Shaving Cream, Gel, Soap or Foam – Why Use Them? The Complete Guide

Why Use Shaving Cream?

There are several reasons why it is a good idea for you to use shaving cream, gel, soap or foam when using a wet shave razor:

  • Softens - it helps to soften your hairs, making it easier for the razor to cut through them cleanly
  • Lifts - it separates and lifts up the hairs so that the blade can cut closer to your skin for a more efficient shave 
  • Lubricates - it provides lubrication for your skin to help the blade glide smoothly across it, reducing friction and irritation.
  • Moisturizes - shaving has an exfoliating effect on your skin and can leave it feeling dry.  Using shaving cream helps to moisturize your skin, keeping it feeling soft and hydrated.

Whilst using shaving cream or similar lubricant is essential when using a razor, electric shavers are most often used dry.

However, there are also cordless electric shavers that can be used wet or dry, and are suitable for shaving creams should you wish.

Can I use my Usual Soap for Shaving?

Although it is possible to use your regular soap for shaving, I would not advise it and recommend that you opt instead for a dedicated shaving soap.

Your regular bath-time soap is intrinsically for getting you clean, whilst the primary aim of shaving soap is to lubricate, so that your razor blade glides effortlessly across the skin.

Shaving soaps are specially formulated to create a really good, lasting lather and therefore contain high levels of fat and glycerin.

Whilst some regular soaps can leave your skin feeling dry, a good shaving soap will reduce the risk of irritation and razor burn, whilst leaving your skin feeling soft and hydrated. 

Which is Best? - Shaving Foam, Gel, Cream or Soap?

The answer to this question is pretty subjective, but there are a few things to consider when deciding which you prefer to use:

Shaving Foam

Shaving foam comes in aerosol cans and comes out ready to use.

Simply dampen your skin and then shake the can well, dispense into your palm and apply a thick layer to the beard before shaving.

You may well find that it evaporates on the skin before you have finished, in which case you will just need to apply a bit more.

Pros of Shaving Foam
  • Convenient - just shake the can and use, if you are short on time, a can of foam is a quick and easy choice with no need to spend time creating a lather
  • Low Cost - can be inexpensive, although a can will not last as long as the other options

Cons of Shaving Foam
  • Effectiveness - the foam dissipates relatively quickly and provides a thinner layer of protection against razor burn and irritation than gels, creams and soaps
  • Environment - aerosol cans are known to be harmful to the environment

Shaving Gel

Shaving gel sometimes comes in cans with a pump, or in tubes or tubs.  Some may be in aerosol cans, but we would always suggest avoiding them for environmental reasons.

Pros of Shaving Gel
  • Transparent - easier to see what you are doing, good for shaping facial hair
  • Effective Barrier - gels are good for sensitive skin - they maintain moisture and help the blade glide smoothly

Cons of Shaving Gel
  • Clogging - razor can become clogged up with gel so you need to rinse regularly during shave

Shaving Cream

Shaving creams can come in tubes or tubs and some need to be used with a brush to create a lather, whilst others are applied directly to the face.

Creams and soaps made for shaving give a really good, thick layer of protection and contain moisturizing oils to aid glide and hydration.

Pros of Shaving Cream
  • Good Protection - provides a thick, oil rich barrier against razor burn and irritation that is lasting
  • Hydrating - and moisturizing, leaves skin soft and smooth, good for sensitive skin

Cons of Shaving Cream
  • Cost - can be expensive, although a little goes a long way
  • Time - a few minutes are required to work up a lather

Shaving Soap

Shaving soaps require a shaving brush and bowl for you to whip up a good lather prior to use.

Pros of Shaving Soap
  • Effective - provides a very effective barrier
  • Moisturizing - maintains water to leave skin hydrated and smooth, good for sensitive skin

Cons of Shaving Soap
  • Time - you need to take a little time to work up a lather with brush and water
  • Cost - a good shaving soap can be a bit pricey, but should last a while

Choosing the Right Shaving Cream for you

In general I think gels, creams and soaps trump shaving foam for their effectiveness and moisturizing qualities and I am not really a fan of using aerosol cans.

However, if you are in a hurry and value time over all other considerations, shaving foam is convenient.  Our choice is one for sensitive skin with no alcohol content.

Our Choice

Shaving foam specially formulated to give a good glide and avoid irritation of sensitive skin.  Contains no alcohol.  Value for money at $8.50 for a good sized, 200ml can.

Shaving gel is a good choice if you want to sculpt your facial hair as it tends to be clear so that you can see better what you are doing.

It is also good for sensitive skin as it locks in moisture and provides a good glide.

Our Choice
EZ-Blade shaving gel 6oz

Oil based, clear non foam shaving gel for a waterless shave.  Oil enhances blade glide - no water required, comes in a 6oz tub for around $12.

I think the advantage shaving creams have over soaps is that they can provide a good, lasting lather with or without using a brush.

Our choice is one that is simply spread over wet skin and massaged to form the lather.

Our Choice
Cremo Cooling Shave Cream Pack of 2

Shaving cream containing natural ingredients including soothing Aloe.  Paraben free, no animal testing.  Value for money at $12 for two 6 oz tubes.

A good shaving soap is undoubtedly my favourite - used with a brush to form a thick, creamy, slick lather which, when applied with the brush in circular movements, helps to raise up the hairs and soften them ready for the perfect close shave.

Our Choice
Sir Hare Premium Shaving Soap Barbershop 4oz

Tallow based soap, handcrafted and hand poured in the US.  4oz in an over-sized jar so no separate shave bowl needed.  Light, barbershop scent.  Long lasting for $15

Top Shaving Tips

  • Clean Skin - make sure your skin is clean before you start.  Shaving after a shower is ideal as the steam helps to open the pores and soften the hair so that it is easier to cut for a smooth finish.  Alternatively use a wet, warm flannel or towel held against your skin for a few minutes to achieve a similar effect.
  • Wet Skin - apply your shaving lubricant of choice to damp skin and leave it on for a minute or two to further moisten and soften the hair.  Use only a small amount - a little goes a long way.
  • Shaving Brush - shaving brushes are not only great for building up a good lather, but also raise the hairs ready for shaving close to the skin.  The best shaving brushes are badger hair, and it is worth investing in a decent one that doesn't shed quickly.
  • Sharp Blade - I would recommend a double edged safety razor, especially if you have sensitive skin, but whatever your choice of razor make sure that the blade is very sharp, replacing regularly as necessary.  Dull blades drag on the skin and cause irritation and increased risk of ingrown hair.
  • Take Time - don't rush the process, and don't exert pressure - allow the blade to glide across the skin, going in the same direction as the hairs' natural growth (with the grain).  Take short strokes, making sure that the skin is as taut as possible.
  • Re-Lather - if you are going to go over the same area again, make sure that you take the time to re-apply more lubricant.
  • Rinse - rinse well with cold water when you have finished - this will soothe the skin whilst helping to close the pores.  Pat dry and apply an aftershave moisturizer. Avoid using any products that contain alcohol as they have a drying effect on the skin, whereas you really want to be hydrating it.

In addition to the above, you may wish to use a pre-shave oil, especially if you have sensitive skin, to provide a further barrier between skin and blade and increase the glide.

An alum block is ideal for applying to any nicks and cuts. 


For the past 12 months, I have been testing and playing with all sorts of hair removal products for Hair Free Life. My goal is to provide the most accurate and up-to-date hair removal consumer information on the internet. When I'm not photographing, reviewing and researching hair removal products I play the drums in a samba band and am a volunteer for the Swindon Lions! Got any questions? Write to us below: