Foam, gel, oil or old-fashioned soap to be lathered on with a brush? Our panel seeks out the best a man can get
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IN THE film Barcelona, one of the leading characters muses about the right way to shave: in the direction of the hair or, as his father told him, against it? This particular existential dilemma is never resolved, but it's surely only half the question: the really important thing is whether to shave with gel, foam, cream or oil.

To try and answer this poser, we asked a panel of shavers to test a selection of different preparations, ranging from the latest on the market to products for use with a good old-fashioned shaving brush. Our panel included a barber, Giorgio Polledri, who works at Cuts in Soho and has been shaving customers for around 40 years. He's very much of the old school. The complete works take 20 minutes, including hot towels to prepare the skin, lathering and shaving twice, and finishing off with more hot towels, moisturiser and aftershave. His view is that shaving preparations which must be lathered with a brush will give you a better shave than foams and gels that don't need one, particularly if you have a very hard beard. The brush softens up the skin and bristles and makes them easier to shave. Not all our panellists agreed. However much traditionalists may regret it, the convenience of the new products could mean that brushes will soon be as outdated as old- fashioned razors.


Giorgio Polledri, London barber; Gary Oliver, actor; John Baer, project manager; Gurnek Bains, management consultant.


The panel gave the products marks for how easy, quick and close the shave was, how soft and smooth the skin was after shaving, how the product smelt and value for money.


150ml, £2.75

This product, launched in the UK last September, is a US invention. Some of the panel were put off by its price and by its medicinal pong - a good sniff of the foam, with its eucalyptus, menthol and other oils, would probably clear blocked sinuses. On the plus side, they felt it gave a close, smooth shave. According to Gary Oliver, it was the best of the bunch: "It left a smooth feeling which lasted the day and gave no irritation or red blotches the next day. The fact that it smelt like Vicks vapour rub and is a tad expensive won't deter me from using it in future." John Baer liked the Fifties retro packaging, but complained that the smell made his eyes water. The panellists tried out the original version; if, unlike them, you can't get enough of this type of smell, you could try the menthol variant.


For sensitive skin

200ml, £1.85

One of the best-selling products on the market, this was our panel's winner. It gave a quick, close shave, left the skin soft and smooth, smelt pleasant, and was good value for money. "The foam was easy to apply, and seemed to soften the bristles quickly," said John Baer, although he pointed out that the aerosol can was rather bulky, particularly for travelling, "My usual product - I probably buy it because of the brand name," admitted Gary Oliver. "The smell is good and fresh, and the can lasts a long time. But it's not as exceptional as the Noxzema," he added. Even Giorgio Polledri, who doesn't particularly like this type of product, thought that "for a foam, it is quite good. It lathers well and it stays moist.


100ml, £l.85

This is one for, as Palmolive puts it, "the more mature man", who prefers to stick to using a brush than try these newfangled foams and gels. Despite the traditionalist's view that using a brush gives you a better shave, it was the least popular product and not as well liked as Palmolive's alternative for use with a brush, the shaving stick. Using a brush was a novelty for Gary Oliver: "It helps to massage the skin and stubble, but you have to give this shave time. It's not one you can take into the showers at the gym," he said. John Baer found it unpleasant to apply: "The lather had a greasy feel. It also has rather a strange green tinge."



50ml tube, £1.35

Whether or not you like this cream (which is also available in 200ml bowl for £4.60) seems very much a question of individual taste. As far as Giorgio Polledri was concerned, it was the best: "This is the winner. It's very creamy, softens the beard and stays moist." Oliver Thomas, however, reported that it gave him "a bloody awful shave. It has no foam, no glide and left my neck sore. I used this product more than six years ago and it has not improved. It's obviously designed for teenagers with bum fluff." Most of the panel liked the coconut smell, though Gurnek Bains described it as "a bit funny".


50g, 55p

This gave a surprisingly good shave for such an unprepossessing product; it seems little more than a cylinder of soap (Palmolive green, once again) jammed into a plastic holder. Not surprisingly, Giorgio Polledri liked it. "Good! An old-fashioned shave," he said. But most of the panel found it inconvenient. "It is messy to use and took a long time to lather. A `classic' product should be more appealing. It did, however, produce a good close shave," commented John Baer. "With only a piece of silver foil and a cardboard box as packaging, it's virtually impossible to use it away from home without making a mess in your kitbag," said Gary Oliver. Gurnek Bains thought that he wasn't getting much for his money: "Why should I pay 55p for a small stick of soap?"


For sensitive skin

l00ml, £l.95

Gels, first introduced about in the late 1980s, are rapidly becoming popular. This is good news for companies such as Gillette, who say gels have a faster use-up rate than alternative preparations and command a premium price - in other words, people buy more of the stuff and are charged more for it. Although this particular gel has the advantage of being concentrated into compact packaging, most of our panel didn't like it as much as the Gillette foam. "The gel was fairly quick and easy to apply, although it took longer than the Gillette foam," said John Baer. "I don't recommend it," said Giorgio Polledri, "It's too messy, greasy and slimy." Gary Oliver liked it, though: "It's better than the foam as my face felt smoother for longer afterwards."


For sensitive skin

200ml, £l.79

The panel thought that this gel, which was their second favourite among all the products tested, helped them shave quickly and easily and was good value for money. But they didn't think it left the skin as soft as some of the other preparations, such as the Gillette products and the bizarrely named Kings, the King of Shaves. "A pleasant smell, but the weakest of the sensitive skin products," said Gary Oliver. "It left me slightly sore later in the day, while I'd expect the perfect preparation to keep protecting without the use of extra moisturers." "It's not a bad orthodox product," commented Gurnek Bains. "It leaves my skin dry, but I find all products of its type do."


l0ml, £2.99

The invention of this novel shaving oil is fast becoming one of the marketing legends of the 1990s. Executive William King, the story goes, couldn't find a shaving product he liked and so he decided to create his own mix of aroma-therapy oils. He moved rapidly from filling 5,000 bottles of his mixture in the kitchen to selling it to Harrods and Boots. The product's main advantage, not surprisingly for an oil, is its effectiveness in smoothing and softening the skin. Gurnek Bains was very taken with it: "The lack of foam is initially disorienting, but after a while you realise it's an effective way to shave. It leaves the skin very smooth." He was sceptical, though, that such a small vial would, as promised, see out 60 shaves. Giorgio Polledri and Gary Oliver both doubted its suitability for tough whiskers.

STOCKISTS: Noxzema: selected pharmacies, leading department stores and larger Boots; Gillette: widely available in chemists, supermarkets and other stores; Palmolive Lather Cream: supermarkets, Superdrug and Boots; Palmolive Shaving Stick: supermarkets, Superdrug, Boots and Lloyds chemists; Kings, King of Shaves: Harrods, Bentalls, larger branches of Boots and Superdrug, some Tesco branches; Boots and Body Shop products are available from their respective branches.