Having gained popularity during World War I, safety razors were once the shaving implement of choice – right up until the 1970s, when the disposable, multi-blade razor made its appearance. However, due to the high cost of today’s multi-blade replacement cartridges, the safety razor is now making a strong comeback with men of all ages.
A safety razor is a shaving implement with a blade guard that protects the user against deep cuts. Although it is safer to use than earlier shaving tools – such as the straight razor – the blades are extremely sharp, requiring caution.
Unlike multi-blade razors, a safety razor uses one slim, all-metal rectangular blade which is sharpened to a shaving edge on both sides. This is why safety razors are also known as double-edged (or “DE”) razors. Not only does shaving with a safety razor give better results for many men, it is also seen as somewhat of a lost art, from a time when personal grooming was treated as a craft of luxury and self-pampering, rather than an exercise in efficiency.
Reasons to Switch to Safety Razors
Cartridges for the Gillette Fusion ProGlide, Gillette’s top-of-the-line razor, sell on Amazon for $27 for an eight-pack. Amazon occasionally offers coupons for $6 off as well.
If you take advantage of all those savings opportunities, you’ll pay $21 per pack, or a rock-bottom price of $2.63 per individual cartridge. According to Gillette, each Fusion ProGlide cartridge should give a month’s worth of shaves, based on an estimated three to four uses per week.
In comparison, a 100-pack of Personna stainless steel, double-edged safety blades costs $12.50 on Amazon – a mere $0.13 per individual blade. With this kind of value, it would be easily affordable to use a brand new blade each time you shave with a safety razor, even if that means once per day.
Of course, safety blades don’t last forever, and many factors can determine just how many shaves you get out of them. The coarseness of a beard and the quality of the blade both play key roles, but according to Shaving 101, a safety razor blade should give you a minimum of three shaves, with popular brands giving you five to seven shaves. That’s a total of 300 to 700 shaves for the pack – versus 96 to 128 shaves for the Gillette Fusion ProGlide eight-pack. That’s a significant difference.
A Better Shave
Since there are more blades running over your face in one pass with a multi-blade razor, the hair is cut below the skin, resulting in the frequent removal of skin cells. Not only can this cause a great deal of irritation, such as razor bumps and razor burn, it can also lead to painful ingrown hairs. Additionally, multi-blade razors are generally very light, prompting the user to apply too much pressure when shaving, which in turn leads to greater irritation.
By comparison, because of the weight and balance of the safety razor itself, it glides over the face as it removes hair, not the top layer of skin. The weight of the razor is the only pressure needed to cut hair flush to the surface of your skin, not below it. This greatly reduces the chance of any ingrown hairs and skin irritations, and gives you an infinitely more comfortable, smooth, and healthy shave.
Safety razors also boast a slimmer, sleeker design than many multi-blade razors, thus allowing easy access to those hard-to-reach spots, like under the nose. The single blade helps give sideburns a sharp definition, as well, making you feel like you just walked out of the barber shop.
The only drawback to shaving with a safety razor is the initial cost of the necessary tools, as a set of shaving equipment costs anywhere between $75 and $250 dollars. However, with proper use, a finely crafted set of shaving tools can last a lifetime.
Many specialty stores have popped up in the recent past, such as The Art of Shaving, a chain specializing in high-end shaving implements and which can be found in malls across America. One can also easily find everything online – and, since blades fit most razors, you are free to mix and match brands.
There are many types of safety razors, but the vast majority can be classified into three main categories:
- One-Piece: Also known as a “butterfly” model, this conveniently opens with a twist of the handle, letting you drop a fresh blade into the housing. Changing blades is quick and easy, but the one-piece is difficult to clean since it doesn’t come apart. Also, because of its hinges and moving parts, it does not last as long as other models due to wear and tear. For someone just starting out, you can find a decent one-piece for $20 to $35.
- Two-Piece: With the two-piece design, the top plate unscrews from the handle of the razor, allowing the shaver to position the blade before putting the assembly back together. The two-piece is more durable than the butterfly, but can still be slightly difficult to clean since the base or blade-guard is attached to the handle. A little more expensive than the one-piece, you can pick up a good starter two-piece in the $30 to $50 range.
