Is Shaving Cream ACTUALLY Flammable? 


Men and women alike use shaving cream (or shaving gel, as the women’s product is called) to shave their faces and bodies to silky smooth perfection. Since it’s such an everyday product, you probably assume shaving cream is safe, but is it? Is the stuff flammable?

Shaving cream is extremely flammable, mostly due to the presence of isobutane, the aerosol propellant that allows the shaving cream to come out of the can. A can of shaving cream migh talso explode in some instances, especially due to increases in pressure and heat.

This article will make you rethink your humble can of shaving cream. First, we’ll explore the ingredients in shaving cream, then we’ll talk about what makes it so flammable. We’ll also share some tips for safely using and storing shaving cream, so make sure you keep reading! 

What’s in Shaving Cream? 

Have you ever turned over that can of shaving cream and taken a look at its ingredients list? Even if you have, a lot of the ingredients likely mystified you, as they’re complex scientific names.

Well, besides water. A can of shaving cream is about 79.6 percent water on average, but what about the other roughly 20 percent? The average ingredients in shaving cream (with explanations) are as follows.

  • Blue #1: Brilliant blue FCF or blue #1 is a colorant that’s added to shaving cream and shaving gel to make it appealingly, vividly blue. As you lather up your shaving cream, the bubbles spread the light wavelength and the shaving cream becomes white. 
  • PEG 90M: Polyethylene glycol or PEG 90M is a common ingredient in skincare and beauty products. Outside of shaving cream, PEG 90M appears in shampoo, conditioner, aftershave, hair treatments, bar soap, liquid hand soap, body wash, and exfoliants. 
  • Isobutane: With its lack of color and a smell that’s reminiscent of petroleum, isobutane might seem like a surprising ingredient in shaving cream. Isobutane is an alkane that propels ingredients such as shaving cream out of its can. 
  • PVP: Polyvinyl pyrrolidone or PVP helps your hair follicles stand up straighter upon application by binding to the hair shaft’s keratin. This ensures you can shave efficiently. 
  • Aloe barbadensis: Aloe barbadensis is known as aloe vera, which can soothe pain if you cut yourself and keep your skin supple and soft.
  • Sorbitol: The glucose-extracted sweetener that is sorbitol is another strange ingredient to put in shaving cream, right? Manufacturers that use sorbitol do so because it’s cheaper than glycerine. Both ingredients will moisturize your skin well enough, so they can be used interchangeably. 
  • Sunflower oil monoglycerides: The fatty acids in sunflower oil monoglycerides allow shaving gel to stay gel-like. Well, at least until you introduce air into the mix via rubbing. Then the gel becomes foamy. 
  • Isopentane: A liquid known as 2-methylbutane or just methylbutane, isopentane acts as a degreaser in shaving gel. Like isobutane, isopentane has a petroleum-like scent, although that will be masked by all the other shaving cream ingredients. Isopentane reduces sebum so hair can stay erect and shave better the first time. 
  • Stearic acid: The saturated fatty acid stearic acid is waxy enough that it’s a great skin softener. With the next ingredient we’ll discuss–triethanolamine–stearic acid acts as an efficient thickener. This is so whenever you use shaving cream or gel, it lathers the way it’s supposed to. 
  • Triethanolamine: What is triethanolamine? The ingredient that’s often abbreviated as TEA works in shaving cream as a wetting agent and a thickener. The water within shaving cream can move with a greater surface area as TEA maintains the structural integrity of the water droplets. 
  • Palmitic acid: The last ingredient in most shaving creams is palmitic acid. This is a long-chain fatty acid that comes from animal fats and palm oils. It’s yet a third ingredient that contributes to the lather of shaving cream. It’s also used when making bar soap. 

Is Shaving Cream Flammable?

Did any of those ingredients give you pause? They should have, as both isobutane and isopentane are highly, highly flammable. 

According to HollyFrontier–a company that manufacturers lubricants, jet fuel, diesel fuel, and gasoline–regarding isobutane, it’s comprised of up to three percent propane and five percent butane.

Propane is the same stuff you use to fire up your grill. Butane powers portable stoves and cigarette lighters. These are not ingredients you want in your shaving cream. 

Isopentane is risky as well. In standard conditions, isopentane has the least density of all liquids. Plus, its boiling point is only slightly over room temperature, so it doesn’t require a lot of heat to ignite. 

In certain conditions, your can of shaving cream might explode. Let’s review what causes this scary occurrence.

Seal Damage

The seal of a shaving cream can is to keep the contents of the can inside. Once the seal erodes or is otherwise damaged, an explosion can occur at any point. 

Heat Exposure

As we established in the paragraphs above, if the temperatures are only slightly over room temperature, then isopentane could explode.

Room temperature is between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, so what do you think will happen when you heat up isopentane to an even warmer degree than that?

The same thing that would happen when isobutane warms: the heat exposure might cause the can to explode. 

Excess Pressure 

Shaving cream, being in an aerosol can, has gas under pressure. The amount of pressure is stable enough that the can usually won’t leak or explode, but if the pressure goes up too much? 

Well, as HollyFrontier says: “In a fire or if heated, a pressure increase will occur and the container may burst, with the risk of a subsequent explosion. The vapor/gas is heavier than air and will spread along the ground. Gas may accumulate in low or confined areas or travel a considerable distance to a source of ignition and flash back, causing fire or explosion.”

That’s right. Not only could an explosion occur (or a fire) in your bathroom or hall closet where you keep your shaving cream, but the gas from the exploded can of shaving cream might travel, furthering the spread of the fire and causing more damage throughout your home. 

Shaving Cream Storage and Usage Safety Tips

We’re not trying to dissuade you from using shaving cream, as for most people, it’s a necessity. Rather, you should know how to safely store and use the product to avoid explosions and fires. Here are our tips. 

Check the Condition of the Can Before Buying

When you’re shopping for shaving cream or gel, be choosy about which can you buy. Pick up the can and inspect it, especially the seal. If the can has been tampered with in any way, then put it down and buy another. 

Even small dents and dings are a sign that the shaving cream can has been compromised. Although nothing may be wrong with the can outside of the exterior cosmetic damage, you can never be too safe!

If Your Shaving Cream Can Is Rusted, Throw It Away

Humidity makes a can of shaving cream rust, and all that moisture might cause it to explode as well. If you’ve had a can of shaving cream for a while, whether it’s unopened or halfway empty, you need to dispose of it once it develops rust. 

Keep Your Shaving Cream in a Room-Temperature Environment (Or Colder!)

To reiterate, it only takes temperatures slightly over room temp for isopentane to possibly explode. It’s always smart to err on the side of caution and ensure that you keep shaving cream and gel out of rooms that might be warmer than room temperature.

For instance, your bathroom maybe isn’t the best place to store shaving cream. Each time you shower, you create humidity that can cause rusting. The humidity can also raise the temperature, which might put the shaving cream at risk of exploding.

Use Shaving Cream as Recommended 

All products have recommended usage instructions, and that’s true of shaving cream as well. When you use the shaving cream the right way, you can avoid generating heat or pressure that could lead to explosions.

Shaving cream contains isopentane and isobutane, two propane-like ingredients that don’t react well under pressure or in high heat. In a worst-case scenario, the can of shaving cream will explode, spreading gas that can cause a fire that extends far beyond your bathroom. 

Now that you know what’s in your shaving cream, you can tread carefully when it comes to storing and using this common household product! 

Mike Pertz

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic/diver for a department just west of Cleveland, Ohio and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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