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Shaving Brush - How To Choose a Shaving Brush

Updated on September 11, 2010

Shaving Brushes -- The Manly Way To Get Shaving Cream on Your Mug

Back in the olden days, men used shaving brushes made of animal hair to spread shaving cream on their pusses. Then they stopped. Who knows why? Probably for the same reason they stopped hunting and fishing and drinking whiskey, and instead spend all day surfing on their smartphones and checking their stock porfolios.

These old guys survived the Great Depression! They defeated the Nazi hordes in western Europe and came home and created the baby boom. These guys were real men and they knew what they were doing. You should worship them.

One bit of old-guy wisdom was the shaving brush. It's infinitely more manly than smearing your blue gel of choice over your cheeks and chin with your soft, girlish hands. Shaving brushes are made of animal hair. They look rad and feel great on your skin. (They "exfoliate" too, but only if you're metro.)

By the time you read all the information here you'll be convinced that you simply CANNOT GO ON LIVING without your very own shaving brush (or three).

What does a shaving brush do?

Take my word for it: there's a world of difference between slathering blue goo over your face with your wet fingertips and caressing rich, thick lather onto your cheeks and chin with a badger brush. It's the difference between a McDonald's hamburger and a sirloin steak.

A shaving brush prepares your whiskers, and your skin, for a good close shave.

A shaving brush absorbs a little bit of hot water and mixes that water with your shaving cream. The combination of the two, whipped with just a big of twirling, is big rich soft peaks of lovely lather. If you're using a good shaving cream too then this lather will create a much better, smoother and closer shave.

While you're slathering on the lather you're also lifting your whiskers and standing them up on end so that your razor can cut most of them off. The more whisker you remove, the closer your shave.

Your brush exfoliates your skin. That means it removes dead skin cells which helps your skin look younger (and helps prevent pimples, if you have a problem with them).

Finally, using a shaving brush just feels fantastic on your skin. Even if you don't really love a good close shave, you'll probably love she shave brush feeling.

The three types of shaving brushes

There are three main types of shaving brushes, distinguished by their bristles: synthetic, boar and badger. Occasionally you'll find a morphodite brush with bristles from two sources but, fortunately, boar-badger miscegenation is rare.

Synthetic shaving brushes have bristles made of plastic. These are abominations that could only exist in an epicene, politically-correct, PETA-allowing society. Furthermore plastic-bristled shaving brushes don't hold water, which is 50% of the purpose of a shaving brush.

I really have no idea why synthetic shaving brushes exist. Except for vegans. And we all know that vegans sport wispy hipster beards, so they've no need of a shaving brush anyway. So don't waste your time with synthetic bristles.

Boar-bristle shaving brushes have relatively stiff bristles. For this reason they're better at exfoliation and stimulating the skin. According to my research and personal experience, Italian and Sicilian barbers seem to prefer boar bristle brushes. If you have particularly sensitive skin then boar-bristle brushes aren't for you.

The main drawback of boar-bristle brushes is the smell. Stick your nose in a boar-bristle brush and you'd swear that all the bristles in your hand were plucked from a squealing boar's butt. And here's the thing: they never, ever smell any better. You can soak them in aftershave for a week, douse them with vodka and set them on fire and they'll still smell like boar butt.

For this reason, boar-bristle brushes are not recommended.

Badger-bristle brushes are the standard used by virtually everyone who shaves like a man. Badger is softer than boar-bristle and holds more water. Even better, it doesn't smell like a pair of jockey shorts.

If you really want the true old-school shaving experience, go with a badger brush.

But once you choose badger -- there's the question of grade. What grade of badger brush should you choose? Read on.

Synthetic bristle shaving brushes - For vegetarians, pacifists and other wusses

If you're not man enough to slather your face with dead animal hair every morning, then you don't have to give up all of the pleasures of a shaving brush. You can still enjoy the exfoliating action and the whisker-stimulation effects of a shaving brush by choosing a synthetic bristle brush.

