Introduction
1600 words 8 minutes
Razor blades

Do you know the difference between cartridge, safety, disposable and cutthroat razors? Which razor is best for you?

Types of razor

Definition

Most people think a razor is a sharp thing that cuts hair. A razor is actually the handle or arm that we grab when shaving. A razor blade is the sharpened steel we put in the razor to do the cutting.

Razors

There are several types of razor available to us for wet shaving. The most commonly available are listed below.

Disposable razor

disposable razor
Disposable razor

A cheap disposable razor

A disposable razor is a cheap, low-quality tool that many people turn to for their shaving needs. You can get them anywhere and we often don’t think twice about throwing them away. They usually have a fixed head blade assembly.

Disposable razors don’t perform particularly well and take up a lot of room in landfills around the globe.

Cartridge razor

cartridge razor and blades
Cartirdge razor

Cartridge razor and blades

Cartridge razors are non-disposable razors that use a replaceable, proprietary blade assembly. The cartridge may contain between one and six (!) blades, with a lubricating rubber strips and other bells and whistles.

Most cartridge razors have swivel/tilt heads and multiple blades. The dexterous head and multiple blades allow you to shave quickly and without too much care, which is good if you are in a rush. But dermatologists are now telling us that can remove too much skin, causing irritation and possibly infection.

Cartridges are not interchangeable between brands or even razors from a single company. They are usually expensive and also result in a lot of unrecyclable waste. Some tout a “lift and cut” action which can result in a close shave but also can result in ingrown hairs.

Double-edge (DE) safety razor

double-edge safety razor and blades
Double-edge (DE) safety razor

Feather AS-D2 safety razor

These are those small, heavy, metal razors that you associate with your grandpa, but they are anything but relics of a bygone era. Shaving enthusiasts concur that a DE razor is best for a baby-butt smooth shave.

Safety razors take the double-edged blade that we often picture when we hear the term “razor blade”. The blades are cheap, sharp and recyclable and the resulting shaves are often superior to disposable or cartridge razors.

The fixed head on a DE razor means you are in control of how the razor contacts your skin; there’s sentient, contour hugging magic happening here. And having just one blade glide over you face means there is less opportunity to remove the upper layers of skin, leaving you with less irritation and fewer in-grown hairs.

A good DE razor will outlive its owner and its not uncommon for people to be using vintage DE razors from more than half a century ago.

Straight-edge (SE) “cutthroat” razor

straight cutthroat razor
Straight-edge (SE) razor

aka cutthroat razor

The scary razor with a fold-out blade that we associate with the traditional barber shave. The edge is typically permanent and needs to be maintained to ensure a good, safe shave.

SE razors are the implement of choice for people who have taken shaving from chore, to hobby, to obsession. If this is the way you want to go, then, more power to you. It might just be a bridge too far for most people’s needs.

SE shaving is not for the jittery, over-wrinkled or faint of heart.

Electric shaver

electric shaver
Electric shaver

A rotary electric razor

First patented in 1898, the electric shaver has had many improvements over in the last 100 years!

Some require plugging directly into mains, whereas others are battery operated. Most use an internal rechargeable battery.

There are two main types of electric shaver: rotary or foil style. The rotary style has two or three circular blade assemblies wile the foil type looks like it has a long foil barrel(s) along the cutting end.

Traditionally electric shavers have been dry-use only but there are some models that can be used in wet conditions as well.

Choosing a razor

Choosing a razor is actually buying in to a system of shaving. There are pros and cons to each system and striking the right balance on all factors is an exercise for the reader.

Choosing a razor is actually buying in to a system of shaving. Tweet this!

Beginner

Disposable razors

Pros: no outlay, no vendor lock-in, cheap
Cons: wasteful, inferior shave

The easiest system is using a disposable razor with a cheap can of shaving cream. There’s no equipment outlay, just ongoing costs of replacing the razors and cans.

There is also no vendor lock-in. If you don’t like the razor, just buy a different type next time.

The biggest disadvantage of disposable razors is that they aren’t usually a high-quality product. They are designed to throw away and are made to a budget. The blades are typically poorer quality and the razor handle is light, cheap plastic.

