What's In My Shaving Cream?
Have you ever wondered what marvelous ingredients are contained in your shaving cream that causes it to foam up so beautifully? Or what gives it that delightful smell? Perhaps you've looked at that bottle of shave soap or gel and wondered, "What's in this?"
The basic ingredients of a shaving cream are:
- Water, obviously. Water is the solvent that dissolves the various ingredients and mixes them together. It's also the matrix that contains the trapped air when the cream foams up, and is used to spread the ingredients evenly across your skin.
- Stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid that lowers the surface tension of the cream and makes it glide over your skin. It's also an emulsifier and stabilizes the lather, thickening the cream and helping the ingredients to absorb into your skin.
- Glycerin or glycerol, which are water retaining ingredients that help to stabilize the foam and increase its density. It helps to give the lather more glide and can protect the outer layers of your skin.
- Sodium/Potassium hydroxides, potent inorganic bases that are used in the soap-making process.
- Triethanolamine or TEA, an organic base that is both a surfactant and emulsifier. It's used to neutralize fatty acid pH and to help the fatty acids in the cream be soluble with the water.
These are some of the typical ingredients you'll find in your shaving creams, though they're also used in other shaving products (such as soap or gel).
However, the truth is that there are other ingredients in your shaving products, some more dangerous than others!
- Triethanolamine, also known as TEA, has been linked to contact dermatitis, and may be both a carcinogen and irritant.
- Propylene glycol, often used in place of glycerin, is a humectant commonly used in anti-freeze and brake fluid and may lead to negative skin reactions and irritation.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), along with its counterpart sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), have both been deemed problematic. SLS mimicks the activity of estrogen and can cause cancerous cell mutations, while SLES contains dioxane, a known carcinogen.
- Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum, and thus potentially hazardous to your health.
- Phthalates, common in many beauty products, can interrupt organ and brain function and decrease immunity. They can also lead to obesity and insulin resistance.
- Parfum, also known as synthetic fragrances, is made from up to 3,000 chemicals, many of which have been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, skin irritation, and a plethora of other problems.
And these ingredients are just in your shaving cream! Shave gels and soaps may also contain potentially dangerous ingredients, such as isopentane (a skin and respiratory system irritant), PTFE (a potentially toxic ingredient), and butylated hydroxytoluene (a preservative that is both an irritant and a hormone disruptor).
When using ANY type of beauty product—including shaving products—it's important that you know what's in them. You may be unwittingly exposing yourself to health risks if you're not careful!
Battle of the Shaving Products
Shaving cream is the "go-to" product for men, but is it really the BEST option for shaving? Below, we compare and contrast the various shaving products to determine which will suit your needs best:
Shaving Foam – The aerosol-canned stuff you call shaving cream is really actually "shaving foam", due to the fact that it foams up when you spray it into your hand. Shaving foam is the cheapest of the lot, and the most widely available. It's also the easiest to use and creates a thick, rich lather that is wonderfully easy to apply to your face. You'll find shaving foams are reliable and a no-fuss solution.
However, shaving foams are also most likely to contain hazardous or irritating ingredients, and it can be very "hit or miss" in terms of lather thickness and texture. Though cheaper, they're also more likely to be lower in quality and health benefits for your skin.
Shaving Cream – In this context, the term "cream" refers to a thick, creamy substance that is squirted from a non-aerosol container and must be lathered by hand or using a boar bristle brush before applying to your face. Shaving creams tend to be thicker than shaving foams, with ingredients that can nourish and moisturize the skin. The higher fatty acid content helps to lubricate the skin and increase the glide of the razor over your face. In terms of shave performance, shaving cream has a slight edge over foam.
On the downside, shaving creams can be comedogenic (causing pimples), and they tend to be pricier than shaving foam. You may find many natural and organic shaving creams, but the containers are smaller AND more expensive than shaving foam. You also need the right tools (brush and container) to lather the cream up properly. The natural and organic creams are less likely to form a thick lather than shaving foams.
Shaving Gel – For those who want a shave without all the lather, shaving gels are a good option. The gels tend to be lightweight and easy to apply, and their transparent color makes it easy for you to see what you're doing. The alcohol content of the gels will reduce irritation and prevent infection, leaving your face cleaner after every shave.
On the downside, that alcohol can also be too strong for sensitive skin, leading to irritation and rashes. Shave gels are also the most artificial of the products, and they don't produce the thick lather required for long, coarse, and thick hair. They're ideal for shorter hair and stubble, or for men who shave daily.
