Shaving Cream AcneHistorically, 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 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 ( 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 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.


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  • Richard

    dan what about aveno therapeutic shave gel? its non-comedogenic and fragrance free and it works well for me

  • Matt

    I second the Aveeno. Stuff’s legit.

  • Rebecca

    Dan, I wish you would weigh in on women’s facial hair removal options.

  • Jordy

    I use Trader Joes Fragrance free shave cream for sensitive skin. Seems to work great. Would be curious to see what Dan thinks of it and it’s ingredients.

  • D

    You have not tried the right stuff until you try MenScience advanced shave formula and their post shave spray. Nothing in a drug store brand will come close to this shave cream formulation: no scent, no irritants and good ingredients. A cleanser is not a good shaving agent no matter how good the lather is. Anyone that has a thicker or denser facial hair will find it hard shaving with a cheap basic cleanser.

  • Will

    I shave with the American Crew Precision Shave Gel. I find that it has very little scent and whatever scent there is is not irritating. I also do not think that it clogs my pores. I like that the gel does not foam up too much, but it lathers and coats very nicely. I have no problems with gliding or easy shaving. I can always see what I am doing cause it stays fairly clear. It also does not have any of the lime or spices or alcohols that are usually found in regular foaming shave gels. When I use something like edge or gillette I feel like my skin has been stripped of essential moisture from within. I feel tight and irritated. When I use the American crew I do not lose that moisture and my skin feels relatively nice, normal and moisturized. I really like it and I consider people try it if they haven’t before.

    • Olav

      How has that America Crew Precition Shave Gel worked out for you, Will?

      I’m thinking of trying it myself. It contains cocamidopropyl betaine (or something) which I’ve read comes from coconut (and might be comedogenic). And it contains some oils I’ve seen in the ingredient list. But has it made you break out? Are you on the regimen, by the way? I reckon that shaving products won’t trigger breakouts while on the regimen, but I really don’t have any idea. I tried the shaving oil from American Crew and I think it made me break out.

  • Ken

    I found the same success with King of Shaves Alpha Gel. Has aloe, tea tree oil, etc., and is cheap at Target

  • Scott

    I agree with Ken. KING OF SHAVES Alpha Gel. As one who suffers from ingrown hairs, I find the AlphaGel really cuts down on the irritation I get with other products including the cleansers Dan reccommends.

  • Joe

    “recommend that acne-prone people avoid using products with high concentrations of these powerful foaming agents.”

    Dan I agree with above statement. People with acne have to be very careful when choosing perfect shaving cream.

    Joe Hudge
    *link edited out*

  • Mike

    I also agree that AlphaGel is good. It provides a smooth and comfortable enough for shaving. However, I’ve heard other people commenting about the bad and ugly smells.
    *link edited out*

  • Jordy

    What is it about shaving that brings out the spammers? πŸ™‚

  • Ben Miles

    Many products hay they are ‘sensitive’ and the like but really that doesn’t mean anything. They are usually still laced with toxic chemicals that are going to have a cumulative effect on your skin. It is best to get shot of all of them if you want your face to be irritant free.

    From experience I have found that the only product that does not contain ANY hidden nasties is Miessence Shave Cream. It is certified organic and Aloe Vera based. Since changing to using completely synthetic chemical free products I haven’t had any issues with acne, razor rash, irritation, etc; not in 7 years. πŸ˜€

    If you’d like to know more about this and the Aftershave Gel then check out my Squidoo lens here: *link edited out*

    Hope this helps.

  • John

    Try the Skin Salveation Soap,works a treat and moisturizes!. I have been lathering up for years with their special soap ,no toxins just naturally found ungrediants,and I have fantastic smooth skin now and I’m 52!,
    Read its history,it is fascinating, I thought Coal miners just dug up coal,!

  • David Pascoe

    I like *link edited out*Dermalogica Close Shave Oil it gives a fantastic close shave and has almost totally eliminated nicks when I shave. This is a heavy duty silicone based oil that lets the razor slide smooth as. It does need a good cleanser to remove it afterwards though.

    Using this oil has been great for me as I have found that I have less irritation even compared to a foil shaver that I resorted to when my skin was at its worst.

    I have also seen that other guys like something like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser as a shave cream. It doesn’t lather like soap but should be quite lubricating and easy to rinse off. This fits with the advice above about shaving with the lather from a gentle cleanser quite well.

    I haven’t tried this myself as the oil is just so slippery and gives the best shave I’ve ever had, but would consider it if my skin went backwards.

    David Pascoe.

  • Shaving accessories

    I believe atershave lotion is the main culprit to burn my chicks, dont know about the above products but will definitely post after use the same

  • James

    I have found the eczema soap from *link edited out* is absolutely great for wet shaving.No irritants,lathers up a treat,highly recommend

  • Bald Eagle Pro

    I am usig the Cleanser for two moths now and I can confirm that this is one of the best products I have used. I am not so technical about this things and the chemistry behind is unknown for me. I have used the trial and error method untill now.

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