A disposable razor isn’t the best tool for obtaining a good shave. In fact, it may be the worst tool.

Intermediate

Cartridge razors

Pros: easy to use

Cons: wasteful, vendor lock-in, expensive

Even though cartridge razors are listed here as “intermediate”, there’s no reason a beginner can’t start their shaving journey with one.

When leveling up in shaving, the next step is to outlay some money for a non-disposable razor. These razors are of a higher quality than a disposable razor and the blade cartridges usually have better quality and better engineered cutting systems.

It is easy to get a good shave with a cartridge razor. Most cartridge razors have swiveling heads that adjust themselves to the contours of your face which makes them easy to use. They also make it more difficult to cut yourself. Some brands tout a “lift and cut” action which can produce a close shave but can also result in ingrown hairs forming. Also, having multiple blades in a cartridge can result in irritation as the shaving lather is pushed away by the first blade leaving exposed skin for the remaining blades to scrape over.

Unfortunately, cartridge razors come at a price. They’re very expensive to replace the heads and they require you to outlay some money for the razor. Blades made for one razor won’t work with another and you are locked-in to the system until you buy a different razor.

Advanced

DE safety razor

Pros: superior shave, cheap blades, quality product, no vendor lock-in
Cons: learning curve, initial outlay, razor acquisition disorder

Double-edge safety razors are listed here as “advanced” but beginners and intermediate shavers can certainly master them with a bit of care.

DE razors are heavy tools that have a standard format for accepting blades. Many of the problems people experience while shaving such as weepers, irritation or ingrown hairs can be overcome by the skillful use of DE razors. Conversely, a DE razor can cause irritation, nicks and weepers if used incorrectly.

DE blades are cheap, often costing less than 10c per blade and you can easily change brands of blade without having to buy a new razor. Different brands have different characteristics – some may be aggressive, or subtle, or last longer – and some people change their blades to suit their mood. Most shaving shops will allow you to purchase a sampler pack of various blades to try.

Some people prefer vintage razors like the Gillette Super Speed or Tech models, and others prefer modern reincarnations such as Merkur or Feather razors. Some will have both vintage and modern in their collections (yes, it’s a hobby for some people).

A vintage razor may be found for as little as $2 at a yard sale but a new, modern razor may set you back somewhere between $20 and $60. This initial outlay may seem ludicrous but the initial expense is quickly offset by the cheaper replacement blades.

The amazing Feather AS-D2 will cost you $190 or more but it is unlikely you’d get one of these unless you were deeply affected by the notorious Razor Acquisition Disorder.

Expert

Straight razor

Pros: superior shave, no blade replacing, beautiful objects
Cons: learning curve, maintenance

Straight “cutthroat” razors are definitely expert-level tools and are the domain of a select few brave souls. People who successfully wield these razors have a healthy respect for the blade and often talk down how dangerous or difficult it is to shave safely and effectively with a straight razor. It’s just practice and patience.

Straight razors can be beautiful tools to look at and handle. Tweet this!

In the hands of a skilled practitioner, a straight shave will be closer than anything else you can get. Unfortunately straight razors require a little more maintenance than other razors to ensure the blade is sharp and true. A set of water stones may be required to sharpen and a leather shaving strop can be used to polish the edge.

If that sounds like a lot of work then you can get straight razors with replaceable blades. But that kind of defeats the attraction of the straight experience for most enthusiasts.

Summary

Recommendation

Choosing a shaving system is all about evaluating trade-offs. If you are after a quality shave with the least trauma to your face, environment and wallet, the double-edge safety razor is your best bet. With a relatively small outlay and minimal ongoing costs, in time and money, you can obtain great shaves in a short amount of time.

For those committed to mastering the art of shaving the straight razor can be a rewarding path to follow. It has the greatest cash outlay for the razor, sharpening stones and strop, but the ongoing financial costs are negligible. There is an ongoing time commitment to blade maintenance though.

Regardless of razor selection, the use of a badger brush will ensure you get the most out of your shaving experience.