Frequently Asked Questions about Shaving Brushes
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This article update will help save you the frustration of trying to choose the best shave brush, only to be disappointed by its performance, material, shape, or size. Getting the right information on all the available shaving brushes to choose from can certainly be a bit of a challenge as there are different varieties of shaving brushes made in different categories.
Different people have different choices depending on their tastes and preferences. These could differ depending on the size, shape, or material used for the brush, or even the creativity employed using these elements in assembling the brush.
Also, your choice of shaving cream and soap, which can be based on if you are shaving with a straight-edge razor, straight razor kit, a traditional Double-Edge razor, or a cartridge razor will influence your shaving brush purchase.
Without much further ado, let us get to the details and some frequently asked questions.
This essential tool for achieving a good shave was invented in the 1700s in France and was something every man owned until relatively recently. Because of shaving foam in cans and other disposable products, the use of a brush quickly become yesteryear’s art. Fortunately, men worldwide have started paying far more attention to how they treat their skin these days.
There are five main reasons to use a shaving brush:
- The brush helps to create a rich and warm lather
- The brush helps to lift the facial hairs from the skin
- The brush gives the skin a gentle exfoliation
- You’ll need less shave cream or shaving soap to create a good lather
- No harmful gases or by-products from a pressurized container
What Are the Different Parts of a Shaving Brush – A Brief Guide
The dimensions of a shave brush can be divided into three sections; the knot, the loft, and the overall height.
- The knot is the amount of hair contained in it – which can either be loosely or tightly packed
- The loft is the length of the hairs in the knot
- The height is the length of the whole brush – from the bottom of the handle to the tip of the hairs. To determine the overall height of it, the length of the handle is the determinant factor.
The handle can either be made of resin, acrylic, wood, or metal. However, some more creative artisans sometimes come up with other materials to make it unique or to fit a particular preference for specific people.
Related reading: Best Shaving Kit for Men
Size and Shape
Size and shape, being the primary criteria, contain other factors that might be much more complex.
To start with, the shape of the handle could be a matter to consider. Some people prefer wide and short handles, others long and slender ones.
However, in the case where you are torn on the best one to buy, your pick should not have a longer handle than the size between your palm and the pad of your thumb.
On the other hand, loft tips are in different shapes; some are fan-like, while others are bulb-like; this is a personal choice that you will refine over time.
Sizes can vary a lot but the average loft is usually about 50 millimeters long and the average knot is around 20 millimeters in diameter.
The brush is made using different types of bristles. The four most common are boar hair, horsehair, badger hair, and synthetic fiber. In some instances you will come across mixed types of bristles; badger-horse hair and horse-synthetic hair are two common examples. Just to let you know, boar and badger hair is obtained from carcasses of animals that are used for both meat and their hair. This is unlike the harvest of horsehair which does not harm the animal.
The Difference between Various Types
I promised to get back to this, and here we are. Without beating around the bush, let’s get into it.
Shaving brushes are available in different types, please note that this article relates only to what kind of bristle or hair and grades of hair that is being used, not to the form or function. Shaving brushes mainly use either boar bristle, badger hair, or synthetic hair. There are also versions with horsehair, but this is rarer.
Boar (AKA hog, AKA pig) hair is relatively stiff in use but not in price. These are by far the most affordable and common shaving brush types in today’s wet shaving market. Also referred to as natural and pure bristle. With regards to their price, they are comparable to synthetic brushes. This is the most common type of choice and it is usually found in well-stocked grocery and drug stores. After some time, a boar bristle gets split ends, and you will find that it becomes softer and easier to make a lather.
To get the best results with a brush made from boar hair, leave it in hot water for some time, such as while showering. When the bristles have become completely saturated with water the hair (bristle) will be noticeably softer. A boar bristle brush need not be sub-standard and is perfectly suitable for those who want to get started with classic shaving at a reasonable price.
Their most common drawback is the fact that the bristles tend to be harder and more given to breakage. In addition to this, they do not retain water as other brushes do.
With prolonged use, they do get softer.
As said earlier, you do not have to harm the horse to obtain its hair. This is an important factor for many of us. Horsehair alternatives have received many positive reviews in that they are soft and not scratchy like other types made from some other bristles. Although they don’t hold quite as much water as high-quality badger options, they are more than adequate for the job. Horsehair is usually quite reasonably priced for its performance and construction quality. The downside here is availability: they are not found as easily as other alternatives. And they smell – horse hair needs at least 2 or 3 times washing with pet shampoo, rinse and dry before being put to use.
The preferred type of hair used in shaving brushes is from a badger. This is because the hair has an excellent absorption capacity and additionally is very soft. There are distinct differences between different quality levels of badger bristles, but please note that there is not a formal or universal classification. If an unethical producer wants to say their product is filled with Silvertip Badger, then there is nothing stopping them. It is also fairly common to bleach budget hair to give it a look of a higher grade, but the texture, performance, and feel of the hair remain unchanged. We therefore only recommend products from reputable manufacturers such as Mühle, Parker, and Edwin Jagger and therefore will use their classification.
Standard Badger/ Pure Badger/ Fine Badger/ Best Badger
Standard/ Pure/ Fine/ Best Badger is made of hair that grows on most parts of the badger, such as the belly, tail, and back. This is the cheapest type of badger hair and is characterized by the dark color of the hair. The hairs are being inserted into your brush as one bundle and are then being trimmed to a round end.
