Double-edge razors (also known as safety razors) are a traditional tool used in shaving for over a hundred years, but with new disposable razors and electric shavers getting a foothold with consumers they have dwindled in use.
However there is still a dedicated group of purists that like to shave this way, and it’s increased use has coincided with a resurgence in traditional shaving methods (such as the cut throat razor).
A safety razor is in effect a razor blade that has a handle to hold it, and a protective barrier between it and the skin to partially protect against cutting and nicks. They usually have one,two or three cutting razor edges, although some brands have up to five. They were originally created so that anyone regardless of their skill level could have an injury-free shave and avoid costly trips to the local barber.
The term safety razor was first coined in 1880, and it’s popularity grew such that now plastic disposable and metal re-useable razors that use replaceable blade attachments, are used by millions everyday.
Using a good safety razor will also pay for itself many times over, and if you are still paying over the top prices for cartridge razors or disposables, then it’s time to ditch them and learn the art of using a safety razor instead, as it should last you a lifetime if it’s looked after.
Benefits of a Double Edge Razor over a Cartridge Razor
I will start with the disadvantages 1st as there is less of them; a double edge safety razor is slightly more difficult to use, this is because it requires you to learn the right technique to use it, don’t be daunted however its not particularly hard and anybody can learn to use one. Secondly, despite the name ‘safety razor’ you are more likely to encounter the odd nick or cut while learning to use one, this is because you have more control of the razor, it’s a little bit like taking the stabilisers of a child’s bike, and with a little practise those nicks will become less and less frequent until any nicks and cuts become rare.
Double edge razors advantages
The problem with cartridge razors is ironically the very thing they claim make them better, those multiple blades. We all know how it goes, every few years they add another blade and announce “this is the best shave a man can get” there by inferring their previous razor wasn’t that good after all.
These multiple blades work using a system they call hysteresis, it’s a term borrowed from physicists which they use to describe the lag or gap between magnetic or ferromagnetic forces. In shaving terms what is supposed to happen is the 1st blade lifts the hair and the second cuts it, kind of a tug hack system. However in practise as soon as those small gaps between the blades becomes blocked the hair is pushed away so your simply hacking and scraping away at your stubble, this can be a significant problem if you’re prone to razor bumps, because if the hair is pushed away before it is cut it will be cut in a wedge shape, this wont be visible to the naked eye, but if you view the hair under a microscope instead of the hair being a blunt stump shape where it was cut it will be much sharper, and being sharper when the hair turns back into the skin it will cause more irritation.
Also with the multi blade system the first blade scrapes away the lather so the proceeding blades hit the skin without he benefit of lubrication so the blades are scraping away directly at your skin causing irritation and with up to five blades if you have sensitive skin this can be a major problem.
The biggest decider for most people is the price difference, at the time of writing this the latest Fusion cartridge razors cost £2.50 each and will last the average user 4 shaves, double edge razors last a similar amount of shaves, deliver a better quality shave and can cost as little as £0.12 each. To break this down further if you shave every day and change your blade every four shaves, using a Gillette Fusion you would spend £255 in a year, with the DE razors would spend £11 for the year.
This brings me to another point about double edge razors, they are interchangeable you can put them in any double edge safety razor, from an antique one you might find on eBay to brand new chrome one from this site, you are not restricted to any one manufacturer.
As added bonus double edge razors are far better for the environment as they are far easier to recycle, cartridge razors by contrast, with their metal and plastic fused together are extremely hard to recycle.
Choosing a Double Edge Razor
Most double edge razors are entirely made of metal and are far more durable than their cartridge cousins. Gillette sadly has stopped making their double edge razors, but if you don’t mind going second hand you can still buy them in places such as eBay. They were quite well built and by and large most still work as good as when they were new. Merkur a German manufacture is undoubtedly today’s leading producer of double edge razors, their razors are exceptionally well made, they should last you a life time of quality shaves and will probably end up being sold on eBay by your grand children in 60 years time, still in perfect working order.
