Cheap Vs. Expensive Shaving Cream

Shaving is something most of us do with varying levels of consistency. However, if you haven’t put thought into the cream you use for a wet shave, this could compromise your grooming routine. Today, we’ll teach you what you can expect from cheap and expensive shaving creams, respectively, so you can make informed buying decisions.

Why Should You Care About Shaving Cream?

Shaving cream is one of those simple consumer goods that doesn’t really get a lot of attention; in other words, most of us often see it more as a means to an end rather than something we’re actually excited to buy. Comparatively, there even tends to be a bit more engagement in the closely related shaving soaps.

Shaving soaps
Shaving soaps enhance your shaving routine–just like shaving creams!

Still, quality shaving creams will enhance not only the experience but also the results of your grooming routine. This will lead you not only to a closer shave but also less irritation, fewer nicks, cuts, and clogged pores, and healthier skin overall. So, if you’ve already mastered the tips and tricks covered in our comprehensive shaving guide, but you’re still finding shaving to be a less-than-stellar experience, it might be that your shaving cream is to blame.

“Cheap” vs. “Expensive” Shaving Cream

Defining Cheap and Expensive

We’ll be using “cheap” to refer to shaving creams that are generally within the $1 to $15 price range, and “expensive” to refer to creams that are generally in the $20 to $50 price range.

It’s likely that you’ll already be familiar with cheap brands like Gillette and Barbasol, as they’re fixtures in pharmacy aisles. Meanwhile, higher-end creams are typically going to be from heritage brands like Taylor of Old Bond Street, Musco Real, or Proraso, to name a few. Beyond price tags and brand names, though, there are more specific ways to differentiate between cheap and expensive shaving creams.

1. Application Method: Foams vs. Lathers

The first of these that we’ll cover today are application methods, which is to say: foams versus lathers.

Cheap shaving creams, by and large, are dispensed as aerosolized foams or gels often from pressurized canisters. This is in opposition to expensive creams, which are generally lipid-based, that is, fatty cream, whipped into a lather by hand or by brush.

Cheap vs. Expensive Shaving Brushes: Tips for the Best Shave

These days, “Big Shaving” tends to promote foam as the most convenient option for men. After all, it doesn’t require more elaborate application with things like shaving brushes, bowls, pre-shave oils, excess water, or shaving soaps for the most optimal outcome. And it is faster to use foaming creams with a cartridge razor in a pinch because you don’t have to paint them on to get started. 

As with most things in menswear, however, popularity and speed don't always translate to quality. The synthetic materials used in cheap creams, like artificial dyes or lab-created compounds, can have ill effects on your skin over time. Manufacturers even include traces of propane sometimes to increase the foaming.

Synthetic materials in

Cheap Shaving Creams

As with most things in menswear, popularity and speed don’t always translate to quality. The synthetic materials used in cheap creams, like artificial dyes or lab-created compounds, can have ill effects on your skin over time. Manufacturers even include traces of propane sometimes to increase the foaming.

The numbing effects that cheap creams create might actually make you more likely to nick and cut yourself over time as well. This is because, with sensation reduced on your skin, you might not accurately be able to tell just where your blade is placed, and because the electric razors and multi-blade razors that many men use require more pressure on the face than safety razors or straight razors, there’s likely going to be more digging in of the blades as well.

Remember, though, that taking extra care to remove hair from the face is vital for a clean shaving experience and that the blade should be right next to the skin but without too much pressure for best results. This is if you don’t want razor bumps to go with your shave, at least.

The right technique is as important as the product
The right technique is as important as the product

So, not only are you more likely to nick yourself when using cheaper creams, but their ingredients are also more likely to include irritants to your skin as well. This is because they often rely on cheap chemicals in order to cut costs things like propylene glycol, triethanolamine, sodium laurel sulfate, and parabens. For some men, these ingredients can cause breakouts, rashes, or ingrown hairs, leaving them wishing they just still had their stubble instead.

Meanwhile, a higher-quality shaving cream is more likely to be made from natural ingredients or at least a higher proportion of them. These ingredients will help to lubricate and exfoliate the face as opposed to numbing and irritating it, meaning that you’re getting a little bit of extra skin care in the process as well.

