Ditch the toxic chemicals of commercial shaving creams, and use an inexpensive, more environmentally friendly, DIY shaving soap instead. Make your own shave soap, and learn how to use it to build up a protective lather.
A few months ago, I would have never imagined that I’d be making a shaving soap. Heck, I didn’t even know that shaving soap was even “a thing.”
What I did know is that I had stopped waxing, and had begun shaving again after my husband gave me an IPL machine. I didn’t want to be using a store-bought shaving cream after taking a look at some of the chemicals commonly used, so I started investigating what I could use instead. Plus, you know I always like a challenge when it comes to making my own cosmetics and natural beauty products, right?
I actually spent several weeks researching before I finally came up with my own recipe for a shaving soap.
Traditional shaving blades and wet shaving
At first, when I started researching the different products that you could use to help protect your skin as you shave, I found it really interesting how so many people have gone back to traditional type shaving methods. Rather than use the fancy new razors with multiple blades, many men prefer to use straight razors; yes, the ones seen used in the barbershops in movies! A lot of people also prefer to use safety razors with a replaceable single razor blade. I was surprised to find that most seemed to like those traditional razors better than the expensive more disposable modern counterparts!
I haven’t had a lot of luck with the disposable pink razor blades made for women, nor do I like the idea of throwing that much plastic in the trash, so I immediately looked into buying a more traditional type razor blade instead. I figured that if a lot of men seem to prefer them, a woman like me might like them better too.
The most “green” option, and the most appealing to me, was also the scariest option. The best option seems to be traditional straight blades that you keep sharp by rubbing over a leather belt called a strop. Despite my interest, I ruled out going directly for a traditional straight blade because I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to use it. (I tend to be a bit clumsy at times.) A high-quality straight blade is a bit pricey, and I didn’t want to waste the money if I wasn’t going to be able to use it right. I do think it’s the best option, though, and that you’d definitely get your money’s worth from buying a traditional straight blade with all of the money you save on disposable razor blades.
Instead, I opted to try out two different types of traditional razors with disposable razor blades.
The easiest to use was the safety razor, which is the one I’ve shown in the pictures with my soap. I actually quite like that razor, and am very happy to never have to buy a plastic pink disposable razor blade again!
While I loved it, my curiosity was still piqued by the straight blades, and I decided to buy a more inexpensive model, a straight razor with a replaceable blade. I was actually surprised that it was much easier to use than I had ever imagined, and I didn’t majorly cut myself in any way while learning how to use it. (I did leave a little bit of a mark in a couple of places, but nothing that drew blood.) 😉
Why am I writing about the different types of traditional shaving blades?
Shaving soap and traditional razors go together like salt and pepper. 🙂 After the initial investment, both will save you a lot of money in the long run. Plus, they are both more environmentally friendly choices for shaving.
Plus, it was during my search for a good razor that I learned that shaving soap existed!
While browsing the different types of razors available, I found a lot of traditional shaving accessories like shaving bowls and brushes made for lathering up shaving soap!
What is shaving soap?
Shaving soap is a type of soap that is made specifically to have a long-lasting, creamy lather and the amount of “slip” necessary to allow your shaving blade to glide over your skin, protecting it while you shave.
Shaving soap actually helps aid in the shaving process more than the more modern shaving creams and gels because the soap helps remove the natural oils of the face and hair. This helps make the hairs more penetrable by water, which helps soften them so that they are more easily cut by the razor. The action of building up the lather on the skin with the brush also helps prepare the hair for easier shaving.
Shaving soaps normally have a high level of more solid oils that give a lot of lather like coconut oil, tallow, and palm oil. They often use a higher percentage of castor oil than other soaps too because castor oil helps hold the lather and make it last longer. Many shaving soaps also use bentonite clay, or other cosmetic clays like kaolin clay, to help provide more slip, allowing the blade to more easily glide over the skin.
Many shaving soaps, like cream soaps, use both types of lye: sodium hydroxide, the “normal” lye used when making a basic bar of soap, and potassium hydroxide, the type of lye used to make liquid soaps. To keep things simple this time around, I decided to stick with using only sodium hydroxide, and tried to use as few, simple ingredients as possible.
