Your First Brush

Synthetic

Period. Wow, that was a short one!

As much as I'd like to leave it at that, I'm sure you want to know why you must buy a synthetic brush first:
  • precise, easy-to-read loading of water and soap
  • accepts abuse, rarely loses a bristle
  • dries fast
  • inexpensive

On the negative side:
  • no tactile sensation or exfoliating effect
  • baleen effect (water dumped from side of brush)

I often get creative with my $6 nylon brush, using it to clean my armpits, or apply a Pepto-Bismol mask. Lather up a regular soap, and you'll have an aerosol-free bowl of scrubbing bubbles for behind the toilet seat. I'd have no problem loaning it out to the kids for painting. The knot fell out once; I glued it back in with regular household cement. It will never die, and it whips up the most refined, wet lather very efficiently. The soft tips can be very effectively focused on the base of your whiskers, too... only, without a certain thrill.

Boar

I finally splurged on the Semogue 620, my one and only "fancy" brush, after three years of lathering. As the winter dragged on, I craved a good scrubbing to help crumble the cheese my face was becoming, and keep chapping at bay. When you itch, it means the skin is being stretched apart inside, as opposed to the burning of external failure. I believe there are subconscious degrees of both, and that a boar brush relieves the stress, like faceturbation. More practically, its firmness retracts follicles to an extent closely matching the blade that follows it.

None of which has anything to do with "hard soap." In fact, I was disappointed to see my best lathers die in the water-absorbent boar knot, where moisturizer-laden formulas succeeded. Luckily I discovered this tip from a 1925 Gillette pamphlet: squeeze lather out without rinsing. Ironically, that seems to disrupt the harmful deposition of soap scum. The brush now dries faster, and only requires rewetting before the next use, rather than prolonged soaking.

  • best skin contact ("backbone," "scritch")
  • inexpensive

  • lengthy break-in to release "funk" and develop the desired split-ends
  • adds a hidden factor to water balance

That hidden water is appreciated by scuttle users and face latherers, though. Beware machine-made boar brushes that fall apart, considered long-term disposable, in sample kits especially. Yet even a $10 boar brush carries prestige that other entry-level products lack.

Badger

The original, definitive shaving brush fiber now lives mainly in gentrified neighborhoods. The way badger bushes out, with lots of internal space, makes it particularly whisk-like. Higher grades are as soft at the tip as synthetic, with decent backbone, too. Badger has it all.

  • best at lathering overall, especially creams in a bowl
  • heat and water retention
  • frou-frou factor

  • budget versions (Pure, Best) are more scratchy than scritchy
  • reeks of wet dog and economic injustice

Sorting badger hair by hand is obviously a labor-intensive enterprise. But the direct-from-China prices are nowhere near what European brands demand. And, a dyed goat and horsehair brush is sometimes pawned as "[a] badger" (article intentionally omitted) in the sub-$10 price range. Yet another marketing disaster for the novice shaver to sort out, and frankly, I don't think it's worth the bother, given today's advanced synthetics. If only some artisan would offer an American-made skunk or woodchuck brush, we could all enjoy a good laugh at the expense of the rich folk!

Horse

I've probably never actually owned one of these, since the No. 6 from Bestshave.net is believed to be a boar brush, by most accounts. Oh, wait: who cares? The googlearchy has been wrong about everything else! Horsehair offers a compromise in the qualities of all of the above.

  • easy lather
  • moderate scritch and backbone
  • moderately inexpensive

  • can be floppy
  • sometimes tangles, requiring combing
  • may have an odor

For what it's worth, the No. 6 was easily the worst-smelling brush I've ever encountered. Like burning tires, it was. I believe this was attributable to the glue more than the animal. With the odor reappearing intermittently following chemical cleaning methods, I ultimately replaced it with an Omega 10049 for more than twice the money (i.e., $8). Immediately thereafter, of course, someone posted this, which I synthesized with this, allowing me to save the brush.

To de-funk a lather eating boar brush

  1. soak bristles right up to the knot in cold water 3 days, ideally avoiding wood handle
  2. wash with dish soap, penetrating voids near knot
  3. rinse
  4. lather shaving soap, filling brush completely, and allow to air dry (days if necessary)