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On the Subject of Excelsior

Posted by William Carius on

Barrister and Mann, like many shaving soap manufacturers, has long worked tirelessly to better our work, to push the envelope in performance, fragrance, and overall shave quality. We do not believe that there is such as thing as "good enough," only "as good as we're able at this moment." 

To that end, I have a very special announcement. Meet Excelsior.

The Excelsior symbol, which will appear on all Excelsior soaps except Vespers

Excelsior is the official name for a soap base that we've been developing for the better part of 10 months, a project so top secret that, for quite some time, only two people on Earth even knew that it existed. It was eventually released to a handful of testers as Development Code: Purple Possum, and, while there were officially ten development iterations, the actual number was closer to fifty or so. 

It had previously occurred to me that there were quite a few people unhappy with our transition to the Glissant base, people for whom the so-called "White Label" formula (our original design) worked extraordinarily well. It had further occurred to me that the best thing for everyone would be to take all of the advances that we've made in the past 5+ years, everything we've learned from the subsequent development of the Tre Citta vegan base, the Black Label base, the Glissant base, and the Barrister's Reserve® base, and incorporate that information back into a design heavily informed by my original research and formulation style. The end result of the experiment is a base that strongly resembles my original White Label formula in many respects, but which is not possessed of the shortcomings of that design, namely its sensitivity to hard water and somewhat gummy consistency.

Many of you will ask, "What's the difference between Excelsior and Glissant? What about Excelsior and Barrister's Reserve®? Excelsior is firmer than Glissant OR Barrister's Reserve and less finicky to lather than the latter. It produces a denser, slicker, more buttery lather than Glissant and is more conditioning and dramatically less drying. However, unlike Barrister's Reserve®, Excelsior DOES contain lanolin, so those with a sensitivity will want to avoid trying it out.

Overall, Excelsior represents a significant upgrade over the performance of Glissant and will last considerably longer because it's a much harder product. It produces lather similar to that of Barrister's Reserve®, but does not exhibit the gooey, stringy characteristics of its softer cousin. Those who love the lather they get from Barrister's Reserve® soaps but who find the soap difficult to work with will very likely enjoy the performance of Excelsior a great deal.


So, after all of that, I thought you all might like to know what's in it and why. Here's the full ingredient list:

Aqua, Glycerin, Potassium Stearate, Potassium Tallowate, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Tallowate, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Milk, Potassium Kokum Butterate, Methyl Gluceth-10, Xanthan Gum, Sucrose Cocoate, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Kokum Butterate, Allantoin, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Lanolin, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil, Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acids, Fragrance, Sodium Ricinoleate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tocopheryl Acetate

Let's break that all down! Everything is listed according to INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) standards because it's more chemically accurate. It indicates which lipids have been combined with lye and which have not.


Plain old water. Distilled water in this case, which ensures that there aren't any dissolved minerals in the water that might interfere with the soap reaction.


Also known as glycerol, glycerin (which can also be spelled with an 'e' at the end) is a simple polyol compound that's viscous, sweet-tasting, and completely non-toxic. It serves as the backbone of all triglyceride molecules, and is a natural product of soap manufacture because it's stripped from raw lipids by the action of lye, which causes it to sink to the bottom of the reaction. We add extra glycerin to the soap in order to make it more slippery, more moisturizing, and to provide a denser, creamier lather.

Potassium Stearate/Sodium Stearate

Stearic acid is the core of any good shaving soap, and, like all lipids, it must be combined with lye in order to turn it into soapy goodness. Potassium stearate is the result of the combination of potassium lye (sometimes called 'potash' and abbreviated by its chemical formula KOH) and stearic acid. Sodium stearate is the same thing, except that it's from sodium lye (NaOH).

Potassium Tallowate/Sodium Tallowate

There are lots of different tallows in soap these days, but I'm still a big fan of plain old beef tallow. We use the food grade stuff, which is super clean and can be used to cook everything from pies (both sweet and savory) to sausage to doughnuts. Potassium tallowate is the result of the reaction between tallow and potassium lye and sodium tallowate is the result of the reaction between tallow and sodium lye.

Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Milk

It's exactly what you think it is. We use food grade coconut milk, added after the lye reaction, to produce a denser, creamier, more cushioning and nourishing lather. There are lots of different milks that you can use in soap, with goat milk being especially common, but, having experimented with quite a few of them, I'm still partial to the skin feel of coconut.

Potassium Kokum Butterate/Sodium Kokum Butterate

Like the other potassium and sodium soap salts in the Excelsior base, these are the product of a saponification reaction between the two types of lye and kokum butter. We're using twice the kokum butter present in White Label in Excelsior, which has resulted in a dense, buttery lather with a consistency similar to marshmallow. It also makes the soap much, much harder than our other bases, which makes it long lasting and very easy to lather.

