There are countless shoe care products available for leather shoes. From deer bones to saddle soap, shoe polish to protecting sprays. Something for everyone and everything.
In this article we want to discuss two of the most popular: Shoe cream (also known as cream polish) and shoe paste (sometimes referred to as shoe wax or polish paste).
We often get asked the differences between the two. We're going to use Saphir's Pate de Luxe Wax polish and their Pommadier Cream Polish as examples.
A good shoe care routine likely has both of these wonderful products in it. That said, they have different uses and this article will help you understand when to use which.
Let’s break them both down.
What is Saphir’s Cream Polish?
Saphir’s Médaille d’Or 1925 Pommadier cream polish is a soft and nourishing cream. It's made with seven different types of waxes, as well as other natural ingredients. This helps give the cream is colour and texture. Waxes such as beeswax and carnauba.
These waxes help contribute to the shine that you get from using cream polish after you brush your shoes.
Importantly, it also contains Shea butter oil. Yes, this is the same type of Shea butter that you might expect to find in skin care or hair care products. It is also a leather conditioner. Shea butter is a high quality natural ingredient that has tremendous nourishing properties. All the oils and fats in Shea butter are good for your skin as well as your shoes! This oil also helps give the cream its light and creamy texture.
Cream polish's texture will vary a bit depending on the temperature its stored at. You should expect it to be roughly the consistency of mayonnaise. This makes it easy to apply with a small brush, a polishing cloth, or any soft cloth.
What does it do?
So now that we know a little bit about what cream polish has in it, let’s talk a bit more about what it does.
Most importantly it adds colour to your shoes. This is not a dye and will not immediately change the colour of your shoes. It is also (mostly) reversible. Saphir’s Médaille d’Or 1925 Pommadier cream polish is available in 13 different colours as well as neutral. This means you can get the colour close to your needs every time.
The colour that is has comes from the pigments inside. This colour fills in any discolouration you might have on your shoes. This could be lightening at the creases on the top. It could be nicks and scuffs and scratches that you’ve accumulated. If you caught your heel on a chair or your toe on a step, this will help with that. Even if you are the most careful of walkers on the planet, UV light will fade your shoes.
This is not as strong as a dye so it won’t be immediate or permanently stain your shoes. If you add too much, you can clean your shoes with some Saphir Reno’Mat cleaner to remove latest layer of polish.
A note on colour.
Dark shoes tend to get lighter over time and light shoes tend to get darker over time. More so with shoes that aren’t black.
For shoes to age well, develop patina and character, and have more depth, go with a slightly darker colour. We recommend this approach. Try and find the closest match to your shoe colour and go one shade darker. Saphir has 8(!) different shades of brown cream polish to choose from.
Over time these darker creams will add more colour and depth into your shoes. It will happen slowly, one polish at a time. It will also have more power to fill in discolouration since its darker.
The same goes for other colours such as blue, red/burgundy, green, etc. . Note that you have far fewer colour choices in these colours.
If you’re a bit more conservative, we recommend you take the same approach but go one shade lighter. If you can find an exact match, great. If not, find as close as you can and go one shade lighter. This will slow the darkening of your shoes.
If you’re apprehensive about colour, there is always Saphir’s neutral option. This will give you all the conditioning and shining benefits without any of the pigment.
As a bonus, if you’re more adventurous you can try adding different colours to your shoes to add some depth. People will add navy or dark green to their black shoes from time to time. This gives them some undertones of those colours. They won’t at all change colour. You’ll notice slight hues in the light though.
Since the layers of cream are so thin you can add multiple. On a dark brown shoe you can add one thin layer of cognac or Hermes Red to add a bit or orange or burgundy into your brown. Follow that up with a thin layer of dark brown. This type of work will help your patina develop. (You can take a look at one of the colour experts, Corthay if you want some inspiration. We only recommend experimenting if you're experienced at shoe polishing..)
Secondly, it nourishes your shoes. It is a mild conditioner. All that Shea butter that we spoke about comes into play here. The oils and fats will work their way into the leather and provide much needed nourishment. As we spoke about in our leather conditioning post, hydrating your leather goods is important. It keeps them supple and prevents cracking.
Note that using cream polish alone is not enough to completely condition your shoes. We’d still recommend using Saphir’s Leather Lotion, which is a dedicated moisturizer, a few times a year. It has extra moisturizing components that the Pommadier does not. The lower wax content in that also allow more of the oils to sink in.
Lastly, it provides some shine. The little bit of wax inside the cream buffs to a wonderful glow after brushing with a horsehair brush.
Given it's benefits and formulation, cream polish can and should be applied all over any smooth leather. You could apply this to the entire outside of your shoe and you will be better off for it. The heels, the vamp, the tongue, etc. . If your soles are looking scuffed you could even apply some to the bottom of your shoes. (if your soles also need moisturizing we recommend Sole Guard). Because these creams absorb into the leather, they do not provide any protection!
Now, If a little bit of wax shines a little, what happens if I use a lot? Great question. That leads up right into Pate de Luxe.
