Should You Use Shaving Cream, Gel, or Foam?

Should You Use Shaving Cream, Gel, or Foam?
Photo: ShotPrime Studio, Shutterstock

When you’re removing hair from your face or legs, all you really need is a razor and something to cut down on friction between your sweet baby skin and the blade. But if the goal is so simple, why are there so many products clamoring to help you make it happen? (The answer is capitalism.) But it’s true that each of the most popular varieties of shaving product — gels, foams, and creams — does work a little differently. You may be better suited for one over another, depending on your skin type and shaving skills. Here’s what you should consider next time you’re staring at a sea of options in the pharmacy aisle.

Shaving foam is an undeserving classic

Shaving foam is the product your dad probably used, and is popularly sold by pharmacies in aerosol cans. Despite its ubiquity, skin care experts typically recommend against using it. As Men’s Health notes, “​​shaving foam, despite its fluffy texture, does not provide quite the same level of protecting lubricant for your skin” as other alternatives. Bolin Webb concurs, noting, “foams don’t need to be rubbed onto your face, but this can actually lead to a more uncomfortable shave as stubble has less opportunity to soften,” and ADAM Ateliers advises that, “the air inside the can makes it incredibly difficult for the foam to coat the hairs on your face and keep them standing upright…[putting] you at a high risk of getting razor burn.”

The best case that can be made for shaving foam is that in a pinch it will indeed get the job done, it’s sold everywhere, and it’s generally the cheapest option. (It’s also fun to play with.) But other options are better in most ways.

Shaving gel is great for beginners

Shaving gel is a soapier alternative to either shaving foam or shaving cream, taking on a thicker texture than either of its alternatives. As admittedly not totally neutral party Gillette puts it, shaving gel provides more lubrication that allows for a better razor glide and helps protect against nicks and cuts. For this reason, shaving retailer Kiehls recommends gels for shaving newbies, and works well on your face, legs, or other body parts.

An added bonus: the product goes on more transparently than foams, allowing you to shave with more precision. Shaving gel is also a good choice if you have thicker, coarser hair, as you may need the additional protection it offers against a more rigorous shave.

Shaving cream is the most luxurious

Shaving cream differs from shaving gel in that it not only softens the hair, but conditions the skin in a way that shaving gel will not. As Shaving Advisor notes, “shaving cream is made without harsh chemicals like alcohol and is designed to help condition the skin.” The groomers at ADAM Ateliers agree, noting, “since shaving cream is thicker and typically contains better ingredients, it’s able to penetrate the hair follicles instead of sitting on top. This will leave your skin feeling naturally moisturized, while helping to keep debris from clogging up your hair follicles.” You can apply them with a little water, or get fancy and use a shaving brush.

Shaving creams typically come in small tubes, making them the ideal choice if you’re travelling. Creams may be a bit pricier than gels, but that’s offset by the fact that you won’t need to use nearly as much each time you shave. On the whole, shaving creams are the best choice for experienced shavers.

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