Shaving Brushes: The Easiest Way to Get the Best Shave of Your Life
by Nathan GareauLast updated: August 30, 2022
As a shave-focused company, we spend an awful lot of time talking about the razor. Single blade razors give an undeniably better shave, whether a safety razor or a straight razor. But did you know that’s only half the battle? The humble shaving brush, an artifact nearly lost to time, is a tool you can master in a matter of days that will upgrade your shave just as much, if not more, than a quality razor!
It’s hard to say precisely why the shaving brush came into being, but given that shaving became very popular among aristocracy in the late 17th and early 18th century during the enlightenment, it’s likely barbers were looking for a way to apply shaving soap and more importantly to make their wealthy patrons more comfortable. As a result, the brush serves two functions: to build a hot, fluffy lather and prepare the skin for shaving.
Shaving brushes and razors go together like peanut butter and jelly!
Back in the day, shaving soap was the only option for shaving lubricant. The bristles of a brush would scrape the top layer of soap, softened by water, then whip it vigorously into a rich, fluffy lather. Nowadays, shaving creams come pre-whipped, making them much easier and quicker for beginners to use. The differences go way deeper than that; check out this short article if you want the whole story. Whichever route you take, your brush will help you get the most out of your product and avoid those nasty canned foams. By using the brush to expand your soap or cream with air and water, you can use far less of your product, saving you a ton of money. A tub of cream lasts me at least six months, and I’ll get a couple of years from a hard shaving soap.
Perhaps more importantly, when used properly, the brush will prepare your hair and skin to be shaved, leading to a much more pleasant experience. Ever dry-shaved in a hurry before work? Not fun. Now imagine the exact opposite of that uncomfortable experience, and you’ve got a good idea of what a shaving brush does. The soap's moisture, combined with the brush's vigorous action, soften up your stubble, making it much more pleasant to drag your blade through. Moreover, the hairs stand up straight in the soap, so your razor can shave them as close as possible. Because they’re facing outwards, it becomes much less likely that the hair will get pushed under the skin and become trapped. No more ingrowns!
Wherever you shave, using a brush will make the experience way better!
As for the skin, the soap and bristles act in concert to gently exfoliate your skin, wiping away unwanted dirt and oils. This leaves your skin clean and less prone to acne and reduces the chance any minor nicks from your razor will get infected. If that weren’t enough, quality shaving creams and soaps provide a slick, protective film that buffers the razor against your skin. When you combine all of these benefits, you get a closer, longer-lasting shave free of razor burn and ingrown hairs. It’s no wonder the French aristocracy demanded these things!
So now that we understand the benefits, which brush should you actually get? Chances are you’ve heard of badger-hair shaving brushes; they’re by far the most common variety and highly valued in the shave-nerd world. While I’m partial to these, there are a few different types that you may want depending on your skin, budget, and ethics.
Badger bristles likely became the standard because they’re stiff yet fine and feature a softer tip than the rest of the hair. This means they scrub and whip lather well but feel great on the skin as they’re not too scratchy. Grey badger tends to be more inexpensive, stiffer, and scratchier. It’s a great entry point for folks getting started on a budget or those with thick hair who want a scratchier brush. I personally prefer Silvertip badger, as these brushes keep the natural tip of the hair, which gives a much softer, gentler feel while still building a beautiful lather and scrubbing nicely without irritating my skin. Because the hairs require manual sorting to line up properly, they tend to cost more, but the expense is worth the incredible luxury these provide.
While some bristles are better than others, shaving with a brush is infinitely better than shaving without one.
For those concerned about the badger’s wellbeing, who tend not to buy leather or meat products, a synthetic badger brush is the way to go. While they’re much softer and provide a lot less scrub, they feel incredible on the skin! They're the way to go if you have lighter hair or super sensitive skin. They’re also the only hypoallergenic option. Because they’re plastic, they don’t require the rigorous drying regime that animal brushes need to last properly. This means they’re excellent for folks who keep their shaving gear in the shower or need a travel brush that can be chucked in a toiletry bag without complaining.
If you’re budget conscious but want a stiffer bristle, give horse hair a try! It’s too scratchy for my sensitive skin, but many folks enjoy the aggressive scrub when shaving their legs. Horse hair is super affordable but may stink a little when it’s new. If it does, just lather your soap, let the bristles dry, then rinse them well. Repeat until the stink is gone! Boar hair is an even stiffer option, so much so that you could clean cast iron pans with them. We don’t carry boar hair because they’re exceedingly scratchy and stinky, but some folks like them.
A famed cocktologist and axe man, Nathan opened the first Kent of Inglewood store in Calgary, and now spends his days writing most of what you are reading here and teaching straight razor shaving classes. Ask him about his world-famous Three Cherry Manhattan. In his spare time Nathan can be found sharpening his axe, making fermented foods, or practicing his amateur butchering hobby. He doesn't slur his words, he speaks in cursive.