An Interview With Chris Bailey
By Brian Trepka, with Chris Bailey
Fellow traditional wet shavers, I feel your pain. Your family, friends and coworkers just don't understand. They don't see why you'd risk severe bodily injury with barbarian-grade shaving tools. They can't understand why you'd waste your time spending 20 minutes with soap, a brush and an old-school razor when you could instantly create lather from a can and scrape it off with the latest 10-bladed wonder-razor. They don't see the difference between what you see as a self-pampering ritual and what they view as a hateful chore. They think you're weird or crazy.
So we hide in the shadows, discussing the latest stainless steel razor or new soap formulation in the safety of Facebook groups or shaving forums. While there are certainly some that publicly sing the praises of traditional wet shaving, there are others that take it to a whole new level. Enter the world of shaving vloggers/YouTubers... Men and women with razors and brushes as far as the eye can see, and enough tubs of shaving soap to build a soap igloo for their kids to play in. Well... I may be exaggerating a bit, but there is something fascinating to me about folks who not only advocate for the wet shaving hobby, but take to platforms like YouTube to do so, showing (literally) the world how to shave, and giving their thoughts on products, techniques, and the latest developments in the wet shaving community.
I (figuratively) sat down with prolific shaving YouTuber Chris Bailey (AKA, the Traditional Shaving Evangelist) for a brief discussion on his thoughts on wet shaving, the traditional wet shaving community, and what it's like to be a wet shaving vlogger.
Brian: Chris, for those who don’t know, tell us how you got started in traditional wet shaving. What aspects of traditional wet shaving do you enjoy?
Chris: I happened across a Geofatboy video by accident and this piqued my curiosity. A tub of TOBS Sandalwood and an Edwin Jagger razor later, and I was hooked.
Brian: Have you been afflicted with any acquisition disorders? What’s your current favorite setup?
Chris: I fell victim to every acquisition disorder in the hobby, but it started with a love of stainless steel razors. This was followed by Brush and then Software Acquisition disorders, respectively. Currently my favorite setup would be: Wolfman Razor, Wolf Whiskers Seven Seas brush with Plisson knot, Tim's Old School Lime Soap, and Fine/Razorock XXX Aftershave.
Brian: How did you get started doing wet shaving videos?
Chris: I started doing videos because I was a member of a couple of forums where new wet shavers weren't treated respectfully. They'd ask a basic question and subsequently they'd be called stupid, chastised for the question, or called too lazy to google. After seeing this I decided to start doing videos, not only to talk about products but also to shed light on the darker side of the hobby. There are few people in this hobby who are willing to call out the bad behavior and talk about it openly, and I feel it's important to talk about. This is a big part of why I do videos.
Brian: How has your channel evolved over the years?
Chris: I think it's evolved insofar as I have evolved. In the beginning I took a few videos down at the suggestion of the viewers. This was the biggest mistake I ever made in this hobby. If you're going to make a video and put it out there, you have to stand by it and take your lumps when it's unpopular. You just can't put your finger to the wind and produce videos like mine. You've got to speak from the heart and be true to yourself. This, I think, was a necessary and valuable change in the direction of the channel.
Brian: How has traditional wet shaving changed since you got started?
Chris: It's changed quite a bit insofar as the volume of choices we have now. We have tons of options now and I think this is great for the consumer.
Brian: You made a video tour of your shave den a little while back. I was surprised by its relatively modest size. With the volume of reviews you do, how do you keep your stock so manageable?
Chris: When the size of my den grows to an unmanageable level, I clean house. I PIF some things, and then I sell the rest on "Buy, Sell, & Trade" forums at a greatly reduced price. My fire sales are very well known in the Wet Shaving Enablers BST forum on Facebook.
Brian: You recently stepped out of the public eye for a bit. You took a bit of a sabbatical from making videos, and cut back on Facebook. What brought that about, and what made you decide to get back into it?
Chris: Several things let to the sabbatical, to be honest. Firstly, I had a death in the family and then several other family members who were diagnosed with serious illnesses. Secondly, I got busier at work and that took up some of my free time. Thirdly, it was getting close to fall and I needed to do a lot of work on my home while the weather was still good. Finally, I had changed the format of my videos to structured reviews and that just didn't work for me. I wasn't enjoying it as much, and I was burnt out. I enjoy doing videos most when I just talk and let the chips fall where they may. Structured reviews aren't my thing.
Brian: In some of your videos, you express frustration with some aspects of the wet shaving community – the potential for abuse in vendor-sponsored forums, shilling, etc. What do you think are some of the bigger problems facing the wet shaving community? How do you think we can solve them?
Chris: The biggest problem in this community is dishonestly, period. There are some forums that are essentially platforms for sales promotion that are masquerading as forums for open discussion. For example, in some forums you can't even mention a particular product or artisan as they are banned. On the other hand, you can mention products that are sold by vendors connected to the forum ad nauseam. You simply can't claim you're trying to promote the hobby and trying to encourage open dialogue when you're simultaneously banning topics of discussion. How do we solve this issue? We stop participating in these types of forums. I have begun signing off my videos with the saying, "Keep ‘em up [antennae] and keep ‘em open" [eyes and ears]. This is my way of reminding consumers to look a bit deeper and to connect the dots. Don't just take things at face value.
