Since I started shaving with a DE razor last month I have been using a can of spray foam called "Wilkinson Sword Protect Foam" that I received as a free sample. Previously I had used "Nivea Sensitive Gel" with a Gillette Fusion, but I never used the Nivea with the DE razor.
Everyone on this forum praises traditional shaving soaps and creams, claiming that "canned goo" gives them dry skin, smells bad, is expensive, etcetra. I never had any of these problems with my Wilkinson foam (no dry skin, smells good, was free), but I still wanted to try a traditional soap. The only soap on sale locally was the Palmolive Shave Stick (European), so I bought one stick and ordered a $10 no-name chinese "badger"-brush from China.
My first shave with the soap felt like I was being skinned alive. The first WTG pass went well, except that there was more resistance and skipping than usual, but after the second XTG pass I started feeling razor burn and it only got worse from there with a lot of weepers and blood. After the shave my skin felt really dry and the razor burn persisted for several hours. I didn't like the scent either, or the fact that it smelled much stronger that the Wilkinson foam, but fortunately at least my wife liked it. The blade I used was a Shark Super Chrome, which is the blade that has been working best for me so far and it was not at fault since I used the same blade the next day with my usual foam with good results.
I assumed that my problem with the soap was either that I hadn't whipped the lather enough or that I had applied some extra soap with the stick directly to my face. I tried the soap for another shave, and this time I used distilled water instead of tap water (which is very hard in my area), I didn't apply concentrated soap to my face and I whipped the lather in the bowl until it wouldn't get any more foamy. I shaved and it went much better than last time, but still it didn't go as well as with the Wilkinson Sword Protect Foam. The only advantage to the soap was that it gave a somewhat closer shave, but that is no advantage to me if it comes with the price of more irritated skin.
When I compare the Palmolive Soap lather with the foam from a spray can, the canned foam feels much firmer and cushioning. The underlying surface is much slicker with the canned foam than with the soap and it feels like the soap lather doesn't form a protective film over the surface when I rub it with my finger. The best way I can describe the Palmolive Soap lather is that it feels like the foam of ordinary soap.
I figured that the Wilkinson Sword Protect Foam is some kind of super foam, unknown to the masses, but I went to the grocery store and bought a $2 can of the store's own brand shaving foam (ICA Basic Shaving Foam). Apart from the terrible scent of the cheap foam (although my wife liked this too, strange woman), it performed only marginally worse at shaving than the Wilkinson foam and much better than the Palmolive soap.
I have decided to give up my dream of finding a soap that is superior to the canned stuff. Instead I want to find the best foam or gel available. I can't get any more Wilkinson Sword foam when my free sample can is empty, since I don't want to subscribe to their cartridge razors. Therefore I need the help of other people who secretly love "canned goo" to find the perfect goo.
I'm ethnic Scandinavian and my skin is very sensitive and has never been tempered by the touch of hard weather or strong beverages. Shaving for me is like harvesting the dust from fairy wings. Fortunately, although I have dense beard growth, my whiskers are very soft and easily cut. Think of a younger Boromir from the Lord of the Rings movies (http://img-fan.theonering.net/~rolozo/images/baldassarre/boromir2.jpg) and what he would have looked like if he had a white collar job instead of being a seasoned warrior. That would be me! So which foam or gel would be the best for someone like me or Boromir?
It has to be locally available, and the following brand-name products are what I can find in the different supermarkets of my town:
Gillette Fusion Hydra Gel Sensitive Skin
Gillette Fusion Hydra Foam Sensitive Skin
Gillette Fusion Proglide Gel Hydrating
Gillette Fusion Proglide Gel Cooling
Gillette Series Gel Conditioning
Gillette Series Gel Sensitive Skin
Gillette Series Foam Sensitive Skin
Gillette Series 5 Irritation Defense
Gillette Gel Sensitive Skin
Gillette Foam Regular
Nivea Moisturizing Shaving Foam
Nivea Sensitive Shaving Gel
Nivea Skin Energy Shaving Gel
BIC Comfort Gel Sensitive
BIC Comfort Foam Sensitive
L'Oreal Men Expert Shaving Gel Anti-Irritation
L'Oreal Men Expert Shaving Gel Hydra Sensitive
Then there are numerous no-name products and stuff meant for women. I don't have access to Barbasol, which otherwise seems to be the most recommended canned product.
They all seem to be aimed toward people with sensitive skin, but which one is a notch above the rest? My main focus is on irritation, but hydrating properties and slickness is welcome too. Softening the beard would be overkill and I don't like products that smell strongly.