A few months ago, I forgot my toilet bag in a hotel room in Philadelphia. Of course, it was never “found” by the cleaning teams… I lost quite a few things, including my shaving gear. As I needed immediate replacement, I walked into a The Art of Shaving shop and bought a tube of their Unscented Shaving Cream for Sensitive Skin. Some weeks later, I got stuck in the country, again without shaving products, went into the local Rite Aid and bought the best they had: Professional Formula Shave Cream double concentrated from The Real Shaving Co. None of these products would have been given to me by Marta to test as they are fairly cheap mass market creams with standard ingredients, but my forced experiments turned out to be quite a surprise - to me at least.

These products are marketed quite distinctly: The Art of Shaving is at the low end of the high end of the market. The brand is positioned as a luxury product for the uninitiated, often bought by spouses, girlfriends, mothers and sisters for the unreconstructed males they have to deal with. Launched not long ago (1995) by “Eric and Myriam”, The Art of Shaving was acquired by Procter & Gamble in June 2009. It has since become the best-selling men’s brand at high-end department stores. Their own stores can be found in 39 locations across the country. Kudos to the founders for their success and brilliant marketing!

On the other hand, The Real Shaving Co is, to my mind, at the high end of the low end. It is found in drab drugstores that compete on price or convenience rather than anything else. Started in 1953, The Real Shaving Co. is now owned and manufactured by Creightons, a multibrand industrial company in the rather bleak city of Peterborough in the east of England. As the Tourist Information claims, it has “nice shopping centers”! But if you really want to avoid those awful EDGE gel pressure cans – and I do - then you have to go for The Real Shaving Co.

The two brands’ products are nevertheless very similar in two ways: price and the key ingredients. They are both quite affordable: The Real Saving Co is the absolute winner at $3.99 whereby The Art of Shaving charges $14 for a similar tube, but this is still OK.

Their ingredients read eerily similarly. It is so spectacular that I cannot resist copying both here:

Real Shaving: Aqua, Stearic Acid, Myristic Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Coconut Acid, Glycerin, Triethanolamine, Fragrance, Sodium Hydroxide, Allantonin, Melaleuca Alternifolie (Tea Tree) leaf Oil, Limonene, Linalool

The Art of Shaving: Water, Stearic Acid, Myristic Acid, glycerin, potassium hydroxide, coconut acid, sodium hydroxide, Methylisothiazolinone

Little is noteworthy amongst these standard ingredients for mass market shaving products. I am not too keen on sodium hydroxide (used by both) which is a known irritant although it is generally approved for use in cosmetics. Reading the Truth In Aging summary is a bit scary with mentions of “severe burns with deep ulcerations, pneumonitis; eye, skin burns; temporary loss of hair…” or “solutions as weak as .12% have been shown to destruct healthy skin cells within one hour”.  According to the same studies though, the length of exposure in normal cosmetics applications should be safe!

In the same way, triethanolamine, for The Real Shaving Co. as a PH adjuster, buffering agent and surfactant may have raised some concerns with some, but it is considered safe according to the CIR and methylisothiazolinone, or MIT as it is sometimes known, for The Art of Shaving is a preservative and as such is a powerful biocide. The use of a little glycerin in The Art of Shaving may be a good thing, but there is probably not enough to make a noticeable difference. Nothing to be unduly alarmed about here, as both companies avoid parabens, SLS and SLES or alcohol, using natural and even organic ingredients (this is a recent evolution for The Real Shaving Co), but they are not exactly the type of ingredients that Marta and the Truth In Aging team generally seek out!

Now for the surprise (rolling drums in the background)… one cream was fabulous to use and the other a bitter disappointment.

The disappointment came from the heavily marketed Art of Shaving product: no art and hardly any shaving! The texture was so liquid that it would not apply evenly despite the uncut hair and would drip onto my chest or bathroom counter (despite the inclusion of potassium hydroxide instead of soap which is supposed require less water to liquefy). Then came the attempt at shaving: the cream allows for the blade to glide excessively over the hair, thus leaving uncut stubs even with multiple passes of a four blade razor. The result, if evenly spread, would have been a five o’clock shadow at seven in the morning. But it gets worse: when the cream came into contact with the skin, it set off irritations galore. I haven't had such razor burns and cuts since using canned gels and a single blade BIC as a teenager. Interestingly, The Art of Shaving website advises its customers to “avoid applying too much pressure on your razor since this is often the cause of razor burn and skin irritations” and then concludes with the most telling advice ever: “In the event of nicks or cuts, use The Art of Shaving antiseptic Alum Block to stop the bleeding”. To give it the benefit of the doubt, I tried three different razors and even a brush… with no notable improvement. This cream leaves you with three choices: (1) remain unshaven, (2) cutting yourself or (3) test the Real Shaving Co. product…

I had my initial concerns about the Real Shaving Co cream. Besides being extremely cheap, the marketing worried me a little bit. There did not seem to be much difference between the normal cream and the Sensitive version. The sensitive does have a fair amount of tea tree oil, which also gives a fairly marked scent that I could have done without. The Real Shaving Co boasts a “Professional Formula Double Concentrated” without ever explaining what double concentrated actually means. I thought there were laws about truth in advertising in Great Britain… After some research, I found a chemist suggesting that Creightons uses neat stearic acid and myristic acid instead of the tallow and palm oil that they come from, in other words more concentrated ingredients. Secondly Creightons uses a whole lot more potassium salt than sodium salt here. Potassium salts are much softer so less water is necessary, thus increasing the concentration. Whatever…

To my shock and surprise, this cream is amazing; the result is quite simply excellent for the money. Application of this dense cream is easy even with the fingers and a tiny nub can cover the cheeks and neck. When testing the application with a brush, the cream lathered perfectly into an unctuous foam. The shave is perfectly close and can be done very quickly without aggression to the skin. The rinsing of both the face and the razor is a bit tedious as the cream is quite sticky but this is no big deal. The skin is left clean and not too dry: a plain moisturizer is the only after-shave needed.

By the way, I realized later that the $2.99 I paid was due to a quick sale as The Real Shaving Co.has since repackaged its products in a more fancy “suite of creams” (a trend we noticed with Osmotics.  Duane Reade carries the new stuff in the USA. Still, if you pass on the new scrub, face wash, hot towel mask, after shave balm as well as an electric pre-shave tonic or a shave oil (!) and just get the shaving cream for $5.99, it is still a steal. For the record Creightons also produces mid-range and higher end men’s products in the UK but it is difficult justifying an upgrade from the bottom of the heap The Real Shaving Co. This is the best kept secret for bargain-hunting shavers ever.