Shaving gel is a fairly new development: it was first created in the 1970s, and when it debuted, there weren’t too many options. There were one or two gels, and that was that. Like most popular products, though, market demands pushed manufacturers to create a range of choices, and there is now a wide selection of gels to choose from. In the post below, we’ll list a quick “buyer’s guide” of characteristics that make a good shaving gel, provide a list of what we consider to be the best shaving gel for men, and then compare shaving gels vs. shaving creams, and try to figure out what comes out on top. By the end, you’ll probably know more about gels than you ever thought you would. First up:
A Quick Shaving Gel Buyer’s Guide
Believe it or not, there are some important features that make one gel different from another and separate high-end products from poorly-made goo. Here are the features and options you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re looking for a shaving gel:
Lubrication and Slickness
The main purpose of a gel is to provide a slick surface for your razor to travel over. If you’ve ever shaved dry—that is, without any cream at all (and we do NOT recommend that)—you know what we’re talking about here: in its natural state, dragging a razor over your skin will most likely result in cuts, razor bumps, and irritation. A good gel will lubricate your skin and allow your razor to pass over it smoothly and with minimal incident. Protecting the skin is Job #1 of an effective gel, and while no gel is perfect—shaving will never be 100% nick-free—a good gel can provide a your skin with a good deal of protection.
The only curveball when it comes to lubrication is that some gels are a good match for thinner facial hair, and other gels are a good match for thicker facial hair. Mass-market brands are generally a good match for thin- to medium-thickness facial hair growth, whereas specialty brands are generally a better match for guys with very thick facial hair (and we’ll discuss our pick for “Best Gel for Thick Facial Hair” below).
Protection for Sensitive Skin
If you really think about it, shaving is not a natural process, and our epidermis was simply not designed to take regular scraping from a razor-sharp blade. For a lot of guys, regular shaving means skin irritation, bumps, and rashes, and regular products don’t really offer any significant relief. So, shaving gel companies have created some sensitive-skin alternatives, most of which have fewer of the “bad” ingredients (and we’ll talk about those in the next section) and more of the “beneficial” ingredients (and we’ll discuss those, too). If you’re prone to irritation, a gel designed for sensitive skin can make a big difference.
Keep in mind, there may be other factors causing your skin issues—dull blades can wreak havoc on your epidermis, and your facial soap may also be causing negatives reactions—but the gel you use can definitely play a role if you have adverse reactions to shaving, and it’s something you may want to consider.
The Ingredient List
We’ve talked to a LOT of guys about shaving, and we get a lot of emails with shaving-related questions, and there’s one thing we’ve noticed: a lot of guys truly want to know the chemicals that are in their shaving products, and other guys simply don’t care. At all. If you’re one of those guys who can use any type of skin care product and not have to worry about breaking out or experiencing irritation, that is AWESOME. You’re kind of lucky, really, and you should be appreciative, because there are a lot of guys who really do need to review the ingredients list. If that’s you, here’s a quick run-down of what you should seek and avoid.
Avoid These: Alcohol—it tends to burn, and it can dry out the skin; butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)—it’s used to give the gel long-lasting properties, but it can irritate the skin (and can even irritate the eyes); sulfates—these are used to separate oil from your skin (making it easier to shave), but they sometimes inflame the skin; glycols—these keep a gel moist, but they can also dry out the skin; and, lastly, fragrance—mass-market products tend to use chemicals to add scent to a product, instead of using all-natural agents. There’s a reason why higher-end shaving gels (and shaving products of all kinds) include essential oils, and that’s because they add a lot of fragrance to a product, and they’re all-natural. If fragrance is one of the features that causes a reaction on your skin—or if you simply don’t like fragrance in your grooming products—there are plenty of fragrance-free options that are made.
Keep in mind, a LOT of guys can use the chemicals above without any issues (and that’s why shaving gel companies include them—they don’t cause negative reactions on a lot of guys), but the chemicals above (and others—we’re not doctors and that’s definitely not a complete list) are a bad match for a lot of guys with sensitive skin.
