Historically, soap was used as shaving cream. Soap remained the mainstay in shaving technology for centuries, until the mid 20th century when modern chemistry introduced us to the products we see in drugstores today which combine cleansing ingredients with soothing emollients (moisturizers, oils). I’ve personally always shaved using the lather from a gentle cleanser as shaving cream and been happy with it. But I know a lot of guys like to use a modern shaving foam/gel/cream, so I decided to launch an experimentation–try as many shaving preparation products as I can and see if there is a good one out there to recommend. I tried 12 products over the past several months, and made sure to include a variety of foams, gels, and creams.

Foams/Gels (come in metal pressurized cans): These are normally made with stearic acid and/or palmitic acid (used in soap making), triethanolamine (a “surfactant” a.k.a. cleanser), and an emollient (a moisturizing agent such as glycerin). They all provided me with a good shave, but I tended to prefer the foams over the gels. Almost all shaving foams and gels are made with high amounts of stearic acid or palmitic acid. From what I have learned in cosmetic ingredient classes, frequent use of these ingredients at high concentrations can negatively affect the skin’s barrier. In my product testing, I personally noticed that the stearic/palmitic acid shaving foams and gels left my skin with a slight but disconcerting sting. While I do appreciate the intense foaming these ingredients provide, I recommend that acne-prone people avoid using products with high concentrations of these powerful foaming agents.

Creams (come in pump bottles and tubes): Since stearic and palmitic acid were a dealbreaker with all of the foams and gels, that left me with creams. Some creams also contain stearic/palmitic acid, albeit usually further down on the ingredient list which indicates they are used at a lower concentration. The creams which gave me the most comfortable shave without a stinging afterfeel happened to be the two which did not contain these ingredients–Kiss My Face Moisture Shave and Neutrogena Men Skin Clearing Shave Cream. The Kiss My Face cream, however, contains coconut oil as the 6th ingredient which may or may not present an issue for acne-prone skin. When dermatologists tested ingredients on rabbit ears for comedogenic (pore clogging) potential, coconut oil presented as a 4 (out of 5). While these comedogenicity tests are imperfect in several ways, nonetheless I personally choose to avoid ingredients above a 3 on comedogenicity tests unless they are listed far down on a product’s ingredient list. That leaves us with the Neutrogena Men Skin Clearing Shave Cream. It contains 1% salicylic acid and is advertised as “Skin Clearing”. Salicylic acid, while it is FDA approved as an acne medication and thus allows retailers to claim “skin clearing” in their marketing, in reality will not do a great deal to help clear acne. However, the nominal amount in this product should not present any problems. It would be my pick if I were to shave with an over-the-counter shaving prep product.

Still the best is: After my product trials, I find that I am still the happiest when shaving with the lather from the Acne.org cleanser. Since I would rather people not add in external variables to the Regimen, I still strongly urge people to shave with the lather from an approved cleanser (Acne.org Cleanser, Clean & Clear Foaming Facial Cleanser, Purpose Gentle Cleanser or Basis Sensitive Skin Bar/Purpose Cleansing Bar if money is tight and you must). Simple cleanser, which was the mainstay of shaving technology for centuries, is still the safest, most effective option I have come across. If lots of people on Acne.org review the Neutrogena Men Skin Clearing Shave Cream and give it the green light, that could be a nice option as well. I’ve gone ahead and added this Neutrogena product to the reviews pages. If you have tried it, please leave your feedback.

Every time I get a cold or experience a bad bout of allergies and end up blowing my nose a lot, I’ll break out around my nose. It’s like clockwork. This is an example of how closely and predictably irritation and acne are related. You may have noticed something similar in your life. Ask any dermatologist or acne specialist and they will concur that when you irritate your skin, acne can result.

Check out the new interactive Irritation Page and have some fun learning about potential sources of irritation. Then, reduce or avoid them if you can. This may take some practice as you retrain yourself to stay more gentle to your skin, but in the end your skin will thank you.

SPF: We’ve nailed a formula. The good news. And it’s really good news because it’s taken about 128 formulas, and several years to get there. The bad news is that I’m finding it is super expensive to produce. The quotes I’m getting from suppliers are so high that I don’t feel right passing it on to you guys. We want products that are the very best in the world, but also affordable. I’m determined to make it happen, and we will launch this, but I want to do it affordably. I’ll keep negotiating with suppliers until we get the price into an acceptable range–while compromising nothing in regards to quality of course.

Spot Treatment: The last group of testers gave me mixed feedback. We have good news and bad news again. The good news it that most people are saying this is a spot treatment which actually works. The bad news is that it’s not working well when it is applied before benzoyl peroxide. When people put it on before BP it can become very slightly curdled. So I went back into the lab this week and made a few more iterations in all different types of bases: creamier, more water-y, and more serum-esque, in an effort to remedy this. I kept all of the important active ingredients in there. In the meantime, if you want a spot treatment, the AHA works really well for me and lots of people on Acne.org. Just be certain to catch a zit at the very earliest stages.

keratinocytes: human skin cells

Thanks to modern medical science, we know that for some reason, acne follicles tend to overproduce cells, which in turn stick together and cause a clogged pore and ensuing zit. But why does this happen? Scientists have performed very few studies in an attempt to figure this out.

I just got through reading what was only the second study to ever attempt to scientifically understand what happens inside acne follicles vs. control follicles. Researchers from the University of Leeds in England performed the study back in 1994. Unfortunately, I think this control follicles were poorly selected. The researchers took biopsies of acne follicles from the upper back of patients who were an average age of 22. The control follicles were taken from the chest of people who were an average age of 41 during open heart surgery. In my opinion, the vast difference in age and location of biopsy between the acne follicles and control follicles largely discounts this study. Regardless, the researchers did make a couple of interesting points when discussing what might cause acne-prone skin to overproduce cells.

1) When sebum production increases, as it often does in acne-prone individuals, the sebum, as it leaves the follicle, takes with it too many of the cells lining the follicle wall. The follicle then reacts by overproducing cells to counteract this loss.

2) Linoleate (a.k.a. linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid) deficiency in sebum: Researchers have discovered that sebum in acne-prone skin contains less linoleate than normal. One hypothesis is that when sebum increases, linoleate content is diluted, and this decrease in linoleate signals overproduction of cells.

But in reality if you asked these researchers to tell you what cases acne, I think if they’d honestly reply, “well heck, who knows…”

The more you read about the potential cause of skin cell overproduction and clogged pore formation, the more complex it becomes. We have the hormone system to look at, sebum overproduction, the skin’s inflammatory response, systemic vitamin and mineral deficiency, bacteria over-proliferation, or a combination thereof…the possibilites are endless and the list goes on and on.

So, if and when science does finally figure it out, will we uncover a silver bullet? Or is the cause of acne a combination of factors? I’ll keep reading and let you know what I find. Please do the same if you can and let me know what you find out.