A few years ago, I decided that I was tired of paying ridiculous amounts of money for shave cartridges from Gillette. I had recently switched over to the Gillette Fusion cartridge, and while I loved the reverse blade for sideburn trimming, I was really tired of feeling the hairs being pulled out of my face. More importantly, I was tired of paying $4/blade.
So, I stumbled onto a shaving video (The Ten Minute Traditional Wet Shave) where I was introduced to the concept of a multi-pass shave, meaning you lather up, shave, lather up again, and shave again. This resulted in an even smoother face, except that I was starting to get irritation bumps on my neck. He had mentioned that I would be even better off using something called a double-edge or DE razor. I was ready for a change.
While browsing the aisles of the local commissary, I noticed a Van Der Hagen starter kit, which had a bowl, brush, and a puck of shaving soap. I decided to try it out. Also, I knew that I wanted to get a double-edge safety razor. So, I did some research, decided which model I wanted, and then drove to a local shave shop to buy it and a sample pack of blades. I paid a small premium versus the Amazon price for the same model, but I figured it was worth it if I could help a local shave shop exist.
At first, my shaves weren’t very good. I discovered that my problem was that the blade was skipping across my face, so I stopped skimping on the soap when loading the brush. Also, I was nervous about dragging a razor blade across my face, so it took me a little while to get comfortable with it. At first, a shave took about 45 minutes, but it wasn’t very long before I could do it in under 10 minutes.
Recently, I upgraded to a disposable blade straight razor, and now I’m almost as fast as I was with the DE razor but with an even smoother shave.
So, why do people shave “the old fashioned way”? There are usually four main reasons why they do: the cost savings, a better shave, luxurious and fun shaving experience, and the challenge of learning a new skill.
First, let’s talk about the cost savings. So, how much could you save a year if you switched to traditional shaving? Let’s assume you are currently using the top-of-the-line Gillette Fusion Proshield Chill system. Handle + 2 blades ($13.29). Chill refills ($38.66/8 or $4.83/cartridge). Gillette advertises that their blades will last you a month, assuming 3 shaves a week. A mature man in a job with appearance standards and who goes to church on Sunday shaves six days a week. A blade might last you a month, but realistically it’ll last about three weeks, which means 17 cartridges/year. Gillette Fusion shave gel goes for $3.74/can ($22.46/6). Let’s assume that one can of gel will last you a month. So, if you bought into the Gillette Fusion Proshield system, you’d be spending about $130.66 (handle, 12 cans of gel, 17 cartridges) for a year of shaving.
If you stay with the same system a second year, and avoid buying the next whiz-bang handle that Gillette advertises, you would buy 17 ($82.11) cartridges and 12 cans of cream ($44.92). Your total for year two is $127.03.
If you switched to a DE shaving system, and you are disciplined enough to stick with the minimums, you would spend less. $35 for the open-comb Merkur 25c ($9 less if you get the closed-comb Merkur 23c). A DE blade lasts about 3 shaves. At 6 shaves a week, and 52 weeks a year, that’s 104 blades a year. That’s about one 100 pack, which is $12.37 (Personna lab blue). The brush, bowl, and your first soap puck costs $23.64 (VDH Luxury). Soap lasts a very long time, but let’s assume you go ahead and buy a 12 pack of Arko shave sticks ($12.79). So, your first year of shaving of shaving costs you $83.80 which saves you $46.86 compared to the Gillette Proshield Chill solutiuon. Not impressive enough?
Year two, you decide to stay disciplined and abstain from reading shaving forums and feeling obligated to try out every soap, cream and brush that exists. The DE handle will last a lifetime; your grandchildren could inherit and pass it along to their grandchildren. Your Arko pack is still going strong (a 12 pack can last you three years). So, you just buy another 100 pack of blades ($12.37). Theoretically, that whole year of shaving cost you $12.37, which is $114.66 less than the crazy Gillette Proshield Chill solution. You could even use a fresh DE blade every day and still save lots of money.
Let’s be honest though: traditional shavers are going to buy new soaps and creams, blades, and brushes to experiment with. And a cost-sensitive mainstream shaver will spend less by going with an economical alternative like Dollar Shave Club, generic cartridges, or even an older Gillette solution like the Mach 3. I think you can agree however, that a disciplined DE shaver can save a lot of money.
