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Al’s Shaving Products is proud to offer the highest quality wet shaving products and outstanding customer service. At Al’s Shaving Products, your satisfaction is our main goal. Our mission is simple: to provide the best products and service to our customers at the lowest prices possible. We take great pride in our company, our commitment to customer service and in the products we sell. Our online store is designed to provide you with a safe and secure environment to browse our product catalog. We have created this blog to provide yet another way to provide your feedback about our existing products and answer your questions, comments, requests, etc. We believe that you input is essential for the development of the best shaving products. Please visit our store at: alsshaving.com .

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

About Lathering

I have found that many people use to much soap or cream to build their lather and do not hydrate their lather enough. The issue of how much soap/cream is used is important because if the lather is to have the proper consistency, the ratio between the three, yes, three, components of the lather has to be maintained. I am going to attempt a more detailed explanation of these facts in the following paragraphs.

Wait a minute! I thought there were only two ingredients (water and soap) in lather? Nope, air is an integral part of the lather and it is responsible for most of the cushion.

Lather is, therefore, a ternary system that consists of air, water and soap in that order. Lather has two phases (those that can be "separated"), in this case the air and the "aqueous" phase. The soap "only" provides the means for the phases to be "together" for some period of time. The soaps is known as a "surface active agent" or surfactant. Good so far? It will get easier.

People that study these systems have determined that the surfactant (soap/cream) has to be applied in concentrations between 10 and 15% and this is true for a lot of ternary systems. What this means is that if the concentration of surfactant is doubled, there has to be a concomitant increase the other two components until the correct ratio is satisfied.

Here is how this works:

Lather is a fairly unstable system and its formation is non-spontaneous, which means, that it does not happen by itself. Why? because the natural tendency of the system is to minimize the surface between the phases (phase separation). The best example to illustrate this is vinaigrette. When vinaigrette is shaken, it becomes sort of milky and after awhile, the vinegar and the oil (the phases) separate, at least, for the most part. Lather is more complicated than vinaigrette because the aqueous phase may also be a disperse (one in which there are more than one phase) system in itself. The idea of creating lather is to increase the surface between the air and the aqueous phases and this requires energy, your energy; just like shaking in the vinaigrette example.

How well air can be "mixed" with the aqueous phase (how small you can make your air bubbles trapped, which determines the thickness of the lather, and in turn, the cushion) and how well the lather can stay formed, is directly related to the soap/cream used. Needless to say, that most products work for the most part. Clearly, the amount of soap does not have a major effect on these variables in general, it only affects the amount of lather that you can produce.

The brush, in conjunction with your arm, act as a motor that "mixes" the two phases, rather disperses the air into the aqueous phase. This is very important because it is this process that reduces the size of the little air bubbles as the lather forms and helps the two phases to reach the optimal ratio. Notice that if too much soap is added, the brush becomes ineffective. This will also be affected by the size and geometry of the bowl used, if one is used, of course. When lather is formed directly on the face, this becomes secondary as the surface of the face is often larger. This can be tested by using a large amount (like a spoon full) of soap or cream. It does not matter how much you swirl or how vigorously, you would just simply not get the lather thick or hydrated enough. If  a bucket and a different size of brush (like the size of a broom) were used, then enough water could be added to yield a thick lather. Please do not try this at home! , it will be exhausting too. Not every molecule in the soap/cream contributes to lather formation and this is determined by the formulation of the product, some are more "concentrated" than others. Al's Shaving Cream is a good example of a very concentrated cream.

We covered the soap/cream, the air and how to disperse one phase into the other) but how about the water? The water is very important because the aqueous phase determines a great deal of the glide; it also contributes to beard preparation, especially if the lather is made directly on the face, and the skin conditioning! If the water content of the lather is low, the effectiveness of the lather will be diminished. Also, when a soap/cream is formulated, the manufacturer expects that the user finds the optimal concentration of water for performance; otherwise, some of the chemicals in the product will be at a much higher concentration that they were originally intended to be. This can also have a adverse effect on on the skin and obviously, in the shave.

This is particularly important because most soaps, and particularly glycerin-based soaps, produce very thick lather without being well hydrated: the lather looks "good" without being so. It is very important that the user looks carefully at the lather and evaluate its quality. How? The lather should be shiny on the face, not dull; and you should be able to stretch it, at least 1" without breakage, see the picture. Notice that the hydration of the lather does not necessarily imply a significant increase in volume. This gives the user the impression of it being ready before it really is. The lather should not look or feel like yogurt or too airy either, the latter is fairly easy to identify. The density of the lather comes from the air inside so lather that is too compact will not provide the ideal cushion, think foam rubber here. As mentioned earlier, dry lather does not provide enough slip. Spending a similar amount of time loading the brush as building lather is typically not a good sign, building the lather should take considerably longer in relative terms. Good lather making should reduce the number of passes needed to obtain a close shave and improve beard preparation and skin conditioning.

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Other variables that intervene in lather formation are temperature and the quality of the water. In terms of temperature, usually, the hotter the water the "better" and easier it is to form lather. I am not going to go into the details here. If the water is hard, the composition of the aqueous phase changes and this shifts the normal ratios of the components. In these cases, the amount of soap should be changed accordingly to compensate for this. Water softeners based on ion exchange are not very effective because soaps are insoluble in high concentrations of salts, regardless of which salt. This will affect the hydration, and depending on the formulation of the soap/cream, could also affect its density. This is only a problem in extreme cases.

Happy lathering to all ,



  1. I was always a little confused about what good lather should look like. Knowing that even the wrong ratios will produce a somewhat usable lather, after reading this I know I can expect the best results from a lustrous or shiny mix.
    Glad I dropped by...

  2. I am glad too. Exactly!, since poor variable control (gear, product-water ratio, lathering time, hydration levels, etc.) still produce "usable" lather, we tend to overlook them, which usually leads to poor and inconsistent results. Testing your lather visually and with a few simple tests (like stretching and whether your brush leaves visible track behind) allows you to monitor your lathering technique and adapt it to every products. As you become familiar with a given product, these tests become unnecessary as long as all the variables remain the same.

    Happy lathering,