“DO I NEED A SHAVING BRUSH?”
This is a question we often hear from those new to wet shaving, and we're here to help! The short answer is “yes”. The long answer is “yes, probably”. The main job of a shaving brush is to whip a shaving cream or shaving soap into a thick, cushioning lather that will make your shave a whole lot less scratchy, and a whole lot more glidy. Shaving brushes pull double duty by helping to coax the hairs away from the skin, preparing them for being trimmed by the razor and lessening the need for pre-shave prep work.
Sure, you could spread some shaving cream across your cheeks with just your hands, but you won’t be getting the most of your cream, and your shave will suffer. With great options to suit all budgets, a shaving brush is a must-have item for all wet shavers.
Synthetic bristles are a more recent development that replaces the natural badger hair fibres with nylon fibres. These nylon fibres are produced to closely resemble the finest silver tip badger hair in both appearance and feel, with densely-packed knots and incredibly soft tips.
Synthetic bristles come with a slew of benefits - the most obvious being it’s cruelty free. But one of the best perks is the gentler feel it has on skin, as nylon fibres are quite soft and less abrasive overall - pairing perfectly with sensitive skin or if you’re new to shaving in general.
Synthetic shaving brushes don’t hold quite as much water as a badger brush, but with some slight lathering adjustments, they are able to produce similarly thick lathers. However, because they don’t hold as much water, the brushes dry much quicker. This can come in handy especially if you’re a frequent traveller or somebody who shaves on a daily basis.
As a bonus, synthetic brushes are usually slightly more affordable than a similar silver tip badger hair brush. Due to their synthetic nature, they are much less prone to mould and fraying over time and as such, boasts better long term use and cost-saving measures.
BADGER HAIR BRISTLES
Traditionally, shaving brushes are made from badger hair bristles. Being a natural product, badger hair varies from quite stiff and dark, to very soft and light-coloured. As we covered in our Wet Shaving Basics article, these hairs are graded according to a standard scale which is explained below. As a rule of thumb, Pure Badger brushes are the least expensive, while Silver Tip Badger brushes are the most expensive.
Pure Badger: The lowest grade, these brushes are made from the most common badger fur and are usually dark in colour. They are generally coarser than higher grades and with greater variation between brushes.
Best Badger: Finer and lighter in colour, best badger bristles are packed more densely in the knot and will hold more water than a pure badger brush. The bristles are trimmed to length and provide a coarser feel against the skin than higher grades.
Super Badger: Super badger bristles are specially-graded pure badger bristles that have characteristics more favourable than either pure or best badger bristles. They are not trimmed to length, so do not feel prickly on the skin and easily make a thick lather.
Silver Tip Badger: The finest grade, Silver tip badger bristles are packed very densely and flair out towards the end to give the brush a full and fluffy feel. They feature naturally off-white tips and have excellent water retention to produce a perfect lather. Silver tip bristles are the softest of all badger bristles, and are therefore very gentle against the skin. For this same reason, they are not ideally suited for use with hard shaving soaps.
BOAR HAIR BRISTLES
Although badger hair bristles and synthetic hair bristles are more common in the grooming market, boar hair bristles are still a strong contender.
If you enjoy a deeper scrub or physical exfoliation, you’ll enjoy boar hair bristles as they are more abrasive on the skin. However, if abrasiveness is a concern, fret not as these bristles actually become softer over time when they begin to split (like human hairs) with regular use.
It may not feel as luxurious as badger hair bristles or synthetic bristles, however like its siblings, it still does a good job of exfoliating dead skin and coaxing the hair away from the skin, both of which are essential to achieve the closest shave possible.
We’ve covered the essentials when it comes to choosing which shaving brush might suit you best, but just in case, you may want to consider the following too:
- Knot Size and Loft Height - These are typically shown in millimetres. The knot size is the amount of hair generally packed into the handle. Meanwhile, the loft height is the length of the hair bristles from the top of the handle to the tip of the hair. These likely aren’t defining factors in your decision making - it’s honestly a matter of personal preference - but generally speaking the larger the brush, the easier it is to lather up larger areas if desired.
- Using a shaving bowl - To get the best lather possible, consider pairing your shaving brush with a shaving bowl or mug. While using the palm of your hand is acceptable, lathering a shaving cream or soap into a shaving bowl produces a fluffier lather that feels luxurious when applied, making your shaving routine that much more enjoyable. Not to mention, less mess on your bathroom sink.
Updated May 2020