Shaving Soap – Shaving soap is true "old school", and it has been around for well over 100 years. Basically, it's a hard soap that you whip up into a lather using a bristle brush, then apply to your face. The benefits of shaving soap include better lather, optimal softening of the facial hair, and better shave performance.
On the downside, they're not as convenient as the other options, as they have to be whipped into a lather with much more effort than even shaving cream. They're also pricier and require the use of a shaving mug and brush. Ultimately, though, they are cheaper in the long run, and deliver a high quality shave.
Five Steps to a Perfect Shave
Shaving is both an art and a science. You have to go through the same routine every time to get it right, but it takes finesse to master the perfect shave. Here is what you need to do:
Step 1: Prepare your face. Start off with a hot shower, or use a moist towel wrapped around your face. Moisture and heat will open your pores and soften the hairs. If you have a thick or coarse beard, use a pre-shave oil to soften the hairs even further. The oil will moisturize your skin, both protecting it from razor burn and encouraging a closer shave.
Step 2: Apply the cream. Or soap, or gel, or foam—whatever you like and works best for you. The idea of these shaving products is to both lubricate your face (preventing razor burn) and softening the hairs even further. Applying the cream with a bristle brush will lift the hairs and make them easier to cut. However, applying it with your hands will suffice.
Step 3: Shave. This is the hardest part, and the one that requires the most precision and time. Make sure your razor is sharp and in good condition, free of rust or stains. Start with your face, then move down to your chin, then neck. Shave with the grain of the hair, never against. Use short, light strokes to shave, moving the razor an inch or two at a time. Rinse the soap or foam off the blade every stroke or two. Pay special attention to the hair on your chin and beneath your jawline.
Step 4: Rinse off. Now that you're done shaving, it's time to rinse your face with cold water. Cold water helps to close your pores and prevents ingrown hairs. As you rinse, check to make sure there are no unshaven patches. Touch up your face, chin, and neck as needed.
Step 5: Put the finishing touches. Dry your face by patting it with a clean towel—NEVER rub, as rubbing will increase friction. Treat any nicks or cuts with salve to help the blood coagulate and reduce infection risk. Use an aftershave lotion to soothe and hydrate your skin.
Five simple steps! Follow them for a perfect shave every time.
Here are a few tips to help you improve your shaving skills:
- Don't rush – Take your time while shaving. Shaving in a hurry leads to nicks, cuts, razor burn, and missed hairs. Prep your skin for the razor, shave slowly, and rinse/treat well.
- Consider a facial cleanser – Facial cleansers can soften the keratin that makes up the strands of hair, making them easier to cut. Avoid any harsh soaps, as they can eliminate the oils that soften your hair.
- Let the shaving product sit – Don't start shaving immediately after applying the cream, soap, or gel. Instead, let it sit on your face for a while, softening the hairs and conditioning your skin. Give it 2-3 minutes to sit before shaving. You'll notice a much smoother, closer shave!
- Use a brush – Whether you use soap, foam, or cream, dermatologists recommend you use a brush to apply the lather. Not only does it help to lift the hair, but it pushes the cream into the hair and makes them easier to cut.
- Pull the skin – If you're working on a tricky part (such as your chin, around your mouth, or behind your jaw), pull the skin tight. It will help the razor glide smoothly, delivering a closer shave.
- Stick with three blades – Razors that offer four or five blades aren't necessarily better. You'll find that a single-bladed razor can do the job just fine. No more than three blades are needed for a good shave.
- Keep them sharp – Dull blades force you to press harder to cut, increasing your risk of skin irritation, razor burn, and nicks. Always use a sharp razor, even if that means switching out cartridges more often.
- Lather before re-shaving – Missed a spot and need to go over it again? Don't shave the same spot twice without re-lathering. Wait until you've finished the rest of your face, rinse, then apply lather to that spot again before shaving. It may be more time-consuming, but it will help to prevent irritation and razor burn.
- Test your creams – Don't be content with the first shaving cream, soap, or gel you buy. Test a few to see which gives you the best lather, hydration, and texture for your shave. It's worth investing more money in good shaving cream!
- Pamper your face – Apply a pre-shave oil before applying the lather to create a DOUBLE layer of protection against razor burn. Finish off the shave with a light moisturizing cream and aftershave lotion that won't sting. Make sure to moisturize your face throughout the day to freshen up your skin. Don't forget the SPF to protect your skin from UV radiation in the sunlight if you're going to go outside immediately after shaving.
- Be cautious of sensitive skin – If you have sensitive skin, make sure to only buy creams, soaps, foams, and gels labeled "For Sensitive Skin". The last thing you want is to deal with red bumps or a rash because your shaving product was too harsh for your skin.