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The lather conundrum; too dry first pass, dissipates second pass.

Hi all, long time lurker (well since I got into DE shaving last November), however I have arrived at a point where I'm not making the progress I should, and probably need some advice.

So, as the title states, my main issue is with lather. I originally started with a cheap Edwin Jagger badger brush, TOBS cream and a Merkur 34c, because of me feeling like I have fairly sensitive skin, it took me a while to realise that with that razor, Feather blades worked the best (makes sense with a mild razor), however even with those blades, two passes (WTG then XTG) with the razor wouldn't give me a proper DFS without touch-ups or a third pass, but the only issue was a third pass or touch-ups would have my skin feeling raw and burning and wasn't worth the discomfort. I realised that my lather for the second and subsequent passes were not good enough.

So I decided to get myself a Muhle Rocca Jet brush with the Synthetic Silver Tip and ditch the TOBS for some Stirling soaps. I was originally hesitant on using soaps as they weren't really novice-friendly especially with a lesser quality badger knot and I thought I had really hard water. After trying a sample and doing a quick test lather, I had no problem (or so I thought) and got myself a tub of Deton-8 and Executive Man.

So it turns out, my water actually isn't as hard as I thought it was. According to a report this year from my water supplier, it comes from a mixed source and the Calcium Carbonate content ranges from 91-139 mg/l and Magnesium content of 2-4 mg/l, which I would guess makes my water moderately soft to slightly hard and therefore shouldn't be too much of a detriment to my ability to create a good lather, so it's obviously my technique.

So what I normally do, is scoop out about a almond size dollop, and spread it thin at the base of my ridged bowl. I then take my brush out the water (I know synthetics don't need soaking like boar knots), gently squeeze the knot of the excess water, give it a couple shakes and begin swirling the brush in the bowl, trying not to splay the knot too early. Then once I feel the brush drying up and most of the soap has been absorbed and a paste is formed, I then begin adding water, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp at a time, working the brush in clockwise then anti-clockwise and then laterally across the ridges, then adding the same amount of water again, I repeat this process about 3-5 times, splaying the knot a bit more later on once the volume is building. I then begin working the brush on my wet face, finishing it off with a painting motion.

At this stage, the lather in the bowl, brush and my face has a nice sheen, barely any small bubbles and it is very translucent nearly opaque on my face. However, towards the end of the first pass, the lather begins drying on my face. Then weirdly, for the second pass, when I relather, it's very thin and the opaqueness is a lot less (probably because there is barely any stubble for it to cling to), and depending on the blade, the XTG pass is just too irritating on my skin.

My facial hair is weird in that I would say my actual whiskers are thick and coarse in terms of diameter. But the actual density of the hair follicles on my face aren't too dense, (although a bit more dense on my moustache area).

I should also mention that this issue is apparent no matter the prep, if I have a hot bath or not first (I don't have a shower), or if I wash my face with a face scrub that has glycerin as well.

The dry lather on the first pass sounds like I need more water, but the thin second pass sounds like too much water/not enough soap. I had another shave earlier, this time putting in more soap in the bowl (I scooped out a level 1/2 tsp), and while the second pass lather was a bit better, still wasn't good enough and still had drying lather during the first pass. Like when I watch Kevy or Mark Szorady, their second pass lather is better than my first pass lather!

I would also like to avoid loading from the tub or face lathering if possible, just because I'm still living with my parents until I start my new job and I'm conscious about making extra mess, and don't want to be leaving dripping soap tubs around while they dry etc, at least when I do move, I'll be able to have showers again which should improve my prep a bit.

I also feel like my issue with lather is hampering my ability to find the right blade for my Rocca Jet razor as well. A couple blades that were smooth but not efficient enough in the Merkur (Nacet, Shark Super Stainless, Super Chrome) now feel like a broken beer bottle with the Rocca, but I think that is more to do with my sub-par lather rather than the blade now being too aggressive for my skin with the Rocca, as while a bit more aggressive than the 34c it should still be smooth especially with the v4 head. Luckily GSBs are still smooth enough for me with it even with sub-par lather.

Sorry for the essay of a post, I feel like it's one of those where more information would be helpful for you to try help me.
More soap.

So if 1/2 tsp isn't enough, maybe 3/4 or 1 tsp? It feels like even 1/2 feels a bit excessive as a starting point, but then again most people I've watched on Youtube tend to load the brush directly from the soap and makes it easier to gauge the right amount.
I would advise you go on YouTube and find the video of Rod of Sterling Soap lathering his own soap. They have their own channel. It helped me quite a bit.

