Bulb or Fan: A Look at Shaving Brush Shapes
Some shaving brush bristles are knotted or trimmed so that the loft is the shape of a light bulb or dome. This style is characteristic of traditional German shaving brush makers, including Muhle, Dovo/Merkur, and Shavemac, so it is often referred to as “European style.”
Bulb-shaped shaving brushes have shorter hair on the outside of the lofts making the inner loft feel more compact. Because the length and bulk of the bristles remain in the center of the loft, they do not spread out widely. This allows a wet shaver to control how and where you apply shaving lather. In addition, the smaller footprint makes them outstanding for lathering in bowls or mugs because you can work the product into the loft instead of it being pushed around the perimeter of the mug by the outer bristles.
While bulb-shaped lofts are nice for applying lather to the face because it does not spread everywhere and you can place it where you want it, it can be difficult to build the lather directly on the face with this shape. If a loft is very bulbous, it can feel pointy since the bulk of the loft is in the center and a smaller surface is making contact with face. The loft has a tendency to swirl, twist, or flop from side to side. Because of this bulb-shaped brushes work well for lathering in back and forth, paint-brush style lathering. This method of lathering will avoid damaging the bristles and prolong the life of your shaving brush.
Shaving brushes that have flatter bristles are referred to as fan-shaped lofts or “flat lofts.” This shape is characteristic of traditional British shaving brush makers, including Truefitt and Hill, Simpsons, and Rooney, so it is also referred to as “English style.” Despite the association with the UK brands, this is simply a generality and not a rule, since these manufacturers produce bulb-shaped brushes as well.
Because the hairs on the outside of the loft are longer, these brushes generally feel fuller since the surface area of the loft that touches the face is larger. The longer bristles hold more water and work with the inner bristles to infuse it into the shaving soap or cream resulting in more abundant lather. The additional water helps keep the lather hydrated throughout the duration of your shave.
Because of the larger surface area, lathering with a fan-shaped brush can be messy and you may try to apply lather to your cheek and end up with it up your nose. This shape is outstanding for face lathering, since it can be used in circular scrubbing motions providing greater exfoliation and massaging sensations. If you choose to use your brush in this manner, be careful to avoid excessive pressure when lathering. Smashing the loft into your bowl or face may cause the inner bristles to twist and break and ultimately deteriorate the core of the brush.
Which to Choose
Although each shape of brush loft has its own characteristics of look and feel, choosing one over the other is primarily a matter of personal preference. Some men who own multiple brushes often choose to rotate between one shape and the other depending on their mood, what type of product they are using, and whether they are lathering in a mug, bowl, or directly on their face. To make matters even more complicated, many brushes available today are shaped in between the two extremes and more of a hybrid of the two. Both styles of brush lofts are produced by reputable manufacturers and available with various grades of hair and handle materials. The loft shape is just one more feature of a shaving brush along with knot size, floppiness/stiffness, density, and grade of hair that affects its overall performance during your morning shave.
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