Methyl Gluceth-10

A derivative of glucose, Methyl Gluceth-10 is fairly common in personal care products, especially soaps and face creams, as a powerful humectant and skin conditioner. It also helps to moderate irritation caused by exposing the skin to soap (which, as a salt, is irritating by definition). 

Xanthan Gum

Oh man, I'm really really excited about this one. Xanthan gum is one of those modern marvels of chemistry that never gets its due. It's made in a laboratory through fermentation of simple sugars and serves as an incredibly powerful lubricating agent. It's also non-irritating and non-toxic and has so many industrial uses that it's not an exaggeration to say that it has revolutionized things like oil drilling, cosmetics manufacture, food production, skin grafting and other cosmetically reconstructive surgeries, and dentistry.

This is one of the things that makes Excelsior so tremendously slick, though I will admit that it does serve to make the soap a bit thirstier as a side effect. Still, when you try it out, you'll see that it's worth it. 

Sucrose Cocoate

Sucrose cocoate is refined from sucrose and the methyl esters of coconut fatty acids. It's a powerful moisturizer, humectant, and lubricant, and serves to make the lather denser and creamier as well. Like nearly everything else in our products, it's non-toxic and non-irritating and serves as a nourishing, moisturizing addition to the formula.

Potassium Ricinoleate/Sodium Ricinoleate

Potassium and sodium salts of castor oil, which is around 85% ricinoleic acid. These compounds comprise the majority of the actual lathering power of the Excelsior base, but castor oil soaps tend to be very gentle on the skin and don't strip oils the way that other soaps can. Castor oil also produces a very dense, creamy lather that's perfect for shaving soap.


One of the most powerful anti-irritants available today and one of my favorite ingredients overall. I always look for allantoin in skin products because it makes your skin feel soft and supple and it helps to eliminate any post-shave or environmental skin irritation. Allantoin cools hot spots, helps to reduce redness and burning, and makes your skin feel super soft and smooth. It's great stuff.

Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter

We use unrefined Ghana Beige shea butter as a super fat in Excelsior to provide additional lubrication and lather density as well as aid in post-shave feel. If you have really dry skin that requires major moisturizers, shea butter can mitigate post-shave dryness. If you have combination to oily skin, shea is lighter than other moisturizing butters and will generally leave your face feeling smooth and moisturized rather than buttery or oily.


EVERYONE in the shaving world has heard of lanolin. The famous active ingredient in Mitchell's Wool Fat® and a thousand other shaving soaps (including both our White Label and Glissant formulas), this hydrophilic wax can absorb up to eight times its weight in water and helps keep skin soft. Before the development of Vaseline® and other petroleum jelly products, lanolin was the preferred choice for arctic explorers seeking to protect their skin from the vicious cold of the arctic and antarctic regions.

Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil

Jojoba oil has only recently come into its own as a skincare ingredient, but its value cannot be overstated. Chemically, it's about the closest thing out there to your skin's natural oil (though it's technically a wax that melts at room temperature), and has found use in skincare and shaving products as a moisturizer and lubricant. It serves to make shaving lathers slicker and more moisturizing and feels wonderful on the face without imparting any greasy after-feel.

Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acids

Okay, this one is really cool. Sodium Lauroyl Oat Amino Acids are a radically new type of surfactant refined from oats. The material produces a dense, slippery, highly cushioning, moisturizing foam that helps to mitigate the irritating effects of soap exposure. The lather that this stuff generates is unreal and I'm incredibly excited to include it in the Excelsior formula. 


While I won't tell you exactly what goes into our fragrances, all of our products are phthalate-free. If you experience irritation while using one of our shaving soaps or aftershaves (which is a risk with anything that isn't unscented, including products made with only essential oils or absolutes), you should discontinue use immediately.

Tetrasodium EDTA

Tetrasodium EDTA has gotten a bad rap over the years, and I'm as guilty as anyone of viewing it with considerable suspicion. But even the famously alarmist Environmental Working Group considers the ingredient to be pretty safe, and every credible study I've ever read on its effects indicate that, when it's used in soap, it's non-toxic, non-irritating, and about the best hard-water-repellant available. After exhaustive research, I'm comfortable with it. 

Tocopheryl Acetate

Another name for an isomer of Vitamin E, which we use to stabilize some of the superfats in the soap and also to help soothe the effects of shaving upon the skin. Some people take it as a dietary supplement as well.

So that's it. The whole thing, piece by piece. The fate of Excelsior will depend largely upon how it's received, but I'm very excited to release it to the public with Vespers (more information about that to come tomorrow). 

Hope you like it.


Excelsior Vespers

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