Brian: We occasionally get a glimpse of some of the problems you face in dealing with vendors and artisans – blowback about being left out of your list of top soaps, for example. What other sorts of difficulties do you encounter, and how do you deal with them?
Chris: I have received pushback from two artisans but typically I get more heat from their supporters. When an artisan tries to tell me how to run my channel or what to do, I stop using the product and I stop mentioning it. Now keep in mind, I'm not talking about an artisan giving me feedback or having a reasonable discussion with me. I'm talking about attempted coercion. I can't stand for that and I will not tolerate it. In terms of their supporters, I listen to what they have to say and take it into consideration.
Brian: What advice would you give to new wet shavers?
Chris: The single best piece of advice I can give to new wet shavers is to stick with it, as it is worth the reward. Almost everyone has difficulty when they first start wet shaving and it's important to stick with it. As your technique improves and your face adjusts, it will become a much better experience.
Brian: What advice would you give to aspiring wet shaving vloggers?
Chris: Stay true to yourself and run your vlog the way you see fit. Be firm, fair and honest.
Brian: What do you do when you’re not shaving, connecting on Facebook, or making videos?
Chris: Generally speaking, when I'm not making videos, I'm working. Apart from that, I like to do some target shooting with firearms, and I love to visit New Orleans.
Brian: What do your family, friends, coworkers, etc. think of our hobby and your public persona? Do you have any advice for other wet shavers looking to “evangelize”?
Chris: They look at the volume of products I have and think I've lost my mind. They have a difficult time understanding how shaving can be a hobby. :) As for advice for other wet shavers it's very simple: just spread the word. :)
Brian: With the recent folding of a few prominent artisan shave soap makers, many people seem to think that the artisan shaving soap market has reached saturation. What do you think? Do you see the artisan or any other “bubbles” popping at some point?
Chris: People are making a mistake in assuming these artisans folded because of sales. I believe two of these artisans had full time careers in additional to soap making, and one of them just couldn't keep pace. I think speculation absent facts tarnishes the reputation of the artisans. When assertions are made that these artisans folded due to poor sales, some will assume the product must have not been that good. I think this is absolutely unfair to these artisans.
Brian: What is the future of traditional wet shaving? How mainstream do you think it will get?
Chris: The future of wet shaving is bright. We have a wealth of products to choose from and options are always a great thing for the consumer. The more we evangelize, the larger the hobby will become. The sky is the limit as far as I'm concerned.
Brian: Thanks, Chris for sharing your thoughts with me. You perform a great service to the wet shaving community with your advocacy, tutoring and product reviews, and we're happy to have you contribute to our blog.
Chris: I'm happy to do it. Just remember folks: Keep 'em up, and keep 'em open. :)
Michael recently completed the seventh edition (now subtitled the Double-Edge Way), so we thought it would be a good time to sit down with him to learn more about what’s new in the Guide, traditional wet shaving, and his life.
Brian: Michael, by now, I think your story is pretty well-known. But for those unfamiliar, tell us a bit about yourself and how you rediscovered wet shaving.
Michael: I started shaving around 1955, using a DE razor and Gillette Blue Blades, which (so far as I can recall) were the only game in town (a very small town at that, in southern Oklahoma). Old Spice shaving soap and a brush were used, and Old Spice aftershave.
The water was hard and I had little instruction: two passes, one down and one up, the second pass without lather. It’s no wonder that I got nicks a-plenty. Around 1957 we (my step-dad and I) switched to Schick Injector razors, which didn’t really help. So that fall when I got to college I grew a beard and kept it for about 30 years.
When I resumed shaving, cartridges and canned foam had taken over the market, so I was much better off with respect to nicks, but on the other hand shaving turned out to be a tedious, boring, hateful chore… until I rediscovered traditional shaving.
The first step was finding out that good shaving creams were still available, so I immediately dropped the canned foam. I had trouble making lather with shaving soap, though shaving-cream lather was easy, so I stopped using shaving cream altogether.
The next step was to step up to the DE. The section in the Guide on “The Fear Barrier” reflects my personal experience: taking that initial stroke, remembering those high-school shaves, took a bit of an effort, but then things went very well from that point on.
Brian: How has wet shaving changed since you rediscovered it? How has the community changed?
Michael: The rapidly increasing number of men who use traditional tools—and thus the rapidly increasing visibility of those tools—is the main change. This increasing demand has stimulated many new ventures, of course: people making shaving soaps and shaving creams, brushes, new models of razors, and many new on-line vendors. I do get the feeling that traditional wetshaving with a DE is crossing over into the mainstream, mainly because it fulfills its promises.
Brian: Where is wet shaving going? How "mainstream" do you think it will get?
Michael: I don’t think traditional wetshaving will actually be a majority any time soon, but I do have to recognize that social momentum can build quite rapidly. A few celebrity enthusiasts could trigger an avalanche of new adherents, and the suppliers are today better positioned to respond to new demand.
