Bowl Lathering vs. Face Lathering

Posted: June 6, 2016 in Shaving Articles

In traditional wet shaving, there are options for everything. What soap will you use? What brush? What razor? What blade? Will you prep with a preshave lotion, oil, or use your favored soap to lather, then wash, then lather again? Will you use alum salts or an astringent? Will you use a moisturizer? How many passes will you take? The questions are endless, honestly.

And, of course, that’s why it is so fun. You can, though, find that the whole thing gives you a bit of option paralysis. You can close the door on certain things because it’s simply too much to consider all at once. One of the things that I have put aside in my quest through the realms of wet shaving is the idea of bowl lathering.

Thus far, I’ve been a face lathering guy. For the uninitiated, the process here is that you swirl the shaving brush around on the soap until plenty of it has worked into the bristles, then you work it into your face until the lather is created to your liking. If using a cream, you apply the cream to the brush and do likewise.

The other methodology for creating a shaving lather is the bowl lathering method. In this method, you start the same way, getting the soap or cream worked into your damp shaving brush. From there, you use a smallish bowl (or shaving scuttle, as they are sometimes called) to swirl up the lather. This is somewhat like whipping cream, I suppose. For the first few swirls, the soap smears against the inner surface of the bowl. As the action continues, and perhaps a little water is added to the mix, a nice, rich lather appears.

Now, when I first started shaving, I tried this for the first few shaves. I was using soaps exclusively then, and found that there was no real advantage in going to the bowl. I found that face lathering was more time efficient, and provided all the lather I needed to get the job done. Thus, I put bowl lathering aside.

I’ve since picked up a shaving cream, the Palmolive Classic. It’s always worked fine for me, though it’s a bit laborious in regard to face lathering. Last night, I decided to give bowl lathering another try with the Palmolive, and I was very pleasantly surprised. I got the best lather I’ve achieved with that cream, and it happened easily enough. I don’t have a highly specialized shaving bowl. Mine is simply a small metal bowl I found kicking around. If you see the shaving aficionados and their purpose-built devices, don’t imagine that every article of shaving kit you need will need to be purchased. A shaving puck can be dropped into a cereal bowl or a coffee mug (a somewhat flared mouth might help). If you boil it down, you just need a razor, a brush, and soap of some kind. Everything else is optional.

What did I learn here? Well, I found that, for me, I would do well to use the bowl lathering method with the shave creams I pick up in the future. More generally, I have learned to keep re-examining the conclusions I arrive at. We sometimes close the door to a technique or product that hasn’t worked for us in the past, but our knowledge is always limited and anecdotal. Keep learning, keep re-testing your hypotheses. I guess that’s a pretty good thing to consider in life as a whole. Darn. Shaving can teach you about bigger things? Who knew?




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