When choosing a razor the 2 most basic choices are whether to have an adjustable razor or opt for a fixed head. Adjustable razors mean you can set the angle of the razors guard and find the right level of softness or fierceness which suits you. Fixed head razors tend to be gentler when shaving, they also have less moving parts and a smaller head which makes shaving those hard to reach areas such as under your nose easier.
Another factor to consider is size, balance and weight of the razor, i.e what you think is a comfortable fit in your hand and how the balance feels, also as mentioned the actual size of the head will effect the ease of shaving areas such as under your nose or the areas you might wish to give a shape to such as sideburns or even a goatee.
The last thing to consider is style and quality, I would urge you to look for as high a quality razor as possible as it will directly affect the quality of your shave and your new double edge razor is something you are likely to have a long time. The style may or may not be an important factor to you, you may or may not have the razor on display in your bathroom, there is however a great deal of different styles to choose from, some ornate, some simply functional, it shouldn’t be hard to find a razor to suit your tastes.
Shaving with a Double Edge Razor
The 3 things to take into consideration when shaving with a double edge razor are;
1) In keeping with all shaving techniques you need to take into account the direction of yours beards grain and direction of your hairs growth.
2) The pressure you excerpt while shaving, I can’t emphasise this enough don’t put any pressure on the razor when shaving with a double edge razor, when people first start shaving with a double edge razor it’s the most common cause of an uncomfortable shave and will lead to razor rash and ingrown hairs. Hold the razor at the end of the handle so you won’t apply pressure and just let the blade simply rest on your face, its own weight will be enough. Also when your shaving don’t try to remove all the stubble in one go, aim to do it in 2 to 3 passes applying the lather between each one.
3) The angle you hold the razor to your face
With double edge razors you have a great deal more play than with a cartridge razor, the greater the angle as in the 1st picture will give you a more aggressive shave and for most people result in an uncomfortable shave with the blade even skipping and jumping particularly when shaving against the grain.
Go to far the other way and have the angle too tight as in the second picture and the blade will be scraping as it cuts, it will not cut well and definitely won’t give you a good shave.
Razors are of course not identical and different models and makes will have a different perfect angle. To find the razors best angle hold the razor to your face at a perpendicular angle, then reduce the angle slowly till the blade begins to touch the skin, you are now at the angle in the 1 picture, the perfect angle however is somewhere between the 1st and 2nd picture so reduce the angle slightly from where you are and you will find the perfect angle. When you’ve found that angle make sure to maintain it while shaving by holding your wrist in the same position through out the shave.
Types of Razor Blades
There are many brands and manufactures of double edge razor blades, too many to review here. There are companies who offer sampler packs which have a variety of different blades, however I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re new to shaving with a double edge razor you won’t yet have developed a standard in mind to compare the new razors to. When you start out its best to first take the time to get used to one type of blade so you know how well it performs, then when you try a new blade you’ll know whether its an improvement or not.
If you’re an experienced DE shaver I still wouldn’t recommend a sampler pack as they often include rare blades which are not widely available so even if you do find a blade you prefer there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get it again, at least not easily.
Derby Razors, its these blades I would recommend to any beginner, they are very forgiving, and give a good performance, not too soft not too fierce. They are widely available so if you do like them which the majority of people seem to you won’t find then hard to get.
Gillette Platinum, (Swedes), these razors are one of the sharpest on the market, people tend to love them or hate them, for some they are too fierce, while others love the extremely close shave these blades deliver. (Sadly they have now been discountinued)
Feather, these are incredibly sharp and probably pip the Gillette Platinum to the sharpest blade available title. They can be quite unforgiving so don’t lose concentration while shaving with them.
Wilkinson Sword, a nice soft blade which gives a comfortable gentle shave, very good for those with sensitive skin.
Gillette Silver Blue, a good shave at an unbeatable price, like the Wilkinson’s above give a soft comfortable shave. (Sadly they have now been discountinued)
Merkur double edge razor blades are a very popular blade which is widely available and easy to get, a good all round blade which delivers a good shave.