Ron R

I survived a lathey foreman
Like when I watch Kevy or Mark Szorady, their second pass lather is better than my first pass lather!
Both fellows rinse after each pass so lather works better with a hydrated face when applied with brush on second, third and pickup passes.
Then weirdly, for the second pass, when I relather, it's very thin and the opaqueness is a lot less (probably because there is barely any stubble for it to cling to), and depending on the blade, the XTG pass is just too irritating on my skin.
You might not have enough soap in your lather possibly or try a different soap, some soaps will dissipate regardless or your taking to long with soap on your lathered face possibly.

I would rather have hydrated soap lather then drier soap lather anytime, I rinse my face after each pass to make sure my face is hydrated and my soap when applied works better every time(I do have a water mister if needed, very rarely use it when lather is on the face already, I will dip the tips of a brush usually in water to rejuvenate the lather if needed.) I have seen fellows on Youtube who do not rinse face or moisten face after a pass and their facial skin must take a beating.
The only way to find out is to experiment a little more is what I suggest and you will fine tune your personal procedure on having regular great lathered shaves!
more information would be helpful
More information is always helpful, thank you for being so detailed in your writing. I think you should be able to get the results you want from the tools you’re using, maybe with some changes to technique.

First when it comes to prep, I didn’t see a mention of warm towel—another method to improve the hydration of whiskers for easier cutting. Showers are a helpful shortcut but if that’s not available in your current circumstance, extra attention needs to be paid to preparation.

I echo the suggestions of others to consider loading more soap. I’d rather waste soap and have a comfortable shave, than eek out two dozen more uses from a tub with subpar comfort the entire time.

However I also wonder, after applying the soap to your lather bowl—do you bloom the soap? When I build in the bowl, I spread the soap in a thin layer about 2-3 inches wide across at the bottom of the bowl, and splash some water on the soap and allow it to rest for several minutes. I find this early introduction of water to be critical—the brush picks up more soap, and it more easily and evenly takes further watering when creating lather. It more closely mimics blooming and loading off the bowl/puck.

When building I add water in several steps, probably a teaspoon or less at a time. I agitate the brush with the goal of integrating the water evenly, not trying to build giant suds. After 3 or 4 splashes and stirs, a slick lather is formed without too much bulk. I find bulky, heavy, or super aerated lathers to interfere with bladefeel.

The final piece of the puzzle I see in your writing, is the challenge of this new razor. I also shaved with the 34C for quite some time, and I inadvertently learned some habits that don’t translate to other razors. You may need to refocus on a super super light touch, especially as you refine your lathers. Track your progress and keep us updated, best of luck!


three-tu-tu, three-tu-tu
So if 1/2 tsp isn't enough, maybe 3/4 or 1 tsp? It feels like even 1/2 feels a bit excessive as a starting point, but then again most people I've watched on Youtube tend to load the brush directly from the soap and makes it easier to gauge the right amount.
It sure sounds like you need more soap. I load directly from the puck, but it really doesn't matter how you load, just that you get more soap.

How much more? Soap is pretty cheap, load it like you hate it is a popular slogan. I suggest you try about twice as much as you've been using (and continue with your usual routine from there, needing more water, of course). That should be too much soap, but if it cures your problem you will know two things for certain: you needed more soap and you probably need to experiment to find exactly the right amount for you.
I'm still relatively new to DE shaving given that I'm less than a year into it. I moved from nivea shave cream to TOBS, Stirling, B&M, Catie's Bubbles, and HOM. They are all great soaps. I also bowl lather since I find it easier to get the right consistency and water ratio.

I load the brush directly from the tub, but then build the lather in the bowl. It really isn't that messy at all. I also bloom the soap before loading the brush as it makes it easier to load the brush. for the harder soaps like Stirling, this means I run the water until warm/hot, put a small amount in to just cover the surface of the soap and let it sit. When you're ready to start building the lather, dump the bloom water into your bowl and swirl a damp brush over the soap for a bit. You'll see that it quickly picks up soap and the more you load it, the dryer the brush becomes. From there it's straight forward in lathering in the bowl. Build, add water, build, add water, etc until you get the consistency you want.

I see that others have mentioned a shower and failing that you can use a warm face/wash cloth to help prep your skin for pre-shave prep. Essentially you run the water until its hot, soak the cloth then hold it against your face for a few minutes. You can run it under hot water again when it cools down and repeat a few times. Kind of like you see at the Barber shop. I've also seen people putting a thin layer of soap on their face before the last hot cloth application to let the soap soak into your whiskers. This really emphasized the cooling effect of Stirling Orange Chill the last time I did it. Obviously you'd want your lather built before you start the hot towel process so you can just jump right in afterwards.

Alternatively I had seen people mention cold water shaves. Rather than a hot towel, you splash cold water on your face to tense up your skin and get the whiskers to stand up. Lather and have at 'er. I have sensitive skin and I figured that this would rip me apart. I hesitantly gave it a try and was surprised at how well it worked. Especially given that I was shaving two days in a row, which I usually can't do.