How to Get Clear Skin & Prevent Acne – Skincare Tips for Men

Furthermore, using a brush to apply your lather also has its own benefits. Applying your lather from a bowl or mug with a brush reduces the amount of oil from your hands that will get onto your face. Plus, the lathering action helps to open up your pores and lift up your hair for an easier shaving experience.

2. Cost-Per-Use

You might assume that cheaper shaving creams automatically have a better cost-per-use, but this isn’t always the case. Higher-end shaving cream typically requires less product to be used for each shave, especially when combined with the bristles of a high-quality brush.

Expensive shaving cream may have better cost per use when used with a good shaving brush.
Expensive shaving cream may have a better cost per use when used with a good shaving brush.

So, it will take less raw material to cover the face, both because a higher quality shaving cream requires fewer chemical reactions to occur on the face to make a good lather and because, using a brush, you can easily apply multiple layers or coats onto your face. Meanwhile, cheaper shaving creams do require chemical reactions to occur in order to foam up, meaning that you’re going to have to use more to get the same coverage.

While an expensive shaving cream will cost more upfront (much like a quality pair of dress shoes), it will come to cost less per use over time. Perhaps, this is intentional, as big corporations do love frequent and repeat buyers of their products. You might say this is just a conspiracy theory on our part, but in the world of business, there is literally a sales tactic referred to as the “Razor & Blades Model.”

In addition, some cheap shaving creams may look to be a good value for the amount that you’re getting, but much of this is actually just water and aerosol compounds. In other words, you’re essentially going to be paying for water and air, and they’re not really going to tell you how much of each you’re getting.

Expensive creams have more fat in them


Natural Fat Content

Meanwhile, with more expensive creams, you can be confident that they’re not watered down because natural fats and oils are hydrophobic, meaning that they’ll separate from water.

3. Skin Sensitivity

Many men have sensitive skin that’s prone to either dryness or excess oil production, which can be exacerbated if their shaving creams aren’t taking these factors into account. Most cheap shaving creams, unfortunately, have a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t take these sensitivities into consideration.

As we cover in our shaving guide, there are many different issues that can arise while grooming and not addressing them can result in blisters, acne, ingrown hairs, or razor burn. Quality shaving cream manufacturers are aware that these are pain points for men and formulate different products within their lines to counteract said pain points.

Quality manufacturers address the customers pain points.
Quality manufacturers address the customers’ pain points.

This means that if you’re using an expensive shaving cream, you should be less likely to suffer the effects of irritation, assuming that you have a good shaving technique. More specifically, expensive shaving creams will look to add ingredients like vitamin E, aloe vera, shea butter, primrose oil, or wheat germ. These are natural moisture moisturizers, soothers, and/or antiseptics, which can help prevent the inflammation that can result from shaving.

Synthetic soothing agents can work, too, but somewhat paradoxically, they’re also more likely to cause irritation. So, it’s worth taking the time to learn how any and all ingredients in shaving creams might interact with your own skin.

4. Scents

There’s also the closely related issue e of scents, as some men just don’t want to have artificial smells on their faces. Come to think of it, I don’t know of anyone who wants to smell like propane, except maybe Hank Hill. And other men simply want to make sure that any and all of these scents from the grooming products that they’re using are layering well. Therefore, fragrances can make or break any product for someone who’s more attuned to their own sense of smell.

Scents are subjective

Depending on Skin type

Scents React with Skin

Scents are a subjective area that will vary greatly depending on your own personal preferences, and while natural scents can be irritating to some, artificial scents are generally more likely to cause irritation than their natural counterparts. This is because their chemical compositions often have known irritants like ethanol included, and tend to linger on the skin in unpleasant ways.

Instead, expensive shaving creams are more likely to utilize versatile, timeless, and classic scents like sandalwood, bergamot, neroli, or lime. This is because they’re not chasing fads, trends, or popular notions about what smells cool, whatever that means.

5. Getting That Barbershop Treatment

During the Golden Age of Menswear, most men could wield a safety razor with ease, but getting a quality shave from a barber was still seen as something of a luxurious indulgence. But, because they wanted to experience that baby smooth shave feeling that can only be given by a professional, men would still take the time to schedule with a barber. Think of it sort of like a gentleman’s spa day.

Bring the barbershop experience home with a quality shaving cream!
Bring the barbershop experience home with quality shaving cream!