If you think about the twin benefits of better shaves—not simply in terms of smoothness and benefits for the skin, but also in terms of how the shave becomes actually an enjoyable experience—and lower costs (if some discipline in purchasing is maintained), it’s easy to see how the switchover could happen rapidly: if a man has several friends who are vocal about the benefits, he will probably give it a try, and most who try it seem to stick with it.
Brian: What's new in the 7th edition?
Michael: I approached this edition with the idea it would be the last edition—I’m 75 and my eyesight is starting to decline, so it seemed a good idea to try to wrap it up.
I cover new products, of course—the list of artisanal soapmakers has grown quite a bit as more have emerged, and we also find new razors and new razor manufacturers. Another big change is better descriptions of some of the techniques—not only are they explained more clearly, they also reflect modifications based on continuing experience and experimentation. How best to load a shaving brush has changed, for example, and the use of citric acid to soften hard water for shaving is new in this edition. I also have thought more about why traditional wetshaving is so enjoyable and so satisfying, and I expanded that section a fair amount.
Brian: What advice would you give to those just starting their traditional wet shaving journey?
Michael: One suggestion is to make the change in two steps. First, get a brush and a shaving cream or shaving soap, learn to load the brush and make lather, and start using true lather in the shave. This will immediately improve the shave and the cost, whether time or money, is not high.
Then, a month or two later, get a DE safety razor and a blade sampler pack and start shaving with that. This will improve the shave a bit more, save money, and result in greater enjoyment.
But, of course, I wrote the entire Guide specifically to answer this question, so there’s more to consider in the details and more information I would give. For example, I have a good-sized section describing the various options and considerations in choosing a shaving brush—the various brands available, the characteristic of different bristles and knots, and so on.
Brian: How about a few pearls of wisdom for those with more experience?
Michael: New boar brushes can be intensely lathercidal: when you pick up the brush for a second pass, the lather's gone. Over the course of a week of daily shaves, you can see the lather lasting longer and longer, and by the end of the week, the brush no longer hates lather.
The same can happen with a badger brush, though the break-in is much faster and the brush starts loving lather more quickly: by the 3rd or 4th shave, the brush easily holds lather for the full shave.
I didn't notice this for a while because when I got a new brush I would make practice lathers---unknowingly washing away the lathercidal tendency.
Regarding a BBS (baby-butt smooth) result: Do not try for a BBS result. Instead, focus on doing excellent prep and pay close attention to using light pressure and maintaining a good blade angle.
Let a BBS result happen when it will. Sooner or later, a shave (that seemed to you as though you did it like any of your other shaves) will result in a BBS finish. It will be a surprise, and you will find yourself obsessively feeling the smoothness of your face (faceturbation).
Resume not trying for a BBS finish, instead focusing on doing a good prep and using good technique. Then, a while later, you will get another BBS result. And then, over time, a BBS result will happen more and more frequently, without your ever trying for it.
Brian: One theme that seems to run through your shaving blog is that you're always learning. Give us an example of something you learned recently.
Michael: That though I love iKon razors in general, the new iKon Tech is not for me. :)
One problem with learning improvements in technique is that quite frequently such learning is unconscious. That is, the part of you that learns the technique is the adaptive unconscious (cf. Timothy Wilson’s book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious). As a result, to become consciously aware of what you learned takes a certain amount of time and observation and sometimes a chance accident.
For example: I unconsciously learned that in doing the XTG pass on my neck, I can get good results at two little indentations just under my jawline on either side of my chin by steepening the blade angle slightly and changing the path from XTG to something that’s between XTG and ATG—sort of a slanted path.
I was totally unconscious of this until I was shaving with the Gillette Guard, a single-bladed cartridge made for sale in India. (I use the Gillette Guard when I’m traveling with carry-on luggage to some destination where I cannot expect to find DE blades.)
I got to the point of shaving XTG under my chin, unconsciously lowered the handle of the razor slightly, and nothing happened—the cartridge, of course, pivots so that it always is at the same angle, regardless of handle action: an automatic transmission, not a manual. It was a curious feeling—something like the old joke “I have a knock-knock joke. You start.” You get into it and then there’s an unexpected absence that takes you by surprise. And the surprise—something that did not happen though I (unconsciously) expected it to—revealed to me the technique that I had unconsciously discovered and adopted.
That sort of process, helped along by many little experiments and paying attention to the questions novices ask and the assumptions they make, is what teases out the discoveries, one by one.
Experience is not one big thing, it’s a jillion little things. It’s like panning for gold dust: you collect the valuable tiny things little by little, but in time it mounts up. I imagine you have much the same sort of experience in soapmaking: learning lots of little things that cumulatively make a big difference.
Brian: How big is your hardware and software collection? Any tips on staying on your significant other's good side with respect to your shaving hobby?
Michael: Having separate bathrooms works wonders. :) And having a good marriage is very helpful. In a bad marriage, each partner tends to look for reasons to justify their dissatisfaction and anger, and in a good marriage, each looks for how to help the other.
I have a very large collection, and that has a downside: every collection must at some point be unloaded, and that is a great flaming pain. I recommend against collecting, for that reason and because of cost, but some (like myself) are drawn to collecting.