(I will probably work on formulating a mixed lye shave soap eventually.) ?
Why make your own shave soap?
Control your ingredients!
You probably know by now that my main reason for making things myself is to be able to be in control of the ingredients used!
I wanted this soap to be suitable for beginners and those who are avoiding palm oils and animal fats.
Instead of using palm oil or stearic acid (which can be harder to find, and can be derived from palm oil), I chose to use soy wax. Soy wax has a high percentage of stearic acid, which helps build up the creamy lather necessary in a good shave soap. (If you were to only use coconut oil, you’d have a lot of bubbly lather, but with big bubbles rather than the creamier lather that you want for shaving.)
Note that this recipe uses vegetable glycerin and that many (most) vegetable glycerins sold for cosmetic use are palm based. If you are avoiding palm derived ingredients, you should choose one that isn’t palm derived, of course. I’d suggest using one that is coconut-derived as soy and corn-derived glycerin tends to use genetically modified corn and soy.
Commercial shaving creams can have a lot of undesirable ingredients. That isn’t the only problem with them, though. Their containers contribute to a lot of unnecessary waste!
Shave soap is more sustainable than store-bought shaving creams
By making your own shaving soap, you can make a more natural product that is a lot more sustainable. Because these soaps don’t need any sort of container (unless you choose to use a reuasable glass container), there is no wasted packaging of your homemade product. The only waste comes from the packaging of the ingredients, and the ingredients can be used for many different projects.
Shave soap is also very frugal. It’s inexpensive to make and lasts for a very long time. So, yes, you can also save money by making your own shaving soap.
How to mold the shaving soap
Make a puck form with PVC pipe.
Shaving soap is traditionally sold in “puck” form, which can be easily made by using a cylindrical mold like a PVC pipe.
To make soap in a PVC pipe, find a pipe with the diameter you want your shaving soaps to be. You can seal the bottom end with either a pipe cap, with a relatively thick plastic bag, or a couple of layers of wax paper held in place with some (tight) rubber bands.
Pour the soap, when it reaches trace, into the PVC pipe, and let it set for at least 24 hours. After 24 hours, freeze the soap within the pipe for at least an hour. Freezing will help harden the soap and make it shrink slightly, both of which will help you be able to slide the soap out of the mold more easily. To get a better idea of how the process works, check out my recipe for making peppermint candy soap using the same technique. There is also a video to show you exactly what you need to do.
Once you have un-molded the soap, you cut it into slices.
Use muffin molds
I used silicone muffin tins for making most of my shaving soaps this time. The thing I like about using muffin tins is that the puck shape formed in the tin is tapered on the bottom, just like the shaving bowl. I found that mine fit into the shaving bowl I bought almost perfectly. I’d suggest you stick to using only silicone muffin tins as some metals can react with the lye in the soap. If you want to use metal muffin tins, you should line them with something like plastic wrap first just to be on the safe side.
Use glass jars to hold the soap
Rather than mold the soap, you can choose to pour it directly into a glass jar with a lid. This is handy for easy storage between uses. the disadvantage to this method is that the soap can’t dry out well on all sides while curing so you may want to compensate by using slightly less water when making your soap. (I didn’t because I was making a variety of forms and it wasn’t a problem.)
Substituting ingredients in the soap
I don’t suggest making changes to the oils of the recipe unless you know what you are doing. When making changes to the oils used, you’ll likely need to adjust the amount of lye needed so you’d need to run the recipe through a lye calculator to make sure that it will still work. (Different oils/fats need to have a different “saponification factor” and use a different amount of lye for similar results.)
I formulated this recipe to be superfatted by 8-9%. Superfatting is the process of adding more oils than what you need to react exactly with the amount of lye in the recipe. You end up with some unreacted oils in the soap that can help condition your skin. This is done to help make a less harsh and more conditioning soap. (Too many oils, though, can make a bar of soap go rancid more quickly and can make it feel like it leaves a film on your skin when using it.) This recipe uses a high percentage of hard oils and coconut oil (a very cleansing oil), both of which tend to be very stable, so I felt comfortable using a relatively high superfat percentage to make a more conditioning bar of soap.