Women who switch to safety razors achieve even greater cost savings and get a better shave. Women have significantly more surface area to shave and tend to leave their handles in the shower which dulls the blade. With safety razors, a woman can afford to put a new blade on for each shave, giving her better performance each time and less risk of infection. Also, the soaps are more cost effective as well.
The second main reason people change to DE shaving is to get a better shave. With the cost savings associated with the change, you can afford to use fresh blades more often, even daily if you want. Also, the DE handle gives you more control over the pressure and angle of the blade as it contacts your face. Also, it’s a more involved process, so you’re forced to pay attention to the details, meaning you can reduce skin abrasion and ingrown hairs. Many people who have switched from electric razors and other cartridge razors report that their razor bumps have been greatly reduced or eliminated.
The third main reason why people switch to traditional wet shaving is that they consider it a more enjoyable and luxurious experience. Some of them have elaborate pre-shave, shave, after shave routines where they use more products on their faces than their wives do. I’m into the simple method where I mostly just use soap, but there’s a wide array of products at a huge price range that you can try out if they interest you. It’s enjoyable to run the brush all over your face and fun to watch foam come off of the brush and splatter all around the sink when you’re getting the lather going. If your soap/cream smells nice, it certainly adds to the experience. It’s possible that the more traditional creams and soaps are better for your skin than the spray can stuff.
The fourth reason is that it’s an interesting new skill to learn. Some people believe that cartridge shaving is almost cheating because it’s so easy and effective. Learning to shave with a double-edge razor and later with a straight razor gives them a feeling of “earning” their shave and gives them pride. Also, some say there’s no better way to wake up than to use a straight razor over your neck in the morning; the sense of danger involved forces you to pay attention. Shaving this way definitely feels masculine.
So, if you are ready to save money, here’s what you should buy to get started. This list is based on what I have used and will save you money with good performance. There are PLENTY of other options available that aren’t listed here; I only list what I’ve used. Prices listed are from Amazon.com, except where otherwise specified.
Tried and true starter set:
– A safety razor: I recommend the Merkur 25C ($35)
– DE blades. Personna “lab blues” ($12.37/100)
– A brush and bowl: Van Der Hagen Men’s Luxury Shave Set ($23.64). Comes with soap. Also at Target and Wal-Mart.
Soaps to consider (they last a long time):
– Arko shave sticks ($12.79/12). This give good lather and last a very long time. The $13 you spend on this pack might last you three years.
– Van Der Hagen Deluxe shave soap ($23.88/12, $1.99). Good and reliable. Less at the commissary.
– C. O. Bigelow Premium Shave Cream 5.2 oz.($20/3, Bath & Body Works). Similar: Proraso green.
– Pacific Shaving Co. Shave Smart Caffeinated Shave Cream ($8). Also, commonly found at Target.
– Cremo Cream ($20/6). Not my favorite but my brother and others really like it.
– Ladies: True Blue Spa: Shave the Day ($24/3 BBW)
– Ladies: Lady Cremo Shave Cream ($21.95/3)
Safety razor handles to consider:
– Merkur 23c ($20.49).
Double-edge (DE) blades to consider:
– Feather ($26.69/100, $0.27/blade)
– Astra SP ($10.25/100, $0.11/blade)
– Exchange Select Platinum Chrome (Personna/American Safety Razor) ($1.49/10, $0.15/blade) BX
If you are adventurous and want the closest shave possible and safety razor shaving is too easy, consider upgrading to a straight razor. While real straights require you to strop the blade daily, and hone it occasionally (as well as finding one in good condition and having it professionally honed to start with), my straight razor has disposable blades. Any time my razor starts to tug or I don’t feel like it’s performing optimally, a new straight razor is just a quick blade swap away.
I’ve noticed that I change my blades about once a month. Ignoring the cost of the handle which should last forever, it costs $0.56-$0.89/month to shave with a straight razor.
By the way, I do not receive any kickbacks from Amazon or any of the companies listed; I linked to the Amazon catalog out of convenience not financial incentive. Prices fluctuate, so the listed prices might be a little different when you check them.
I hope you found this blog entry interesting. Feel free to comment below with your own opinions or to ask for more information.