Shave gels are one of the most interesting personal care products on the market—particularly the ones marketed to men. They have to simultaneously achieve the purpose of soothing the skin after it’s been freshly shaven with a sharp (or sometimes dull) razor, they have to make men feel pampered (which is usually achieved through some combination of fragrance and a velvety texture), and they have to make sure they don’t damage the integrity of razors by clogging or dulling the blades. All of these goals are difficult to achieve, so I find it interesting to observe how different companies approach the problem. Harry’s is one of the startups that is out to disrupt the giants in the shaving industry—Unilever, Gillette, Schick, and co. It’s a hot category—Dollar Shave Club was acquired by Unilever for $1 billion in 2016. Harry’s makes both razors and shaving creams/gels, but today, we’re going to take a closer look at Harry’s Shave Gel. It costs about three times as much as the big-name brands, so I wanted to see if we could figure out if it was worth the premium. I couldn’t test it out firsthand, since I’m not a man who shaves his fave. In lieu of that, I chose to assess the ingredient list—but I ran into a few surprises along the way.
Harry’s Shave Gel ingredients (website version)
water (aqua), palmitic acid, triethanolamine, aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice, sorbitan stearate, methyl gluceth-20, stearic acid, sorbitol, sodium hyaluronate, tocopheryl acetate, panthenol, citrus aurantium bergamia (bergamot) fruit oil, cucumis sativus (cucumber) fruit extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, silybum marianum (milk thistle) extract, peg-40 hydrogenated castor oil, sunflower seed oil glycerides, hydroxyethylcellulose, dimethicone peg/ppg-20⁄23 benzoate, dimethicone peg-8 benzoate, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, glycerin, diethanolamine, sodium nitrate, sodium chloride, butylene glycol, fragrance (parfum), phenoxyethanol, chlorphenesin, benzoic acid, sorbic acid, blue 1 (ci 42090)
My Dad the Chemist’s review of Harry’s Shave Gel
Dear Emily, Shave Gel is a very tricky formula, you may have all the great ingredients in the formula and still doesn’t work well (irritation, rash, cut....).
Just based on the ingredients used, it contains the necessary ingredients to make the gel base, and all other natural extracts and conditioning ingredients are nice ingredients except 2 bad ingredients, Diethanolamine, Sodium Nitrate plus Sodium Chloride (salt) are not necessary for this Shave gel formula in my expertise opinion.
However, just judging from the formula ingredients, the performance I will need to actually use with razor to evaluate and rate the quality.
My dad notes that this formula looks like it technically has the ingredients that are required to make a gel base. However, he doesn’t think a few ingredients are necessary:
- sodium nitrate
- sodium chloride (salt)
In his opinion, he doesn’t think that these ingredients are required in the shave gel. Other than those, he says it includes some nice conditioning ingredients, but he’d have to actually use it himself to see if it was a good shave gel, and if it worked efficiently with a razor.
It’s interesting that my dad noted the presence of diethanolamine, which is one of the 400 ingredients that Brandless bans from its personal care products. This ingredient has been shown to be harmful when inhaled, and irritating when applied to the skin, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In animal studies, it was shown to burn/irritate skin, and negatively affect vision when exposed to the eye area. It’s strange that it’s included in this shave gel, especially when it’s going to be applied to sensitive areas of the body (your face, next to your eyes and nose).
I wish that personal care products didn’t contain anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary for the formula. Like the perplexing addition of fragrances in gel moisturizers—what’s that all about? Or the inclusion of colors/dyes in formulas. I simply don’t see the need. This shave gel contains not only both of those aforementioned extraneous ingredients (blue dye and fragrance), but also diethanolamine, which could be irritating. All in all, I think this shave gel is probably not a good option for those who have sensitive skin. Even if the packaging says “With Aloe” and “cushions for a smooth shave,” I think there are probably better options out there if you’re looking for a non-irritating, soothing shave gel.
Strangely, when I looked up the ingredients of this product on Target’s website, the list was slightly different.
Harry’s Shave Gel ingredients (Target.com version)
water, palmitic acid, triethanolamine, isopentane, aloe barbadensis (aloevera) leaf juice, sorbitan stearate, methyl gluceth-20, stearic acid, sorbitol, sodium hyaluronate, tocopheryl acetate, panthenol, citrus aurantium bergamia (bergamot) fruit oil, cucumis sativus (cucumber) fruit extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, silybum marianum (milk thistle) extract, peg-40 hydrogenated castor oil, sunflower seed oil glycerides, hydroxyethyl cellulose, dimethicone peg/ppg-20⁄23 benzoate, dimethicone peg-8 benzoate, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, glycerin, isobutane, sodium nitrate, butylene glycol, fragrance (parfum), phenoxyethanol, limonene, linalool, blue 1 (ci 42090)
Diethanolamine, sodium chloride, chlorphenesin are missing from this version, and have been replaced with isobutane, limonene, linalool. I wasn’t sure which one was most up to date, until I remembered that I took a picture of the package:
It looks like the version on Target.com is more up to date (or Target was stocking some older versions of the shave gel (before it had been updated). This product is also on sale here at Walmart—and it looks like that website has posed the same version of the ingredients (the one that includes diethanolamine) as the one on Harry’s website (but I’m not sure if that actually means anything). Interestingly, Harry’s website had a typo in one of the ingredients (Dimehticone PEG-8 Benzoate instead of Dimethicone PEG-8 Benzoate), but this typo didn’t appear in Walmart.com’s version of the ingredient list.
Regardless of which ingredient list is right, I think we can all agree on one thing: Companies need to ensure that their ingredient lists are up to date, both on their own websites and on other websites that sell their wares. If they can make sure that their ingredients are consistent across sources, they can avoid confusing consumers. If they update their formula, they need to state that this is the case, and provide the new and old version of the ingredient list, so that consumers have all the information they need in order to decide if the new version of the formula is going to work for them. Hopefully, one day this will be the case, but until then (unfortunately), we’ll need to do our own due diligence.