by Garrick Dee
Updated November 28th, 2018
For years now Gillette has been dominating the cartridge razor market.
We’re going to look closely at two popular variants in their product line – the MACH3 and Fusion ProGlide.
A lot of experts will tell you that using a safety razor is the way to go if you truly want a close shave minus the irritation.
But if you’re not yet ready to make the leap because of the learning curve or just need something basic to shave, these two are perhaps the best cartridges razors out there if you don’t mind the expensive refills.
If you’re just exploring the world of shaving, don’t know what you want and would love to learn more about the nuances of these tools then can check out this in-depth cartridge vs safety razor guide.
Otherwise read on the rest of the article.
This is essentially a battle between a 3-blade and a 5-blade razor.
What you need to know about Gillette razors and cartridge razors in general?
There is no doubt that Gillette has been synonymous to shaving and razors in general thanks to clever marketing.
They’ve spent billions of dollars in research and marketing over a span of decades and have been a market leader in this multi-billion dollar industry during that period of time.
Is Gillette the best?
I have no doubt in my mind that Gillette produces one of the best cartridge razors. But is it truly “The Best a Man Can Get”?
Comparing it to other cartridge razors, Gillette dwarfs but against safety razors it’s a whole different story.
Experts have said time and time again that single blade DE razors perform better compared to cartridges like these two Gillettes.
That’s because it only has one blade. Cartridge razors have as much as 6 blades (thanks Dorco!) and the more blades exposed to skin the more irritated it gets.
When used properly which means doing proper prep work – taking a hot shower, applying shaving cream using a shaving brush, etc. you will minimize the chances of irritation.
Expect some irritation
But still expect some level of irritation especially when reusing cartridges a second, third, fourth time and so on.
As blades dull and clog up, chances of irritation and razor burn goes up exponentially. This is one of the biggest selling point of safety razors – long term cost.
So it does not really matter whether you choose the MACH3 or Fusion, you will experience more irritation because more blades touch your skin.
And when you do a 3 pass shave, it’s like doing a 9 pass shave with the MACH3 and 15 pass shave with the Fusion – it all adds up.
Difference between a good and bad shave
Quality matters when buying razors, especially the cartridge or disposable variety as it can mean the difference between a great shave and a painful, bloody shave primarily because of blade quality.
Good brands use higher quality and sharper blades. This is not something to be skimped on.
As for cartridge razors, you don’t really know the brand used and you’ll have to take the word of Gillette, Schick or any brand you are buying that they’re indeed using high quality blades.
This is another selling point for safety razors – you can pick and choose the blades that will suite your needs.
On the other hand the learning curve for razors like Gillette are much shallower and if you’re just after convenience then any of these will do.
A Close Look at the Gillette MACH 3
Gillette Mach 3 with the Mach 3 sensitive refill attached. Check latest price.
To give you a history lesson, the MACH3 is perhaps the best selling Gillette razor of all time.
Before it debuted in the market in 1998, Gillette spent 750 million dollars on research and development plus another 300 million on marketing.
It was the first razor that had 3 blades at the time and earned a loyal following.
Progressive blade technology
Gillette spokesman at the time Eric Kraus said that the Mach 3 had progressive blade technology to lessen friction. This patented system has made this a bestseller.
To protect skin from irritation it has 5 comfort guard microfins and lubrication strip to help this razor glide smoothly.
Again, I’d like to stress that the shaving cream is an absolute necessity even for this type of razor especially if you have sensitive skin.
A lot of men swear by this product and don’t even use other brands for good reason – this is a very good product.
The Mach 3 product line has expanded since it debuted…
The 5-Blade Fusion
In terms of features this is the top spec model that has all the features of the Mach 3 and then some.
Fusion is the latest Gillette with 5 blades. Some variants come with the patented Flexball technology that pivots from side to side. This helps deal with different contours on the face.
Two more blades means this razor will cut closer compared to the Mach 3 at the expense of irritation.
Another thing to consider is the gap between blades. Five blades equate to a larger head and to save on real estate, Gillette made these gaps narrower.
Smaller gap also means it clogs more than the Mach 3 since there is less space.
Shaving cream, dead skin, facial hair and gunk will clog that narrow space. This can reduce the number of times a cartridge can be used depending of course on factors like density, beard growth and frequency of shaving.
The Fusion ProGlide has several different variants:
Just in case you have sensitive skin the ProShield with Flexball would be the best option according to Gillette because it has more lubrication strips. But again, I can’t stress the importance of proper prep especially for men with sensitive skin.
That includes applying shaving cream using a shaving brush after taking a hot shower.
To help you decide between the Mach 3 vs Fusion, I’ve broken it down to different categories.
The Mach 3 ranges between $5 and $10 depending on the variant you choose. Edwin Jagger also sells a handle compatible with Mach 3 cartridges for around $42 in case you prefer a thicker and heavier handle.
Cartridges range between $10 and $55 depending on quantity and variant.
Fusion more expensive
If the standard handle is too light and you’re looking for something with a little more heft then this would be a better yet pricier option.
Fusion cartridges cost between $13 and $58 – price difference would vary depending on quantity and type whether it is a standard cartridge with a single lubrication strip or a cartridge for sensitive skin with multiple lubrication strips.