Here's the thing, though: synthetic brushes don't whip up lather as thick and rich as the other types of brushes. Your lather will be watery and runny. (Sorry, but them's the breaks.)

The good news is that synthetic brushes last forever. And they don't smell bad. Most bristles are made of nylon and handles tend to be of lucite, acrylic or some other flavor of plastic.

Grades of badger brush
Grades of badger brush

Grades of badger shaving brush

There are four grades of badger bristles used to make brushes: pure, best, super and silvertip.

Pure badger bristles come from the underbelly of a badger (that's about 60% of the body). Pure bristles are normally dark but can vary from black to light tan. Pure bristles are coarser than the other grades, resulting is a more stimulating and exfoliating shave. Pure badger brushes are often trimmed into shape which leads to even rougher ends.

Pure badger brushes are by far the least expensive type of badger brush.

Best badger brushes use finer and springier hairs from the badger's body (about 25% of the coat). The individual hairs are longer and lighter in color. A best-grade badger brush has a lot more bristles than a correspondingly-sized pure brush and therefore produces a richer, thicker lather. Best and better-quality brushes are almost never trimmed to shape -- instead, bristles are arranged to create the shape desired.

Best badger brushes are recommended for beginners.

Super-quality brushes are significantly more expensive than pure or best brushes. The hairs that form a super-grade brush come from the same part of the coat as best-quality bristles, but these bristles are sorted by hand into two separate grades. Super bristles are gray-white with lighter tips. The lighter color doesn't extend too far down the shaft of the hair. Because of this coloration, super-grade bristles can be mistaken for silvertip.

Silvertip badger brushes are the ne plus ultra, the most expensive and rarest, and therefore the most desirable type of brush. The silvertip bristles are white-tipped. The ends of the bristles are flared, giving the brush a fluffy appearance -- and resulting in lather so thick and rich it almost defies description. Shaving with a silvertip badger brush is a religious experience.

Silvertip badger brushes are expensive -- so expensive that there are a lot of counterfeits. For this reason it's recommended to purchase a silvertip brush from a reputable manufacturer (Simpson and Vulfix are the two leading brands).

Some manufacturers sell grades of badger brush beyond silvertip -- super-silvertip, or extra-silvertip. This is more marketing than reality. If you're seriously considering dropping $1000 on a super-duper-silvertip brush, you should probably be in a straightjacket.

Badgers: among nature's most dangerous animals
Badgers: among nature's most dangerous animals

Wait a second -- WHAT ABOUT THE BADGERS???

All right, Jane Fonda -- yes, badger brushes are made of real live badgers. But these are not the cute, bumbling country badgers you see on the roadsides or in the pubs of Wales or Kent. Virtually all the world's commercial badger hair comes from China. But you probably guessed that.

Here's what you didn't know: in northern China, badgers are a nuisance animal. They eat crops and steal candy from children. Whole villages are licensed by the central government to hunt down badgers and sell their pelts to brush-makers.

Wholesale badger brushes cost about 10 times more than boar or synthetic bristle.

And yes, they do kill the badgers. So if you want to shave like a man you have to face the fact that a badger, a loveable furry woodland creature, went under the guillotine for you.

Or you can just buy a vintage badger brush on eBay...

Badger shaving brushes you can buy right now - You know you want one, so buy one!

A staggering variety of shaving brushes are available right now -- right this instant -- online. You can choose from any type of bristle and dozens of different sorts of handle material. (Super-luxury silvertip badger brushes often have handles made of rain forest hardwoods, semiprecious stones, human bone or other exotic materials.)

Consider choosing a brush that has a handle made of something other than wood. Wood frequently loses its finish and cracks in the steamy environment of the bathroom.

