I am a jazz fan and a blog fan, and one of my favorite sources of information is the JazzWax blog. A recent four-part series surprised me by discussing shaving instead of jazz. The author is committed to “old-school” wet shaving with a safety razor, and his articles got me considering whether I should make a change in my grooming.
My history with safety razors started in high school in the 1960s. My grandfather, who lived with us for a time, shaved with an electric razor. When I was old enough to shave, I tried an electric (my grandfather’s–who can remember that far back?) It was clunky and loud and vibrated terribly. I hated it.
Growing up, I remember my dad getting dressed to go out. He’d come out of the bathroom with pieces of tissue stuck to his face, asking my mom, “Where’s the styptic pencil?” My mother had a similar problem with nicks from shaving her legs, and the styptic pencil was the solution.
When I finally needed to shave, I started with my grandfather’s safety razor. He had “graduated” to an electric razor and no longer wielded the blade. I was in high school, and my need to shave was mostly in my mind. It was a toss-up as to whether a nicked face blotted with tissue made a better impression on my dates than my manly amount of peach fuzz.
I used my grandfather’s DE razor until one day, while in college, I dropped it, and it broke. I saw no way to repair it, so I tossed it. I used a Schick Injector Razor for a while. I might have tried the Bic disposable and other double-blade razors, but it wasn’t until I tried a Mach3 that I was satisfied with the razor I used. I still use a Gillette Mach3 razor, although from time to time, I’ve tried Fusion blades. The Fusion, with five blades, is perhaps a marginally smoother feeling, but the Mach3 is consistent.
Why would I go back to a DE safety razor after my early experiences, including occasional nicks and bleeding? My current experience with the Mach3 razor doesn’t give me problems.
The answer is complicated, and if you’re considering (or have already) gone the safety razor-shaving route, you may have different reasons.
First, I’ve considered why I had problems the first time with a safety razor and what’s changed since then. I switched to single-edged blades only after my hand-me-down double-edged razor broke. I didn’t cut myself often on the safety razor, but I no doubt wanted to get up to date on razor technology.
Historical aside: The Gillette Safety Razor was invented in 1900 by King Gillette. Schick invented the Injector Razor in 1935, which was the only major alternative to the safety razor in the 1960s, although there were many styles of safety razors from many companies. The Gillette Trac II double blade razor wasn’t invented until 1972, and the Bic disposable razor in 1975. Thus, double-edged safety razors (abbreviated DE safety razors) or the Schick Injector razor were my only choices in the mid-1960s.
Even more important for beginners is the available support for shaving. There was no internet in the 1960s. There were probably occasional magazine or newspaper articles about shaving, but most information came from the manufacturer’s marketing departments. Although there might have been many variations of safety razors for sale (I am not sure this was true in the 1960s), no one was comparing which ones were best for thick beards or sensitive skin. There was no indication that a specific model was efficient or aggressive. Nor was there a source for replacement parts. Today I might have been able to repair my razor from online sources for parts.
But none of that explains why I should try a safety razor again. So here are some reasons I’ve found online and my reaction to them.
Cost is among the reasons listed by every source I found on why you should shave with a double-edged razor. I find it a weak reason which might not be true, depending on the type of blades you use and the type of shaver and quantity of alternative blades you compare it to. Even if your DE blades are under 10 cents each and you compare them to expensive cartridge blades purchased in small quantities (e.g., a four-blade package), the cost savings seems unlikely to be enough to motivate me. Your finances and motivations may be different, so if this seems like a good reason, I’m happy for you.
However, many of the men who get into safety razor shaving become obsessed with the razors and accessories. If your first razor and accompanying tools work for you, then your savings will eventually surpass your initial investment. However, if you start experimenting with razors, brushes, soaps, pre-, and post-shave face treatments, etc., you might find you’ve become a collector and can’t stop. My wife assures me that I entered the obsessed cohort out of the gate.
Regarding the initial investment costs, you can purchase a Chinese razor for under $12 (I’ve seen the Baili for under $6). You can do without a brush and use your hands to make a lather from tube shaving cream. But you can also spend hundreds of dollars on a razor and that much again on a badger hair lather brush.
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A DE safety razor is alleged to be best for sensitive skin, tough or thick beards, and for avoiding ingrown hairs or shaving bumps. This is because you have only a single sharp blade going over your skin. The more passes and blades, the greater the chance for irritation.
I do not have sensitive skin. I’ve never had a problem with shave bumps or ingrown hairs. The quality of my shave is something I’ll have to wait and see.
The last time I purchased Mach3 blades, they came in a wasteful plastic shell. Inside the shell, the blades were held in a hard plastic tray. The blades themselves are attached to the plastic cartridge, which goes onto the razor’s handle. I don’t try to recycle these, but I feel guilty because we try to recycle as much as possible. My wife and I also pay attention to packaging and, when possible, choose environmentally friendly products.
A double-edged razor can last a lifetime – an investment that could be handed down to your children. My wife reminds me that the term “investment” is questionable — that obsessive, costly hobby is closer to the truth. The blades (depending on the source) come wrapped in paper and/or packaged in cardboard. The blades can be recycled through several programs, such as Terracycle with Gillette or Albatross.
The environmental factor is one of the reasons I wish to return to a safety razor.
Easy-ish to use
There is a learning curve to using a DE razor, but when ease of use is mentioned, I believe what is meant is that it is not difficult to learn proper shaving techniques. However, compared to a multi-blade, swivel head, cartridge razor, the safety razor is more difficult to learn.
Many men seem nostalgic for the gentlemanly grooming methods used in the past. Taking care of your face using a process and tools from the past can be enjoyably indulgent.
There is also a connection to the past from using razors that have changed little in over 100 years. Perhaps some of you will drift to collecting and using historic razors. Twentieth Century Gillette razors can still be found, purchased, and used.
However, it might just be that I’m interested in using a safety razor because, after 50+ years of shaving, I am intrigued by the challenge.