Last updated on November 29th, 2018 by Garrick Dee
So you’re ready to buy a razor but don’t know what to get.
If you’re new to this, it’s easy to get lost in that sea of information.
I’m here to help you out with a detailed guide of the how each one performs, pros and cons and whether it is the right product for you.
Remember that each of us has different preferences, time constrains, skin types and facial features. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. That’s the beauty of humanity, each of us is different in our own way.
Overall there are four main types of shaving razors let’s go through them one by one.
If you wanted to shave like your great, great, great grandfather this is the only option.
In a way this is the pinnacle of the shaving totem pole, people who use straight razors are connoisseurs who want only the best shave and want to do it by themselves.
Most straight razors have two parts, a metal blade and a handle that doubles as storage for the blade.
Parts of a straight razor…
A brief history
Centuries ago if you wanted to get a decent shave, this was the only choice. This was the way men from that era shaved. If you wanted a clean shave, you’d have to learn how to use this baby or you’ll shred your face and neck with one wrong stroke.
To be more specific, the straight razor or cut throat razor as it was popularly known was born during the late 1600s and it didn’t look anything like the precision engineered razors we have right now. It looked more like a small hatchet without any branding whatsoever.
Since then it has evolved to the wonderfully sculpted pieces of shaving masterpieces we have right now.
This is razor will give you the closest shave possible because you have full control on the angle of the blade since it is fully exposed. Even compared to the best DE razors and the sharpest blades, nothing compares to the closeness of shaving with a straight razor.
Since there are no blades to replace, a straight razor will basically be with you for life.
Also shaving with a straight razor will give you a facial that women can only dream about. Imagine prepping your face with a hot towel, lathering your beard with shaving cream then shaving. This experience is relaxing and at the same time with the shaving cream scent lingering, it will leave you feeling manly afterwards.
The why not
It does take time to fully master the technique of shaving with this and along with that a lot of nicks and cuts, there is no way around it.
There’s also the maintenance involved. You still have to spend time honing and stropping the blade to keep it sharp, this also takes time and skill to master.
What the heck is a hone and strop?
A hone is basically a stone where you rub the blade against to sharpen it.
A strop is a leather strap hung from a hook on the wall or sink that smooths and takes out the rough edges on a blade.
Remember that a razor taken from a hone shouldn’t be used on the face, it needs to be stropped first.
Buying a good brand is an investment, usually ranging from a few hundred bucks to a thousand dollars. Though there are cheap ones available in the market but they may not shave as well.
Your best bet would be to visit a local store that sells them and choose one that will feel “right” in your hands.
Lastly, it takes a lot of time to shave.
From the prep to the actual shaving can take close to half an hour or more depending on your skill.
Remember you’re working with an open blade on your face and neck. The last thing you want to do is rush.
This is a variety of a straight razor that uses disposable blades. If you don’t like stropping and honing the blade, this is a viable option. If the blade gets dull, just pop in a new one and off you go.
A lot of barber shops use this because of sanitary reasons.
If the straight razor was the tool that your great, great, great grandfathers used, the safety razor was the tool of choice of your grandpa.
A brief history
The first safety razor is often credited to Frenchman Jean-Jacques Perret but it didn’t take off in terms of popularity until King Camp Gillette patented the disposable safety razor in 1901.
It did well as an independent company for 101 years before Procter & Gamble purchased it in 2005.
Funny thing is Gillette has discontinued their safety razor production and has focused their efforts on the lucrative cartridge razor product line.
Safety razors are made from different materials, budget options are either made from plastic or lightweight metal while higher quality variants are made from varying types of metal – stainless, chrome, gold plated, etcetera.
Another differentiator is the number of moving parts included.
You have the one piece design, the two piece design and the three piece design.
There are actually 6 different types of DE razors and I cover these in detail in this article.
For most shaving buffs, this is the no-brainer choice. It provided the perfect compromise of time, safety and learning curve. The jump from a cartridge razor to a safety razor isn’t as steep as it would be to a straight razor so a lot of enthusiasts like this option.
Next is cost, safety razors don’t cost as much as their open bladed brothers. You can purchase a very decent DE Razor for as low as $30 and still have lots of options with the type of blade you can use.
Also the cost of the blade is another bonus. If you break it down per piece, a blade would only cost roughly ten to twenty cents while a replacement cartridge would go for a few bucks. Now do the math and see how cartridge razors will burn a hole in your pocket.
The why not
Despite having a shallower learning curve that a straight razor, if you use don’t use the correct technique like putting too much pressure or holding it at the wrong angle, you will cut yourself.