Boar-bristle shaving brushes for sale - For Italian barbers and others who can tolerate the smell

Boar-bristle brushes scour your skin and are very stimulating. They're also less expensive than badger brushes. On the other hand, the bristles are more brittle so you're going to have the alien-whisker-stuck-in-your-lather experience a bit more often. Plus they smell like a boar's butt.

But if you can stand the smell and the scratchiness, the boar brush makes an outstanding shaving brush.

Care of your shaving brush
Care of your shaving brush

Care and feeding of your shaving brush

Proper care means long life

It's pretty easy to take good care of your shaving brush. There are a few simple rules:

1. Rinse it thoroughly every time you shave. Don't let lather dry and cake among the bristles. This makes the brush harden over time and soon you'll feel like you're lathering up with a pumice stone every morning.

2. Don't stand your brush on its end to dry. A lot of guys balance their brush on its end and let it air-dry. This sounds like a good idea but it's suboptimal for a couple of reasons. First, it means the water drains back over the handle. This is bad for wood handles. Secondly, air drying in this way can distort the shape of the brush. It's better to use a brush stand. If your brush didn't come with one, you can make your own out of a wire coathanger. Then, when your wife's done laughing at you, buy one for a few bucks.

3. Don't leave your brush sitting in a mug. In fact, don't leave your brush sitting anywhere except in a brush stand. If you leave it laying in a mug or other soap dish you'll distort its shape. This is bad for the brush and bad for the individual bristles, leading to breakage and premature baldness.

4. Easy does it. Be gentle when you lather up. If you grind your brush into your face you'll break bristles and probably give yourself a rash or a breakout. Softer is better.

Shaving brush care: video - For you visual types

A brief video demonstrating proper care of your shaving brush.

Video: How shaving brushes are made

Get an inside look at an English shaving-brush factory. Very interesting video.

Basics of shaving brushes: video - If you're too lazy to read...

A well-researched video by mantic59 provides great background info on shaving brushes. Highly recommended.

Whether you use a cheap plastic-handled brush or you hoist a Vulfix super-silvertip to your cheeks every day, I'd like to hear from you. When did you start using a shaving brush? Why?

And, most importantly, what's your favorite shaving brush?

Tales from the bathroom - What's your favorite shaving brush?

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    • georgevtucker profile image

      georgevtucker 5 years ago

      @Jimmy Gavin: You'll definitely get a better, closer shave with a brush-and-razor. But you have to be A LOT more careful -- your steel blade is a lot less forgiving than your buzzing doohickey. Good luck!

    • MrManchild profile image

      MrManchild 5 years ago

      Do you get a better shave with these?

    • kevin-collins profile image

      kevin-collins 5 years ago

      Great lens with tons of awesome information. Thanks for collecting it all!

    • georgevtucker profile image

      georgevtucker 5 years ago

      @LeorG: Thanks for dropping by!

    • georgevtucker profile image

      georgevtucker 5 years ago

      @Jimmy Gavin: Hey, thanks!

      You can give this a try without laying out too much cash if you shop around on eBay and Amazon. Makes more sense to buy a $12 brush and see whether you like the whole wet-shaving thing than to spring for a high-end silvertip brush and discover to your chagrin that you just don't have time in the mornings to shave like you should...

      If you decide to go old-school, stop by and tell us how it goes!

    • georgevtucker profile image

      georgevtucker 5 years ago

      @TreasuresBrenda: Thanks for stopping by! An inexpensive badger brush (look at the Tweezerman brand) and a tube of Proraso make a great gift for a brother, husband or in-law. No guy will say no to an old-fashioned shave...

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 5 years ago from Canada

      Lots of information here, well presented. I ah don't use a shaving brush.

    • Jimmy Gavin profile image

      Jimmy Gavin 5 years ago

      Hi georgevtucker, I have always been an electric man but reading your Lens had made me want to try the old brush method....gr8 lens

    • LeorG profile image

      LeorG 6 years ago

      Very information lens. Thanks for sharing!