Types of Shaving Soap

Shaving soaps come in an array of colors, scents, shapes and prices, but there are two basic kinds of shaving soaps: (1) tallow-based soaps and (2) glycerin-based soaps. Both types can be animal-fat or vegetable-oil based, or a mix.

Tallow-based Soaps

Tallow-based soaps are soaps that are made from either animal fats or vegetable oils. These can range widely in quality. The cheap ones, like Williams Mug Shaving Soap, tend to produce a rather frothy or foamy lather—not much different from regular bath soap, really. The more expensive ones, like those from Tabac or Taylor of Old Bond Street, can produce a luxuriant, creamy lather.

Glycerin-based Soaps

Glycerin-based soaps are easily recognizable because of their "clear" appearance (translucent is the technical term). All soaps will have some level of glycerin in them. In fact, glycerin is actually a byproduct of making tallow-based soaps (although, it can also be a byproduct of other processes like making certain fuels). Glycerin can be derived from either vegetable oils or animal fats. Glycerin-based soaps will contain a much higher level of glycerin than tallow-based soaps. Glycerin soaps are widely said to lather more easily and to produce a rich lather. Glycerin is also a skin moisturizer so glycerin-based soaps should help counter the drying effect that regular soap can have on skin. (However, moisturizers are often added to the more expensive tallow soaps.)

Animal-based vs. Vegetable-based

If you are the sort of person who feels very strongly about avoiding products that contain animal ingredients, you may wish to investigate using tallow-based soaps that are made from vegetable oils instead of animal fats. I would not automatically assume, as seems common, that glycerin-based soaps are free of animal ingredients since glycerin can be derived from either vegetable oils or animal fats. Whether tallow-based or glycerin-based, one would need to do deeper research to discover if any particular soap contains animal byproducts or not.

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