Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Fragrances for men: Why do so many shaving products fail to measure up?

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Sharpologist is running a very interesting series of articles/posts on fragrances in shaving by Craig K, and I recommend it highly. Part 1 begins:

Many wet shavers start out liking the scents of shave soaps and then move on into fragrance. This can be a challenge on a variety of levels; “Why doesn’t anything smell only like limes?,” “Wait, sandalwood is supposed to smell like that?,” “That 3 ounce bottle of stuff costs how much?”


It’s not always easy to translate one’s expertise and knowledge from one field over into another. CEO’s can tell us this as they move from, say, running a financial firm to running a tech company. Formula One drivers attempting to compete in NASCAR can share their own tales of surprise and woe. As can governors and Senators who become President. As can Michael Jordan….

As mentioned above, shaving guys moving over into the world of male fragrances have some challenges and confusion to confront.  But a far more difficult odyssey awaits those who move in the opposite direction, starting out as fragrance fans / collectors (“fragheads”) and trying to duplicate that experience in shave soaps and creams. The price is right certainly, but it soon becomes obvious that the smells are…well, “dull” and “simple” are the words that come to mind.

Where is the clever mix of dirty and clean seen in Guerlain’s Vetiver, the completely odd blending of gasoline and violets from Dior’s Fahrenheit, the mysterious combination of tea, vanilla, and rubber tire from Bvlgari’s Black?

Instead, shavers get citrus, citrus, and more citrus scents, along with lavender, “woods”,  rose of one questionable variety or another, and mint, and even this limited palette is cast generally in simple soliflorecompositions (that is, where one note is dominant.)

Why are soaps and creams so comparatively dull and what can be done about it on the part of the more olfactory-adventurous shaver? This article series will focus on the first of these questions: why do shave soaps and creams smell so differently from what’s available in the world of male fragrances?

A Lack Of Chemistry

Or actually too much of it, to be precise. Most fragrances meant for perfume usage are suspended in alcohol. This is for a reason. The alcohol preserves the mix in a relatively inert suspension that is meant to do nothing else other than sit there and last for a while. A shave cream or soap by comparison needs to contain many other chemical elements by necessity.  See The Anatomy Of A Shaving Cream for more information.

The surfactants, emulsifiers, cleansing agents, humectants, lather stabilizers, epidermal soothers and moisturizers, etc. all have a job to do, and the interaction of all these agents with scent bearing molecules means that not every possible blend of scent emitting oils can be recreated in a cream or soap. Compromises have to be made:; no one wants a great smelling soap that shaves dreadfully or a fascinatingly complex cream that dries on the face in a minute.

Complexity Takes Time To Develop

Related to our first point, most fragrances in traditional perfumery have a scent pyramid, with three layers. First come the top notes, small light molecules of scent perceived in the first few seconds of exposure, as they rise quickly out of the mixture. Next come heart notes, the mid weights of the molecule mix, that develop after a few minutes and last for a half hour to several hours. Finally, the heavy hitters, the base notes, the heaviest molecules that anchor the scent and last for many hours after application.

How long does it take you to shave? It takes me roughly 20 minutes. That means assuming everything was structured as per the conventional scent pyramid given above, I would barely get to the heart notes of the pyramid, and the odds are good the top notes would be barely noticed by me as I focused on developing lather on my face. The perceived complexity of most perfumes comes from their development over time, and the contrasts between the layers of the pyramid. With only a very brief time to experience the scent of the soap or cream, the ability to work in transitions and contrasts is beyond the ability of many, if not all, formulas and their makers.

And the above assumes that . . .

Continue reading.

And then read Part 2, and Part 3.

FWIW, my vintage Lenthéric shaving soap has an exquisite and complex fragrance that contrasts sharply with the fragrance of the typical artisanal soaps I’ve used. Lenthéric was (is) a perfume house, and they brought that expertise to their shaving soap.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2015 at 11:34 am

Posted in Shaving

One Response

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  1. Very interesting observations. It’s amazing how different fragrances are compared to shave soaps and creams.I personally like the sandalwood and lemon fragrances the best.


    The Art of Shaving

    12 August 2015 at 9:11 am

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