On the other hand, the aqueous components of the soap can be more easily modified. I used a combination of distilled water, glycerin, and coconut milk for the aqueous component of the soap. Glycerin helps add moisture to the soap, and also helps to build up a good lather. I decided to try using some homemade coconut milk in place of part of the water, too, to help slightly increase the amount of lather it would produce. I’m not sure if it actually makes much of a difference, though, and you can replace it with the same amount of distilled water if you prefer.
DIY Shaving soap recipe
DIY Shaving Soap Recipe (& How to Use Shave Soap)
- Glass spring top jars
- 100 g coconut oil 76º
- 40 g avocado oil
- 60 g cocoa butter
- 60 g shea butter
- 80 g castor oil
- 60 g soy wax
- 53 g lye NaOH (Sodium hydroxide)
- 30 g glycerin
- 30 ml coconut milk
- 20 ml distilled water
- lavender essential oil
- orange essential oil
- Mix together the glycerin, coconut milk, and distilled water in a medium sized bowl. (I like to use stainless steel. Avoid other metals as they may react with the lye. Certain glass bowls can break when heated rapidly through the chemical reaction that occurs when you mix the lye solution.)
- Measure out the lye and add it to the liquid mixture in the bowl. Stir until the lye is dissolved and well incorporated into the mixture.
This is best done outside or in a well-ventilated area. You should also use gloves and safety glasses when working with lye and the lye solution. Always make sure to add the lye to the liquid and not the liquid to the lye container. (For more safety tips and information about how to make soap, check out my post on making a beginner soap.)
- The lye mixture will begin to get hot. Leave it outside to cool in an area where animals and children won't have access to it while you measure out the oils, butters, and wax.
- Heat the oils, butters, and wax in a large bowl over a double boiler to help melt the wax and butters. You can remove them from the heat once the butters and wax have melted and you have mixed them all together.
- Carefully pour the lye mixture into the oil mixture. (It may still be warm, so be careful not to burn yourself.) You can gently combine them at first with a stainless steel spoon.
- Once the oils and lye solution have been combined, begin to blend them together with an immersion blender. As you blend the ingredients with the immersion blender, they will become thicker and more opaque. When you have reached the consistency of a thin mayonnaise, you can stop blending.
- Add in any essential oils of choice to help add fragrance to your soap. I chose a combination of lavender and orange essential oils because not only do we love the scent of that combination, but both oils are thought to aid in healing skin irritations.
- Once you’ve stirred in the essential oils, you can pour the mixture into your molds or glass jars. Leave the soap uncovered and untouched for at least 24 hours.
- Because this soap uses mostly solid oils and butters, it should harden quite quickly, and you'll likely be able to unmold your soap after only a day. Check your soap for hardness, and unmold it if it has reached a hardness in which you can remove it from the molds without damaging it. If it's still soft, wait a few more hours or another day, as needed. Placing the molded soap in the freezer for about an hour will help you with the unmolding process. Not only will it help harden the soap, but it also slightly shrinks it to make it easier to remove it.
- Once you've removed the soaps from the molds, separate them and leave them in an area to dry out and further harden for several weeks. It's a good idea to turn the soap over occasionally so that the soap will evenly dry out on all sides. If you've used glass jars, keep the lids off the jars to help allow the soap to dry.
The saponification process will complete in the first few days after your soap is made, and you can technically use it immediately afterward. That said, the wait time will help form a harder bar of soap that will last longer and work better.
How to use Shave soap
Once you have your shaving soap made, it’s time to figure out how to use it!
At first, I thought I hadn’t made a very good bar of soap because it wasn’t lathering up as much as I expected it to. After a bit of studying online, though, I realized that the problem wasn’t in the soap itself, but was in my method for trying to work up a lather.
I found this video with a lathering tutorial very helpful for figuring out how to work up a lather with my shaving soap.
