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Is there REALLY any difference in shaving creams and soaps.

In your post you essentially answered your own question and this certainly falls under the category of YMMV.

For years, if not 2+ decades I used Dr. Bronner's (bar or liquid) with a scrubbing mit to raise a lather directly on the areas I was shaving (head, cheeks, neck): I'm bearded. It was adequate and when I was mindful of how much water I was diluting the soap with worked better for some shaves than others.

As already noted the composition of the soap (balance and type of fats used) will directly effect the overall ability of the soap to lather, cushion/protect and then moisturize post shave.

For me the key concerns are:

- How protective/cushioning is the soap?
- How slick is it?
- What fats are involved?
- Does my skin have a favorable response to using it?

I'm "smell before I buy" being exceptionally sensitive to strong scents, so I lean very heavily away from scented shave soaps. Even subtly scented soaps can be an annoyance. I just started dropping essential oil(s) into my shave bowl and the result was very pleasant. Using EOs I can control the outcome and, most importantly, the quality of the source.
To me, the main difference between shaving soaps boils down to tallow vs veg based. There's a bunch of other outliers, but those are monumental differences. My preference is tallow based. I just get better performance and a better after-the-shave skin smoothness from tallow based soaps.
Yes there is a difference cheap leaves ones skin dry. Yuck. Good moisturizes as it exfoliates.
My favorite is inexpensive imho it's called sheep from a company called sterling.
Fragrance is meh, but that's what moisturizer and body spritz is for
There are HUGE differences between different creams and soaps, but I've noticed the price of most shaving software has very little to do with what comes in the container. What you're mostly paying for is shipping and the name on the label. The first 3 ingredients will tell you most of about what you need to know about a soap's performance.

Almost as significant as the soap is the quality of water used. Use RO or distilled water for your brush soak and when building your lather. It's an extra step, but it's worth it.
I know everyone has their favourite product, but wonder if thers much difference between most of what.
I'm using various mid to high priced soaps and creams and each one I think this is the best! Even humble pamolive which I've used in the past.
I now use products which I feel my skin likes.
Maybe a poor sense of smell helps by making scent nearly not an influence. Just a thought.

To me, there are substantial differences, but differences among the shaving creams and soaps that I have settled on over the years are minor by comparison.

Some shaving creams and soaps do punch way above their weight as far as price and performance is concerned and spending $$$$ (€€€€ for Europeans and ££££ for Brits 😏) is really not necessary.

Palmolive shaving creams and Mogno and Musgo (not Musgo Real) shaving soaps are some of those, and if it’s all the same to you (to me it isn’t) stick to an economical product and enjoy the savings…

While a pleasant scent is agreeable, most of it washes off after the shave and ultimately that’s what an aftershave is for.

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