I have around 100 or so razors (some are in a box and not used: rejects for one reason or another) and dozens of shaving soaps and a few dozen brushes. One reason for so many is the Guide: I wanted to avoid as much as possible discussing products with which I had no experience. Thus I tend to buy a lot of soaps, brushes, and razors. Having such variety does help by expanding one’s experience—you notice things by trying different soaps or brushes or razors that you would not notice if you used only one.
I’m starting to reduce the razor collection now, and will be listing razors in online auctions.
Brian: What's going on in your life beyond shaving? Any cookbook writing in your future?
Michael: I do love cooking and trying new foods and new dishes, but probably no cookbooks, though I regularly post recipes—both those I’ve created and those I’ve discovered, on my blog. But I tend not to use cookbooks anymore. I do a search, review the recipes that I find, and either pick one or blend several. So since I don’t use a cookbook, I doubt that I will write one.
I did, however, once collect my thoughts on cooking in a PDF book that you can download from my blog. I am thinking now that I should update that.
Other things I’m doing: I read a lot. Right now, along with other books, I’m rereading the Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, Napoleonic-era British Navy novels. The first three in the series are pretty much a trilogy: Master and Commander, Post Captain, and H.M.S. Surprise.
I watch a fair number of movies, and when I find one exceptionally interesting, I’ll blog it and explain why. Recently, for example, I thought Hyena (not a terribly good movie) was extremely interesting for the visual images of the cinematography and for the soundtrack that accompanied it. Sword of the Beast, a samurai movie from 1965 that’s in the Criterion collection, was an excellent movie on all counts and had a particularly interesting plot, complex and nuanced.
I like to play contract bridge. I’ve been enjoying playing online. And we have a goofy cat—though that’s probably redundant, especially for a Maine Coon cat, which is what she is. That provides some diversion.
Thanks, Michael for spending some time with me, and for your contributions to the wet shaving community.
You can learn more about where to buy the seventh edition of Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving the Double-Edge Way on Michael’s blog, along with his cooking exploits, daily shaves and thoughts and opinions on many other subjects.
By Brian Trepka
Thankfully, I had purchased another vintage thing some time ago that needed restoring – a 1973 Harley Davidson SS 350. It’s an Italian-made (yes, Italian) Harley single with a rare set of handlebars. If you find a pair with only a little rust on them, consider yourself lucky. To fix mine, I had purchased a brush plating kit. It struck me that I could also use it to fix the finish on my Gillette.
Like tank plating, brush plating uses a plating solution, but the solution is applied using an electrode that is wrapped in a gauze bandage which has been soaked in the solution. It’s ideal for repairing plating on large parts in situ, but it’s also nice for plating on a small scale at home, since the kits are relatively inexpensive, and they come with everything you need. Will the results on a razor be as good as you might get with a razor plating service? Probably not, but for making a “user grade” razor more usable, they work well.
What follows is a general outline of the procedure I used to fix up my razor.
Tank Plating the Cap
Brush Plating the Razor Handle
The Finished Product
The end result is pretty darn good in my opinion. I don’t know that I’d try this procedure on a family heirloom or other valuable razor, but I’m very happy with the end result in this case. I always loved how this razor shaved, but now I love the way it looks, too.
Note - Safety First!
Do this stuff at your own risk! Chemicals, electricity, and power tools can be dangerous. Please take proper safety precautions, like wearing chemical-resistant gloves and goggles. You should follow the instructions that come with your tools and your plating kit. The kit instructions may differ from what I’ve done here, depending on the kit you buy. Make sure to dispose of any waste in a manner consistent with local regulations.
By Brian Trepka
Many women do if fact wet shave, but they usually do so with modern implements – multi-blade cartridge razors and shaving foam or gel. Many men and women alike get good shaves from these tools, but many do not. Multi-blade cartridges can be irritating, as you are obviously pulling multiple blades across your skin. Modern gels and foams can be drying. Then there’s the cost of both of these – cartridges in particular are extremely expensive. However, traditional gear can also get costly if you’re not careful.
What’s the prescription for the modern shaving blues? It’s traditional wet shaving, of course: one blade, in a reusable razor that glides over the skin on a protective layer of shaving soap or cream. Even with a modern razor, a proper shaving soap or cream can be a vast improvement. A good soap or cream is slick, cushiony, and moisturizing. You can check out Shannon’s Shaving soaps if you’re interested. Further down the page, there’s a tutorial on how to use them.
Now that you’re sold on shaving soap, let’s talk about razors. There are a number of vintage razors that were manufactured for women, including ones that are curved so as to more easily shave the underarm area. A little more common are the ladies versions of Gillette double edge (DE) safety razors. These are much like their masculine counterparts, but with longer handles aimed at making tough spots like ankles a bit easier to reach. Since many men today like longer handles, there are a number of modern DE razors targeted to men that ladies can also enjoy. There is a bit of a learning curve, and some women (and men too, for that matter) could be intimidated by a DE. A great solution is an injector razor.