Seek These: Aloe Vera—this is one of those “good guys” that has a lot of restorative properties, and it can soothe and moisturize irritated skin; allantoin—provides some protection while shaving, and is believed to heal some of the damage done to the skin; shea butter (or any plant butter)—provides slickness to a gel; Vitamins A, C, and E—these are antioxidants that are in a wide range of skin care products, and are said to provide a bit of protection; and essential oils—these are a little more rare in mass-market gels, but you’ll find sandalwood, lavender, lemon/lime, tea tree oil, and a long list of other essential oils in higher-end gels. They smell great and some of them are said to have restorative properties.
Gels That Foam vs. Gels That Don’t
This is actually a really important buying feature. Higher-quality gels don’t form a foam on your face—they maintain the same gel-like consistency they had in the tube/bottle/jar/whatever, and apply to the face in a thin, even layer. They don’t get any fluffier than they were in the package, and they maintain their gel-like consistency.
There are other gels that DO pillow up when applied to the skin, and some guys love that. Many of the mass-market gels turn into foam on your face, and shaving companies actually use that as a selling point. And, because so many mass-market gels turn into foam when used, a lot of guys mistakenly think that’s a key feature of gel, when it’s actually not. Most high-end gels will have the same consistency in your hand that it has after you’ve spread it on the skin on your face.
There’s one other thing to keep in mind: it takes a lot of odd-sounding chemicals for a gel to pillow up, so if you have sensitive skin, you may want to avoid gels that foam up, and stick to a gel that keeps the same consistency inside the package and out.
Delivery and Packaging
These are “secondary” features, but they’re options we keep in mind when purchasing shaving products, so we thought we’d mention them:
Delivery. Some gels come in cans, others in squeezable tubes, and some higher-end versions come in jars or tubs. There’s no “best” option, but it’s a buying feature (and we’re actually keen on tubes and jars).
Packaging. Shaving products have come a long way in a short period of time, and companies are putting a lot of effort into marketing them and packaging them. If you’re interested in how products look (and, full disclosure, we are absolutely suckers when it comes to how products look), keep an eye for the visual aspect of the product. The Acqua di Parma we discuss below is old-school and stately, the Clinique is streamlined and clean, and the King of Shaves is colorful and bright. If you’re collecting things, you might as well like the way they look.
OK! That’s about it for buying considerations. Let’s move on to our picks for best shaving gel for men.
Shaving Gel Reviews
We’ve looked at what seems like hundreds of shave gels, and here are our picks for the best of the bunch. We’ve divided them into different categories, and we’ll start with…
Best Mass-Market Shave Gel: Our Two Favorites
If you spend a lot of time thinking about shaving—and wet shaving in particular—you develop certain preferences, and you’ll find that there are very specific products you like. Very often, though, when you really hone in on what you like about a product, you tend to be dismissive of the mass-market options available. That’s a bad strategy, though, because in a lot of cases, the mass-market options are fine for most people. After all, they’re mass-market products—they’re meant to be consumed by the public at large.
So while there are plenty of high-end shaving gels available—and we’ll discuss those in a minute—there are two mass-market options we really like:
The Gillette Series Sensitive Skin Gel is a fun, easy-to-use product, and it’s probably the most popular shave gel on our list. It exits the cannister with a nice, firm consistency, and cushions up into a handsome foam (and you can do that in your hands, by mixing the gel between your fingers, or on your face, by applying it directly to your skin). It’s got some aloe in it and provides a good deal of protection for the skin (but it does have a long list of chemical ingredients, so if you truly have sensitive skin, you may want to try a different option). Perhaps the best aspect of the Gillette Series gel is that it provides a good deal of lubrication—Job #1 for a gel.
