Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Travel Gear: Shaving Soap Sheets

What may seem like a good idea on paper often turns out to be unpractical in practice. Companies are willing to come up with one idea and then stretch it to new lengths in order to expand their market and make as much money as possible in the short term without thinking about long term sales.

With the solid concept of light weight soap sheets the marketing department at Travelon has extended the idea to shampoo, clothing soap and shaving soap because after all; soap is soap right? Unfortunately for the marketing company at Travelon and consumers alike shaving soap and hand washing soap are two very different animals.

I think I may be getting a bit ahead of myself; let me back up a bit. Soap sheets or soap leaves are thin pieces of soap that you can carry around with you. If you run into a restroom that does not have soap then you have a handy supply right with you. Since this is a dry and lightweight product you need not worry about carry on travel restrictions.

I've used soap leaves made by a different company and found them pleasant and easy to use. I believe they were verbena scented which is quite nice. They dissolved readily in water, lathered nicely and rinsed away cleanly. All was good in the world.

Then I heard that there was a shaving soap version of this product out there. I was a little suspicious but I started to look forward to trying out this product, I mentioned it back in Shaving in Airports.

I found the product in a travel store on Bainbridge Island, Washington and paid $5 for the pack of 50 sheets. The packaging looked good at first glance; a tough little case to hold the sheets. After opening the package I found that the case was far from water tight. I was half expecting the case to be a little tighter as it is supposed to protect a product that is completely water soluble. Packaging disappointments aside I needed to think how best to evaluate the product so I came up with some criteria.

Minimally shaving soap should do four things:
1. Protect your skin from the blade
2. Give you visual guidance to where you still need to shave
3. Smell pleasant
4. Rinse away cleanly

In my testing this product failed to do any of the above things well.

The scent of the soap was the same that they use in cheap hotel soaps. The kind of soap that you now only find in really cheap motels; you know the stuff. I'm not sure why anyone would pick that scent aside from it being cheap. At this point I knew I was in for a treat.

The instructions were a little vague: wet 1 to 4 sheets depending on the area you want to shave, lather and shave. Since I was going to shave my whole face I went with four sheets, got them nice and wet and then I paused. Usually I use a shaving brush and since I was going to do a multiple pass shave this was probably the best approach.

I lathered the soap in my hand but the sheets all stuck together and formed a clump. After working it for a bit it mostly broke up but now I had soap clumps in my brush; fun. The lather that was produced was very thin and broke down right away. This kept me from seeing where I had previously shaved and didn't bode well for the cushioning properties of the product.

Despite knowing that I should have stopped there and switched to another soap I started my shave. It was a little rough going but it wasn't terrible. Then, out of nowhere, a gap in the cushioning of the lather caused me to cut myself. As far as shaving cuts go it was pretty bad but I got the bleeding under control and finished my rough shave.

Rinsing proved problematic as this product does not rinse clean. This is kind of important for shaving soap since you may not be planning on showering after your shave. Unfortunately you'll need to take a good shower (with proper soap) to get the residue off of you.

I did give this product a second shot at my face and shaved with it again. This time for each pass I dried my hands, wet two shaving sheets, rubbed my hands together and rubbed the soap into my beard. I was greeted with the same rough results though I went a little more slowly and bled considerably less. This second shave still did not meet any of my four minimal requirements for a shaving soap.

The lack of performance makes me suspect that the shaving soap sheets could be the same product as the hand soap sheets. I don't have the capability of testing such a theory but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the different applications were just a marketing ploy.

All in all this is a terrible product. However, if you hate your face or legs, enjoy frustration and like to bleed then you should definitely track down this product. I did see the whole line of Travelon soap sheets at Bed Bath and Beyond on clearance for $2 so you can save a little money and maybe even start a new blog called The Frugal Masochist; wouldn't that be fun.

Just so you know that it isn't all doom and gloom in the travel shaving world I can wholeheartedly recommend Mama Bear's Soap Shave Stick. It may not be as lightweight and compact as the shaving soap sheets but it gets the job done in a way that the shaving sheets can't touch.

Do you have a favorite terrible travel product story? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.

UPDATE: I tried to create lather with this product when I was in Boston and I found that the change in water did not result in a noticeably better lather.

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Coming Soon: Coffee and Travel


  1. I first must state that I am the sales manager for Travelon. But I am also a man with a beard! I have been using our Shaving Sheets for nearly a year now and I find they work great if used properly. You should take at least two sheets and vigorously rub them in between your palms with a little water. Then you take the lather (more like a cream) and apply it to your face and shave. I will admit that if you do not mix it thoroughly enough you can get some "globs". Clean up is easy with just hot water and a little soap if desired.

    I would not recommend using these sheets with a shaving brush as the lather probably is not thick enough. Also I take umbrage with the comments about "bleeding". You can shave without any shaving cream and still not bleed!

  2. On my second try of the shaving sheets I basically followed your instructions but I still did not find the results satisfactory.

    I will concede that everyone's face is by nature different and what works well for one may note work well for another. I should have made that clear initially.

    Personally I have not been able to shave without bleeding without the aid of a shaving product (soap, cream or oil).

    To be fair I can try to work up a lather again but I feel that this is a fools errand. One thing that could be the problem is my water supply. This has been widely debated but the water can change lather results wildly.

    Both of my tests were done in the same city. I shall try to get a lather once again when I am in Boston next week.

  3. I tried these shave sheets too, with the same disappointing results. I didn't cut myself, but the shave was not pleasant or effective.

    When I travel, I just bring a little of my regular shave cream in a three-ounce container from Nalgene—no need to buy any other products. Nalgene sells a pack of little containers for about $8.

  4. Good point TB. I have some of those Nalgene jars and I love them. If you don't want to buy them in a set they can be found out individually at REI and The Container Store. I've actually found a nice little container for shave sticks at The Container Store and that works out well.

  5. Although I don't know you, I got a good laugh out of imagining anyone in this ordeal.

  6. Based on your story, that was a resounding OUCH!
    Have you tried using shaving sticks instead of shaving soaps? Shaving soaps are great but if you travel a lot, might as well try shaving sticks.