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
- 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!