What’s in that fluffy shaving cream?

Every day in the United States both men and women purchase shaving creams and lotions to help make shaving unwanted hair a smoother and easier process. Although very few individuals look into the ingredients they are putting on their face or allowing young children to play around in for fun. This highly knowledgeable and opinionated article is meant to help guide potential buyers into which ingredients to watch out for and what to look for in a shaving cream. As my grandmother would say, if you can’t pronounce the ingredient you probably shouldn’t be messing with it. What’s the matter with a little hair now-a-days anyway? Seems like beards are becoming the trend.

The reality of shaving cream is pretty simple it is 80% water, that’s right a freaking B- when it comes to water. Most of the rest of the magic jazz is meant to make it look or smell nice while using it and that’s where it gets a little hairy. Why does shaving cream need to smell really nice, I’ll never know. The issues behind the ingredient “Fragrance” are a wide variety, most stemming from the fact that fragrance is a broad label and the chemical make-up of it is a secret to everyone outside of the company. Hopefully, the executives at Barbasol are looking out for the futures of the consumers but one should know a study revealed 66% of the chemicals listed under fragrances have yet to be studied for the health impacts. (Sarantis, H., & Naidenko, O. V.) If you can suffer through not smelling roses while shaving it might be worth the pain.

As you get down the ingredients you may notice one, Triethanolamine. This one is toughie as it comes off the tongue but what exactly is it doing in your shaving cream? Triethanolamine is in there as an antioxidant and pH balancer added to extend the life expectancy of shaving cream, putting most shelf lives at over a couple years, necessary? I think not. The reason being that this amine ingredient is just that a mean ingredient… Bad jokes aside this Triethanolamine was studied by the National Cancer Institute and the research concluded there was “equivocal evidence of carcinogenic activity of triethanolamine” (National, T.). Naturally, we living in a capitalist society find a way around it. The money is there, so as long as the concentrations aren’t too high it’s all good to go in our cosmetic products. Big Bad Barbasol is elusive in the pursuit of a long lasting shaving cream… I mean what’s better than finding a shaving cream in the cabinet at grandmas from 1983 and finding it still has a solid 6 weeks before expiring, thanks triethanolamine.

Next thing to consider when buying shaving cream or lotion is that when buying shaving cream in the can, it contains aerosol propellants. The most common propellant found in shaving cream is Isopentane a derivative of petroleum and natural gas. How the oil industry ended up combining with the Barbasol I’ll never know. The use of Isopentane came from the banning of environmentally damaging CFC propellants that were used for a long time. The bright side a study has shown that Isopentane was only toxic at higher concentrations. The best way to avoid this oil based aerosol propellant is to use shaving lotion, it isn’t white and poufy like the other stuff but hey at least you can remove one more unnecessary ingredient.

Overall when it comes to finding the right shaving cream or lotion the best place to look is for the simplistic natural ingredient versions. If it looks unlike anything natural you have ever seen then it probably is. The important ingredients for shaving creams and lotions are water and steric acids or fats. That is right shaving cream is nothing more than fat and water, and when you get right down to it my composition is the same. There are plenty of natural options out there that don’t come in a can or smell like roses or even contain preservatives that’ll allow a couple year lifespan. The reality is most of these options come at a cost and the reasoning behind them is more appeal than functionality. Who knows if the effects are large enough to be felt over a lifetime but why risk it when the science is out there? I know I was once kid playing around with my sisters all of us covered head to toe in Dads shaving cream. The issue remains that cosmetics are another large billion dollar industry that is going to resist change as much as possible as it cuts into profits. This leads to a large lack of regulation as money is poured into both sides of the legislation. (Narayan, P, 2018). As inscription on the University of Texas bell tower states “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” the only way to avoid harmful ingredients and chemicals in our everyday lives is by educating ourselves and I hope you had the chance to learn a thing or two in this review. Stay away from the big word ingredients and go as natural as possible.


Liebert, M. (1982). Final Report of the Safety Assessment of Isobutane, Isopentane, n-Butane, and Propane. Journal of the American College of Toxicology,1(4), 127–142. doi:10.3109/10915818209021266

Sarantis, H., & Naidenko, O. V. (2010). Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/sites/default/files/report/SafeCosmetics_FragranceRpt.pdf.

National, T. (2004, May). NTP toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of triethanolamine (Cas №102–71–6) in B6C3F1 mice (dermal studies). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15213765

Narayan, P. (2018, August 02). Cosmetics avoided strict regulation for over a century. Rising health concerns has FDA inquiring. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/01/fda-begins-first-inquiry-of-lightly-regulated-cosmetics-industry.html