The most important step in the shaving process is creating and applying a rich dense lather of shaving foam. This thin layer of bubbles protect the face from the sharpest thing most of us are likely to ever handle.
Bowl scuttle and shaving brush
The shaving lather is all that stands between your face and a very sharp shard of metal. This lather serves many purposes:
Without a good layer of rich, dense foam, the razor blade can cause all sorts of damage to our skin. Having this protection turns the razor blade from an enemy intent to harm us into an ally that slashes down forests of beard in deft strokes.
We have a great article that explains shaving creams and soaps in more detail. This article will focus on how to use a shaving brush to generate and apply lather from a shaving cream and shaving soap.
Applying lather with a shaving brush gets the foam deep into the beard and onto the skin. It also stands the beard hairs upright, ready for cutting. Tweet this!
Applying lather with a shaving brush gets the foam deep into the beard and onto the skin. It also stands the beard hairs upright, ready for cutting.
If you don’t have a shaving brush already, read our article on choosing a shaving brush.
Canned shaving cream is not a good lather. In shaving enthusiast parlance, it is canned goo. It doesn’t offer the same cushioning, lubrication or softening benefits of a quality shaving cream or soap.
Applying foam using your hands doesn’t allow the foam to penetrate the beard down to the skin. There will be pockets where no foam can reach, leaving you unprotected. It also pushes the beard hairs down, matting them towards the face and making it more difficult to cut them with a razor.
In the following sections we’ll discuss how to generate a lather using shaving cream and shaving soap. It is generally accepted that shaving creams are easier that shaving soaps to work into a beautiful lather. Many argue that shaving soaps can generate better lathers but it takes a lot more skill to do so. This is why we recommend beginners use a shaving cream instead of shaving soap, at least until their shaving brush skills level up.
We have a shaving prep guide that you should read to ensure you have laid the best foundation for your shave.
To make a lather using a shaving brush, you need shaving cream/soap and a shaving brush at a minimum. It is also recommended that you use a shaving scuttle or shaving mug (or a big coffee mug!)
It is possible to create a lather against your face or palm (see below) but the best results are usually gained from using a shaving brush in a shaving scuttle.
Shaving brush soaking in a shaving scuttle
Regardless of whether you are using a shaving cream or a shaving soap, you need to soak your shaving brush if it is made from animal fibers (badger, boar, horse etc.) This allows the brush to absorb moisture, which is useful when generating and retaining the lather.
Warm water only
If you are using a shaving scuttle or mug, fill it with warm (not hot) water and submerge the shaving brush. This has the advantage of warming the scuttle which means your lather will keep warmer on those cold winter mornings.
Alternatively, you can soak the brush in a basin of warm water.
After a minute or two, empty the water from the scuttle and gently squeeze out the excess water from the shaving brush. You don’t want to remove all teh water from the shaving brush, it should still be holding onto a good amount. Practice and experience will give you a better understanding of how much to leave behind.
We’ll start with making lather from shaving cream because it’s easiest.
About this much shaving cream should work for most brands
Easy on the water
Add a small amount (about the size of a walnut kernel) of shaving cream into the scuttle. Add a small amount of warm water (several drops) and start agitating with the brush. The amount of shaving cream and water may not be right in your first few attempts. Obtaining quality lather is a process and an art to be learned. Remember, there’s water in your shaving brush so the amount you need to add later depends on how much your shaving brush had initially.
The shaving cream dissolves into the brush and water
Using small, circular motions, dissolve the shaving cream into the brush and water. Continue agitating in different directions to build the foam. After a minute or so of stirring, slapping and pumping, the foam should be rich and dense.
The shaving foam is rich and dense
You are now ready to apply the lather to your beard.
While the brush is soaking, dribble a small amount of warm water onto the surface of the soap. This will help soften the surface and make it easier to load the brush.
A small layer of warm water to soften the soap
After a few minutes, remove the water from the scuttle and gently squeeze the excess water from the shaving brush. Tip the water that was soaking on the top of the soap into the scuttle.
Don't waste the soap water
Load the brush by rubbing it over the softened soap surface. Use a circular motion and try to scoop the upper layers of soap into the bristles. You can grip the brush with two fingers extending into the bristles to help keep them firm.
Load the shaving brush with soap
Generate the initial stages of lather by rubbing the shaving brush around the shaving scuttle.
The foam will start out thin and bubbly
Continue to work the soap into a strong lather. Stiff peaks should form and the foam will be smooth and rich.
The lather should look like this
You are now ready to apply the lather to your beard.
Face lathering is a quick way to load a brush while also ensuring the best penetration of the foam into your beard. It works best with shaving cream.
After soaking and wringing the brush, apply a small amount of shaving cream to the end of the shaving brush. Agitate the brush on a large surface of your wettened beard (e.g. neck or cheek) until the foam is rich and thick. Spread the foam around hte face while massaging with the brush.
Hand lathering is a quick way to load a brush. It works best with shaving cream but some magicians can do it with shaving soap.
After soaking and wringing the brush, apply a small amount of shaving cream to the palm of your hand. Use the brush to generate the lather as you would using a scuttle.
Once the lather has formed, smear the excess from your hand on to your beard and use the brush to massage it in to your face.
Frankenlather is made using both shaving cream and soap. It allows you to take advantage of the best bits of shaving soaps and shaving creams in one shave!
When dosing your scuttle, reduce the amount of shaving soap and shaving cream by about a half to ensure you still get the correct consistency.
You may also want to consider the effects of mixing the different scents … some may not be so desirable.
Use broad strokes of the shaving brush to spread the lather over your beard. Once you have adequate coverage, use small circular motions of the shaving brush to work the lather deep into the beard. This should fill any tiny air pockets and push the lather down towards the skin. It also stands the hairs upright making them easier to cut.
Put the brush down. Using two fingers, massage the lather into the beard using small circular motions. This may take a minute or more to do right. This will push the foam even deeper. This is an old barber’s trick.
Take the brush again and neaten up the foam all over the beard and use small circular strokes to bring the hairs back upright.
Wait a minute for the hairs to soften in the lather before you grab your blade and start shaving.
After the first pass of shaving, you can rinse your face (optional) and reapply the lather. You shouldn’t need to do the finger massage for subsequent shaving passes.
Check out our article on how to shave your face.