The predecessors of injector razors were invented by Jacob Schick, and were originally sold by the Magazine Repeating Razor Company, which Schick founded in 1925. An initial attractive feature of injector razors was that replacement blades were sold in a metal “magazine”, which allowed a blade to be loaded into the razor without the user having to touch it. Perhaps a feature that’s more significant to users of modern razors, is that the injector is used very much like a modern cartridge razor – with the razor head nearly parallel to the skin. In fact, the first cartridge razor, Wilkinson’s Bonded Shaving System, seems very much an evolution of the injector design. A double edge razor is a bit trickier, as the user sets the angle.
Enter the Eversharp Beauty Razor. In 1962, Eversharp, then owner of the rights to the Schick razor, began to market the Eversharp Beauty Razor, an injector with a long handle marketed to women. Not too long ago, I found one on eBay, and bought it for the hefty sum of $1.99. Shannon has long used her shaving soaps to shave, but she was using a twin-blade disposable. I wanted to bring her into the traditional wet shaving scene a bit more, so I decided to include the Eversharp as part* of an anniversary present, because as I said in a Facebook post at the time: “Nothing says ‘I love you’ (and ‘You’re hairy’), like a razor for your anniversary.” I reasoned, as discussed above, that since an injector is similar in form and function to a modern razor, she’d be more likely to use it, and less likely to have problems using it.
Injector blades, while not as easily obtained as DE blades, can still be found occasionally at pharmacies, and are readily available online. As they were once ubiquitous, injector blades were adapted for other uses, such as in scientific dissection tools, so they can often be found at scientific supply houses. They are more expensive than DE blades, but they are said to last longer than DE blades.
So what’s the verdict? According to Shannon, the Lady Eversharp shaves very much like the disposable it has replaced – but better. It’s sharper, smoother, better balanced, and only took a minute to learn how to use. Of course, some credit is owed to the blade, but that’s another benefit – you can find a blade that suits you.
So how about it ladies? Get yourself some soap, a brush, and injector razor, and like more and more men, you too can have a better shave.
* I said part. I’m not crazy, people.
by Brian Trepka
A while back we updated our “About” page to include our company values. When you do a significant part of your business online, having your values spelled out lets people get to know you better without having to meet you in person.
More recently, when I was playing around with my cell phone, I realized we’d forgotten to include the value that is probably one of the greatest driving forces behind how we live and work.
So here it is:
Sometimes, "different" is good. Conventional wisdom is fine, but if that's all you're in to, you could miss out on something great.
I think that sums things up pretty well, but you may be wondering how this applies to our little soap company, and what it has to do with my phone. Well, to start off with, you have to be a little different to want to make your own soap. It’s not something everyone does nowadays. You also have to be a little different to want to sell your soap to others. If we didn’t believe that being different could be good, we probably would never have started this little enterprise. And while it’s sometimes not easy, we like to think we’ve created something really great, which is very rewarding.
You’ve got to be a little different to be a customer of an artisan soap maker as well. For most people, bath and body products are things that are manufactured by machines in a factory rather than made by a former science teacher in a dining room-turned-soap-workshop in a suburban home in Ohio. Most buy bath and body products from a grocery or discount store, or high-rent mall store rather than buying online or from a small shop. And while buying manufactured soap from the drug store is fine (if your skin can tolerate it), if that’s all you do, you might miss out on something unique – something that pampers your skin like no mass-produced, detergent-infused product you’ve ever tried can.
Traditional wet shaving is something else that doesn’t occur to most people as a viable grooming methodology. You buy a 5-bladed cartridge razor, can of foam, and get on with life. You may spend a small fortune on cartridges and suffer from razor burn and ingrown hairs, but that’s how it’s done, and if modern shaving technology can’t give you a good shave, then you figure there’s no way shaving technology that’s been around since the early 20th century or earlier can do better. For many, modern shaving can work just fine, or maybe even great. But for a fairly small investment in a brush, mug, good shaving soap, and dad or grandpa’s old double-edge safety razor, you may find something better. Something that for an increasing number of men (and heck, women can do it too) is a daily self-pampering session rather than a chore. Sometimes newer is better, but sometimes, newer simply means a better profit margin for the manufacturer. The main point though, is that if you don’t try something different, you’ll never know what you could be missing.
Finally, what does all this have to do with my phone? Well folks, some of you may recognize from the picture that my phone is an HP Veer. Its operating system isn’t Android, iOS or Windows, but the nearly extinct webOS. By most accounts, it’s a great OS hampered by less than stellar hardware. My introduction to it was through the purchase of one of the deeply-discounted Touchpad tablets sold on eBay after HP discontinued them. I had thought about putting Android on it, but after using it, I loved it, and when I needed a phone, the Veer was an obvious choice for me. You pick it up, turn it on, and you already know how to use it. For my “real” job, I’ve done testing on a number of different phones and tablets, and up to this point, there’s none that I like better.
So to sum up, as our value statement says, “Conventional wisdom is fine, but if that's all you're in to, you could miss out on something great.” It’s a good adage for soap, phones, and countless other things in life.
If you’re in the soap business, you might occasionally catch yourself geeking out over things that most people wouldn’t concern themselves with. A discussion on the merits of antibacterial ingredients in personal care products is something that soap makers and ordinary people alike should be concerned with.