The Fusion cartridges are slightly more expensive than the Mach 3.
It really isn’t a significant difference so this factor shouldn’t weigh too much on your decision.
Usability and Control
In terms of weight the Mach 3 is surprisingly heavier compared to the Fusion.
The added heft helps it in terms of control because you won’t need to apply as much pressure as you would on a Fusion.
Cartridge size is also another factor to look at here. When you compare the size of cartridges, the Mach 3 has a much smaller head. This translates to better control especially around the sensitive mustache/lip area.
Winner: Mach 3
Closeness of Shave
By virtue of having 5 blades the Fusion wins this. The two extra blades will cut closer.
Consumers also relay the same observation that more blades will cut closer.
Choosing between 3 and 5 blades may come down to the type of facial hair you have. If you have a thicker and coarser beard – a 5 blade shaver may be a better option.
Men with sensitive skin should go for the ProShield with the additional lubrication strips.
For men with softer hair and sensitive skin then the 3 blade system of the Mach 3 would hands down be a better option.
Comfort / Irritation
More blades means a closer shave but at the cost of irritation. Adding two more blades scraping on your skin adds to the level of irritation by 60%.
This is a trade-off you must carefully weigh when picking between these two variants. Do you want a close shave but at the cost of more ingrown hair and razor bumps or a not-so-close-shave with much less irritation?
Men who have a sensitive neck area may be better off using a 3 blade razor as a 5 blade razor can wreck-havoc and cause major irritation in that area.
Winner: Mach 3
Mach 3 vs Fusion: The Bottom Line
Combining all the factors, the Gillette Mach 3 is the winner here in most categories. It only lagged behind the closeness factor because it has 2 less blades.
Mach 3 = Less Irritation
The Mach 3 is heavier, leaves less irritation, slightly cheaper and won’t clog as easy which extends the lifespan of its cartridges.
Heavier razors need less pressure because you don’t have to push as much.
Less pressure means less chance of irritation. You’ll have to understand that all these small features add up and if a razor lacks one feature there is a domino effect that affects shave quality.
While the Fusion has a built-in trimmer at the back side of the cartridge to help trim precision areas like the mustache or sideburns.
It really isn’t a factor that should swing the pendulum on the Fusion side of things since the Mach 3 blades would do as good a job on those same areas because it uses a smaller cartridge.
Why you should by the Fusion?
The Fusion does have its plus points. For instance the FlexBall technology eliminates some of the control issues found in the standard Fusion.
The latest cartridges in the Fusion ProGlide system also has thinner blades which should take care of the clogging issue. But the narrower gap still exists and you may have to replace it a little more often than a Mach 3.
Unless you really have tough and wiry facial hair, it’s hard to recommend the Fusion over the Mach 3 since the latter beats the former in the major categories except closeness.
5 Blades vs 3 Blades
Again, you will have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of a 5 blade compared to a 3 blade razor. It’s closeness vs irritation and if you have really sensitive skin, I’d recommend you go with the Mach 3.
Another feature that may sway you to pick the Fusion would be the vibrating feature but upon reading reviews, it does not really make much of a difference. Rarely do men replace batteries after it has run out.
The bottom line is you really can’t go wrong with either of the two. It’s all a matter of preference – comfort vs closeness.
Heavier beard grown may need more blades
Men with thicker beards may prefer the cut power of the Fusion with its 2 extra blades. But those extra blades will add extra irritation. The Mach 3 will be less close but more comfortable.
Remember that it’s not just the razor that matters but also the prep work.
You can use the sharpest and best razor in the world but without the proper prep work you will end up with a mediocre shave.
Proper prep includes having a hot shower, washing your face with a proper facial soap to rid of any impurities, applying shaving cream using a shaving brush.
Just by adding this steps to your daily routine can easily elevate your shaving to the next level.
If the 5 blades of the Fusion irritate your skin then you may want to consider switching to a safety razor.
Extending the Life of Cartridges
One of the biggest downsides of cartridges razors would be the running cost long term.
If you check this infographic I’ve created, it runs into the hundreds annually and a primary reason why companies like Procter & Gamble love these products – massive profits!
And if you look at their packaging, there aren’t any instructions how to clean these cartridges for one simple reason. Creating longer lasting cartridges would eat into their bottom line, simple as that.
But fear not I have some tips that you can use to extend the usability of these refills.
1. Dry Properly After Every Use
Cartridge razor manufacturers do not use stainless steel blades due to costs. Instead they coat it with a protective film that keeps it sharp and resist corrosion.
Eventually it wears off and these blades will corrode because of the minerals found in tap water if you don’t dry properly.
The process is simple simply blot dry using a thick terry cloth towel and store in a dry place.
Another way of drying would be using a blow dryer. I like this method because it completely dries up the front and back of the cartridge.
2. Coat Razor with Alcohol or Oil
Every drop of water left on the blades could be a potential source of corrosion. To prevent this from happening coat blades with alcohol or mineral oil after blotting it dry.
3. Alternative Method of Cleaning/Sharpening
Another method of cleaning would be rubbing the razor against a worn set of jeans. Check out this article to see this process in detail.
If it works for you then you could potential save hundreds of dollars down the road.