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Wool Fat Explained

What’s wool fat, you might ask? Is it the rendered blubber of a particularly unlucky sheep? Despite how it sounds, it’s simply called wool soap because it has a lot of lanolin in it (the wool wax that comes from sheep), but is also tallow-based. The result of combining these two components into a shaving soap is that the soap itself does not irritate the skin, and it also has a very mild, pleasant odor. It’s not fragrant by any means, but neither is it pungent; it’s just a nice neutral smell that belies its own level of sensitivity. People with sensitive skin will love it, since it treats your skin well and doesn’t smell.

One of the biggest issues found with wool fat soaps is its difficulty in lathering. In normal circumstances, soaps applied to shaving brushes are able to reach a full, substantial and creamy lather that will last long enough for you to apply it to your face and shave completely. Some people have experienced trouble with wool fat soaps, though, since the specific way it interacts with water makes it dry out quicker (you can read more on how this soap interacts with water over at our friends, Shaving 101). By the time you get that razor out, it might have dried out and vanished from your face. That doesn’t make for a very pleasant shaving experience. Some people don’t have that problem, but many people do.

However, upon further investigation, we’ve determined that something that might help with your wool fat soap is the hardness of your water. If you happen to have harder water than normal at your home, it will take longer to get a lather, and it’ll disappear more quickly. If you want to combat that, there are a couple ways you can do it – first, wring out your brush hardcore, or use one you’ve used for quite a while. Then, put the soap on the brush, while adding more water a bit at a time to the bowl while you swirl it around in the soap. While it might need a minute or so to really get going, be patient; it will eventually work.

You can also try putting the soap right on your face and lathering with the brush itself; it tends to get to where it needs to be faster. I couldn’t really tell you the reason, but I found it to work just fine – so if you don’t usually lather in your hand or in a bowl, you’re in luck! You may have to do multiple passes with the soap to pass that first airy layer and build a really good lather to do it.

Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap

P2x9qThe most popular (if not only) type of wool fat shaving soap is Mitchell’s, a company with a fascinating backstory. Started in the 1930s, Fred Mitchell, an English chemist, took notice of the softness of the hands of sheep shearers. Looking into it further, he figured out that the secret was lanolin – the wax that protects the skin of sheep; it was keeping the shearers’ hands soft. Combining a soap formula with lanolin, he came up with a wool fat soap, then later made a shaving soap variant of it.

Mitchell’s has quite a cult following, and it’s easy to see why; they’ve got the credit for inventing wool fat shaving soap, and the cool story to go along with it. Furthermore, their packaging and long history really play into the old-world fascination that wet shaving culture tends to attract; its ceramic dish that holds the actual puck is luxurious, with an old-style labeling scheme that looks like you bought it from a general store in an old Western. It’s a bit gimmicky on the surface, but boy is it an attractive package – I really don’t blame people for being drawn in.

If you’d like a second opinion, be sure to check out this fantastic video review from our friends over at Nick Shave (listen to an interview with Nick here):

Who Would Buy Wool Fat Shaving Soaps

“Oh come on,” you say, “all this talk about working harder to build a lather sucks! I don’t want to take forever to shave my face!” While you may be right about the greater time sink wool fat shaving soaps possibly being annoying, the result is well worth it. Wool fat is just incredible for your face, especially if you have sensitive skin – the razor will just glide over it with little to no irritation or redness, and your skill will stay moist and tender. This makes for closer shaves, and more satisfying shaving experiences.

To that end, I believe that I have to recommend wool fat shaving soaps (like Mitchell’s) to the discerning and patient wet shaver. Yes, it takes a bit longer to get the lather you’ll need, but it is definitely possible, and the results are worth the time taken. If you have short attention spans, try listening to something or do some stretches while you shave (don’t do that second one).

Either way, your patience will be rewarded with an incredibly close shave and the feeling that you are really taking the time to take care of your skin. This is probably one of the most skin healthy soaps out there right now, and I couldn’t overstate just how helpful a good lather of this stuff can be on your cheek or chin once you actually get started. If you want the best results for your time spent on the shaving process, wool fat soaps are absolutely the way to go.