The main focus here is on the ingredient Triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in everything from toothpaste to toys, and in most liquid soaps labeled as “antibacterial”. “Antibacterial” sounds like a good thing, but the FDA raises the possibility that the costs may outweigh the benefits, and with such widespread proliferation of triclosan (and triclocarban, a related ingredient often found in antibacterial bar soaps), the agency has asked for additional study of this ingredient, effectively asking companies producing antibacterial products to prove their efficacy and safety. The problem is a lack of compelling evidence either way. While some studies show clear benefits, others raise possible environmental and health concerns.
What’s Good About Triclosan?
Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent, meaning that it is effective against a wide range of microbes. It works by disrupting cell membranes in bacteria, but apparently not in humans. Cell membranes are essential to life, allowing oxygen and nutrients to enter, and allowing wastes to exit.
Troclosan’s potency means that it can be used in fairly small concentrations, commonly between 0.1% and 0.45% weight/volume. The FDA specifically recognizes its efficacy as an ingredient in toothpaste in preventing gingivitis. Studies have shown that soaps containing triclosan significantly reduce the amount of bacteria on hands compared to plain soap, as well as the transfer of bacteria from hands to other objects after washing. However, in the grand tradition of some scientific studies conflicting others, a University of Michigan study showed consumer-grade antibacterial soaps to be no more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness.
What’s Bad About Triclosan
Biological and environmental concerns abound. Much like antibiotic resistance, there is worry about bacteria growing resistant to triclosan. Though certain studies have shown no significant development of such resistance in the short term, long-term adaptation of bacteria is still a concern, especially since traces of triclosan are left behind, unlike substances like ethyl alcohol that evaporate quickly and completely.
The environmental impact is also of concern, though again, results appear to be a mixed bag. Significant amounts of chemicals like triclosan seem to survive wastewater treatment, and chemicals created by the breakdown of triclosan appear to remain in the environment for some time. The chemicals of concern are dioxins and chloroform, both potentially carcinogens. The amount of chloroform produced seems to be relatively small, less than is ordinarily found in chlorinated drinking water. The dioxins produced do not appear to be of the type that is dangerous to birds, mammals, and fish. However, triclosan negatively impacts the ability of diatom algae to accomplish photosynthesis, which is potentially bad for those of us that breathe oxygen.
The negative impact on the health of humans is in question. Some studies show that it can be absorbed into the bloodstream, and may cause an increase in susceptibility to allergies in humans. However, the EPA does not appear consider triclosan to be a serious health threat to humans based on our everyday exposure. Studies involving animals have shown endocrine disruption in bullfrogs and impairment of muscle function in mice. Despite these results, the FDA states directly that triclosan is not known to be dangerous to humans, and that negative impacts shown in animals do not necessary mean that such results can be replicated in humans.
What Conclusions Can We Draw?
Well, if you were thinking that the blog of a small artisanal soap maker was going to succeed where the FDA has so far failed, you were sadly mistaken. The information we have isn’t better than theirs. The unfortunate answer at this time is that there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer.
We’re inclined to believe that for everyday handwashing, ordinary soap and water will do. In an interesting review of available studies on the efficacy and impact of triclosan, Tufts university researchers reached a similar conclusion. Although they acknowledged a need for further research, they concluded there is cause for the FDA to review the situation, and that “Soaps containing triclosan at concentrations used in the community setting (0.2% or 0.3% wt/vol) were generally no more efficacious than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands.” Read more about the Tufts study here (pdf).
I’ll be honest. Before I got into the soap business, I looked at bath and body products as a way that women quickly crossed off the remaining people on their lists without a lot of thought or effort. Don’t know what to buy? Just get her soap! Don’t know her that well? Get her some bath salts… Chicks dig bath salts!
But as I get more and more into the bath and body business, I realize that soap and other handmade bath and body products can be a thoughtful gift, if you have the right approach. Note the conditional statement there. You still have to put some thought into it, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with appreciation from the recipient, and maybe a thoughtful gift in return. How do I know? Well, when you’ve got easy access to a lot of handmade soap, you begin to get good at knowing when it’s a proper gift, and when it’s not.
To Smell, or Not to Smell?
It sounds like common sense, but more often than not, we’ll pop open a bottle of body wash in a store, and if it smells good to us, we’ll go with it. The reality is that people have different scent preferences, and it’s easy enough to subtly probe to find out what someone likes if you don’t already know. Floral is not the answer to everything. Some like herbal scents, or earthy scents. Others may like sweet, fruity scents. Showing you care by doing some detective work will go a long way.
With respect to scent, there’s another possibility to consider – no scent at all. If your intended recipient is someone like me that has allergies (or chemical sensitivities), he or she might genuinely appreciate getting luxurious bath products that don’t cause a non-stop sneezing fit. Really folks, a good portion of the populace has allergies, many to plants and animals. Fragrance manufacturers use these components and more or less “weaponize” them so they hang around in the air and on your person for longer. To someone who spends a fortune on a bottle of perfume, that’s a great feature. It’s not really a blessing for someone with allergies.
