My airline lost my luggage on a recent two-week trip to Germany. It was a major inconvenience, of course. But it did give me the opportunity to buy some new shaving gear at a drug store in Germany. Here is a review of my new low-budget shaving supplies, complete with a super cheap razor, surprisingly good blades, and some shaving soap I didn’t love. All for around $20.
I usually travel light, but on a recent extended trip to Germany I decided to take some of my favorite shaving supplies: my Merkur Futur, 15 Feather blades, a trusty old badger brush, some pre-shave oil, and my Cremo (as I covered in a previous article, it is my favorite shaving cream on the road).
I knew my family of four would be sharing one bathroom and my bathroom time would be limited. I wanted to use a razor/blade/cream combo that gives a great shave quickly – even if I only settle for 2 passes. But despite my best efforts at preparing, the airline had different plans for my morning routine. They lost my luggage, and with it all of my shaving supplies – at least for a few days.
After two days of travel and two days without luggage (and the realization that no stores are open on Sunday in Germany) I had a chance to buy some new shaving gear: Speick Active Shave Soap, Wilkinson Sword Classic Razor & Blades, and a Balea Men Brush. I walked out of the store for around $20 total.
Speick Men Active Shaving Soap
I spent a little extra money on the Speick Active Shave Soap knowing that a bad soap can ruin a good shave. I wasn’t planning on buying a high-end razor or blades so the soap would be my insurance policy. I didn’t have a lot of options – cans of goo, tubes of palmolive, some sticks that I was completely unfamiliar with, and this $12 bowl of Speick organic vegan shaving soap. I went with the Speick.
In retrospect, I would have been better off trying my luck on a stick of palmolive than this Speick soap. I didn’t like it. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
In fairness, I’ll start with the positive. I really like the smell of the soap. It has a clean citrus smell without smelling too much like a perfume or air freshener. The fragrance also rinses away cleanly, which I appreciate. The consistency of the soap also shows promise. It is somewhere between a cream and a soap – firm enough to hold its shape but soft enough to press your finger into with a little pressure. I thought this would make for easier lathering than a hard soap. I was wrong.
A thin lather builds almost immediately in the Speick bowl. On my first attempt I got as much soap as I could on the brush and moved it to my hand to build the lather (I didn’t have a bowl). The bubbles were big and it looked a little too wet, so I added more and more soap. But it turns out I was heading in the wrong direction. This soap needs a ton of water. Even when the bubbles look too big (like there is too much water) it still needs even more. Eventually you can get a decent lather to form, but I am still having trouble building a lather that doesn’t collapse in the bowl by my third pass.
But my real complaint is the poor slickness and how the soap leaves my skin feeling dry and tacky. The first pass immediately after applying the soap is just “ok”. But it dries out quickly and starts to become tacky. I quickly learned not to consider going back for a touch-up without adding more soap and water. After it dries this soap actually feels tackier than water alone.
I hoped that my skin would feel reasonably soft after a few passes. Unfortunately the Speick soap leaves a similar feeling as a bar of hotel soap. It left my skin feeling dry and rubbery and my fingers almost stuttered across the skin as I felt for areas to be touched up.
I typically finish soaps/creams that I buy – even those I don’t like. I’m sorry to say I don’t enjoy this one enough to finish it.
Wilkinson Sword Classic Razor & 5 Blades
The store I was in was a mass-market drug store in Northern Germany so I didn’t expect to see Jagger or Muhle razors. I didn’t know if I would find any safety razors at all to be honest. But then I spotted this gem – the Wilkinson Sword Classic Razor & Blades.
I was excited to try this thing out. It seemed too good to be true. It cost somewhere around $5 for a razor and 5 blades that carried a name brand and not some generic imported garbage.
The razor itself is made of plastic with a cylinder of metal running through the handle. Don’t be fooled into thinking the metal adds any real heft to the razor – it doesn’t. This thing is exceptionally lightweight. This makes it great for packing light (I might consider taking this with me on the road in the future.) But the technique of “letting the weight of the razor do the work for you” goes out the window. The work HAS TO be done by applying pressure because the razor is so light. Technique and attention to detail becomes pretty important.
