• Your Guide to Choosing the Right Razor

by Mr. Spruce

There are a lot of different types of razors out there, how do you know which is right for you? What should you look for in a razor and what should you definitely look to avoid?

Hands up who's ever heard any of these terms before and is somewhat (or a lot) confuddled; Disposable Razor, Cartridge Razor, Double Edge Razor, Safety Razor, Straight Razor, Cut-Throat Razor, Shavette Razor, Electric Razor, Rotary Razor, Foil Razor.

Yeah. That's a lot, right? So let's break things down a little to start with. Razors come in essentially 3 categories; Disposable Razors (true disposables and cartridge razors), Double-Edge Razors (also known as safety razors), and Traditional Razors (cutthroats, straight razors, shavettes). There's also Electric Razors (of which rotary and foil razors are sub-categories), but we we'll stick with the manual type razors for today).

Each have their own benefits and draw backs which are worth noting so let's do this thing…

Disposable Razors

True Disposable Razors

Classic Disposable Bic Razor

When you think of a true disposable razor you most likely think of the iconic yellow Bic razor. It’s a one-piece moulded plastic handle with, usually, just a single blade set into the head.

The Pros
  • Disposables have got a shallow learning curve so they're pretty easy to pick up and use without too many nicks and cuts. They're also widely available in that you can grab one from pretty much any supermarket, filling station, chemist, or big-box store. It's quick, cheap, and it gets the job done when you're in tight fix.
  • You can expect to use it 2-3 times before the blade dulls and then you can toss the whole thing in the bin. Convenient for you, terrible for the environment though obviously - think of all that plastic lying around in landfills for eternity!
The Cons
  • Although disposables may seem cheap initially, their short lifespan means you'll be shelling out little but often which can add up pretty quickly.
  • True disposable razors are incredibly lightweight which might not be a bad thing if you're trying to keep your luggage weight down but for everyday shaving, a lightweight razor is a terrible idea. Cheap razors have no heft of their own so instead of the razor doing the work itself, you end up dragging the razor across your face which equals increased friction, greater chances of nicks and cuts, and much more chance of razor burn.
  • Difficulty in getting a tidy edge. If you've get facial hair and you're trying to shave any sort of detail into your beard or mo' with a disposable razor you'll most likely find it frustratingly difficult to line things up properly. Look at any disposable razor blade and you'll see that it's often surrounded on four sides by at least a couple of millimetres of plastic. If you’re trying to get a nice, clean, tidy edge you've always you a couple of millimetres margin of error there.
Overall

So yeah, disposable razors are good if you're in a tight spot and need a quick shave, but are pretty much terrible for any other situation. They do the job they're meant to do pretty well (i.e. be cheap, easy, and disposable) but for an everyday smooth, close shave; these aren't the razors you're looking for.

Cartridge Razors

Gillette MAch3 Razors

Cartridge razors are the next evolutionary step after disposable razors, and they're absolutely everywhere.

Chances are you're currently shaving with a cartridge razor right now (not, you know, like right right now though because that would be dangerous). Gillette's ubiquitous Mach series of razors is archetypal cartridge razor and their marketing success in hooking young men into a cycle of buying expensive, disposable blades and cheap-to-manufacture plastic handles has been staggering.

It's at the stage now where many guys probably don’t even think there is an alternative let alone consider trying out that alternative. The exception of course being electric razors which have grown massively in popularity over the last 20 years…but that's a story for another day.