I realized that my main problem is that I wasn’t using enough water to try to work up a lather. Instead, I was really only working up a thick paste on my skin. You need to keep adding water throughout the process to turn the soap from a paste to a protective lather!
You can choose to lather up your soap in the bowl itself, or directly on the skin. I find that working up the lather on your skin is much easier and less messy.
- Wet your brush and sprinkle some water on the shaving soap.
- Swirl the wet, softened brush over the top of the shaving soap. You need to build up a good coating of the soapy paste onto the bristles of the brush, so keep swirling the brush over the soap until it is well coated.
- Wet the skin, and begin to work the lather directly on your skin. It will leave a thick paste on your skin at first and won’t be the right lather consistency quite yet.
- Add several drops of water to the brush, and continue to work up the lather. You should repeat this process several times, adding water, as needed, to build up the lather to the proper consistency.
- Once you’ve built up your lather, you can begin to shave. It should now leave a protective layer with the glide necessary to help protect your skin while shaving.
I’m really happy going back to more traditional, and more ecologically friendly, methods of shaving!
If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes!
Hi there, great post. I had a question about the soy wax. I actually don’t have any, but I do have stearic acid for other lotions and stuff that I make, so can I use that instead in the same amount or would it need to be tweaked in some way? I’m mainly talking about the lye amounts, since I don’t want to screw up my soap! I also have beeswax, but I’m aware they’re not the same chemically-speaking. Thanks for sharing!
Tracy Ariza, DDS
You’d need to run the final recipe through a lye calculator. I explain how I do that in my post about how to use a lye calculator.
Sorry ~ but I don’t wont any soy need to my LOVERS Face~ do you have any other options! That you have tried that would work to replace the soy? Thank you!!!
Tracy Ariza, DDS
You can use stearic acid. The soy is for the stearic acid- for those who are avoiding palm products. You’d have to recalculate the lye amount in a lye calculator.
Thank you for the detailed explanation of the ‘why’ in all your posts.
If I wanted to make only half of this recipe, is it a case of halving all the ingredients? Does lye work like that? Or would I need to calculate the lye again?
Tracy Ariza, DDS
Yeah, that’s fine. (As long as you half the lye too!) 😉
Hi Tracy, I found your recipe because I’m looking for palm oil free shaving soap, but unfortunately yours contains palm oil …glycerin is a palm oil derivative even though it’s a vegetable glycerin, unless it specifically states coconut glycerin then it’s mainly palm glycerin. I clicked on your Amazon link just to be 100% sure and it does state in the description further down that it’s a “vegetable glycerin (from palm).
As you were so kind to point out that you were sharing this recipe for people not wishing to use palm, I thought I would let you know. Thanks for sharing this idea though, I can give it a go using coconut glycerin instead 🙂
Well, isn’t that tricky!?!?
Palm gets hidden in so many places that it’s very hard to completely avoid. I have to admit that I now buy some products like surfactants that do use palm, but that are certified sustainable. I realize that isn’t necessarily perfect either, but sometimes you do the best you can.
In a recipe like this one, though, yes, you should be able to source non-palm glycerin and use that.
My ingredients are linked from recipe to recipe so I totally overlooked that when I wrote up the recipe. The link to the glycerin was added long ago before I even posted this recipe. (Any time I link to glycerin it continues to link to the same one.)
At the time, I was looking for something that was non-GMO and wasn’t even aware of any problems with palm.
I’ll definitely make a note of it, though, and I can try to switch out the glycerin in this recipe to one that is palm-free. (Unfortunately, the only option I can find through Amazon for a coconut-derived glycerin is quite expensive for a very small amount.)
Hi. I have responsibly sourced palm oil, can i use that instead of soy wax? And if so how much? Thank you!
Tracy Ariza, DDS
Any changes to the fats in a soap recipe need to be run through a lye calculator.
I have a post about how to use a lye calculator here.
Hi tracy, I love your recipe !!! I would like to know if you have a post to shave liquid soap with natural surfactants that when you press the lid of the bottle will form foam. Thank you.