I'll also mention that I tend to wait a few days in between shaves or I'll end up with really bad razor burn, red spots and sting. Especially on my neck. Try giving your skin a break once an awhile as you figure things out.

In terms of making a mess, I tend to get soap and water all over. BUT after I apply witch hazel at the end of the shave and I'm waiting for it to dry, I use the cloth or towel to wipe everything down, including the sink.

One final note, I do get a 'dryer' appearing lather when my facial hair is longer. I guess that it's just soaking up the water so I'll lather up, then run the tip of the brush under a small amount of water and continue to build the lather on my face. I keep doing this until I get the lather I want. And yes, the second lather is always very thin and slick like you described.

What do you use for post shave? Balm? Witch Hazel? Aftershave? Alum Bloc? Cold water splash only?


I shaved a fortune
I have psoriatic arthritis and I use a routine recommended by my dermatologist.... I am not giving medical advice. I suggest a trip to your own dermatologist.

In any event, I use one of the large Lea "deodorant" alum crystals. I leave that one while I clean my brush, rinse it off. Then I use Metro Gel (nickname for Metronidazole, a prescription used for a variety of skin issues), over my whole face. I let that dry then do a whole face application of Hyaluronic acid. After that dries, I use Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream as the final step, also over my whole face.

This sounds like a lot but actually, I'm cleaning up my brush, razors while I'm waiting for the last few applications to dry... making sure the mirror is clean as well as the bathroom vanity top, etc.

I am also new to DE shaving and brush/soap lathering and the one thing I have learned is that you do you, what works for me may not work for you.

Having said that, my experience for comparison is that I started bowl lathering with my cheap synthetic brush and thought I was getting good lather. I was actually over whipping it and getting aerated foam more than lather, the bubbles looked small and it looked okay when I compared it to you tube videos but it wasn't good.

Two things that changed my shaving journey forever where a badger brush PIF from @Chef455, lathering with it instantly changed my lather to smooth and creamy and the brush held the lather that my previous brush was not doing. Please note I am not against synthetic I have not used nearly enough to be able to comment on this, my synthetic does not work for me. The badger I received works beautifully for me.

The second thing was moving from bowl to face lathering, I use a damp but not wet brush to load soap from the container and put it on my face where I worked it and then added water slowly by dipping the tips of the brush in water until the lather was well hydrated. This took some trial and error, some dry lathers and some wet running off my face, but I got a better feel for the lather and its hydration on my face than I was getting in the bowl. Again the badger I now use held the lather well to assist in face lathering.

I now think I have a better feel for the type of lather that works for me on my face and I have been doing trial bowl lathers again, today I did the first bowl lather for a while to shave with and because of the face lathering could tell and feel when the lather was right. I also used some lather as pre prep by doing an initial no shave lather and light rinse to fully hydrate and soap my whiskers before the first lather and shaving pass.

I agree with Mr Shavington as I have used more soap since my early bad lathers and no longer hold back to try to 'save the soap'.

These are my experiences, try some if you want, experiment and enjoy.
More product solves 98% of people's lather issues.

Start face lathering. That will help with lather consistency issues.

Use less water to start, add it slowly if needed. Especially with a synthetic.

I'd take TOBS over most "artisan" soaps. TOBS almost lathers itself. Thick and creamy all day long.
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I'd say that:
1) you're taking generally accepted guidelines as rigid rules
2) it's not hard to take a washcloth and wipe up after yourself
3) face lathering isn't that messy, unless you're a naturally messy person
4) try rubbing the soap directly on your face (until your whole beard is covered with a thin hazy layer of soap) then lathering right there. THAT'S how much soap you need.
hello, I also recently started bowl lathering after having been a face latherer for 14 years. I moved to the bowl to reduce skin irritation from brushing/building lather on my face and as others have mentioned, to more carefully craft the soap to the lather consistency I think is best.

I also rub some of the soap on my face before I build my lather. It's akin to applying a moisturizer to further soften the hair. I'm using Grooming Dept. soaps - so very high in moisturization properties both during and after the shave.

I know my lather is ready to go when it first hits what I call a nano-bubble stage where the lather appears dense, little to no large bubbles and if a dollop is dropped in a pool of water, it'll hold together and not disperse.

I will sometimes add a bit more water to the bowl to ensure it doesn't dry out. I expect I'll have to add more water in the winter since my home's humidity will be lower - be mindful of your environment and how that can affect your lather's moisture retention.
In addition to the fine advise above, this has helped me immensely in getting my lather correct just about every time:

And you can also search on the Marco Method by @Marco - excellent guide as well to good quality lather. @tjsgarden posted an augmented version in our wiki pages.

I mention them as I read you are a bowl lathering like me.


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