Safety Razor vs. Normal Razor: A Comparison (and Review Sort Of)

A few months ago I went to Target to buy blades for my Gilette Fusion electro-manual razor only to realize that an 8-pack cost $32. Holy carp: that’s ridiculous. I came home bladeless yet determined to find some way to get over on the man. Going to Amazon showed that blades could be had somewhat cheaper, but also reminded that there’s this whole other thing called “safety razors”.

It turns out there’s a whole online community dedicated to safety razors. On the one hand of course there is, but on the other hand, it’s kind of odd just how active a community dedicated to safety razors can possibly be. This degree of interest was worrying, but the site (badgerandblade.com) also provided a lot of info about the advantages of safety razor shaving and how to get started in acquiring the rare skill of using one without inadvertently slitting your own throat. (Some of the posters there make it out to be much harder than it actually is.)

It turns out that using a safety razor is considerably more economical than using a “normal” one. The table below sort of shows that (it assumes that the average man uses two blades a month; using more blades speeds up the break-even, using fewer slows it down).

Gillette Fusion Pro-Glide Schick Quattro Merkur Classic Safety Razor
Razor Cost $9.25 $8.50 $31.50
Blade Cost $1.79 (12-pk) $1.19 (8-pk) $0.17 (100-pk)
Blade+Razor 1 Year $52.21 $37.06 $35.58
Blade+Razor 2 Years $95.17 $65.62 $39.66
Blade+Razor 3 Years $138.13 $94.18 $43.74
Blade+Razor 5 Years $224.05 $151.30 $51.90

(Prices taken from Amazon on July 24, 2011; lowest price for each product taken. Blade packs were chosen by lowest price per blade regardless of quantity (safety razor blade price applies to 7 AM or Shark blades sold in packs of 100).)

That table’s a little deceptive in that I, like most people, already owned another razor. In that sense, you kind of should deduct the initial cost of the razor for the normal razor comparison subject since it’s a sunk cost. But still — even with that, the break-even versus the Gillette Fusion (which I owned) takes less than a year. Also, unlike a “normal razor”, you could conceivably get reasonable value back for a used safety razor via E-Bay. A good safety razor is built to stand the test of time (I’ve read); a normal razor might last you a decade or more, but even then you’re not likely to hand it down to your grandkids. I’m not saying you’d hand down your safety razor (that seems weird), just that the likelihood would be higher.

The table comparison is also a little deceptive in that, if you follow the advice of the Blade & Badger community, you can’t just use normal shaving cream in a can; you have to use a badger-hair brush and some sort of soap or tub-based cream. Also according to them, you have to buy some sort of after shave, specifically some sort of European after shave. As such, and in order to give the safety razor an ideal test, I followed the entusiasts’ advice and bought:

  • The afore-referenced Merkur Classic razor ($31.50 — there are less-expensive safety razors available).
  • A badger hair brush (Parker, I think; no longer available on Amazon, but $20 iirc).
  • A 2.25-oz. tub of Col. Conk’s bay rum shaving soap ($4.75)
  • A 25-pack of Shark blades ($9).
  • Proraso aftershave ($9 on sale).

All total, then, the start-up cost for this experiment was $74.25. (As it turns out, I don’t think anything other than the razor and blades were required.) I’ve been using the set-up for a couple months now. Here, then, are my findings:

  • Performance-wise, I get a closer shave with the safety razor. The difference is large.
  • I don’t think there’s any greater propensity to cut oneself using the safety razor than with an normal razor.
  • In fact, in daily practice, I don’t see any reason to necessarily do anything different with a safety razor than you do with a normal razor: it can go just as fast (or slow) and I don’t believe there’s any real functional benefit to using the brush and special soap/cream.
  • That said, using the brush and shaving soap sort of gives one the feeling of connecting with past generations. Depending on how sentimental you are toward bygone eras, that might be a plus. (The old-school Proraso aftershave is also a potential plus on the same grounds.)
  • Plus figuring out how to get the soap to lather offers a slight challenge that, once conquered, lets you know that you’re a better man than most.
  • Finding “the right angle” at which to hold the safety razor is intuitive.
  • The safety razor handles longer stubble with no problem, i.e., nothing gets jammed between the blades. Ergo, it’s a much better solution for someone who doesn’t want to shave every day.
  • I haven’t had to change blades any more frequently than with a normal razor; as with normal razor blades, I usually fare better with a blade after one sometimes bloody go-round.
  • I can shave with the safety razor sans soap, just like I often did with the normal razor. Back then. When I still used one.
  • The recommended Merkur razor is a solid instrument. The handle seems short at first (much shorter than the normal razor), but you get used to it quickly. The heft and build quality make it seem more like a serious tool and less like a toothbrush.

In summary, then, I highly recommend the safety razor approach. It shaves closer, does not appear to be any more difficult than using a normal blade, and costs significantly less than using a normal razor system. If any of the esoteric benefits are a plus for you, then so much the better. I’m guessing that if the tide ever turned and a majority of guys started using safety razors then the Gillettes and Schicks of the world would be left no alternative but to lobby congress into making them illegal. Until then, though, this seems like a market inefficiency that everyone might want to exploit.

bkd

PS, Plus I’m guessing that about 75% of what you’re paying for with the Gillette/Schick systems is marketing costs. Merkur and Col. Conk don’t really have that kind of overhead with which they need to saddle customers.

3 comments

  • Daniel

    I have been always using only safety razors and do not regret at all. Shaving does not irritate my skin and makes it very soft!

  • Tennessee Gal

    After 30 years of an expensive Personal Touch razor and equally expensive cartridges, I’m currently switching to a safety razor myself. The dual blades of the Personal Touch (and any multi-blade razor will do the same) left me constantly dealing with ingrown hairs and the risk of a resultant infection (not to mention the nagging itching that ingrown hairs produce). So, for 30 years, I’ve loathed shaving, dreading it every time. But, apparently, 30 years is the production limit for these so-called modern razors – the Personal Touch and all cartridges are relegated to history now. Rather than search out a new modern razor, I just picked up a new Maggard safety razor for women (yes, you read that right – move over fellas, here we come). The single-blade razors completely eliminate the risk of ingrown hairs. Razor burn and/or bumps are also reduced or eliminated altogether. It’s a better shave for a pair of legs… and cheaper too. And these puppies are rugged and durable – will probably never need to replace it, ever. The risk of nicks or cuts is no greater if you’re careful, especially around knees and ankles. The only real difference is no more looooong strokes. Leaves skin smoother and less irritated. I’m now in the pro-safety razor crowd. My only complaint is the heck I had in convincing my mother there was not a man sleeping over, that the razor in the bathroom is really mine. In the end, she was disappointed. Go figure.

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