Friday, June 15, 2012
Most men shave all or parts of their faces, and the more enjoyable way to shave is the process of wet shaving. In addition to the usual assortment of balms, pre-shaves, milks and aftershaves, proper wet shaving of course requires lather, which is nothing more than the aeration/hydration of a shaving cream or hard soap (and here we ignore gels and other inventions which attempt to do the same thing, usually to the detriment of the experience). Lather warms, lubricates and protects the face during the shave, allowing the razor to glide across the skin's surface without skipping or catching. It also enhances the shaving experience with a pleasant aroma.
Shaving soaps preceded shaving creams. They last much longer than an equivalent amount of cream, making them considerably more economical, but are also a bit more difficult and definitely more time consuming to use as a lather must be built from them using a shaving brush and water. That said, a soap lather tends to be slightly slicker than one made from cream, helping the razor in its progress and in some opinions providing a slightly closer shave.
Shaving creams are essentially soaps that have been emulsified with the addition of water (the reality is more complicated but hardly worthy of description). In other words, a cream is a lather already built, so to speak, and that convenience is what the user is paying a not inconsiderable additional amount for. Creams are especially useful for newcomers to wet shaving who may initially struggle to build a proper lather with a soap, and produce a consistently, ahem, creamy lather if one that may not be quite as slick (a property that is of course completely unnoticeable to a cream-only user).
By the way, no discussion of lather-making products would be complete without the mention of soap sticks, which are soaps designed for application directly to the face. Soap sticks are considerably more convenient for travel than either soap pucks or creams, and the principal price one pays is that they are applied at room temperature instead of being pre-warmed, which removes a great deal of the pleasure from the wet shaving process. And it should be a pleasure, for men have spent hundreds of years learning how to accomplish an unnatural task as enjoyably as possible.