The Pros
  • There's no doubt about it, cartridge razors can be pretty convenient and they're marketed as a desirable, high-performance product.
  • They're also widely available and the razors themselves (not the blades though) are relatively cheap. Because of this, you don't really have to take much care of them. Once you're done with your shave, give 'em a rinse under the tap and chuck it back in the bathroom cabinet. They won't last a lifetime, but they're not really meant to and maybe that's OK.
The Cons 
  • Most importantly - shave quality. Forget the multi-blade, cooling-strip, vibrating-handle nonsense. That's just marketing hype to get you to invest in pricey disposable blades. Who do you think benefits more from a $5 blade which typically lasts about 5 shaves; you or the manufacturer?
  • A razor blade is really a pretty simple piece of kit when you think about it; it's a sharp edge which you use to cut hair. Every time the manufacturer adds another blade, or that little cage which keeps the blades in place (and gunks up with hair), or a cooling strip, or whatever other gimmick they decide to throw in, all that does is raise the price and, more importantly increase the friction. More stuff to drag across your face equals more friction which leads to more redness, more chance of nicks and cuts, and almost certainly more razor-burn. In fact, when it comes to the shave quality a single-blade true disposable actually outperforms a cartridge razor 9 times out of 10.
  • Whilst the initial capital cost of a cartridge razor and blades might not seem like too much - though it is steadily creeping up - the lifetime cost of blades can be staggering when you add it all up, especially when compared with safety razor blades. Think about what you're paying for as well. You're not buying finely-crafted and well-balanced steel, you're buying mainly moulded plastic and, most importantly, you're paying for David Beckham and Roger Federer to sell that moulded plastic to you.
  • If you're anything like most other people which, statistically of course you totally are, then you'll probably use the first blade till it dulls, the second blade till it dulls and the last blade for approximately 6 months or until your face is unrecognisable. This is fairly standard practice and it’s a sure fire way to increase the redness, itchiness, and razor-burn-iness of your shave.
  • Again, as with true disposables you'll get a blade (or number of blades) surrounded on all sides by plastic so getting a nice, neat line-out on your moustache, beard, or sideys, is pretty tricky with a cartridge razor.
  • Lastly, as with true disposable razors, the environmental impact of cartridge razors leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of plastics to fill up landfills, pollute the oceans, and all of those chemical 'anti rubbing strips' to leech into our groundwater.
Overall

Cartridge razors are good at what they're designed to do. Which is to sell you more cartridge razor blades with increasingly fantastical gimmicks. Of course, they do the job of shaving reasonably well too, at least when the blade is brand new, if they didn't give you a decent shave then all the marketing in the world wouldn't make them successful. So we're not saying they're bad per se, just that there are much better options out there both in terms of shave quality and cost-effectiveness.

Double Edge Razors

Parker 96R Double Edge Safety Razors

Double Edge Razors are also known as Safety Razors so there's two terms you can instantly combine in your head to free up some cognitive space. For the purposes of brevity and consistency I'll refer to them as Double Edge (DE) Razors but they really are the same thing.

Double edged razors predate disposables. They're effectively what your dad and probably granddad used to shave with. The blades which they use are what you would think of if someone asked you to draw a razor blade. It's a really traditional looking piece of kit.

The Pros
  • The closeness of shave which you'll get with a DE razor far surpasses anything that you'll achieve with a disposable and this all comes down to weight and balance. Much like a good kitchen knife, you can tell if you've got a good razor by the heft of the handle and the balance in your hand. The razor should be well weighted so that it almost falls across your face. If you're having to drag it or if you're using anything more than a light touch then either your razor is too cheap or your blades are too dull.
  • The blades run right to the edge on a DE razor so it's possible to get some really neat detailing when styling your facial hair or even just lining up your sideburns.
  • Because you're planning on keeping your razor for the long haul and the blades are simple light-weight steel, the environmental impact will be minimal.
The Cons
  • DE razors definitely have a steeper learning curve than disposables - though it tends not to be as steep as many fear it will be. You may expect a few additional nicks and cuts in the first week or so but you will almost certainly notice a lot less razor-burn too due to the reduced friction.
  • The upfront cost of a double edge razor is also undoubtedly higher than a disposable however you'll save a ton on blades over the life of the razor and, if you invest in a good one and treat it right, it should last you an awful lot longer than a disposable too.
  • Your DE razor will require a bit more love and care that a disposable if you want it to go this distance. If you want to just rinse it off in warm water and chuck it in the cabinet then don't expect it to stick around for long.

Pro Tip #138

Once you're done shaving, give your razor and blades a good rinse in water, apply a little rubbing alcohol to keep the blade sharp and disinfected, and pat dry with a towel. If you do that, it'll last a lifetime.

Overall

A double edge razor will trump a disposable in pretty much any category you can imagine. They're cheaper in the long run and less blades equals less friction which means less redness and irritation. A more a more in depth comparison of disposables vs double-edge razors, check out this guide.

Traditional Razors

When you think traditional razor, think Sweeny Todd. It’s a fearsome looking piece of kit but for those willing to dive in and learn the skills, there are definitely benefits to be had. Traditional razors come in two varieties; fixed bade - cutthroat / straight razors - and replaceable blade - shavettes.

