A basic summary of common types of shaving brushes.
If you're just venturing into the world of wet shaving, all of the information can be overwhelming. This post is a very basic introduction to shaving brushes, meant to give you some general knowledge without overwhelming you.
I've said it a million times and I'll keep on saying it: Everyone is different. Everyone's preferences are different. Everyone's skin and hair is different. What works well for me might not work for you. Always bear that in mind when you're researching the "best" brush, or the "best" razor blade.
Please note that we currently only have a selection of synthetic brushes available on our website for sale. HOWEVER, we do stock a wide variety of synthetic, boar, and badger brushes in our brick and mortar store.
Badger hair brushes
Traditionally, badger hair brushes are the premium option for shaving brushes. Within the category of badger hair, there are subcategories of pure badger, best badger, super badger, mixed badger, and silvertip badger. All of these different types of badger hair come from different areas of the badger's coat. You know how your dog has various types of fur on his or her body? Same thing here.
Why does badger hair make such a great material for shaving brushes? Because of its capacity for absorbing and holding moisture. When you are preparing a badger hair brush for shaving, the common practice is to let the brush soak in a sink of hot, hot water while you're going about your other business. The hairs absorb the hot water and, crucially, hang onto it for quite some time. When you are lathering your shaving soap, the hot water retained in the brush hairs play a key role in building a great lather. Plus, because the hairs are already saturated with moisture, they won't leach moisture out of your shave soap as you're trying to lather.
Silvertip badger is the most expensive variety. While all other sub-types of badger hair are trimmed at the end, silvertip hairs are not. The natural taper at the end of the fiber makes them extra soft and luxurious-feeling. This part of the coat comes from the badger's neck area, where the fur is extra thick and plush. Silvertip tends to retain moisture even more than other types of badger hair.
Pros: moisture retention, lather-building, softness
Cons: badgers are farmed for their pelts, so this is NOT a cruelty-free option
Cost: Depending on the type of hair, anywhere from $30-$200. Silvertip is typically the most expensive variety, while pure and mixed badger are the most inexpensive.
Horse hair brushes
Horse hair brushes are not as common these days, at least not in the U.S. Unlike badger and boar brushes, horse hair brushes are made from discarded mane and tail hairs... Meaning, the horses are not harmed in the acquisition of hair.
How do they compare to badger hair brushes? They don't quite have the lathering capabilities of a badger hair brush, nor are they as soft as high-end badger hair brushes. In my book, as far as performance and feel go, horse hair brushes are akin to lower-end badger hair brushes. There's nothing wrong with that, and it doesn't make them bad brushes. Vie-Long of Spain produces a good selection of quality horse hair brushes.
Pros: no animal cruelty, decent performance, inexpensive
Cons: not the very best performance
Cost: $20-$50 for most on the market, depending on the handle material.
Boar bristle brushes
Boar bristle brushes are very stiff compared to badger and horse, which can be a good thing. It's worth pointing out that boar bristle will soften with use over time. There are also various methods of breaking in a boar bristle brush quickly, instead of waiting for time and use.
We have many customers who prefer using a boar brush over any other type. You can quickly build a good lather with the stiff bristles, and some of the harder puck soaps seem to respond better to the roughness of the bristles. Lathering with a boar brush is simply different from lathering with a softer brush. It's worth trying out, if you're a hobbyist!
The main reason why most of our customers choose not to buy a boar bristle brush is because they are put off by the stiff bristles. Let's face it, most people would prefer to rub a soft-haired brush on their face over a stiff-bristled brush. But like I said earlier, boar bristle brushes will soften up over time. In the meantime, just think of it as being extra-exfoliating.
Boar bristle brushes will absorb and retain water, and you should soak them in water before lathering your soap.
Pros: very inexpensive, good performance
Cons: animal cruelty, takes time to break in
Cost: $10 +, depending on the material of the handle
Synthetic fiber brushes
Synthetic brushes have gone through a revolution in the past decade. Previously, they were wimpy brushes with no backbone, making it hard to build any sort of lather at all. NO LONGER! The synthetic brushes of today have dense fibers and excellent backbone, and they can stand up to any type of shaving soap you have.
The main difference between a synthetic brush and a natural fiber brush is that synthetic brushes don't absorb water like natural fibers. You do not need to soak your synthetic brush before you lather your soap (although you still need to wet the brush thoroughly.)
Some people would argue that because they don't absorb moisture, synthetic brushes won't build as thick of a lather as, say, a badger brush. I disagree, and so do most people who have switched to synthetic fiber brushes. It will be a DIFFERENT lathering experience, most definitely. You might even need to reload your brush a time or two, whereas with a badger brush you might not need to. But you can still build a big, slick, beautiful lather with synthetic brushes.
I always recommend synthetic brushes for people who travel a lot because the fibers dry out relatively quickly.
Pros: no animal cruelty, dries quickly, performs well
Cons: doesn't lather quite as well as badger hair
Cost: $10 and up, depending on the handle material