Hair shedding – the phrase alone is enough to enrage a badger shaving brush owner. I recently contacted several of the most respected shaving brush manufacturers in the world and asked them about their return policies. This article offers some insight about normal vs. abnormal brush shedding and address common misunderstandings. Recognizing the causes of shedding can help you know when to contact your retailer and how to keep your shaving brush looking brand new for years.
Right Off the Shelf
When you purchase and start using a new shaving brush, there is a certain period of time that you can expect the brush to undergo some changes as it becomes accustomed to use. Manufacturers generally consider the first three months of regular use a reasonable amount of time for a shaving brush to fully break in properly. During this time, it is not uncommon for a brush to soften at the tips, take on a more open (often referred to as "bloomed") loft shape, and shed some loose hairs that were left in the knot during the manufacturing process.
As with any hand-made product, there is a possibility that a brush that is shedding hair could have a defective knot; however, don't rush to judgment. Many good brushes are too quickly condemned. While a new brush owner may be concerned that his or her prized possession may be defective, it is very common to find a few hairs falling loose from the brush during or after shaving within the first three months.
Cause: Manufacturing Process
Hair loss from a shaving brush can occur for a number of different reasons. The most common cause is that loose hairs were not fully removed when the brush knot was set into the handle by the manufacturer. Most brush makers use a specialized comb that removes leftover clippings, which did not fully set in the epoxy that secures the base of the knot. During the first few months of breaking in a new shaving brush, these last remaining loose hairs may manage to work their way free from the brush.
It is common for this period to last as long as three months of regular use, often losing three to four hairs at a time, before the shedding should settle down permanently. While this may be alarming to many shavers as an excessive number of hairs, the fact that the knot of the average shaving brush contains thousands of individual badger hairs means that this very small percentage will likely cause no noticeable effect on the brush's density or performance qualities. On the other hand, if a brush is losing an excessive number of hairs, such as ten or more hairs per shave on a regular basis or clumps of hair are coming loose from the handle, then contact your retailer to discuss the possibility that the brush may be defective.
Cause: Too Dry or Too Hot
Water temperature is a critical factor in maintaining the condition of a shaving brush. Soaking the brush in warm water for thirty seconds to one minute prior to shaving is critical in allowing the hair to soften and soak up the water that will combine with your favorite soap or cream to become usable shaving lather. If the brush is not soaked properly, you run the risk of lathering it before the hairs have had a chance to soften. This increases the likelihood of bristles breaking off due to the pressure against the dryer and more brittle hair.
It is important, however, to make sure that the water you soak the brush in is not excessively hot. This can cause damage to the hair by scalding it and making the bristles weak. In addition, water that is too hot will cause the epoxy in the base of the knot to expand and hairs will loosen.
Cause: Excessive Pressure
The amount of pressure used when applying to the brush while building your lather and applying it to the face has a very significant affect on the brush knot as well. Several manufacturers and many shaving retailers advise their clients to always use the brush in a back and forth paint-brush motion and not in circular motions when lathering. This recommendation is logical and it guarantees the least amount of wear from daily use on the brush; however, many experienced wet shavers, including myself, prefer the scrubbing feel of the brush against the beard during shaving.
Regardless of how you choose to use your shaving brush, it is important that you avoid applying excessive pressure that crushes the inner core of the shaving brush into your soap or on your face. Pressing the brush down and lathering with hard circular motions will cause the bristles to twist, especially in the center core of the knot, and run a high risk of breaking off.
Note: I have spoken with men who use their brushes to wash out their sinks after shaving. Shaving brushes comprise hair best suited for water absorption and lather making. Instead, buy a cheap kitchen dish scrubber (or use your hand or a washcloth). Use common sense and your shaving brush will excel at the tasks for which it was designed, and will probably be damaged if used for tasks for which it was not intended.Cause: Improper Care
Possibly the largest contributor to problems with shaving brushes is lack of proper cleaning and storage. Most commercial shaving soaps and creams have ingredients that if not properly rinsed from the brush can contribute to mildew and hair damage deep within the base of the knot. These types of problems can usually be detected early if you start to notice that your brush is developing an unpleasant or musty smell.
If a shaving brush is used for a long time and suddenly begins to lose hairs, the cause can almost always be attributed to improper care. First sterilize the brush using a solution of water and Borax soap powder, and then change the way you clean and store your brush.
Avoid complications by thoroughly rinsing your brush after every shave and allowing it to dry properly. The prolonged presence of moisture in the knot will eventually start to deteriorate the hairs and cause them to start falling out. While not every manufacturer recommends the use of a brush stand to hang the brush inverted during drying, I find that it certainly doesn't hurt to take the extra step and get a simple and inexpensive stand to help make sure your brush is allowed the best conditions to dry properly. I recommend reading my article on proper shaving brush care for more information on keeping your brush in good shape.
After the brush has been thoroughly rinsed, it is very important to store it in a dry place with plenty of access to ventilation so that it can dry completely after every use. Never store your brush inside an airtight container or a medicine cabinet. Doing so prevents the brush from properly drying and will only contribute to the possibility of mold problems developing.
Most reputable manufacturers, such as Vulfix/Simpsons, Rooney, Shavemac, and many others, fully warranty their products for any defects that would cause your shaving brush to shed hair. It is important, however, that you allow your newly purchased brush adequate time in order to determine if the brush shedding is due to the causes listed above or if it is truly defective.
Shaving brush owners will find that majority of the loose hairs they encounter in a new brush will decrease and completely stop after several shaves. On the other hand, if a brush is not shedding and suddenly begins losing hairs, especially after being used for several months with no problems, you should evaluate how you use and care for your brush, and the toll that may be taking on its structure. Understanding the causes of hair shedding can help avoid a lot of frustration and concern.
Also, keep in mind that badger hair is a natural animal hair that is susceptible to damage just like your own hair. Taking a small bit of time to properly maintain your brush is crucial in preventing problems, such as the dreaded hair-shedding issue, and will ensure that your investment in a new shaving brush is something you can enjoy for many years to come.