It is so common to find comments about poor performance of shaving products that I decided to write a short note about its likely cause. People that experience poor glide and lack of protection must realize that in these situations the culprit is generally the “archer” and not the “arrow”. Water hardness and shaving technique aside, performance problems are often directly linked to lack of hydration. This is a very common occurrence that affects new and experienced users alike and it is likely the result of the popularity of canned shaving creams and the notion, well disseminated across the shaving fora that lather has to be thick.
First, it should be stressed that the proper consistency of traditional lather is very different from that of canned shaving creams and gels. These products can produce very thick but dry lather. Proper lather should have excellent mechanical properties: it should stretch, and bend at will. It should also offer certain mechanical resiliency and once applied to the face, it should be very shinny.
It is true that thick lather can be protective but overly dry lather can induce lower than expected performance that can lead to other problems. Usually, people that shave with lather that is too dry experience the feeling of cutting through concrete when they shave. As a result, they feel compelled to use more pressure than needed and end up causing razor burn, wheepers, chemically induced burns, cuts, etc… Paradoxically, many “inexperienced” users obtain better results with lower performance products because their limitations prevent them from enjoying the benefits of high performance products.
Less known to the neophyte, lather of the proper texture should dissolve when in contact with the blade. This is essential for one of the most important aspects of lather performance: glide! If your lather leaves grooves and lacks shine when applied to your face, it is probably not ready and may not perform well.
The following reasons are some of the most common for making dry lather among users: 1) lack of knowledge of what the proper consistency of lather should be; and 2) fear of obtaining runny lather. The truth is that to a certain extent, lather thickness does not change significantly with hydration. The objective is to reach a desired hydration level without going too far past the peak of the soap. The shine and ability of the lather to stretch are the main determinants to follow. Obviously, if one goes much farther past “the peak” of the soap, there is a risk of making the lather runny.
Typically, product performance and hydration requirements are correlated with higher performance products needing more hydration. The increased lather density and volume offered by high end creams make them more prone to be left dry as they give the inexperienced user the idea that the lather is ready before it really is. In general, the higher the performance of the cream, the more “unusual” product:water ratio it will have. In such products, the active ingredients are found in higher concentration and this gives the illusion of an unusual product:water ratio; this is very evident when using The Bomb. We recommend that people use little water at first to avoid the possibility of obtaining runny lather for going too far past the peak, and adjust the hydration once dense lather has been obtained.
On the end of the spectrum, glycerin-based soaps have a rather low water:soap ratios and the lather cannot be effectively hydrated without significantly reducing its thickness. Glycerin increases water retention in lather hence, increasing thickness but because glycerin does not form lather, higher glycerin content comes at the expense of other lather–forming ingredients and as a result, the performance of glycerin-based soaps is typically lower. For this reason, glycerin soaps are often supplemented with clay to increase the glide.
For great performance, get rid of the grooves and make your lather shinny and let it glide!!!