You can still make an appointment for a barber shop shave today, of course. But to bring some of that experience home, the use of high-quality shaving creams, along with a traditional safety razor or straight razor, will give you some of the same feel and elevate your shaving experience.

A foamy shaving cream


Foamy Texture

Even the time-intensive ritual of building up to a shave like this can be its own form of self-care. However, the fact of the matter is that it’s difficult to replicate this feeling with cheap shaving cream. It isn’t going to be as comfortable on the face, and the foamy texture won’t relax the senses in the same way that a good lather will.

In other words, this is likely to make your experience using cheaper shaving creams more of a chore than something you’ll look forward to, and if a busy gangster like Al Capone can make time for a quality shave, then it must be worth it.

How To Shop A Quality Shaving Cream

To close things out today, we’ll give you a few more tips on how to spot a quality shaving cream. 

1. High Fat Content

First here, we’ll note that the composition of a quality cream should be around 30% to 50% fat. The most common ingredients here are coconut oil, also sometimes known as coconut acid, and glycerin. But, you’re also going to see essential oils like sandalwood, cedar wood, cypress, bergamot, lemon, lime, patchouli, eucalyptus, peppermint, vitaver, lavender, or rose.

Again, scent comes down to personal preference. So, while the sense of these essential oils will be subjective, many of them also contain antioxidant compounds that will be good for your skin. On the other hand, though, even though these essential oils are natural, they may still contain irritants for some skin types. So, as we mentioned before, it’s worth knowing what your own skin sensitivities are and how your skin will interact with different essential oils.

2. Less Like To See Alcohols

Another pointer toward using a high-quality shaving cream is that you’re unlikely or less likely to see alcohols, anything that ends in “-ol,” or petrochemical products listed among the ingredients. A potential exception here is benzyl alcohol, which will sometimes be used as an antibacterial agent, but it can have the effect of drying out the skin so you may wish to stay clear of it.

Alcohol ingredients may cause drying of the skin
Alcohol ingredients may cause drying of the skin!

3. No Synthetic Perfume

There shouldn’t be any synthetic perfume either, so a chemical-like smell should be a sign that the ingredients in your shaving cream aren’t as natural as the company selling it might want you to believe.

So, if you’re looking for some specific product recommendations for shaving creams, you can check out our full shaving cream guide here.


Now that we’ve laid out what you can expect at different price points, we hope you’ll be more informed in choosing between cheap and expensive shaving creams. In our opinion, high-quality shaving creams, which generally do cost a bit more, are a simple and easy way to upgrade your grooming routine.

Good quality shaving creams will give you a superior shave.
Good quality shaving creams will give you a superior shave.

In simplest terms, we believe that they’re essentially superior in every way to cheaper shaving creams. It’s easier to build up a shaving ritual with higher quality products, which will get your day off to a better start, and expensive creams typically have only a minimal increase in upfront cost. Still, in our view, you can’t put a price on a great shave. Isn’t that right, Chewy?

What sort of shaving cream do you use? Are there any brands you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments below.

Outfit Rundown

Today, I’m wearing a relatively casual, around-the-house outfit, good for catching up or improving on one’s shaving routine. The central element, of course, is my wine-colored cardigan sweater from Charles Tyrwhitt, and I’m wearing it over a shirt also from Charles Tyrwhitt, featuring a red and blue, micro-grid pattern on a white ground. I thought that the red, white, and blue colors in the shirt were reminiscent of the classic barber’s pole. The shirt does have French cuffs, but I’m wearing them in a barrel style today with some simple black links to make the sleeves fit more easily under the sweater.

My trousers are plain charcoal in color to harmonize with the cardigan, and my shoes are dark ox blood penny loafers from Allen Edmonds. In the outdoor footage you’re seeing, I’m also wearing a relatively recent acquisition into my wardrobe, a flat cap in a rustic brown checked pattern.

Rounding out my outfit today are my socks: Two-tone solids in burgundy and white from Fort Belvedere, and my fragrance from the Roberto Ugolini collection. This one is Quatro Rosso or Four Rosso, and I appreciate its warm floral tones, which are good for the autumn in which we’ve produce this post. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the dark red of the bottle happens to harmonize with my outfit.

So, for the socks I’m wearing, as well as a wide array of other classic men’s accessories and fragrances from the Roberto Ugolini collection, you can take a look at the Fort Belvedere shop.

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