- Three-Piece: The handle of the three-piece unscrews from the top plate and blade guard. The plate and guard are then separated, a blade is inserted between the two, and the handle is screwed back on. The three-piece is definitely the easiest of these to clean since the assembly comes apart completely, but it is somewhat more difficult when it comes to changing blades. Quite common, a beginner three-piece can be picked up for $5 to $40 – but stay away from the cheap, bargain basement models.
When making your choice, it’s important to look for a razor with a hefty, balanced feel when it comes to the actual cutting of your whiskers. The length of the handle is another feature you should give special attention to. Aside from adding to the weight, a longer handle helps with a comfortable grip. Brands worth looking at include Merkur, Parker, and Edwin Jagger.amazon.com/Parker-Safety-Razor/b
Many newcomers to safety razors start with Personna stainless steel blades. This brand is a little easier to work with in the hands of a novice because it was designed for sensitive skin and multiple hair densities, making it one of the bestselling and most popular brands on the market. However, before you go out and buy a box of 100 blades, it can be a good idea to try several different brands.
It may take a bit of trial and error before you hit on a blade that gives you the desired effect – what may be right for someone else may not be right for you. Each razor blade manufacturer uses different levels of heat for tempering the steel, varying coatings for finalizing, and other manufacturing techniques.
Have you ever seen a classic movie where a man was preparing to shave by running a stubby brush over his face in quick circles? This is the time-honored, traditional way to prepare your whiskers for shaving. Not only does the action build up lather fully and evenly on your face, it also makes your whiskers stand up, preparing your face for a close, comfortable shave.
- Boar Hair: Brushes made out of boar hair are coarse and do not retain water very well. Some men find boar hair brushes to be uncomfortable, but the price can’t be beat. You can find a good boar hair brush for anywhere between $10 and $15.
- Badger Hair: A badger hair brush is much softer, and retains water much more effectively. Many men prefer it since it feels pleasant on the skin. The price for a badger hair brush ranges between $13 and $150.
- Horsehair: Brushes made of horsehair fall somewhere between boar and badger in quality and price. A decent horsehair brush can be found between $20 and $40.
- Synthetic: These brushes are produced in a wide range of qualities and grades. You can buy one as coarse as boar hair or as soft as badger hair. Also, a synthetic brush is great if you are worried that you may be allergic to animal hair. Synthetic brushes range between $12 and $140.
A good starter brush for a beginner is one of the low-end badger brushes. It’s soft enough not to irritate the skin, yet not too expensive in case you’d like to change or upgrade in the future. Also, make sure to get one with a handle that affords a comfortable grip. Some well-known brush manufacturers are Edwin Jagger, Parker, and Omega.
4. Soaps and Creams
Even though you can use regular shaving cream from an aerosol can, it tends to be frowned upon by shaving purists. In order to properly soften your beard and hydrate your skin while avoiding the harsh chemicals contained in aerosol cans, a shaving brush used with traditional shaving cream or soap is the method of choice for creating a rich, thick lather for use with your safety razor.
- Soaps: A cake of shaving soap usually comes in a round, flat shape, roughly the size of a hockey puck. Good brands of soap should have a high level of fat and glycerine to help lubricate and hydrate the skin while softening the whiskers – a high-fat content of 30% to 50% is best. There’s great variety on the market, and you can find everything from perfume-free soaps to soaps for sensitive skin. Soaps range between $5 and $40.
- Creams: Shaving creams, by contrast, come in a jar or tube, and are a better choice for the beginner. A dab on the tip of your damp brush is very easy to whip up into a nice, creamy lather. Like shaving soaps, creams should have approximately the same amount of fat and glycerin. Numerous types and brands can be purchased anywhere shaving accessories are sold for $10 to $50.
5. Bowls and Mugs
Shaving bowls and mugs are not necessary, but they can be used to build up a good lather on your brush before your shave. Any kind of palm-sized dish can do the trick, but specialized bowls and mugs add a touch of class to the art of shaving – a handsome bowl or finely crafted mug is not only the traditional way shaving lather is created, but can also be seen as a statement of style.
Bowls and mugs come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and materials. You can find everything from a no-frills metal cup to a hand-crafted work of art. However, be sure to choose one that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand but is also large enough to let you swirl a brush around. Bowls and mugs range between $5 and $70, but you may be surprised by the truly wonderful selection available for as little as $15 to $20.
