Building Lather with a Shave Brush, a How-To

Building a lather with a shaving brush, water, and shave soap is unique to a classic style of shaving called “wet shaving.” These days, we refer to “wet shaving” as any shaving process that utilizes this method of preparing the skin. A good lather offers many benefits which promote healthy skin and reduce shaving irritation. These benefits include moisturizing the skin and lubricating the skin so that the blade of the straight razor or safety razor may glide gently across the shaving area. Traditionally, this was done with tallow soaps and natural bristle brushes including horse, boar, and badger hair. Improvements in saponification and the invention of synthetic brush fibers have given us more diverse product offerings, but the process--and its benefits--remain more or less the same!

To build a good lather with your shaving brush:

  1. First prep your skin, the brush, and your soap or cream with hot water. This is called “blooming” your soap, and can be done in a mug or a bowl (any mug or bowl will do). After a few minutes, remove excess water from the soap and the brush by squeezing the bristles gently. During a hot shower is a convenient time to tackle all three of these steps at once if efficiency is your bag.

  2. Load your brush with soap using a firm swirling motion. Cream can be applied directly into the bristles.

  3. Start to build a lather on your skin or in a bowl using a swirling motion, as if scrambling eggs. A foamy lather should form pretty quickly (if not, add water a teaspoon at a time). Continue to work the lather until the bubbles are fine and it has a smooth, glossy surface (at least 90 seconds).

When your lather is forming stiff peaks (a term and texture shared with egg whites re: Joy of Cooking et al. Meringue Recipes) and provides good slickness on your skin, you are ready to shave! For first timers, it will feel like you have to swirl your brush longer than seems necessary to create those teeny-tiny bubbles you are after. Keep working and adding small amounts of soap or water until you get it just right. As with many personal practices, finding your own sweet spot in this is the key. Start with building as thick of a lather as you can, your skin will thank you for it!

Pro-Tip: If you are short on time for face prep, work up a lather on your skin and then let it sit for several minutes while you do some other part of your grooming routine, such as stropping your straight razor or brushing your teeth. This gives the hair extra time and moisture to soften, making them dramatically easier to cut and ultimately shaving you time (see what I did there?).

Products used in this demo: Stout "Angel Hair" Fiber Synthetic Shave Brush by Fine Accoutrements, Cedar Eucalyptus Shave Soap by Craftsman Soap Co.