There’s also that risk of cutting yourself if you’re not careful handling the disposable blades.
The next downside is portability, to property store a DE razor and a shaving brush, you’ll need to buy a holder and it will take up some space. Also if you travel a lot, you may not be able to put the DE razor in your hand carry.
You’ll probably have to shave before the flight or after it, if not have a cartridge razor as back up.
I bet that most of you used a cartridge razor when you first shaved and this is the most readily available – heck you can buy one in every grocery or gasoline station.
These razors are usually made from plastic, some from metal or a combination of both that hold a piece of cartridge that housed two to five stainless steel blades. Some brands like the Dorco have six!
A brief history
In 1971, Gillette introduced the cartridge razor and it has since grown exponentially into a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide with Gillette and Schick as the top players.
Of all the razors featured here, this is the easiest to use. It is designed pretty much for the novice in mind. It has a fixed angle that forces you to hold it a way to minimize the chances of cutting yourself. A lot of these come with a “lubrastrip” (borrowing from the Gillette terminology) on top of the cartridge to lubricate your skin as you shave.
Since most of these are made from plastic, you don’t have to worry about a customs official asking you to check in your razor. Great portability and any place shaving just in case you need it.
The why not
Believe it or not, these things are freaking expensive. I’m not taking about the initial cost but the cost of cartridges. At around $2 to $5 a pop, add to that the need to replace the cartridge after every four to five uses, costs can quickly add up over time.
$28 to $37 bucks for replacement cartridges, almost the same price as a Mekur Safety Razor.
While using a cartridge razor minimizes the risk of cutting, the multi-bladed system (as much as 5) can cause a lot of irritation, razor burn and ingrown hair.
Are more blades really more effective?
Manufacturers like Gillette say that their multi-blade design will give you a close shave in just a few passes.
The problem with this is that the blades will not only cut off hair but also the skin next to it causing ingrown hair or razor bumps.
Having five blades raking at your face and neck area at the same time is the perfect recipe for a razor burn, especially those with sensitive skin.
You can minimize that by using shaving cream but unfortunately not a lot of men use it or use the wrong type (e.g. aerosol type spray gel types).
Lastly, since the blades are so close together, it clogs up after just a few strokes. It’s hard to clean muck off because of the narrow space between the blades.
Whatever is stuck there pretty much will go back on your skin the next time you use it, nasty stuff like skin gunk and facial hair.
Ask any serious wet shaver and they will not recommend an electric shaver. But this product has a niche – men who don’t have the time to prep for a wet shave.
These men are probably agents or business people who travel a lot and would want something that’s efficient in shaving excess stubble off their face.
Different types of electric shavers
There are two main types of electric shavers, the rotary and foil.
Rotary shavers shave three to four shaving heads that chomp on facial hair.
Foil type razors have a floating head with cutters behind the protective metal grid that protect the skin from the oscillating blades behind it.
According to consumerreports.org, rotary shavers will provide the closer shave between the two while foil type razors will be easier to clean and less noisy.
Some of these shavers come with a pop-out trimmer that can trim side burns or the beard.
These are also available in corded and cordless variants.
There are also wet/dry electric shavers that you can use with shaving cream on the skin. Opt for this if you have sensitive skin because friction from the foils can cause irritation.
These razors will save you time shaving because you don’t need to apply shaving cream. Just turn on the machine and shave. If you travel a lot and have a full beard you need to constantly trim, this is a good option for you.
It is lightweight and portable enough to bring with you wherever you go. Just make sure to get the cordless one when you travel.
The why not
These razors don’t cut as close as a safety razor.
It’s great for men looking for a quick shave. But the process of doing so leaves the skin irritated because there is no lubrication or prep involved.
Also the blades shred hair instead of slicing it, just look at this.
Don’t expect a butt smooth shave from this machine. Men don’t know this and put more pressure and do more passes than necessary.
Since you can’t rinse off facial hair, oil or gunk picked up by the cutting heads, you’re essentially spreading it all over, clogging up the pores of your skin. Naturally this irritates skin.
Electric vs Safety razor
Even with electric shavers that give you the option to use it with shaving cream it won’t match the close shave even from a cartridge razor and cleaning it can be a messy process.
To wrap up
The best shaver in my opinion is the safety razor. It isn’t as expensive as a straight razor. The learning curve isn’t as steep. And it still provides a close shave if you’re patient enough to re-lather and do multiple passes.
Don’t worry about the higher upfront costs versus a cartridge razor. In the long run, a safety razor has lower operating costs because blades are cheap.
Garrick spends his days researching and writing about grooming. When he’s not in front of his computer, you can find him hanging around with his wife and son.