While I don’t have anything like that up on the blog, I will say that I have used liquid soap for shaving without issues. It does give a nice slip as long as it stays wet.
You can use a foaming dispenser for any liquid soap or surfactant mix to get a foamy consistency. It may not have the same extreme long-lasting foaminess as a shave soap does, but it’s fun to work with. For most soaps, you’ll want to dilute them. My micellar water recipe is a good, already diluted surfactant mix that works really well in a foaming dispenser too!
Great post full of useful tips. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. Thanks for sharing such a great information to us.
Glass should not be recommended when using lye. Lye will etch into glass, even tempered glass and can eventually cause the glass to fail with possibly catastrophic consequences. Stainless steel is best for this followed by plastic with number 2 or 5 in the recycling symbol.
I have been recommending the same in my newer soap posts because I had read that in other places too. I’ve luckily never had issues with glass breaking, but I have heard it is a possibility. Thanks for the heads up on this particular post. I’ll make a note to fix it when I get into editing tomorrow!
Thank you for sharing the recipe for the shaving soap. It’s always great when others share their knowledge.
I myself like DIY projects and I have been making shaving soaps for the last 5 years as a hobby.
I have learned a lot from people like you who shares their knowledge, some have their own business and some just do it for fun like me.
I have quite a few excellent recipes for shaving soap both tallow based and vegan based shaving soaps and are easy to make which I’ll be glad to share.
I do not sell them or plan to since there are so many new artisan soap makers selling shaving soaps compared to just a few years ago.
I have quite a stash of shaving soaps from different manufacturers with different styles and bases plus the ones I make that it would take decades to use them all and yet I continue to make and buy them in search for the best from $10 to $80 for a puck of shaving soap I’ve tried them all.
If I could make a suggestion for a great shaving soap even if I don’t share the recipes. It is important to have a high amount of stearic acid since this is what holds the lather together, you can test this when after making a lather with your brush, let the lather sit on your brush for at least 10 minutes, if after 10 minutes more than 90% of your lather is still on the brush then you have a stable lather, you can always add more water if you prefer a thinner and slicker lather.
Also using a dual lye specially potassium hydroxide will make your shaving soap much easier to lather and will greatly improve the performance of your lather.
Postassium hydroxide the lye used to make liquid soap is much more preferable than using sodium hydroxide for bar soaps, there are a lot of shaving soap that use potassium hydroxide only and some use a dual lye usually 60% to 70% potassium hydroxide and 40 to 30% sodium hydroxide.
I usually use 70 to 30 percent ratio depending on the ingredients I use,
The soap will not come out liquid even when using 100% potassium hydroxide as your only lye because of the high stearic acid. This is the hot process method of making the soap as soon as you add the stearic acid or the potassium hydroxide the consistency of that liquid oils and butters will harden like mashed potatoes and you cook it on low heat until all the lye is gone and had saponified your oils and butter into soap usually depending on the percentage of potassium hydroxide and other ingredients you used it will be like mashed potato in consistency which you can start to transfer to your container and or molds.
You can give it another week or two to allow the water to dry and make sure all the lye are gone. You will usually end up with a soft soap depending how long you wait to use it which lathers much easier.
This is what they refer to as “croap” a consistency of cream and soap.
I hope this helps.
Thanks so much for your very helpful reply!
I’m sorry that I’ve taken so long to respond. I think I meant to get back to you with a detailed answer but was busy the day I saw it, so I put it aside for a moment when I had more time, and it ended up getting buried under a lot of newer comments so I forgot!
Yes, I really wanted to make another shave soap with dual lyes as I also saw that was a great option when I was researching how to make this soap. I spent days reading forums- and was struggling because I wanted the first one to be something very simple using just one lye and more natural ingredients (oils, butters, waxes, and one lye so as not to overwhelm people too much). I was searching to use oils and ingredients high in stearic acid without adding stearic acid directly, not because I particularly have a problem with it, but more because a lot of my readers are looking for products that are very “natural” and things that aren’t derived from palm. (Yes, there are animal fat derived stearic acids, but they are harder to find and many vegans aren’t happy with either choice.)
