The Best Shaving Brushes: Badger, Boar or Synthetic?

Shaving brushes are typically used by men who desire a traditional feeling in the morning. Rather than using a commercial razor and foam, they opt for either a straight or safety razor, a hard cream puck and a quality brush to form a lather with.

While there is no reason why you couldn't use a commercial spray foam with either of these classical razors, the performance will be lower and it takes away from the romance. Safety and straight razors give a closer shave, that's hard to argue with, but beyond this the main reason why many men choose to use them is because of the feeling. It has a certain romance to it and can turn a daily chore into an activity that many men look forward to each day.

Parker 100% Silvertip Badger

Best Shaving Brushes

Parker is famous for their luxury shaving products that dominate the competition. This brush is made of silvertip badger hair of the highest grade, easily creating lather but still ultra-soft on your face.

Updated for 2018: This is still our favorite!

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What is the best shaving brush for you? Well, there are so many different types of brush available now, far more than even when wet shaving was more popular . From synthetic hair to hair from every animal imaginable, there are a great range of choices.

What Should You Consider When Choosing a Brush?

Brushes aren’t the most complex-looking products but you might be surprised by how much thought goes into creating them and choosing which to purchase. The two main criteria are the shape and the size of the brush. You’ll find a few measurements (all in millimeters); loft is the length of the hair from the base to the tip, knot is a measurement of the amount of hair packed into the handle itself and you have height from the base to the tallest hair.

You’ll find that there are two popular brush shapes; fan and bulb. Each has avid followers but there is no conclusive evidence that one is better than the other, in fact, it’s likely to depend on how tough the soap you use is and how silky the lather is that it produces.

Similarly, you have the option of different handle shapes. This is up to you to decide, but we would suggest that you don’t pick a handle that is oversized for your hand, you should pick one that feels comfortable to hold and is proportionate to your hand size. If you have smaller hands then pick a small handle, if you have larger hands then pick a larger handle.

The handle can be crafted out of countless different materials but the most common are a resin, plastic, wood or metallic handle. You can basically pick anything you’d like, if you want a handle made out of china then I’m sure you could find one.

It’s the same with the brushes, they are generally made of boar, horse, badger or synthetic hair. However, you can use find different hairs and even mixes of multiple hair types. Each type of hair performs differently, but you should also understand how the hair is harvested to ensure you aren’t using a product that is ethically concerning to you.

Boar Brushes

Boar hair brushes are some of the cheapest brushes you can find. Boars are killed so that we can harvest their meat and hair . This hair can be quite coarse, boar hair doesn’t retain hair particularly well and so you’ll want to choose a brush with a higher loft (more length of hair visible) to compensate for this.

Boar hair brushes are usually some of the lowest quality, not because boar hair is inherently bad, but because it’s cheap for producers and so it has become to be associated with the lowest quality brushes.

Badger Brushes

Badger has is always thought to be the best quality of hair. The reality is that it’s the opposite of the boar hair - badger hair is expensive and so has become synonymous with high-quality brushes. That’s not to say that badger hair is poor.

There are so many different grades of each hair that there isn’t a particularly bad or good type of hair.

With badger hair you’ll find lots of different marketing words used to describe the hair including; pure, super, fine and silvertip. However, because there is no standardized system or ethics board, anyone can use these phrases.

To decide on the quality of the hair you can either see and feel it in person, or rely on somebodies reviews. The lowest grade of hair will be visibily darker, thicker and coarse-looking. This hair will feel like a cheap and rough synthetic.

At the other end, the highest quality badger hair often (but not always) have a silver or cream tipped hair, they are extremely fine, soft, fluffy and flexible. This quality of brush is regarded as some of the best in the world. These top badger hair brushes retain heat superbly and tend to have excellent water retention.

Horse Brushes

Horse hair is the only animal hair on this list that some might consider ethical. You don’t have to harm the horse to get the hair, instead, they trim the excess hair off and use it the create the brush. Horse hair brushes were extremely popular before World War 1, there is some suggestion that the dip in popularity was because of an anthrax scare. In fact, there was a large shortage of horse hair after World War 1 because almost every horse that could be spared was used in the war effort, with some suggesting that up to eight million horses died .

Horse hair brushes can generally be found for a reasonable price and they offer a reasonable quality. They are the middle-market champion and since there is very little difference in quality between the top and bottom horse hair brushes, you can be more confident in your purchase.

Synthetic Brushes

Synthetic brushes have existed for decades but it’s only been more recently that they’ve been of a good quality. Technology has improved to allow some synthetic brushes to match even very good badger hair in water retention and cost.

Synthetics often are far stronger than any natural hair, this can mean that they last longer. It also provides a greater backbone (exactly what it sounds like, how ‘weak’ the hair feels when pushing onto the skin) even at greater lofts, so you can have synthetic brushes that are far bigger than natural hair ones. The fibers that it is constructed of are also designed to handle much higher temperatures and dry quicker too.

On the other hand, you’ll find that the water retention of each hair is much weaker. Using a synthetic fiber it’s hair to have the same absorption of water that natural hair has. Similarly, synthetics cool down faster and so you may find that the warmth is lost halfway through the shave. A lot of this can be changed by the size of the brush, because synthetic brushes do have a naturally sturdy backbone you can buy larger brushes that will retain the same quantity of water as a smaller badger hair brush.

The biggest downsides that wet shaving lovers will talk about is the feel of the brush. For those of us who have been wet shaving for years and become accustomed to the feel of a natural hair, switching to a synthetic just isn’t an option. You’ll also find that natural hair can vary in backbone or rigidity depending on how long you soak the brush in water, whereas synthetic brushes won’t.