Solving Skin Problems
Everyone’s skin is different, and we can use that fact to add a little more personalization to a bath and body gift. Someone with dry skin would likely appreciate some lotion. Severely dry skin might benefit from a little gentle exfoliation with a salt bar or sugar scrub, followed by a lotion or balm. When winter rolls around, the cold, windy weather combined with the horrendous soap I have to deal with at work takes its toll on my hands. Shannon’s balm is an unbelievable comfort, especially on my knuckles. Sometimes it’s hard to know how someone’s skin will react to a particular ingredient, but some more subtle probing could help. For example, I’m partial to products with oatmeal in them, and I’m happy to talk about it. If you’re totally stumped, you could try a soap sampler pack that has a few different varieties in smaller sizes.
Lastly, personal beliefs or life events can give you a clue. If your sister is opposed to using products with sodium lauryl sulfate, Shannon’s Soaps or shampoo bars would be good candidates. If a friend is going through a tough time at work, putting together a gift basket with some bath salts or bombs, candles and maybe a little wine would be a thoughtful way to encourage her to take a little break for some rest and relaxation.
It's The Thought That Counts
You’ve heard it before when it comes to gifts: It’s the thought that counts. With a little careful consideration, you can turn something that might seem on its surface to be a dull present into a wonderful expression of your thoughtfulness. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to do just that.
Given that I make and sell handmade soap, I don't know that it's in my best interest to share this, but there are a number of things you can do to increase the life of your precious bars. For the moment, I will remove my evil marketer hat and share some of the tips I've learned as a soap consumer and wife of a cheapskate.
I didn't know that these existed until a friend bought me one as part of a Christmas gift, but they're a super easy way to make your bars last longer. There are a couple styles that I'm aware of. The first is a nylon mesh bag with a drawstring that works (and feels) very much like a body wash puff. The second is more like an oversized pot scrubber with a mesh pocket that holds the bar. Both types have a somewhat rough texture that serves to exfoliate, but I find that the mesh bag lathers more easily, and its smaller size makes it easier to handle. This style also is more amenable to using up all the little soap scraps you might collect. This is a great feature, especially if you happen to be a soap maker that turns out pounds of cut-off soap scraps, or you just don’t want to waste any scraps. Throw in another bar along with the remnants of an old one, and off you go. Pro tip: Make use of the string on your soap saver by getting yourself some suction cup hooks. Position the hook out of the water to make your soap last even longer.
Not Your Average Soap Dishes
Getting yourself a soap dish may seem somewhat obvious, but I've found a couple somewhat innovative ones that I like more than your garden-variety model. I'm not sure what shower manufacturers and tile installers are thinking when they position soap dishes. They may be adequate for baths, but showers turn any bar placed in one of these holders into a pile of mush. The shower dumps water all over your soap, and it never drains completely. I love suction cup-mounted soap dishes like the one you see pictured. You can place it out of the shower spray, and is has slots in its bottom to make sure that bars dry effectively.
I don't think I've ever seen a bathroom sink that didn't have either a space for a soap dish, or an integrated soap dish – except for the one we bought during our bathroom remodel. It's a pedestal unit with an aggressive slope to its top surfaces. Any soap placed on the sink top will slide right into the sink. Suction cups to the rescue once again! The "soap dish" pictured here is actually a rubber sheet with a bunch of tiny suction cups on both sides. On the top side, the suction cups allow excess water to drain off. The suction cups on the bottom stick to the sink and keep the whole works from slipping into the sink. This particular device is actually marketed for use vertically. It supposedly will stick to a shower or tile bathroom wall and hold various items like razors, toothpaste or soap. I haven't tried it vertically, but it works great horizontally on the sink.
So there… I guess you’ll be needing to buy less soap from me now since you’ll be able to get more out of each bar. Perhaps I will take a cue from shampoo manufacturers: everybody lather, rinse, repeat! :)
What happens when you have twins and entrust blog writing to your husband because you're so busy? You get two "manly" blog posts in a row. Although now that I think about it, there are probably plenty of ladies concerned with keeping their drains flowing freely without using caustic chemicals.
How is all this related to homemade soap? Well, part of the reason drains require periodic maintenance is because of soap scum – a compound created from a reaction between soap and the calcium found in tap water. If you've got hard water (i.e., more calcium in your water) the problem can be worse, unless you're running a water softener. Soap, combined with hair, can create quite a nasty clog, or it can cling to pipe walls to effectively reduce the diameter of your drains, slowing them considerably.
The common ways to deal with clogs and build-up in drains are to physically remove them,
using a drain auger (aka snake), or to chemically remove them with a drain cleaner. The more commonly available consumer-grade chemical cleaners usually contain sodium hydroxide (lye), or sodium hypochlorite (bleach). Commercial-grade cleaners can contain some pretty nasty stuff –acids and the like. These aren't things I usually like to handle (I'll leave the handling of lye to Shannon to make her soap). I don't want to encounter them if I have to disassemble the pipes, nor are they things I particularly want to dump down the drain into our water supply, so I started to look for an alternative.
I came across bacterial drain cleaners, which usually contain bacteria and enzymes that naturally break down soap scum and allow hair and other waste trapped in it to be washed away. Since they can not dissolve hair, an affordable hair trap is a good investment. These drain cleaners commonly claim to be completely biodegradable, and are supposedly safe for all pipes. I have used them on pvc and galvanized steel with no ill effects.
