Arguably one of the most indispensable piece of kit for a man that shaves is the shaving brush. This helpful little tool whips and adds the right amounts of air and water into the shaving cream or soap. Having just the right texture and mix makes or breaks a good lather and thusly your shave. However, with literally thousands of choices out there and variations in size, loft, density, shape, and material how does one choose the best? Join us for part 1 for an in-depth guide in brush-enomics to help you decide which brush suits you best.
The most notable and distinctive difference in brushes will be the bristle, or hair, material. Each has a different face feel, texture, and latherability. The gold standard for brush hair has been badger hair; for which its ability to retain water has given the edge over other materials. There are several grades of badger hair but no standard measurement so be sure to compare between makers. Some of the most sought after badger hair is the “High Mountain White” and brushes made from this hair go in the hundreds of pounds and dollars. Badger brushes have the most variations in style and in size and are the most versatile. Of course other choices have made their way over the centuries including boar or porcine bristle, horse hair, mixed hair blends, and within more recent times synthetics made from nylon and other man made materials.
Horse hair fell deeply out of favor around the turn of the century due to sanitation issues (a few people died from anthrax from improperly sanitized hair in brushes, including the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s brother) but this material has seen a resurgence recently. Horse hair is sustainable and it’s gathering does no harm to the horse. It is plentiful as well. The most complaints tend to be that it makes a floppy brush and the hair has a tendency to get tangled requiring more involved maintenance.
Boar hair is most common in lesser expensive brushes, however it is almost as highly loved as badger. The hair comes as a by product of the meat industry, and is plentiful. While the bristles may start out stiff and somewhat scratchy, with time the hair ends will split and soften very nicely. These brushes have lots of backbone and work very well for soaps due to this. That is not to say they don’t work well for creams, but perhaps a bit less so than badger.
Synthetic bristles have been around for decades but have been relatively unpopular due to the strand size being much larger than natural choices which lead to poor water retention, lathering ability, and face feel. However, great strides have been made within the past eight to ten years in this area and some absolutely fantastic brushes are out there. These brushes are great for those who do not want to use animal by-products, have severe allergies, or do a lot of travel. The water retention is very good, is ready to use instantly while natural fibers need some time to hydrate, and are very affordable.
These choices in brush fibre are the most noticeable and where most of the variation in different brushes takes place. In part two we will talk more about how the shape of the brush and how the loft of the fibers can affect the shave and share some of our favorite examples from these categories.