Synthetic shaving brushes have been around for years but have only recently started to show promise as a viable alternative to natural hair shaving brushes, such as badger, horse, and boar, thanks in part to the efforts of manufacturers like Muhle and the chemical industry.
Today you can expect synthetic shaving brushes to meet or exceed the performance of a low to mid-range badger brush and, possibly, even be on par with the top end badger shaving brushes.
Synthetic Shaving Brush History
Traditionally synthetic shaving brush knots were made of Nylon. These were great for exfoliating the skin (imagine rubbing your face with a toothbrush) but not so good at performing like a traditional shaving brush to create a lather suitable for a proper shave.
You could say it all started in the early 2000s when manufacturers began to taper the Nylon fibre tips, which resulted in a much softer feeling on the face. From here on, manufacturers began to taper the tips more, experiment with a mixture of fibre lengths and thicknesses in individual knots, and also began crimping the fibres to retain water. All of this led to a synthetic shaving brush that started to look, feel and perform much more like a natural shaving brush. But there was still room for improvement and increasing demand from consumers.
Fast forward to today and you’ll find that most synthetic shaving brushes are manufactured from a material called Taklon and the individual fibres in the knot are tapered to varying points of thickness that more accurately represent natural hair. This variation in thickness also means there is more space between the fibres allowing the knot to hold more water and feel more like real hair.
The performance or feel of a synthetic shaving brush will depend on the type of knot: it’s density, loft, shape, and size of knot bore.
Dense knots, those with a greater number of fibres, will have more backbone or stiffness meaning more pressure will need applying to make the knot splay.
Low lofts typically result in more backbone, whereas high lofts will feel less stiff allowing the knot to splay with less pressure.
The shape of the knot again determines the backbone. Fan-shaped knots will splay easily and bulb-shaped knots will have more backbone.
If the diameter of the knot is the same as the bore (the hole in the handle in which the knot sits) there will be less room for the fibres to splay giving more backbone to the shaving brush. If the bore is slightly larger than the knot diameter there will be more room for the fibres to splay when pressure is applied.
There’s no right or wrong, good or bad when it comes to knot type. It’s completely down to the preference of the shaver.
Synthetic Shaving Brush Pros
In comparison to natural shaving brushes those of synthetic fibre are immensely cheaper so they make for an affordable entry point to the world of traditional wet shaving.
Natural hair has an irregular surface that acts as a trap for product, skin cells and moisture, which can lead to a build-up of bacteria that cleaning may not completely remove potentially leading to skin irritation. The surface of synthetic fibres doesn’t have these irregularities making them much easier to clean and dry and because bacteria is minimised your synthetic shaving brush is less likely smell.
Synthetic fibres are much stronger than natural so you can go as hard as you like without risking damage to the fibres. They will also take longer to break down than natural protein fibres.
NO SOAKING REQUIRED
Unlike natural fibre, shaving brushes those made with synthetic fibre don’t require soaking before use greatly speeding up your shave time.
No animals are harmed in the making of synthetic shaving brushes. To make natural shaving brushes the animals are killed, except for horses, to harvest their pelts for fur.
Synthetic Shaving Brush Cons
Although there have been leaps and bounds in the quality and performance of synthetic shaving brushes they still don’t quite feel the same as traditional badger brushes. However, this comes down to personal preference.
Whilst synthetic shaving brushes are getting progressively better at retaining the water they are still not quite up there with natural fibre brushes so you’ll find yourself having to adjust your lathering technique to accommodate this.
Natural fibre shaving brushes can soak up water. By leaving a natural brush to soak it is possible to reduce its stiffness. Synthetic brushes don’t have this luxury as the fibres are unable to soak up water so it’s not possible to reduce the stiffness.
With today’s technology synthetic fibre shaving brushes are a match for traditional badger brushes. Which one you choose will ultimately be determined by your wallet and your personal preference.