The best a man can get?

For men, shaving surely ranks as one of our most bizarre daily rituals: We take a razor-sharp blade, scald it hot with water, and scrape the hair off of our faces and necks — even the regions over our jugular veins. Yikes.

And to complicate matters yet more, we tend to lubricate the process with gels and foams full of all sorts of dodgy and toxic chemicals. Like the hard slap that greets the hapless shaver’s face in the ’70s-era aftershave commercial, perusing the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetic database is a bracing experience.

Gillette’s Mach3 Comfort Gel, for example, seems like something we should be working to ban from the face of earth, not smearing on our own faces every morning. It’s chock full o’ stuff like triethanolamine, associated with “cancer, allergies/immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), contamination concerns.”

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Shaving may mean subjecting our most delicate and visible skin to direct contact with sharp metal, but it needn’t mean a daily lathering of nasty goo.

Grist’s Pick

Jason 6-in-1 Beard & Skin Therapy
$7.99/8 oz.

For years, I’ve used health-food store (what I call “hippie”) shaving creams — ones relatively free of toxic sludge and not tested on animals. But I never really developed brand loyalty; I’ve always merely bought what’s cheapest. For this column, I thought I’d give the shaving-cream shelf a whirl to see if any of the many available items offer something special in terms of quality and value.

One caveat: Many of the 12 gels and creams I tested contain sodium lauryl sulfate, a controversial substance in the hippie-product world. Derived from coconuts, SLS is prized by manufacturers for its lathering qualities. All manner of claims have been leveled against it. Yet it remains unclear to me precisely how bad it is. The Skin Deep database rates its toxicity level at 2 of a possible ten points, or “low.” By contrast, the above-mentioned triethanolamine got 7 of 10, earning a “high toxicity” tag. I avoid SLS, but not religiously.

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As I performed the tests over the course of a couple of weeks, I looked for products that smelled good, made the blade glide down my face, and left my skin feeling supple, happy, and reasonably moisturized. Was I asking too much? Read on.

Aubrey Organic Men’s Stock City Rhythms
$8.49/6 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

This one has a wonderful musky-woodsy aroma, and it pleasantly warms the face on contact. Its rather tame lather might bother some, but not me. However, it took labor to bring the razor down the cheek — especially with a two-day beard growth. It did leave the skin feeling smooth and supple, though. I liked this one, but didn’t love it.

Zia Men Hydra Shield Shave Cream
$9.99/5 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

The straight-ahead soapy smell didn’t do much for me; nor did the thin texture and nonexistent lather. It performed OK on the face, but my skin felt a bit dried out by it. This one is functional, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it.

Zia Men Acti Shield Shave Gel
$9.99/5 oz
Sodium lauryl sulfate? Yes

Full disclosure: Gels creep me out. But I sort of dug this one — at first. I liked its light piney aroma, and the light lather it developed on the face. Yet shaving was a bit labored, and, again, my face didn’t feel particularly moisturized.

Kiss My Face Moisture Shave
$4.99/4 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

This budget-priced, odor-free cream turned in a rock-solid performance. Its creamy texture felt good, not making me miss the absent lather, and the razor slid down with ease, leaving supple skin in its wake. I’d buy this one again.

Weleda Shaving Cream
$10.99/2 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

This premium-priced cream performed like a dream. It offered a pleasing, mild, musky aroma, and its light lather coaxed the blade smoothly over the skin. It left my skin feeling smooth, silky, and luxuriously moist.

Nature’s Gate Organics Creamy Shave Gel
$6.49/6 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

Ooh, another gel. I didn’t much like this one. It offered a faint, almost chemical odor, and didn’t lose its creepy clear-gel quality even after being rubbed on the face. Shaving was easy enough, but it didn’t leave my face feeling all that moisturized.

Hoke2 Green Tea & Soy Shaving Cream
$8.99/8 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

This one follows a trend I’m ambivalent about — trumpeting all manner of healthy-sounding foodstuffs in body products. Do the benefits of drinking green tea extend to spreading it on one’s face? Maybe. Anyway, this one showed a shiny, almost artificial-seeming creaminess, and an odor that vaguely reminded me of sunscreen. But it worked pretty well: an easy shave with a smooth finish.

Tom’s of Maine Conditioning Shave Cream
$4.99/3.6 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

I dug the bright minty aroma and warm tingly feeling this light cream gave my skin. Another rock-solid performer, it left my skin feeling refreshed.

Alba Moisturizing Foam Aloe Mint
$7.99/5 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? Yes

This one is for recent converts to hippie shaving products. It’s a proper foam, just like your dad used to use. And it performs well: it delivers a mild, minty scent and slight menthol warmth, and a smooth and easy shave. My face felt pretty nice afterward, too.

Avalon Organics Moisturizing Cream Shave
$5.95/8 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

This aloe-heavy cream aspires to unscented status, but smells mildly of baby powder. It has a shiny sheen reminiscent of furniture polish. But it feels good on the face, and delivers a solid shave, with a reasonably moisturized result.

Jason 6-in-1 Beard & Skin Therapy
$7.99/8 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No


Get a Whiff of This
Consumer Reports reports that fragrances cause more allergic contact dermatitis than any other ingredient. Learn about other potential impacts of personal- care product ingredients here.

It’s hard to explain why I find this one so appealing. The aroma is nothing special — mildly soapy, with a quality I can only describe as powdery. The texture is unique: a light cream with a downright gritty feel. Turns out the grit is something called “jojoba beads,” which the container claims “lift the hair shaft and exfoliate without drying the skin.” It sure seems to work. Shaving with this one feels like cutting soft butter with a chef’s cleaver — and it leaves my skin feeling clean, moisturized, and ready for the day. For me, this one shaved away the competition.

Herban Cowboy Shave Soap
$2.99/2.9 oz.
Sodium lauryl sulfate? No

This little round of soap is meant to be used with an old-school shave brush and mug. I just lathered it up with hot water and my hands. Its existence anticipates what I expect will be several comments demanding to know why I don’t just use soap to shave. Damn good question. This one made a lovely light lather and gave a pleasant herbal smell. It delivered a smooth and easy shave, but did leave me wanting moisturizer. Overall, a satisfying experience.

The Bottom Line: Those wanting to rescue their morning shave from the toxic shock of corporate foams and gels have many attractive options. And while hippie shaving creams are typically pricier than a can of old-school Barbasol, they really aren’t that expensive on a daily basis. A three- to six-ounce container usually lasts me months. There were several in the sampling that I’d use again; but the Jason 6-in-1 takes top honors. In cash-per-ounce terms, Jason’s product also ranks as the best buy.