What are our Criteria for Reviewing the Products?

The shaving industry is filled with products. There are so many companies that it would be impossible to even look at the materials of each one, therefore we’re giving a huge preference to those companies that have a great reputation across the whole shaving industry.

We have considered price very heavily, there is little point in this list if we only chose brushes over $200, it wouldn’t be very useful to many people. Instead, we’ve factored into our rankings not only the dollar amount but the value that we think you get from your money.

Finally, we want to suggest a slightly wider range of products than usual. Brushes are a personal item and just because I prefer a certain length and hair type, it doesn’t mean that you will too. To counter that, we’ve chosen to include products with different lofts and hair types to ensure some variety.

Parker 100% Silvertip Badger with Faux Horn Handle

Parker is known for their outstanding quality, all of their brushes are handmade in India to ensure the fabulous products that they are known for. The bristles are 100% silver tip badger bristles which are the highest quality of hair available. This is the best shaving brush in our opinion.

Parker Silvertip Badge Brush and Stand
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The brush is extremely dense and therefore has amazing water retention, holding a huge amount of water for a standard loft. All of this water and with a reasonable backbone, it’s able to generate a lather very quickly. The reviews we read were outstanding, as is expected from Parker, this brush generates a thick and silky lather with little effort.

The handle is made in a faux horn handle that oozes luxury and is reminiscent of the later 19th century. It is rather small, the handle is short and not particularly wide either, so if you have large hands then it might feel too small in your hands. However, it does come with a stand where you can dry the brush off which is nice. Some brushes still fail to come with a stand which is frustrating.

With silver tip badger hair this is ridiculously great value. It’s unheard of to find genuine silver tip hair at this price, let alone with such an attractive handle and from a reputable company. There is absolutely no doubt in our mind that this is by far the best shaving brush for men, it’s a steal at this price.

Edwin Jagger Badger with Faux Ebony Handle

Edwin Jagger has a similar reputation to Parker, they are known for making incredible handmade products in England. Edwin Jagger are a piece of history in the shaving world and for centuries men have relied on them to give them a high-quality shave.

Edwin Jagger Badger Brush
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This brush is of a medium-size but is able to generate a large and rich lather from your soap puck. The bristles don’t appear to fall out easily, you’ll naturally get a few coming out especially when you first use it, but the build quality appears to be high. The hair is ultra-soft and gentle on your skin, it’s clear that this is legitimate badger hair.

The handle is a faux ebony that looks elegant, it’s one of our favorite looking handles and the whole Edwin Jagger kit is a classic design. It also comes with a thin black plastic stand that you can store and dry your brush on. On the back of this stand there is a small adhesive sticker which you can use to stick the stand to a wall or mirror. It’s a nice touch that ensures the stand won’t easily tip over.

Parker Synthetic Brush with Blue Wood Handle

We wanted to include a synthetic brush on this list for those who prefer not to use animal products and what better company to choose than Parker.

This is a fabulous synthetic brush that rivals even some badger bristles. As you'd expect with any synthetic, it dries very quickly and therefore makes it the perfect brush if you’re traveling and don’t want your bag getting wet. Synthetic brushes tend to dry quicker because the bristles aren't hardly porous at all, whereas natural hair absorbs water incredibly well. For this reason, natural hair can create more lather in many cases but they take a long time to dry out.

Synthetic Brush with Blue Handle by Parker
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The bristles are quite stiff, even for a synthetic, this allows the brush to deal with tougher soap pucks like Mitchell’s Wool Fat . It creates a lather from tough soaps very quickly. Despite the stiffness, it’s not overly harsh on the face and the bristles do soften quickly in hot water.

With it being made out of synthetic fibers instead of natural hair, the brush doesn’t require any break-in period and there are no reports of the bristles shedding at all. It also comes with a small stand which can be used to hang and dry the brush.

Escali Pure Badger Brush

This is a budget brush that is available at a bargain price, it’s not the highest-quality brush but it’s hard to find too much fault at such a cheap price.

It currently has over 7,000 reviews on Amazon and a great average rating. It claims to be made from genuine badger hair which we can’t disprove, it’s going to be of the lowest quality though.

Escali - Very Cheap Brush
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We haven’t actually used this brush ourselves, but we have heard to it sheds quite heavily. This is to be expected from a cheap brush that doesn’t have the same build-quality as those by Parker or Edwin Jagger.

It doesn’t appear to have much backbone at all, if any. This is likely to be because the cheap hair is weak and not in sufficient quantity, this means that not enough hair is compacted with the handle to give the visible hair something to press back onto.

We honestly wouldn’t recommend this brush, but if money is tight then you might not have another option. If that’s the case then you might consider giving this a try.

Conclusion: Who's the Winner?

In conclusion, we love both of the Parker brushes that we featured in this list and the Edwin Jagger brush too. All three of them are of excellent build quality and can easily create a lather from even the toughest soaps. Comparing them to the cheapest brush it’s clear that a little investment goes a long way. We believe that the best shaving brush is the Parker Silvertip Badget Brush. We’d suggest that you spend a little more and buy a higher-quality brush rather than buying a cheaper one that will break eventually and require replacing. A good brush can last for decades so there’s no need to be tight with the cash!

About the author

Jack Prenter

Jack has been fascinated by fashion for decades and spent huge amounts of time researching it and becoming an expert. He's written for many well-known publications and is in the process of opening an online clothing store for men. Jack studied at the University of Nottingham and is now based out of Toronto, Canada.