So, this was a bit of an experiment. It was tricker to make a shave soap with those characteristics. After some reading, I added the soy wax as a sort of stearic acid substitute (although obviously not perfect as people add stearic acid to their soy wax candles). 😉
Anyway, in the end, I do think it is a pretty good shave soap and does make a pretty good lather (shown in the pic), but, yes, I’d love to try making one that is more traditional for my next batch that would probably make more lather and a more stable one.
If you’d like to share a recipe, I’m happy to showcase it for you- giving you credit, of course.
I’m considering setting up a form where people can submit their own recipes for possible use. It could be fun to get some community effort going here!
Maybe I’ll work on it later on today. My recipe plugin does have that feature, so I’ll let you know here if I do get it set up. 😉
In any case, I do appreciate your contribution through your comment. Hearing from people with experience making these products is always very helpful and well appreciated!!
Just as an FYI PVC is a toxic material and numerous studies show it leaches toxins which can cause cancer and other health issues.
I try to use freezer paper when using any form of column mold simply because its tougher and i always allow an overage about 6 inches out the top so i dont gotta fight w/it but thats really something that needs to be made known to all the soapers–facebook has some great soaping forums w/very intelligent ppl who i felt had a strong knowledge of the bones of cp soap but also very sharp on the chemistry side as well and its nice to have someone to ask for help when in need….i would assume they should or would know that but im uncertain cuz i did not!! thanks william!
Bought a ” puck ” in Hot Springs Ark and in love with shaving soap now!! Where can you get all of the ingredients like the Lye, essential oils and even other oils?? Online im assuming??
Tracy Ariza, DDS
Yes! You should be able to buy all of them online. I used NaOH- the more common lye in this recipe- to make it easier for beginners- and that can usually be found in the cleaning section of supermarkets (with the drain cleaners). If you use a drain cleaner, make sure the only ingredient is NaOH!
Instead of using PVC pipe you can do what My dad and grandfather’s generations did. Use a coffee mug. Not only will it form your puck but you can also use it as your soap vessel to lather it up to shave with. It also has a convenient handle.
That’s a great tip! I didn’t use PVC pipe as the molds for my soap either, but instead used silicone muffin tins as molds and poured some into glass jars. I like the idea of the mug having a handle, and think it’s a great option. 🙂
Anybody wanting to use the PVC as a mold could line it with wax paper to decrease the possibility of it being contaminated. The soap is warm when you are pouring into the molds, but not at a high temperature, and if you freeze the soaps, you can probably remove them the next day. So, that does limit the amount of toxins that could be leached. I always give my soaps a bit of a rinse to remove the outer layers before using them too, which I would think would also eliminate some of the risk.
All of that said, yes, I also like to avoid using anything toxic whenever possible.
PVC pipe is commonly used as a soap mold, but you’re right- that doesn’t automatically make it completely safe. I’ve also seen it used for cheese making, but I don’t think I’d personally go that route either. 😉
thats a cool idea w/so many options to add or other creativities.:) wouldnt it be so cute to pick up cool cups at flea markets and thrift stores across the nation and the awesomest of all….?all the super cute tea cups n saucers-teens mini tea set===endless fun!!!! can someone tell me if sanitized can we pick other old empty product containers or like the glass jars ive seen so much stuff i loved n would have loved doing but i havent seemed to ask the right Q or cant ask w/o a paragraph-see! great idea.
In most cases that should be fine. You can sanitize the containers after washing them by spraying rubbing alcohol over them and wiping them dry.
It’s easier to clean glass containers. Some other materials may have cracking that could allow for microbes to stick in the cracks. The high pH of soap tends to do a good job of self-preserving, though. I’d also avoid metal containers as the metal can react with the lye in the soap during the first days after pouring. (I’ve seen certain metals react strangely with even cured store-bought soaps in some instances, so it’s something to keep in mind!)
The other thing you may want to consider is that some older glass and porcelain items may test positive for heavy metals like lead.
Other than that, I don’t see why you can’t use a fun variety of containers.