If we had to select our absolute favorite mass-market shaving gel, though, we would choose Dove Men+Care Shave Gel for Sensitive Skin. Dove is an enormous brand and puts a LOT of research into their products to make them healthy and safe for the skin. Their Men+Care Shave gel has a short list of (mostly) all-natural ingredients, is fragrance-neutral, and (in our experience!) does a very good job of moisturizing the skin. It’s still a mass-market option—Dove sells a loooooot of gel—but it can be a great option if you don’t want a higher-end product that’s relatively well-known.
Best Shaving Gel for Sensitive Skin
If the Dove Men+Care we discussed above doesn’t do it for you, the Nivea for Men Sensitive Skin Shaving Gel gets our vote for #1 shaving gel AND #1 sensitive skin shaving gel. It’s not as well-known as the Dove gel—Nivea is very big in Europe, but not as well-known in the United States and Canada—but we’ve used it for a while, and had great luck with it.
The gel itself is pleasantly thick, and applies evenly. It’s got a slightly longer list of ingredients than we’d like to see, but it includes a couple of substances that are really good for the skin, including:
Chamomile extract, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties—it can help de-clog pores, and is used in many acne preparations;
Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant believed to block free radicals from harming the skin and aging it prematurely; and
Palmitic acid, which is a plant oil that acts as an emollient and inhibits water loss from the skin, so that your skin can stay hydrated.
Your mileage may vary, of course—everyone’s skin reacts to skin care products differently—but we’ve had very good luck with Nivea.
Best Vegan Shaving Gel
Every Man Jack isn’t that well-known in the U.S., but we’re huge fans, and their Every Man Jack Shaving Gel is one of our favorites. It’s got some great-for-your skin ingredients (chamomile extract, Vitamin E, aloe) but even better, it excludes some awful-for-your-skin ingredients (parabens, dyes, and sodium lauryl sulfate, which is used as a foaming agent, but may act as an irritant to the skin). It applies evenly and then cushions up into a nice lather.
And, maybe best of all, it’s vegan. We hate to say this—we really do—but it’s true: there are a lot of vegan products that are pretty good, but not quite as good as their non-vegan counterparts. It’s sad, and we wish it weren’t true, but it is. There are a lot of vegan products that don’t really compare with the non-vegan competitors. BUT, we can happily report that we’ve found Every Man Jack to be as effective as its non-vegan peers. It applies easily, provides a great deal of lubrication so that the razor can slide easily over the skin, and washes off without too much effort. Thumbs up.
Best High-End Shaving Gel: A Tie
Acqua di Parma is one of those brands you may have heard about but never seen: they’re a boutique item that you may have seen in the States, but their products can be hard to find. And that’s a shame, because the Acqua di Parma Shaving Gel is among our favorite shaving products of all time. It’s got a very light scent—it features aloe and tree moss extract—and has a clean-but-not-too-perfume-y scent. The gel itself comes out fairly tight but springs up nicely into a soft, cushiony cream, and (in our experience!) it does a very good job of protecting the skin from bumps and nicks. It’s a luxury, for sure—we’ve bought one bottle, and have made it last for over a year—but it’s a really fantastic indulgence. Acqua di Parma has a lot of wonderful shaving products, including aftershave balms and tonics, so if you find that you like their shaving gel, you may want to check those out.
Our other pick for high-end shaving gel has a little more name recognition: Clinique for Men Aloe Shave Gel. Clinique is a high-end brand mostly known for their makeup lines—they’re owned by Estee Lauder, who makes some of the world’s most recognizable cosmetics—and while the Clinique Shave Gel may not be as “high-end” as the Acqua di Parma, it also fits comfortably in the “premium gel” category. It’s an aloe-heavy recipe (good for shavers with sensitive skin), it easily generates a full lather, and it’s a great option for guys with really thick facial hair. Clinique doesn’t make too many products for men, but we’re hoping they create more—this is another pick we like a great deal.