Not only does a shiny chrome stand keep your razor’s blade sharp by keeping it off the counter, it also allows your brush to dry in the upside-down position, thus helping it keep its original shape. A stand lengthens the lifespan of your shaving implements and adds a neat, organized look to your counter top. Stands are relatively inexpensive and can be found anywhere razors are sold for as little as $15.
When you’re new to shaving with a safety razor, the whole process may seem like an awful lot of trouble to go through just for a shave. Rest assured that within a few weeks, you’re going to be as proficient and as fast as you were when shaving with your old multi-blade razor.
Step 1: Pre-shave
Before you begin, you need to open your pores to minimize skin irritation. Nothing does this better than the steam and water you expose your skin to during a hot shower. This is why it’s a good idea to shower before you shave, but there are other ways to achieve the same results.
Washing your face with a specially designed facial scrub like Nivea Men Energy Face Scrub can work wonders for removing dead skin and unclogging pores. Next, a hot, damp towel on your face for one minute does a nice job of opening pores and softening whiskers. Preparing your facial hair this way substantially reduces the effort of shaving, promoting a nice, smooth glide of the razor.
Step 2: Application of Shaving Cream or Soap
Run hot water over your shave brush until it is well-soaked and soft. Shake excess water off the brush, but not too vigorously. The idea is to have it retain a good amount of water to help build up lather. If you are using shaving cream, dip the brush into the jar to lightly but sufficiently coat the bristles.
Using your shave bowl or mug, whip up lather by swirling the brush in a circular motion. A little bit of elbow grease is involved in the whisking process, but it does not take very long. You are ready to apply the lather when you’ve achieved a smooth consistency with no visible bubbles.
If you are using shaving soap rather than cream, place the cake of soap in your shave bowl. Again, make sure your brush is wet, and then run it across the face of the soap in a quick, circular motion. If you are having difficulty building a rich foam, add small amounts of water as needed until a smooth, bubble-free lather is built up.
At this point, lather your face with the same circular motion of the brush. Pay special attention to the pressure you apply – a firm but gentle pressure allows the lather to build up without flattening your whiskers. Make sure you’ve worked it into every part of your beard. Apply a few final strokes to even out the lather, and you’re ready to shave.
Step 3: Shaving
Wet your safety razor with hot water, hold it at a 30-degree angle to your skin to ensure a nick-free experience, and start shaving. Make sure you shave with the grain of your whiskers. In other words, run your razor in the same direction the hairs are growing. This cuts off less hair, but helps minimize nicks.
Once the first pass is complete, some men choose to carefully go against the grain for a second pass. This cleans up any hair that is not flush with the skin, giving an extremely close shave.
Use very short strokes without applying pressure. The weight of your safety razor is all the pressure you need to safely remove the hair. Take your time and proceed carefully. You must remember that this is a skill, and as with any skill, perfection takes a bit of practice. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to shave as quickly as you did with your old multi-blade razor.
Step 4: Post-Shave
Once you’re done, splash some cold water on your face to close your pores. If you prefer, a washcloth soaked with cold water does the job just as well. Not only does this reduce skin irritation, it minimizes or potentially stops the flow of blood from any nicks or cuts.
Lastly, put on the finishing touch by applying a good aftershave. If you want to minimize infection from bacteria that can find its way into cuts, use an aftershave slightly higher in alcohol content. That’s all there is to it.
Step 5: Equipment Maintenance
As far as equipment maintenance goes, the razor and brush are the only articles you need to worry about. After use, the brush should be thoroughly rinsed with warm water. It should then be hung with the bristles facing down. This allows it to dry evenly, retaining its original form and extending its life immeasurably.
A quality safety razor is likely to outlast its owner if cared for properly. Other than flushing out soap and whiskers thoroughly after you shave, a few occasional drops of rubbing alcohol in the blade housing can keep your razor clean and bacteria-free. This also prolongs the life of the individual blade.
Safety razors have blade guards to minimize deep cuts, but you’re nevertheless shaving with a sharp, steel blade. Go slowly at first, until you feel comfortable. Also, when replacing a blade, exercise extreme caution. It’s very easy to cut your finger with these paper-thin blades.
Using some common sense precautions can keep you safe and cut-free. Within a week’s time you just may be wondering how you ever got along without your safety razor.
What do you see as the biggest advantage for someone switching to a safety razor?