Welcome to a great and grwoing family

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 .

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Let it glide!!!!!

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!!!


Monday, June 20, 2011

Describing and Designing Scents

Very frequently we are asked: what does the scent of Goodfellas smell like. I have used Goodfellas as an example but the question is the same for all Al’s Shaving Creams. The truth is that it is nearly impossible to answer this question for a number of reasons. I will try to address some of them based on my experience both as a scientist, soaper and  beer judge.  But first I will try to summarize a very complex process in a few lines:

The sense of smell allows the perception of scents and odors in general. A number of specialized ephithelial cells located in the nasal cavity are stimulated by odors and send a signal to the brain. These cells contain proteins called receptors that bind to the odorous molecule and generate an electric signal that is transmitted through the olfactory (for smell) nerve. In the brain, the odor is processed and related to past experiences in the same region that controls emotions and behavior. It is not uncommon to associate smells with places or particular life periods and even with certain behaviors. Also, the olfactory sense does not process individual components. As a result, smells cannot be quantified analytically and are considered a primal response that makes each person’s response unique. In general, olfactory perception gives little information regarding the ingredients of a scent, only providing information related to its emotional impact. Gender, age and other factors contribute to the ability of identifying odors.

Would it be easier to provide a list of the essential oils that we use for each scent? It depends but in general, the answer is no. Essential oils are mixture of odorous molecules which makes them susceptible to the same considerations noted above. We used to provide this information to customers but we abandoned this practice because most people are unfamiliar with the smell of single essential oils. Furthermore, since our scents contain several essential oils, this provided very little information. Since, we have adopted a more operational description of the scents but this is not perfect. We offer the Seven Say Sampler pack to help customers make informed decisions in their purchases. In addition, we offer Custom Scents that allow customers to design their own scents.

A note on Custom Scents: Often, we receive requests like this: “I love the smell of product X, could you recreate this scent for me?”. In addition to the intrinsic difficulties discussed above, these requests also imply previous knowledge of the scent in question on my part and certain alignment or similarity between the perception of the customer and my own. In some cases, I am able to recreate scents for the customers based on type of statements but not always. A much better way of designing your own scent is by providing me with information about the essential oils that you would like to have in your scent. For instance: “I would like to create a scent that has lavender, tea tree and bitter almond”. This information greatly simplifies the process and allows me to make useful recommendations. Please remember that I am committed to your satisfaction. Have you designed your Custom Scent yet?


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 ,


A Note on Ingredients

No doubt that the quality and safety of a shaving product is determined by the ingredients used. It is the responsibility of the manufacturers to use safe ingredients to manufacture their products. To this end, Al's Shaving products uses only the highest quality ingredients in our product line. We strive to make safer products for you and for the environment, we do not use harmful chemicals. The forumula of Al's Shaving Cream is Triethanolamine and preservative (parabens) free and only contains sodium and potassium salts of fatty acids (stearic, oleic, linoleic, palmitic, myristic and lauric) in addition to water and botanicals. These botanicals include essential oils that are unique for each scent.

We are also aware of the right of our customers to know the contents of the products they are using and to fully understand some details about the formulation of our products. Most shaving soaps and creams are made using saponification of tryglicerides. This process converts tryglicerides to fatty acids and glycerin. Tryglicerides are obtained from natural oils of various plants or animals, examples of these are olive oil, palm oil, tallow, etc. This process allows the soapmaker some creativity in terms of what they use to achieve a certain fatty acid profile. It is this fatty acid profile that, in turn, determines the performance of the shaving soap or cream. By the same token, this process restricts the performance of the final product, as the formulation would also carry some compounds that do not play an important role in performance. High end shaving creams, like Al's Shaving Cream, are formulated using a different method that uses only the ingredients that contribute to performance, in higher concentrations than what is found in nature. The process is analogous to baking a cake using a mix or from scratch. In the former, you are constrained by what the maker of the mix supplies, in the case of the shaving product, nature; in the latter, you have the creative room for adding more flour or eggs if the baker  considers it suitable.  Notice that the nature of the ingredients do not change, only the amount. It is also possible to use a saponification and add additional ingredients and this is what is commonly done during milling or rebatching. 

You should not expect Al's Shaving Cream to list olive oil, tallow. etc., because they are not used in the process at all.  Oils used during saponification also are not found in the final product because they are broken down during the process, unless, they are added after saponification is completed. Therefore, there is a misunderstanding regarding the meaning of ingredient labels in shaving products. For instance, tallow-based soaps often do not contain tallow, that is, tallow has been used in the formulation but what is found in the soap or cream is not tallow; instead, it is a mix of salts of fatty acids that have been derived from tallow. Although, tallow contains a mix of fatty acids that is close to ideal for making a good shaving product, it is by no mean, the only combination that would work.  The same results or better can be achieved with other combinations of fatty acids regardless whether they come from naturally occurring oils or not.  In essence, tallow makes the formulation of shaving products easier but not necessarily better, this is why it is not surprising that tallow is so widely used in shaving products. Another point that is important to understand is that the chemical properties of a particular fatty acid do not depend on its origin. For instance, palmitic acid from tallow is chemically identical to that from palm oil. The only difference is perhaps the cost. This is another important difference between Al's Shaving Cream and other shaving products, we only use high purity ingredients that cost more.

Finally, there is the issue of harmful chemicals. There is growing concern about the use of chemicals like triethanolamine and parabens in shaving product. Although, to our knowledge, there is not conclusive research indicating any real link between the use of these chemicals and human disease, we simply do not use them in our products.  

I sincerely hope that after this explanation you are more informed about what is involved in making a shaving product and better prepared to make an informed decision when you purchase shaving products. Please post your comments, questions and general feedback.