One of my clearest memories from early adolescence was the discovery of shaving cream, and how utterly wonderful it was. A thin stream of colourful gel would transform into abundant, creamy lather for an utterly decadent shaving experience that usually smelled like fruit salad and unicorn burps. It was one of 13-year-old Marie’s favourite things. Anyhow, I got to thinking about those compact cans of lathery joy a few months ago, and figured I could probably make something quite lovely using a foamer bottle and some of my favourite ingredients. It took a few tries, but I did it, and it’s wonderful.
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I knew this product would need two key elements to make a great shaving cream. Firstly, a low, rich lather—something to coat the skin and facilitate great razor slip. Secondly, we’d need some cationic, conditioning goodness. I learned from Susan about how well conditioner bars work for shaving, and I’ve loved that cationic feel + razors from the first time I tried it. I also wanted to include some anti-irritation ingredients and leave my skin feeling soft and hydrated, rather than dry and scratchy (which can definitely happen in the winter).
Because I wanted this shaving cream to dispense out of a foamer bottle, I had to keep the viscosity very low. This means keeping the solid ingredient content to a bare minimum. I knew I wanted to include Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate as one of my surfactants for its rich, low lather, but it’s also solid. My first formula used it at 8%, and that was definitely too much—not only was the end product viscous enough that the foamer top struggled to dispense it, but after a few days there’d be a few millimetres of settled-out white powder at the bottom of the bottle. Aside from the viscosity issue, that version worked brilliantly once it was on your skin—the slip just went on and on, and I couldn’t believe how amazing my skin felt for a full 24 hours after shaving!
Our final surfactant blend is mostly liquid. There’s amphoteric Cocamidopropyl Betaine, anionic Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, and non-ionic Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside. The active surfactant matter of this shaving cream is 15%, which is considered a bit low for a body wash, but it works brilliantly. All of these surfactants have mildly acidic skin-friendly pHs as well, so we don’t have to worry about adjusting the pH of the end product—it falls around 5.5 as-is.
In keeping with our liquidy needs, all of our other ingredients are liquid or water soluble. I chose polyquaternium 7 as the conditioning element, and it’s amazing. It gives this shaving cream the most incredible, long-lived, über-silky slip that is to die for. My bottle also doesn’t smell like dead fish, whereas my honeyquat has a distinct… whiff (and it’s one of the better bottles I’ve smelled). Vegetable glycerin helps keep skin hydrated, while panthenol helps fight irritation as well as boosting hydration.
We’ll round things off with our preservative and some fragrance or essential oils. Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside functions well as a solubilizer, allowing our choice of scented things to blend well with the end product. I elected to use a blend of some new fragrance oils from Windy Point that I’m rather smitten with—it’s sweet and a bit dusty and warm and mysterious and just… swoon. Highly recommended if that’s your jam. If not, feel free to use something else, keeping safe usage rates in mind for whatever you do choose.
The final Foaming Shaving Cream is great. It’s definitely not the magically transforming gel in a can—I think it might be better. It provides amazing slip for your razor and it just keeps going. I’ll do a pass on my legs and then rub my hands up and down my calves again without dispensing any more product and BAM, I have more lather and slip and am ready for another round. My legs feel amazing for at least 24 hours after shaving—smooth and soft and hydrated and just… swoon. It’s fantastic. I even had a bearded fellow give it a go on his neck, and he liked it as well. If you are a person who shaves, give this stuff a try!
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Foaming Shaving Cream
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh the Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to melt everything through. This will probably take about half an hour.
While the first two surfactants are melting, weigh out the ingredients for the secondary heated phase. Once the Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate have formed a uniform paste, remove the measuring cup from the heat and add the secondary heated phase ingredients. Weigh the entire measuring cup and note that measurement before placing the measuring cup back in the water bath so the Cocamidopropyl Betaine/Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate paste can dissolve into the water. I find this takes at least forty minutes.
When the mixture in the water bath is transparent and uniform, remove it from the heat. Weigh it, and top it back up to the originally noted weight with hot distilled water.
Let the mixture cool, either by leaving it alone for a few hours, by putting it in the fridge, or using an ice bath. Once cool, stir in your cool down ingredients and transfer to a 240mL (~8fl oz) foamer bottle.
To use, dispense a pump or two of foam into your palm and spread it over the area to be shaved (the skin and hair should already be wet). As you shave you can continue to work up more lather and slip, which is wonderful. Rinse off when you’re done and enjoy silky smooth, soft skin!
Because this shaving foam/cream contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project is likely to eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using this batch calculator from Making Skincare. As written in grams this recipe will make 200g.
- I don’t recommend swapping out the Cocamidopropyl Betaine or Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate. You could try Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa) (USA / Canada) in place of the SCI.
- The polyquaternium 7 is the key to the smooth, conditioned, slippy wonderfulness of this product. You can try honeyquat instead, but I prefer polyquaternium 7—I find it to be more conditioning, and it smells much better.
- You can use Coco Glucoside (USA / Canada) instead of Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, just be sure to test the pH and adjust if necessary as Coco Glucoside is much more basic than Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside. You may also need to include some Polysorbate 20 to solubilize the fragrance/essential oils as Coco Glucoside is not as effective as a solubilizer as Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside.
- Feel free to scent it as you please.