Brushes in this category can be machine-made unless otherwise noted. After trimming the hairs get blunt ends, you will feel that they are rougher against the skin than a finer grade badger. That being said, the hairs are far softer and will create nicer bubbles in the foam than pig bristles. A brush in this category is highly recommended to learn how to get a perfect shave.
Pure Badger Hair
These are the bottom of the badger hair heap in terms of quality. The good news is they are at the bottom of the price range as well. They feature a dark brown color and are derived from the belly of a badger. Their low price does not mean they are completely undesirable. They do feature softer bristles.
Best Badger Hair
These are a grade higher than the pure badger hair. The brushes made from this hair type are longer and the bristles have a lighter color. The softness is perfect.
Super Badger Hair
The bristles are very soft – softer than those of the above-mentioned types.
The Rolls Royce of shaving brushes. The hair comes from the neck of the badger, where each hair is a little thinner and softer than the rest of the coat. Thus there needs to be more hair to replenish the knot of the brush, giving even finer bubbles and thicker foam.
Hairs in Silvertip Badger are not trimmed to get the recognizable form but inserted one by one by hand to the correct length. The soft tip of the hair is preserved, making Silvertip Badger softest against the skin while further down the hair is stiffer to rapidly whip up foam.
It is, however, harder to find as it only grows on the badgers during winter. Many of these cost $100+. Silvertip is more expensive than the before mentioned bristle types but makes the best lather with the most comfort.
These are probably the hardest to find except in Spain where they are a preferred type. Softness is considered to be between that of boar and badger hair. While some parts of the bristles are hard and stiffer than other hairs, the tips are impressively soft.
Synthetic Hair Brushes
Additionally, there are options made of synthetic material that imitates badger. Previously, the synthetic versions were noticeably poorer in performance than their biological brothers, but current technology and production methods make today’s synthetic alternative equal to Badger versions.
It has been a long journey for synthetic brushes to get to where they are today. Most who prefer synthetic versions are after a brush that is not expensive and that an animal did not have to die for them to have.
While most of the issues with the synthetic shaving brush have been handled over the years, some still say that they are not great at holding lather in comparison to the other brushes. Also, synthetic models tend to be a bit stiffer than all other brush hairs.
Silvertip Fibre has gotten plenty of good reviews by experienced shaving enthusiasts and is perceived by many as good as the best Silvertip Badger.
There is also Black Fibre that corresponds to Pure Badger in use and price range.
Synthetic Fiber vs. Natural Hair
There are some very distinct pros – and cons to synthetic hair vs its natural counterpart.
Synthetic Fiber Pros
- Strength – Synthetic fiber is a lot stronger than natural hair
- Maintenance – Synthetic fiber involves more or less zero maintenance
- Consistency – If you have two brushes with the same knot, handle and loft, there is almost no variance on synthetic brushes whereas on natural hair there will be some slight variance even with the same hair grade
- Temperature range – Synthetic fiber will withstand hotter (though not extremely hot or boiling) water that would damage natural hair
- Drying – Synthetic fiber will dry much faster than natural hair
Synthetic Fiber Cons
- Water retention – Synthetic fibers do not retain water like natural hair, so you must modify your lather procedure to accommodate this lack of retained water
- Heat retention – Synthetic fibers will lose heat faster than natural hair (a bit like down vs. synthetic fibers in clothing), so if you like warm lather throughout the shave – a natural hair bristle may be more your preference
- Feel at the tip – Good synthetic fibers are soft at the tip but they do not “feel” the same as a natural badger hair brush
- Backbone variation – Synthetic fibers have one consistent backbone feel whereas you can vary the backbone in a natural brush by the amount of time you let the brush soak in water
Synthetic alternatives are therefore no longer something you just buy to avoid using animal products, but a good alternative for a Badger shaving brush!
You may want a dedicated brush for your travels. Some larger versions – while perfectly suited for home use – may cause minor packing issues. A travel alternative will have a considerably shorter handle with a smaller loft. This helps in ease of packing, and there are numerous special choices on the market in which the container protecting the knot transforms to become the handle.
A good brush can last for years with proper care and maintenance. Be careful when you rinse it after use and make sure you get all the soap residue out. Rinse from the top down with warm water and squeeze the knot gently to circulate water through all the hair. Once you have got rid of all the foam, shake it well until no more water comes out, and then put it away. If you hang it upside down in a rack it will dry faster, this is also a convenient way to store it. It rarely drips water from it, if it is shaken well.
If you are going to travel it’s smart to carry a container suitable for the job. The container should have a hole in the bottom so that the moisture being released from the hair can escape.
NOTE: Do not boil the brush after you’ve bought it. This will damage the hair and handle, which comes factory sterilized anyway. The hair or bristle will smell a bit in the beginning, but this disappears after a bit of use. There is usually no need for special detergents for cleaning the hair since it is constantly being cleaned by the shaving soap. Commonly, they all lose a few hairs at the start, and all shaving brushes expand or “bloom” over time.
Ruiru Kibet is passionate about beard care and male grooming. He believes it’s an art form and is happy to share his insight with men across the globe. He’s into wet shaving and evidence-based grooming, a passion that helps him analyze men’s grooming brands, products, and wet shaving practices presenting you with the best recommendations and advice. Kevin's profile on Linkedin.