The Lather Code

Like students' breakfast, the morning shave ought to be appealing, healthy, and conducive to learning. The masters know that simple shaving soap is an important part of a moisture-balanced skin care regimen. But if you scrape and injure your face due to under-hydration, during the critical early learning period, all may be for nought.

Moisturizers in the lather are thus a double-edged sword. They make the skin softer, minimizing consequences of beginners' inevitable mistakes with the razor. Unfortunately, they also diminish the skin's integrity, and allow lathering with less than optimal water content.

Bad habits can last a lifetime. But my utmost concern, as the leader of this school, is that you not grow to become degenerate beard wearers or self-mutilators. (Or, learning too late, miserable pedants.) I therefore present this development path for soap acquisition.

Freshman Cream


It is easier to find C. O. Bigelow at the mall than Williams at the drugstore. Also safer, to a beginner. Choose Kiss My Face moisture shave (from the co-op), and you will quickly have an opportunity to advance two grades, saving considerable educational expense. Barbasol works with DE razors, too; but make sure it gets as wet as real lather.

Sophomore Soap


Most students actually enter with this class, using the widely available Van der Hagen soaps, half composed of the petrochemical moisturizer propylene glycol. The well-to-do may begin with an artisanal soap, typically overloaded with glycerin. This byproduct of soap making would be largely removed by a soap factory, leaving... the soap. But here, it allows extra oil to be included, because water cannot be driven away from the hygroscopic substance. Such soaps are little better for your skin than creams, but give a solid enough foundation to begin learning proper brush work.

Junior Croap


Melt VDH Deluxe (better "Select," if you can find it) in the microwave (carefully, 20-30 seconds for the 2.5 oz puck), and stir in an equal volume of KMF. We acknowledge these latherers' progress toward maturity, as the mix of moisturizers is more tolerable to skin.

The less nimble may choose similarly margarine commercial offerings. Nearly all artisans nowadays are trying to mix the categories in formulation. When the first ingredient of a soap is listed as stearic acid, it may be just as accurate to call it a hard cream. While stearic acid is certainly a product of saponification, it is also available refined, as a bulk cosmetic ingredient. (Real "traditional.") The good news, there, is that glycerin is reduced from the start, because none is produced from the reaction of this ingredient with lye... which is properly called "neutralization."

Jojoba oil is another interesting ingredient, because its monoesters are cleaved to produce alcohols other than glycerin, during saponification. In my opinion, Italian Barber demonstrates the highest potential of artisanal soap with its line for sensitive skin; which is yet, somehow, even less expensive than VDH.

Senior Sticks


Low-glycerin, factory-produced soaps tend to be sold as both shaving sticks and smallish pucks, for relatively much less money than the typical artisans' offerings. Erasmic, Arko, Derby, Palmolive, Tabac, La Toja, Godrej and De Vergulde Hand are like the names of memorialized founders or high-performing athletes, within our hallowed halls. May they never be forgotten, as they allow the most efficient shaving and best skin condition. Hydration -- water -- is the best moisturizer, in experienced hands. Without a bunch of enrichments taking its place in your lather, it really comes to the fore.

In a class by itself is Williams "mug" soap, representing soap in the purest sense. Since Ivory was derived from it, the masking scent of citronella is most familiar and natural to those of us in the U.S. More than a hundred years of competitive marketing have unfortunately rendered it nearly unusable by today's shavers. But trust that it can be done, and the correct technique will come. (Spoiler: it has absolutely nothing to do with using a mug!) If you intend to use only one shaving soap to start, and for the rest of your life, look no further. At any rate, sooner or later, you will have to pass this test to graduate.

School dismissed.

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