Fixed Blade Traditional Razors

A fixed blade, also known as a cut-throat razor or straight razor, as the name suggests has a single, fixed cutting edge which can't be swapped out or changed. When it gets dull, you sharpen it. This is the true granddaddy of shaving. Not so common these days because of the effort that's required to maintain the cutting edge, however, for a real old-school shave this is the ultimate experience.

The Pros
  • Minimal lifetime costs. Expect to shell out quite few dollars upfront for one of these, and you shouldn't scrimp on the cost or quality, but if you keep the edge sharp and the body in good condition you'll never need another razor again. You just need to factor in the price of a razor strop in your upfront costs.
  • There's something undeniably masculine about using an old-school cutthroat. Perhaps it the danger element. It's not the be-all and end-all but, hey, it's a bonus!
  • You're unlikely to get a smoother, closer shave with anything other than a cutthroat. There's no moving parts, nothing between the blade and your face, minimal friction, and, provided your blade is shard and your later s good, that razor will carve through even the smallest finest hair like a hot knife through butter.
The Cons
  • Shaving with a straight razor isn't something you're going to want to rush. If you're running late for work or you're about to miss your flight, grab the easier cartridge razor or even the DE. If, however, you've got a bit of time and you want the closest shave going, then pick up your straight razor and settle in.
  • If you're currently shaving with a cartridge razor or an electric and you want to get a smoother, closer shave, I wouldn't necessarily recommend jumping right into a cutthroat. The learning curve may be a little too great and you're likely to come away with a few nicks after the first few goes. It gets much easier though after ou get the hang of it and, in the long run because the blades are sharper and the friction is less, you'll end up with less cuts overall.
Overall
  • Cutthroat razors can be a little intimidating, and they aren't necessarily the right tool for your everyday shave, but once you've mastered the art, they'll pay dividends in terms of quality of shave and cost savings over time.

Replaceable Blade Traditional Razors

Parker 33R Traditional Shavette Cutthroat Razor

A shavette razor sits somewhere between a cut throat razor and a double-edge or safety razor. It has disposable blades (the same blades in fact that you use with a double-edge razor) but has the same form factor as the cutthroat. It's a great middle ground between the two; you get to replace the blades when they dull rather than having to strop and sharpen, however, you still get to look and feel like a bad-ass when using it.

The Pros
  • Disposable blades means that maintenance is minimal. No stropping or sharpening required here!
  • As with DE razors, the blades themselves are remarkably cheap when compared with disposables and cartridges.
The Cons
  • When compared with the fixed-blade straight razor, there are couple of extra parts to consider. Those are the parts which keep the blade held in place. As with anything, more parts equals more maintenance and more chance for something to go wrong. Still, if you invest in a decent razor and you keep it clean and dry between uses, it should still last you a lifetime.
Overall

Much the same learning curve and skill required to wield a shavette as there is to wield a cutthroat, however you'll have to decide whether you prefer the convenience of disposable blades or the mechanical simplicity and unparalleled edge or a cutthroat.

In summary

My 5th Year English Teacher , Mrs. Suthers, always told me that I've got to add a snappy summation at the end and tie everything up in a nice neat bow. So here goes…

Disposable Razors

True Disposables and Cartridge Razors. Alright but could be a lot better. Low quality shaves often result in nicks, cuts, and razor burn, especially as the blades dull quickly. OK to use if you're in a tight spot and need a quick shave but has no place long-term in your bathroom cabinet. Also terrible for the environment and with high life-time costs.

Double Edged Razors

The sweet spot between disposables and old-school razors. Slightly higher capital cost but very low life-time cost. Great close shave with minimum friction, good for the environment, good for your pocket, looks bad-ass in your bathroom.

Traditional Razors

Cuththroats and Shavettes. Not for the faint hearted. Trickier to master but will give you a fantastically close shave when you get it right. Can't be done in a rush. May require a bit more maintenance but the lifetime costs are low, low, low.

There, now how'd you like, that Mrs. Suthers!?

Any questions or comments, as always, please let me know in the comments below and I'll do my best to respond!

Peace out (do people still say 'peace out'? Is that a thing?),

Andy



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Mr. Spruce
Mr. Spruce

Author

Mr. Spruce aka Andy. One half of Worthy & Spruce. Blogging about all things gentlemanly, and many things not. Tired but tireless dad, business dude, consumer of coffee, and deliverer of timely quips.




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