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Shaving Soap


Ingredients in shaving preparations

Softening the beard

Since dry beard hair is about as tough to cut as copper wire of the same diameter, a means to soften the hair must be used. Hot water alone will do this to some extent; but, some chemical help is needed. These chemicals can be natural, man-made or a combination.

They are called softeners, moisturizers, or humectants. What they do is bind, hold, combine with, or draw moisture from the air. Some are better suited for use on hair than on skin. Some examples are:


  • Allantoin (Comfrey Root)
  • Aloe-Vera Gel (Liquid pressed from inner leaves)
  • Apricot Extract
  • Castor Oil
  • Grapefruit Leaf Extract
  • Hydrolyzed Whole Wheat Protein
  • Olive Oil
  • Papaya Extract


  • Lactamide MEA
  • Methyl Gluceth-10
  • Panthenol
  • Phytantriol
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Retinyl Palmitate
  • Sodium PCA

Conditioning and protecting the skin

Shaving will irritate and damage the skin. So it must be protected, conditioned, and lubricated. Some of the chemicals that soften the beard hair can also be used for the skin. Some examples are-


  • Aloe-Vera oil & gel
  • Apricot Kernel Oil
  • Borage Oil
  • Carrot Oil
  • Fractioned Coconut Oil
  • Jojoba
  • Kukui Nut Oil
  • Rice Bran Oil
  • Rosehip Seed Oil


  • C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate
  • Caprylic Triglycerides
  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Dimethicone
  • Glycereth-26
  • Methyl Gluceth-10


Any shaving product with oils and conditioners will provide some lubrication. There is one material, Bentonite Clay, that is a superior lubricant. It can be used in all types of shaving products; however, it does have a problem. When used in a quantity to be effective it imparts a ‘pond scum’ green color. Small price to pay for a good shave.

Types of Shaving Products

O my, so many to chose from. Soap, Oils, creams, lotions, and stuff in cans. For the most part, all choices except soaps will be formulated from mainly man-made ingredients. This is not necessarily bad, just a cheaper, less effective product. Most will have water, binders, stabilizers, thickeners and emulsifiers as the main ingredients and are applied to the face without a brush.

If this is the type of product that you wish to use, stay with Poraso or Musgo products. These are the best of the non-brush products.

So what is soap?

Soap is the result of a chemical reaction between an aqueous base solution, usually Sodium Hydroxide, and fats/oils. The fats/oils are composed of fatty acids and glycerol. The end result (I spare you all the in between reactions, if interested, E-Mail me) are sodium soaps and glycerin.

If you read the ingredient list of soaps you will find such things as, sodium tallowate, sodium palmate, sodium cocoate etc. What this indicates is that the fats used to produce the soap were tallow, palm oil, and coconut oil. Unless the manufacturer makes a claim about the soap that it does something other than clean. If said to moisturize, condition or something else, then it must be labeled by Food & Drug Administration Cosmetic rules and list raw base ingredients, not end reaction ingredients. Not surprisingly, manufacturers don’t want to list Sodium Hydroxide so they don’t make claims. To be effective as a shaving soap, a product should have a high percentage of castor & olive oils. By themselves they would produce a very soft soap. So coconut and/or palm oils are also used for lather stability and hardness.

Buy it or make it?

If you want to buy your shaving soap, try some web searches using ‘castor oil’ and ‘shaving soap’ as the search phrases. Below are a few links to soap that I have used, and my comments:

  • Annelees: very good soap if you like a Bay Rum scent
  • Heaven Soap: not too bad, a bit drying, could use more castor oil
  • Spuddie: good soap

If you want to make your own, there are four choices.

Buy a melt & pour base

This is the easiest. All you do is melt it in a double boiler and pour into a mold or mug. Many bases to choose from. A very good olive/castor oil base can be obtained from Brambleberry Just remember to get a base rich in castor oil and buy some bentonite clay to add. One tablespoon per pound. Also, adding a tablespoon of castor oil per pound is helpful.

Buy rebatching soap

This is a soap shred that can be melted in a plastic food bag in hot water, and then put into a mold. Two of the best are the Hemp and the Goat’s Milk Rebatch Bases from Brambleberry

Cold process soap

You make this by combining an oil/fat mix with an aqueous sodium hydroxide mixture at low (usually not more than 110F) temperature. Stirring and mixing then pouring into molds.

Complete control over the ingredients and characteristics of the soap.
Working with hazardous material and waiting up to two months for the soap to completely react and cure.

Hot Process soap

Similar to cold process except the temperature is higher. Requires holding the mixture at high temp while stirring/mixing for perhaps several hours.

Same as cold process except soap is completely cured & reacted in a day or two.
Working with hazardous material at high temperature.

For options 1 & 2, much info is available online. For options 3 & 4, buy some books.


You can be using the finest shaving soap, but if you have a poor brush you will not get a decent lather. For more information, see Brushes.

Developing a good lather

This will vary quite a bit depending on your soap, brush and water hardness. For more information, see Making basic soap lather.

After the shave

For aftershaves, see Aftershave.


Originally authored by Bill (bshank66).

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