Best Cooling Shave Gel
Some guys love that “cooling” feeling on their face—they find it refreshing and invigorating—while other guys hate it, and find it distracting and unnatural. If that describes you, and you hate that feeling, avoid King of Shaves Alpha Shave Gel. It’s got a lot of two substances that create that really unique “chilling” feeling—tea tree oil and menthol—and because it’s manufactured in bright green, it looks like something that’ll cool you down.
King of Shaves is actually a really interesting company, because they focus on the *feeling* of shaving. A lot of shaving companies—and there are a LOT of new shaving companies that have popped up in the last few years—focus on scents, but King of Shaves has focused on the *feel* of a shave. They also offer King of Shaves Black Pepper Gel that should also wake you up, and the best part is, they’re really good gels—they provide a good deal of lubrication and cushion. An interesting option to check out if you want a sort of “alternative” gel.
For Guys with Very Thick Facial Hair
This is another “deluxe” variety, but it’s a fantastic option for guys with thicker-than-normal facial hair: Lab Series Maximum Comfort Shave Gel. It’s not the most dazzling shaving get out there—the folks at Lab Series may want to step up their marketing game a little bit—but it’s specifically made with extra lubricating agents to make shaving over thick whiskers a little bit easier. It’s a “little dab’ll do you”-type product, and a small dime-shaped size of gel should cover a good deal of your face, and the gel itself balloons into a generous lather. If you’ve got more facial hair than the average bear, it may be a good match, and we actually consider it the best shaving gel for men overall.
Shaving Gels vs. Shaving Creams: A Comparison
Both gels and creams serve the same function—to lubricate the surface of your skin and provide you with some protection when you shave—and to be honest, the differences are pretty insignificant. If you buy high-quality products, both should do a good job of making your skin slick and helping you get a close shave. But, just to be thorough, we’ll take a closer look at some of the small differences between the two products, and which has the advantage (and, keep in mind—we’ll only be talking about higher-quality gels and creams; lower-quality gels and creams are both chock-full of chemicals, and the only real difference between them is how they feel on your skin). First up:
Ease of Use. Gel has the slight upper-hand when it comes to ease of use. Get it out of the tube / jar / dispenser, apply to your face, and you’re good to go. For most high-end shaving creams, you’ll need to use a shaving brush and build a lather, and that can take a while. Building a lather is, of course, is one of our favorite things about using shaving cream—building a lather with a perfect consistency is very satisfying—but it truly does add a couple minutes to your shaving routine. If you’re in a rush, gel is probably a better option.
Transparency. This one also goes to gels. There are plenty of see-through gels out there, and some guys love that—particularly guys who do “detail work,” like shaving a hard edge into facial hair (like you’d do with sideburns) or rounding out edges (like you’d do with a goatee). It can be somewhat difficult to shave precisely when your skin is covered with non-transparent gel, and see-through gels can make that task a lot easier.
Sensitive on the Skin. This one is probably a tie. High-end gels and creams are both made with all-natural ingredients, and both contain a lot of substances that are great for your skin—antioxidants, vitamins, essential oils, etc. If you’ve got skin sensitivity issues, both are good bets. Neither one is a sure thing—there are hundreds of reasons why your skin can break out or get irritated—but there are plenty of gels and creams that are made specifically for men with sensitive skin.
Cushion. This one obviously goes to shaving creams. If you like a big, pillowy, soft cushion (and for a lot of guys—us included—that’s one of the best aspects of shaving), shaving cream is IT, and there’s no contest (especially since high-end gels don’t cushion!).
Moisturizing Properties. Shaving cream probably has the advantage here. Most high-end shaving creams incorporate glycerin into their ingredient list because it has moisturizing properties, and we only know of one shaving gel that has glycerin (and honestly, we didn’t like it, so we didn’t include it in our list above). It’s not that shaving gels will dry you out—most high-quality gels will have their own moisturizing properties—but we’ve found that shaving cream is a little more moisturizing.
