Shave Smarter: Switch to a Safety Razor

Years ago, my friend Tim showed me his grandfather’s safety razor and explained to me that all he had to do was buy a big box of stainless steel blades and swap them out after each shave. I thought it seemed like a neat idea to reduce waste, but did not really think of it as an option because I never saw safety razors for sale in storesFast forward a few years and as I got more interested in the zero waste movement, I learned that safety razors are actually gaining in popularity and that there are many places to buy them online and increasingly in stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, Walmart, and Target. Curious to learn more about safety razors, something I knew little to nothing about, I read a ton of blogs, reviews and online forums, and learned that what is motivating the majority of people to move to safety razors is not a desire to reduce waste. Rather, it is motivated by a desire to get a better shave for less money. The saving money part was no surprise; most things that generate less waste tend to save you money over time after an initial investment, like switching from tampons to a reusable menstrual cup. To learn more about the economics of a safety razor, check out this great explanation here. I was surprised by the better shave part as I figured that the disposable 3-blade systems would offer a better shave than a single blade; apparently, three blades going over the exact same spot can cause irritation and so many people find that moving to a safety razor can reduce razor burn and still give you a close shave.

Before investing in a safety razor of my own, I spent hours reading up on the different models and began to face paralysis by analysis. There was too much information and most of it was male-specific, which made it harder for me as a woman to figure out which model would be right for me. Eventually, I made a decision and have been very happy with my choice. To prevent you from wasting hours of your life, here is a high-level summary of what I learned with information specific to both men and women:

  • Brands: There are a ton of different brands, especially if you go on Amazon where there are a ton of cheap, entry-level safety razors for under $15. Well-respected brands include Merkur, Mühle, Parker, Edwin Jagger, Rockwell Razors, and Seki. I opted to buy from West Coast Shaving, who seemed to be a favorite online shop for people blogging on safety razors, and got their brand-name razor due to its durable material (stainless steel) and excellent price point (under $25).
  • Handle Length: Razor handles tend to come in two lengths, regular and long. I would recommend the long handle to women for shaving legs; it ends up being the length of a standard disposable plastic razor and felt the most natural in my hands after using disposable razors for the past two decades. Long handles are recommended for men with large hands, but again, if you are used to a long handle in a disposable razor, you might prefer a longer handle for your safety razor.
  • Handle Material: The price of your razor is largely determined by the metal used in the handle; cheaper razors use pot metal, mid-range tend to use brass and more expensive ones tend to use stainless steel. If you drop a cheap razor in the shower from pot metal, it might crack and need to be replaced. If you splurge on higher quality metal, it will last you a lifetime. I was able to get an inexpensive stainless steel handle from West Coast Shaving for under $25. Wood handles are a lighter weight option, but you’ll want one that is sealed with some kind of finish or it will break down quickly from water damage according to reviews that I’ve read. Many people claim a heavier razor will give you better control when shaving, so I opted to try metal over wood, even thought some of the wood razors are gorgeous.
  • Razor Head: The head of a razor comes in two basic flavors –  two or three-piece and butterfly. The two or three-piece design is going to be more robust over time but takes a tiny bit more effort when changing blades. The butterfly enclosure makes it slightly easier to change blades, but because it has small delicate parts, is likely to break over time. I got a simple two-piece design and find it very easy to change the blade. The shape of the razor head determines how aggressive the shave is; Rockwell Razors has a razor with interchangeable plates to figure out what your ideal angle is. Or, you could go with an adjustable model that bends the blade to change the angle of your shave. Both of these tend to be far more expensive options than a razor head with a single setting. I found that I could vary the angle simply by changing how I held the razor (learn more below).
  • Comb Style: There are two kinds of combs – open vs closed. An open comb tends to be more aggressive while a closed comb is a bit more protective. Since I was new to safety razors, I went for a closed comb. Plus, an open comb appears to be more tailored to lifting the dense, coarse hair of a man’s beard and that benefit didn’t feel relevant to me as a woman.
  • Blades: There are lots of different blade companies and you can get a blade for as cheap as ten cents per blade if you buy in bulk. I read lots of good reviews about Astra blades and decided to try them because they came in a paper box versus some that come in plastic boxes. West Coast Shaving offers a mixed pack of blades for you to try to find your favorite kind, so that could be a great way to find what works best for you. You can recycle the blades of your safety razor but you need to enclose the blades so they don’t cut people at the recycling center. This blog from Zero Waste Nerd offers great information on this.

There are literally hundreds of options for safety razor models and it can be hard to pick the optimal razor for you. If you want to keep it simple, I would recommend picking a long handled model out of the Top 10 List from West Coast Shaving and starting there. As of today, that would lead you to buying the Merkur 23C. Or, invest a bit more and grab the Rockwell 6C with its multiple heads if you are worried about optimizing the angle of the shave. I personally love the razor that I got and it cost me $26 with a 5-pack blades from Astra. I’ll admit that the switch from disposable razors to a safety razor wasn’t totally painless. After four shaves with a few small nicks, I realized that because the razor head was at a right angle from the handle, I needed to hold the razor at a slightly wider angle from my body, closer to 60 degrees from my body instead of the more narrow 30 degree angle that I did with my old disposable razor. Once I changed the angle, I stopped nicking my legs and armpits, and became a total convert.

Have you made the shift to a safety razor? If yes, tell your friends! Making the switch is a no brainer for most people once they know about safety razors: save money and get a better shave…why wouldn’t you try it? Until I posted on Facebook about becoming a safety razor convert, I had no idea how many of my friends had already made the switch and were extremely happy about it, because shower routines are not common conversations on social media.

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