Ode to a Shaving Brush
Badger hair is the ideal material for a shaving brush because of its natural water absorbing capability. The primary goal of the shaving brush is to absorb hot water and then infuse it into the shaving soap or cream. The bristles mix them together to create a dense and cushioning lather needed for a comfortable shave. Attempting to lather a soap or cream by hand without a brush would not accomplish this task and likely result in a thin and runny lather. By swirling the brush across the skin, the brush produces a thicker, richer, more cushioning lather than one can create by hand.
Second, when applying the lather to your face, the shaving brush is gently exfoliating your skin and removing dry cells so that your face is healthy and soft. The brush removes any dead skin from your face before shaving so that there is no dry skin to clog the razor and prevent it from gliding smoothly across the skin. In addition, the exfoliation is an important skin care treatment that will help young men with acne, and it will help mature men keep their skin hydrated and soft.
Finally, a shaving brush helps to lift and soften the hair so that you can get the closest shave possible. The bristles of the shaving brush lift the whiskers into the thick lather. This suspends the hair away from the skin allowing the blade to cut the hairs close along the skin line. Without the use of a shaving brush, whiskers may lay flat against the skin and will require more shaving passes to expose them and cut them away.
The modern shaving brush goes back as far as 18th Century Europe, where brush handles were forged from gold, ivory, silver, porcelain, crystal, ivory, or tortoise shell. Up until the 19th Century, men visited a barber for a shave; however, the production of the folding straight razor allowed men to shave at home. The market for shaving accessories grew and shaving brushes became status symbols. Members of the aristocracy purchased expensive brushes that were made of the finest materials and craftsmanship.
Today, shaving brushes are not generally flaunted for status, but they do cover a wide price range. On the low end, consumers can find shaving brushes for under $5. These brushes are usually mass produced wooden or plastic handles filled with boar hair or synthetic bristles. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some brushes exceed $300 for the hand-lathed handles and premium badger hair bristles. For more on the hierarchy of badger hair, see Understanding Hair Grades of Badger Brushes.
If you are new to wet shaving, you don't have to invest in a premium shaving brush right out of the gate. Most starter shaving brushes fall somewhere in the $30-50 range comprising pure or best grade badger hair. Avoid high-end brushes because they are delicate and a new shaver is likely to damage the brush because of his inexperience. Lathering a high-end badger brush with too much pressure can cause the tips to break or hairs to split, so it's more appropriate to learn on a brush that is a little more durable and can take a beating. Vulfix manufactures several good beginner brushes, such as the 660 or 2233.
Seasoned veterans upgrade their shaving brushes based on a number of factors, including hair grade, size, or brand. For example, shavers who enjoy shaving creams may expand their brush collections with large, soft shaving brushes from Vulfix or Kent, since those brands offer brushes that hold a lot of water and do a great job at generating lather with a cream. Proponents of shaving soaps may turn to denser shaving brushes from manufacturers, such as Rooney or Simpsons, since those really excel at efficiently building lather off a puck of soap. You can learn more about the performance of selected brushes in the Shaving 101 Brush Reviews. Of course, with any shaving brush and the proper lathering technique, it's possible to create the perfect lather for a comfortable shave.
The pure aesthetics of a brush is another factor to consider when purchasing a new shaving brush. Some shavers prefer large handles so that the brush rests easily in their palms, while others prefer shorter handles for smaller motions while lathering. You can see a side-by-side comparison of many popular shaving brushes in the Shaving 101 Galleries. In addition, brushes come in a variety of styles, colors, weights, and materials. Many shavers enjoy trying different types of shaving brushes to discover the handle characteristics that they prefer.
Since the 1700s, the shaving brush has been a critical element of achieving a comfortable shave. The shaving brush helps to create the perfect lather that exfoliates and conditions the skin, softens the hair, and allows for a very close shave. Although shaving brushes range in price, materials, and styles, there is a brush for everyone. By trying different grades and brands, you can pinpoint the shaving brushes that compliment your personal shaving style and make excellent additions to your brush collection.