How do you apply your shaving cream? While a national survey says most men still go for hands over bristles, the demand for brushes is growing rapidly. A status symbol when they first appeared in 18th century France, the luxe, soft applicator’s popularity is on the rise in the US.
For those new to the brush experience, it’s not always clear what the hype is all about. Do you really need one? Does price matter? The answers: Yes and yes.
Let’s start with the basics. Unless you harbor some rare allergy to badgers (or you have ethical issues involving the use of small fuzzy animals as aids to your daily grooming routine) you want a real, not synthetic, badger brush. The animal’s fur is prized for its ability to absorb and hold water, allowing it to mix nicely with your shave soap or cream to create an ideal lather.
Badger fur comes in a variety of qualities, all of which are better than no brush at all, and some of which are a more luxe option in terms of fullness and softness. The spread in price is directly correlated with the quality of fur (that and the craftsmanship of the handle). The good news: Top brands like The Art of Shaving produce a range of options, from the newbie basic to the top-shelf pro job.
The Art of Shaving’s Genuine Black Shaving Brush (above, $30 at Spring) is made from pure badger hair, which has a slightly larger shaft (and therefore coarser feel) than the super-luxe silvertip fur. Nevertheless, our tester — a hands-only guy until this week — was shocked to discover the major difference this brush made in the shaving experience. The lather was noticeably richer than the one worked up manually and the brush application caused facial hairs to stand at attention, allowing for a clean, close shave.
The Art of Shaving’s Engraved Silvertip Shaving Brush (above, $250 at Spring) uses the highest-quality fur (identifiable by its long white tips) from a rare type of badger to create a brush that is softer and denser than the entry-level model. The luxe handle is handcrafted by an artisan. Did our shaver notice a difference? Oh yeah. The thicker head of bristles retained water much more easily, allowing the shaving cream to be worked into a ridiculously creamy lather (a significantly richer lather using the same cream than with the Genuine Black brush). That was key, since it allowed him to use less pressure with the razor, avoiding nicks while still producing a super-close shave. Also key: The thicker head means this brush can apply shaving cream over more territory faster, saving precious minutes off the tester’s pre-work routine.
Both brushes were a dramatic improvement over no brush at all when it came to lathering and producing a clean, close shave. If you go for the basic brush and find yourself using it regularly, it’s worth the extra cash to trade up for a total barber-shop-quality experience. That said, there’s no need to spend 250 bucks; there are plenty of mid-range options that will transform the way your shave performs — and feels.
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