What is Saphir’s Wax Paste Polish?
Saphir’s Pate de Luxe Wax Polish is great and completely different from their cream polish.
Whereas cream polish absorbs into the leather and hydrates, paste wax sits on top.
Pate de Luxe has many of the same ingredients as the cream polish. The big difference is the concentrations. Cream is heavy on oils and Shea, while Pate de Luxe Wax is heavy on…wax.
It has a very high concentration of beeswax and carnauba wax. Both of these are hard waxes. This natural wax accounts for its harder consistency. It also contains six other waxes as well as some natural pine extract.
This comes together to create a hard puck. It has the consistency of cold butter from the fridge. It can warmed up and melted. Usually only an ultra thin sliver of it is workable. This is exactly what you want. It's best applied with a soft cloth. Using anything abrasive like a paper towel or a brush won't do because you won't be able to achieve a smooth finish.
It comes in 11 colours as well as neutral. Matching the colour of paste wax is less important than creams. Paste wax will not penetrate the leather in the same way (more on that later).
What does it do?
These high concentrations of wax serve unique purposes.
Most importantly, it can create a shiny wax layer on your shoes. This is far and away the most important and unique element of any good paste wax. The wax inside of it can be worked into a thin and reflective layer on your shoes. This is done via many, lightly applied, concentric circles of wax polish on top of each other. It takes a bit of practice and the results are fantastic when you get it right.
If you’ve ever seen dress shoes with a “mirror shine” on the heel and toe, this is what did it. It's sometimes called a Glacage, a bulled toe, a spit shine, or a military shine. Regardless of the name, the result is the same; an extremely polished toe and/or heel. Done well it will be reflective enough to see your actual reflection in it. Hence the name mirror polish.
Secondly, since you are building literal layers of wax on top of your shoe, you are providing some protection. This wax is like a mini layer of armour on your heels and toes.
It provide protection against water, first and foremost. Wax is hydrophobic, which means it repels water. So light water spots on your heels and toes usually bead off if you have a high shine on them.
It will make brushing off dust and dirt a bit easier.
Any real physical contact will break through this layer though. Like someone stepping on your shoes.
Paste wax has a high concentration of pigment as well and can double as edge dressing in a pinch. Since it doesn’t penetrate as deep it is not quite as good. It can work while travelling or if you’re out of edge dressing though.
To think more about it, wax polish doesn’t penetrate the shoe, it sits on top. It provides protection because it sits on top of the leather. Since its on top, that means it’s not inside the leather. This is why it isn't a leather conditioner or cleaner. It also won't add colour to your shoes, it will make a coloured layer of wax on top.
Can wax polish damage your shoes?
In short, no. Since paste sits on top of your shoes, you only want to apply it to areas that don’t bend. Paste wax will build a thin and strong layer over wherever you apply it.
That means it’s best to apply to areas that don’t move. Think your toes and heels.
If you apply it to areas of your shoes that bend, it will crack. Areas like the vamp (the area over the knuckles of your toes where you get creases). This cracked wax is unsightly.The excess polish leaves a white residue. Sometimes if you’ve applied lots it can look like your leather is cracking. While fixable it is also avoidable. Your shoes aren't damaged by this.
You can create a mirror shine over your whole shoe. But you’ll break it up as soon as you walk in them.
What these two don't do
Almost every product claims it protects, cleans, shines, and more. They don't. Each has their uses. (Saphir Renovateur is different as it' s actually a 3-in-1 product that cleans, shines, and hydrates. That is one of the few that bucks the trend.)
Paste and cream polish don't clean leather, despite what they say on container. Different needs call for different products. As we spoke above, they aren't true conditioners either.
These are absolute staples in your arsenal. A well rounded kit will include some other products though.
So when should I use a wax polish versus a cream polish?
It depends on the outcome that you're looking for.
As you now know, creams and waxes have very different uses. They are often used in conjunction with each other. Start by applying the cream polish to get all its benefits. Hydrate your leather. Add colour back into it and get a nice glow all over. Then you can achieve that top shelf mirror shine on your toes and heels with some paste wax on top.
The easy way to think about it is that cream polish is absorbed into the leather. Because of this it can be applied everything and it adds things back into the leather. It can be used on any leather goods as well. Chairs, leather jackets, gloves, belts, etc. . It is absorbed by any leather good and adds colour and moisture. (obviously leather boots are included here too).
Paste wax sits on top of the leather. It provides a shiny barrier on top. Because of this, it can’t be the only thing you use. It also is best suited for footwear. We don’t recommend using it on other leather products as it is prone to cracking on anything that bends.
You only need to use paste wax when you want to achieve a high shine as well. For a casual boot polish, you likely don't need it. If you want to give them a smarter, shinier finish though, we recommend it. It's perfect for use with dress shoes to finish them off right.
A well rounded shoe care routine will have both of these products in it. They're made to serve different purposes. We always recommend cream polishes. We recommend paste wax only when you're looking for a high shine.
Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, we hope you put it to use shining your shoes! Patina trumps pristine.