Scents. This is another aspect of shaving that we really enjoy, and shaving creams get the win. Because shaving cream is far more popular than shaving gel, there are simply more products on the market, and you can find creams in a crazy amount of scents. There are the “classic” scents, like sandalwood, lemon, lime, lavender, peppermint, tea tree, and patchouli, but there have been a number of “blended” scents that have been made in recent years, like coffee, whiskey, vanilla, and a ton more. If you’re interested in scent, you can read our posts about our favorite shaving creams.
Effectiveness. This is the real question, right? Which will provide better lubrication for your skin? Both provide adequate protection when bringing a razor to your face, but gel might have a slight advantage. Really, though, it comes down to personal preference. High-end gels and creams will both very effective.
There’s one more factor, though, and it’s an important one…
Relevance to Traditional Wet Shaving. This is a longer conversation, so we’ll give it its own section:
Gels and Traditional Wet Shaving: Friends or Foes?
Most of the posts we write are about traditional wet shaving: that is, using pre-shave oil and all-natural shaving creams, using a shaving brush to build a lather and apply it to the face, and shaving with a double-edge razor or a safety razor. It’s a time-honored tradition that provides an incredibly close shave, and if you’re interested in it, take a look around the site, because brother, we’ve written a lot about it.
But here’s the thing: for traditional wet shavers, there are only two products to use when creating a lather—shaving cream (like Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shaving Cream—one of our favorites) or shaving soap (like Proraso Shaving Soap—another one of our favorites). By and large, the guys who are into traditional wet shaving are pretty picky when it comes to the products they use, and most of them would not consider a gel to fit under the umbrella of wet shaving.
And they’re right—gel doesn’t really have a place in the realm of traditional wet shaving. In the history of shaving, it’s a fairly new product, and it doesn’t really fit among the “classic” products men use to wet shave.
We, however, would like to argue that gels DO have a place in the wet shaving universe, and we have two reasons we think are convincing:
There are some high-end gels being made. The most important aspect of wet shaving products is that they are usually all-natural. They contain none of the weird chemicals that you’ll find in mass-market shaving products, and that’s a big part of their appeal—they’re less likely to cause skin irritation, bumps, etc. Gels, traditionally, have been mass-market products, and they contain a long list of weird and unpronounceable ingredients. In the last couple of years, however, manufacturers have created a number of high-end gels that are skin-friendly, feature all-natural ingredients, and even look like wet shaving products—most wet shaving creams come in jars, and the EZ Blade gel comes packaged in a jar. It’s a very clever marketing choice, because it makes the product feel a lot more like a wet shaving product. So while gels may not historically be part of wet shaving, they’re being created in the “spirit” of wet shaving, if you will, and the good ones have all the same features as traditional wet shaving products.
Daily wet shaving is unreasonable for a lot of men. This is the biggest advantage of gel over traditional shaving creams and soaps: wet shaving takes a long time, and the most time-consuming task of wet shaving is using cream or soap to build up a lather. Don’t get us wrong—creating a nice cushiony lather is perhaps the best and most enjoyable part of a wet shaving routine, and we’d be broken-hearted if we fully removed that step from our morning routines—but it truly does eat up a lot of time, and that’s the big advantage of using a gel. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it gets the job done. It may not be as luxurious as a wet shaving cream or soap, but it’s a good “second-best,” and as we said, there are some fantastic gels to choose from.
So, if you’re stuck in the “traditional wet shaving mindset” but you simply don’t have time for a full wet shave every morning—and we’d imagine most of us do not—consider a gel. Yes, we are fully aware that some of the traditionalists on Badger and Blade and The Shave Den will be furious with us (and honestly, they may be right!). But if you like traditional wet shaving but you simply don’t have time for it in the morning, consider a gel made from all-natural ingredients. It may be a nice fit.
Michael Morris is the head writer here at Rough and Tumble Gentleman. He's got a ducktail beard and loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He's married to the woman of his dreams and lives in Brooklyn, NY.