The particulars may differ, but the two brands that seem to be most widely available work similarly. The procedure is to mix a scoop of the cleaner with a pint or so of warm water, pour the mixture down the drain, and let it sit for a number of hours. Later, rinse with hot water. The last product I used encouraged three consecutive nights of treatments once a month as a preventive measure. I treat every three months or so, which seems to keep my drains flowing well.
Since my house isn’t vacant during the day, the best time for me to treat is usually overnight. In the bathroom, I will typically start with the sink drain, which in my case is closest to the main drain, to clear the way for anything that may wash down from my later treatment of the shower. Doing one drain at a time means that treatment in total takes longer, but it leaves a faucet handy for
hand washing if someone needs to use the bathroom at night.
Supposedly, you can't use a bacterial cleaner in total clog situations (the solution can't reach the clog), but I have successfully used it on an extremely slow-moving bathroom drain with great success. There's almost nothing that plumbers dread more than clearing a clog from the hard-to-reach drain of a pedestal sink. I avoided this by using the bacterial cleaner - a few treatments later, and my sink drain was flowing beautifully.
So use your handmade soap without fear. With bacterial drain cleaners, soap scum is easily dispatched, and keeping your drains clean is almost as easy as using that handmade soap to keep
Disclaimer: Directions, usage, precautions, etc. may differ between those products I’ve used, and the ones you may encounter. Consult the instructions and observe all safety precautions recommended, and use only as directed.
Those of you that know us well have likely heard by now that Shannon recently gave birth to twin boys. We appreciate all the help and support that you've given us. Even if you haven't dropped by with a casserole, your purchases and continued interest in Shannon's Soaps help us to support our suddenly large family.
While the birth of the twins has certainly been exciting, an event of nearly equal excitement happened last week. I was visiting my parents to help my dad brew the beer in the kit I bought him for Christmas, and in the midst of all the unwanted junk they heap on me in an effort to empty out their house (e.g., every school assignment I ever did) was something I actually did want - a couple of my dad's old double edge safety razors. As many of you know, Shannon makes some great shaving soap, and because I've got a difficult beard, I'm always on the lookout for a way to get a better shave. Plus, DE razors are just so darn cool. They're a bit like the old bakelite rotary telephones I've found at thrift stores - made decades ago, you can still bring them home, hook them up, and they still work brilliantly. In many ways, DE safety razors work better than their modern counterparts. Those 5-bladed beasts not only cost a fortune, they also irritate my face terribly.
One of them was a Gillette Super Speed, similar to the one I already have, but a bit newer, with a black plastic handle. The other turned out to be Schick Krona. At first, I suppose I was slightly disappointed, because it wasn't a "real" DE (i.e., a Gillette), but I later became intrigued and anxious to see how it stacked up against my Super Speed. I guess it's not surprising that Schick would have made a double edge razor, but I had not really considered it, as I almost exclusively associate Schick with injector razors, which I still must try someday.
The Krona was manufactured from 1959 to 1965. It is a TTO (twist to open) model, which allows the blade to be replaced without disassembling the razor. It has a long plastic handle (around 4 inches) and a sturdy metal head with angled doors. Like other DE razors, a number of variations were produced over the years. In the case of the Krona, these variations seem to have been mostly cosmetic - lettering on the doors, ("Schick", and/or "Krona"), a different logo on the tip (Schick vs. Eversharp), and a black plastic versus a metal tip.
Before doing any real research on it save learning its name, I cleaned it up, popped in a US-made Personna stainless blade, put my '53 Super Speed in a drawer, and used the Krona for about a week. I have to say that I really like it. It lacks the solid heft of my all-metal Gillette, but it is overall well balanced. Reviews I've since read say it shaves similar to a Super Speed. Some claim that it's more aggressive, while others say it is less, but most indicate that the operative word is slightly. I find myself in the "less aggressive" camp. I find I get less irritation, particularly on my neck, though this could be due to the angled doors on the Krona - it may be that they help me find the right shaving angle more easily. The doors have another benefit: they give the razor head a slimmer profile that makes it super-easy to shave under the nose. That's something I consistently have trouble with using the Gillette.
The longer handle is nice, offering great control, and the rectangular projections serve to keep the razor securely in hand. Speaking of the handle, a common opinion seems to be that the lack of a metal handle as the main reason that these razors are not more sought after. I’d add that the handle design isn’t particularly attractive. I don’t think it’s simply a case of function over form. I have to imagine you can bundle the aforementioned benefits in a nicer-looking package. It reminds me of the Ameritrust tower here in Cleveland, a brutalist-style building designed by Marcel Breuer that was completed in 1971. From my perspective, the building and the razor handle are ugly, but I can appreciate their uniqueness – in a sea of sameness, both stand out.
At present, with two babies screaming in my ears, it’s a bit difficult to say which new arrival makes me happiest – the razor, or the twins. The Krona will consistently deliver a near-irritation free shave, where as the boys are likely to deliver consistent irritation until they are able to nap for more than 10 minutes at a time. At some point they will learn, and in the long run, will certainly deliver more happiness than the razor – by a narrow margin. :)
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