amounts of water until all the product is converted to lather. Per others reviews Shannon's soap appears to be soft enough to be easily scooped. You can dial down the amount of soap on future shaves until you hit the ideal quantity.

My biggest surprise learning since expanding my rotation over the past two years has been that the ideal lather texture varies across the different soaps and creams.
 
I have yet to try a soap, including several hand soaps, or creams, canned foam, gel etc, at any price point, with which I could not get an acceptable shave. In the absence of shave soap I can get a perfectly good shave using hair conditioner, shampoo, dish washing liquid, or just plain water. It may not be as enjoyable as my regular soap, and I would not want to do it on an ongoing basis, but it can be made to work if necessary.
Hi, this is a great corollary to the premise of my initial post on this thread. Even if a product doesn't have the ingredients or formulation needed for a great shave it can almost always be used to deliver an acceptable shave.
 
Geo F Trumper hard pucks had a reformulation several years back. The lather feels like washing up liquid foam and disappears off the face within seconds. I tried making it work, but threw it in the end. No other soap ever gave me this much trouble, even ones that cost 5 times less.
Many here have had similar issue with Geo F Trumper hard pucks.

Part of the OP premise above is that the soap would have "the right quality ingredients". Per some earlier posts (link to thread below) the latest formulation of this soap appears to be missing ingredients, such as saponification with potassium hydroxide, that typically enable more stable lather.

If you still have the puck there were some suggestion in this thread on how to get usable lather from it.


Geo F Trumper Thread Link:
 
Almost. I was getting good lather from Williams, Mitchell's, Arko, etc. long before I was told that wasn't possible. Oh, well...

The only ones that stymied me were Scalpmaster and Lightfoot's. Even bath soaps like Dial and Dove worked well. I do have my favorites (WMS, MWF, Dr. Jon's, Haslinger's, Stirling, B&M), but like @EclipseRedRing I can make-do with almost anything.
Scalpmaster is another example of a shaving soap that does not have the right ingredients for a stable lather. It's missing saponification with potassium hydroxide that enables more stable lather. Ingredients include : Sodium Palmate, Sodium Cocoate, Aqua, Parfum, Glycerin, Sodium Chloride, Titanium Dioxide, Tetrasadium EDTA, Etidronic Acid. There is an old B&B thread that talks about this linked below.

Basically this is appears to be a bath soap labeled as a shaving soap.

Similar for Lightfoot's Shaving soap. Its ingredients include: Sodium cocoate, water, glycerin, dwarf pine oil, penta sodium pentatate, tetrasodium editronate, natural color and fragrance. Note that Lightfoot's appears to be well regarded as a bath and body bar.


Scalpmaster Thread from 2017:
 

nemo

Lunatic Fringe
Staff member
No, not all. I've got a couple true duds. One is a Trumper I can't toss as the scent is fantastic.
I can lather any soap.
Well, I thought I could. Not this reformulation, maybe a 2013.
This one will lather, sure, but by the time you put down the brush and pick up the razor ... poof, it's gone.
I occasionally break it out whenever I get the latest and greatest new brush. No dice, as always.

Then there was that cowboy garbage from Whole Foods, a black box if I remember. It was binned.
 
The only time I've had even the slightest problem is when away from home and the available water is really "hard." Other than that, it's all good
 
No, not all. I've got a couple true duds. One is a Trumper I can't toss as the scent is fantastic.
I can lather any soap.
Well, I thought I could. Not this reformulation, maybe a 2013.
This one will lather, sure, but by the time you put down the brush and pick up the razor ... poof, it's gone.
I occasionally break it out whenever I get the latest and greatest new brush. No dice, as always.

Then there was that cowboy garbage from Whole Foods, a black box if I remember. It was binned.
Would those not meet the definition of “reasonable quality”?
 
Part of the OP premise above is that the soap would have "the right quality ingredients".
I saw that part (and I'll be honest, it almost made me delete my whole post and replace it with a "Yes."), but it sounded almost rhetorical and I wasn't really sure what kind of an answer you were expecting to get, to that specific point. If you assume the technique is on point, and all the ingredients are "the right quality"... then why wouldn't it work well? :confused1
 
Yes, they don't meet my definition although the salesperson inside Trumper's may not agree and insist it's high quality. :001_rolle
Hi Nemo, See my post #12 above specifically on Geo F Trumper hard pucks in response to a post from @Hornace . My OP premise was in regard to shaving soaps with "the right quality ingredients". As others here have noted the current Trumper formulation appears to be missing ingredients, such as saponification with potassium hydroxide, that typically enable more stable lather. Whether or not the ingredients are of high quality they are not the "right" ones.
 
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