This is possibly the reason that the razor is so mild. It is by far the mildest razor I have ever used with a very small gap and minimal blade exposure. I imagine this is intentional. Since the application of pressure is required to achieve any real cutting, the extra mildness is probably designed to avoid taking out a chunk of skin. I prefer more aggressiveness.
The Wilkinson Sword blades were a pleasant surprise. I knew that my barber uses the WS blades and that they are German made (at least the ones in the black box). But beyond that they were new to me. I enjoy trying new blades, but I am picky about the ones I like.
It would be unfair to judge the blades from my first few shaves (with the new razor and Speick soap), so I saved a few to bring home with me and added them to my rotation. My preference is to use very sharp blades. I don’t have problems with nicking myself, but the extra sharpness helps to cut through my beard.
These blades performed very well. They were both sharp and smooth. I typically use Gillette Platinum or Feather and I wouldn’t have a problem working these into the rotation. I occasionally use an Astra Super Platinum and I would say the Wilkinson Sword outperforms the Astra. As always, this is subjective – your mileage may vary.
At around $20 per 100, these blades aren’t the cheapest, but also not the most expensive on the market. DE blades are cheaper than dirt whether you are buying bargain-basement or high-end blades so price rarely enters into my opinion of a blade.
Balea Natural Bristle Brush
I didn’t expect to see a brush in the drugstore, and to my surprise they actually had two options. Both were the Balea store-brand. They had a professional version for around $10 and a “natural bristle” version for $5. I went with the cheaper $5 Balea Men Brush.
The brush says it is “natural bristle” but it doesn’t say from which animal the hair comes. It didn’t have the classic badger smell so I imagine it is horse hair or something. Honestly, I don’t really care. I’m not especially picky about brushes. I prefer them to be a little bit on the stiff end and I want a brush to last a reasonable amount of time based on how much I pay. When my luggage is lost and I just need to shave, my standards drop even lower than that.
This brush was like the movie selection on the airplane – not awful, but nothing to write home about. The stiffness was similar to a pure badger brush and possibly a little stiffer. But the brush was not especially dense. It probably has half as many hairs as a high-quality badger brush. It didn’t perform as well as a good brush at lathering, but it is better than some travel brushes I have used. Overall, for $5 this is a steal.
My first shave with the new gear had the potential to be an awful experience. I didn’t have any pre-shave oil (does anyone know if common household oils work well in a pinch?) The razor, blades and soap were unfamiliar and my family didn’t leave a lot of time to use the one available bathroom. It was, in a word – rough.
When all was said and done I probably made 6 passes trying to get a reasonably smooth shave. I hadn’t mastered the right amount of pressure to use on the razor so I was turning this mild razor into a Parmesan shaver and removing grafts of skin. Of course, the fact that I did all of this in under 5 minutes didn’t help at all.
Thankfully, I didn’t throw anything away and I tried each new tool in my usual routine – the blades in my Merkur Futur, the razor with a Feather, the brush with Taylor of Old Bond St. Cream. Nothing in the new kit will ever be my favorite, but everything serves its purpose in a pinch (except the soap, of course). I even think I will take the razor and brush on the road with me in the future. Losing my luggage was an awful experience, but I enjoyed trying some shaving products I never would have purchased otherwise.
At the end of our trip we flew out of Vienna airport to head home. We only spent one day in Vienna, but while we were there I noticed two big banners that read “Wet Shaving”. What I found was the ESBjERG Wet Shaving Store on Krugerstrasse. It is a nice store with a good selection of safety razors, single-blade razors, soaps and balms.
If only I had found this store earlier in our trip. Instead of feeling like a tired traveler with a rough case of razor burn, I could have felt as energized as the man in the display case (although I think a full body shave under a rocky waterfall might lead to some undesirable nicks and cuts.)
The purpose of this blog is to share how double-edge shaving can help men get better shaves and clearer skin. Here are some additional posts you may find interesting:
Intro to Wet Shaving – A primer on how DE shaving helps give better shaves and clearer skin
Shaving Technique – A “how-to” guide for shaving with a safety razor
DE Shaving Cost Comparison – Analysis comparing the cost of DE shaving vs cartridge shaving (spoiler: DE razors are cheaper than dirt!)
Gear for Beginners – The low-cost tools that introduced me to DE shaving
Razor Aggressiveness Basics – An explanation of what makes a razor “mild” with recommendations for beginning DE shavers