A great shave starts with a good lather. Let’s face it a bad lather can immediately ruin a good shave, cause major razor burn and leave a new wet shaver a bit “razor shy”. Taking the time to practice making a good lather will set you up for a successful shave. Here are some characteristics of a good shave lather, as well as some tips on how to make shave lather.
Mastering the Lather is the most artistic part of the shave experience. First you have to determine which method of lather building you prefer: Face Lather, Bowl or Scuttle or Hand/Palm Lather.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A GOOD SHAVE LATHER
Shave soap or cream is transformed it into a lather using a shave brush, water, and friction. [If you need a shaving brush, see Choosing a Shaving Brush]. When made up properly, good shave lather is thick, like whipped cream and mostly free of large air bubbles. Remember the shave lather is the protective aspect of the shave, so you don’t want to cut any corners when whipping it up.
TIPS TO ACHIEVE A GOOD LATHER
You can practice building a lather anytime and you don’t have to couple it with a shave. I think many new wet shavers make the mistake of not practicing lather building ahead of their first few shaves. I have spent many evenings building lathers and then washing them down the drain. I recommend spending a few hours to practice this and suggest sticking with one soap or cream. This way you can evaluate what worked, what didn’t and then starting over. From there you can adjust the variables to help you work towards building the perfect lather.
THE 10 MINUTE TEST
When testing a new shave soap or cream, once I get it dialed in, I whip up a lather and let it sit in a bowl or on the brush untouched for 10 minutes. A good lather will still be there when you return and not deteriorate. If your lather dramatically deteriorates after 10 minutes of sitting, I would recommend you don’t use it or use it with caution. This bubbly lather may not have the required cushion to protect your skin from the blade, remember that not all shave soaps are created equally.
There is nothing worse than under-loading your brush and not having enough lather to complete the 2 or 3 passes you need for your shave. That being said, just overload your brush. If you are loading right out of the container for a hard soap or Italian hardness soap, 30-40 seconds should do it. If you are using a softer soap or cream, a large almond sized portion should be enough for a 2-3 pass shave with most brands. Most artisan shave soaps last a very long time, so overloading won’t cost you a fortune and will save you frustration.
THE RIGHT BRUSH
Some soaps or creams work better with specific bristle types. [If you don’t have a shaving brush, see Choosing a Shaving Brush]. Some soap manufacturers/makers may even recommend a specific brush type in their instructions, so just keep an eye out for that. If no recommendations are made by the soap maker or manufacturer, this is will be a testing process that you need to figure out on your own. Many of the soaps I use are pretty universal and work for any of my brush types [boar, badger, synthetic bristle]. Keep in mind that one type of brush may produce accelerated results over another depending on the soaps ingredients and your technique.
ADD WATER AS YOU GO
I was once given great advice that you can’t remove water when building your shave lather. The soap or cream will let you know if you need to add water. Too little water will be pasty and dry as you are mixing it up. Too much water will result in a really runny, almost soup like lather. Add a few drops here and there as you go. I have also found that Tallow based soaps can sometimes be a bit thirsty and require water to be added a few times as you build it up.
We have pretty hard water in my city [Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada] and I can get away with using tap water. If you are testing a soap or cream and not getting good results, you could always try using distilled water to see if that helps the situation, which can really help enhance your shave lather.
Take the time to master a good lather and don’t be afraid to do some repetitive lather testing not combined with a shave. Practicing will also allow you to get to know the soap/cream a bit better, what brush works best for it and how much water it requires. Once you understand the properties and get a feel for your gear, you’ll be a lather master in no time.