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11 min read

There's a longstanding debate about whether cartridge razors are as good as safety razors and while it may seem simple the differences are vague and indistinct they are however pronounced once you understand the origins of the controversy and its moving parts.

Obviously, the cartridge razor is the dominant shaving model in our culture, we are inundated with media messaging in all its forms, print and television, and indelible tag lines such as "The best a man can get". Really?

The Gillette fusion, for example, sold over four million cartridges last year. Most of the younger generations are taught to shave with a cartridge razor and it is a common misconception that wet shaving with a safety razor comes with a luxurious price point and mornings covering your face with swabs of toilet paper triaging nicks and cuts. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Maybe it is our obsession with the speed of service, the rush of the rat race that has led us like sheep down the inferior path. Fast food for breakfast, two-minute egg Mcmuffins, a coffee, and donut served in a drive-through, digital assistants reading us aloud the top headlines of the day, a dedicated health food aisle in the grocery store which begs the question what is the rest of the market selling?

Everything has become a short cut and with these shortcuts, we have sacrificed quality, and the rituals that were ceremony and part of our daily routine are now obscured, fast-forwarded to the weekend warriors, and decades blurred. There is a reason why today double edge safety razors make up over 80% of total safety razors sold.

We have yielded our free-thinking to the almighty powers of marketing as they may be they have led us to believe that there are profound differences between a double edge safety razor vs cartridge razors while one is seen as a more luxury good, a more intentional choice for men who are really interested in shaving and the other smooth, convenient, and safer. One blade, two blades, three, four, and five practical or pointless both safety razors function the same but which is better a traditional safety razor or disposable cartridges, and why?

Welcome to the resurgence of the gentleman and women, a return to the indulgence and luxury in proper self-care.

The current state of shaving

The Current State of Shaving

Our broader culture prioritizes convenience over quality keeping a shave quick is important, and the cartridge razor has been successfully branded as being able to achieve that.

Double edge safety razors are making a big comeback no different than the evolution/revolution from vinyl to reel to reel to the cassette tape to compact disc now making a full circle back to vinyl records. I truly believe when something is good let it be, classics are timeless for a reason any seeming improvement is not necessarily better. The double edge razor is no different. Of course, the double-edged safety razor is a bit more muss than fuss when you learn the art of shaving with a De razor you can get a closer shave bar none. It's much cheaper in the long run. It doesn't have the same devastating environmental consequences that the cartridge razor has and quite simply it just feels so damn good.

A Culture Shift Toward Wet Shaving

A culture shift toward wet shaving

As a wet shaving aficionado, I am truly exhilarated by this resurgence.

The increasing number of men who are more intentional about their shaving in my opinion is inspiring and the young companies seeking to modernize the old ways while keeping traditions is exciting.

Many men today shave every day and want that practice to be sacred, and meditative and I couldn't agree more. Maybe you just want to look better and want a closer shave and it's just that in its unsophistication. For whatever the reason or motive that ushers you to the DE safety razor and the end to multi-blade cartridge razors it is unmistakable that more blades clearly don't equate to a better shave.

If not by performance alone exceeding in its style, timeless and luxurious. Nobody wants a lousy shave. Imagine a morning that begins with the steam of hot water and shaving bowl a shaving brush aside, the right shaving soap and shaving cream lathered to buttery perfection, alum blocks for soothing, and maybe a styptic pencil for those minor nicks and cuts. Clearly, you are on the path to the best shaving experience you have ever had and you will never look back.

What is a safety razor?

What is a safety razor

Before buying any new razor, it is important to know what each one looks like. There are two different kinds of safety razors: disposable single edge, multi-blade cartridge systems, and the classic double edge razor. Because most modern manufacturers have stopped manufacturing the latter, you will mostly find double edge razors online vs brick and mortar stores, quite ironic if you think about it. The main distinction is the number of blades in the razor and its body.

The history of the double edge safety razor is as Americana as you can get. The classic double edge safety razor was invented and patented by King Camp Gillette and 1904 and was popularized because it was issued by the U.S. military to all its soldiers during the First World War. Because the handle is permanent and disposable blade light and shaving quick and efficient it just made sense to carry one in a mess kit vs a straight razor with all the accouterments.

When most men returned from war they maintained that tradition of wet shaving and since then, the De safety razor has declined in popularity in favor of faster methods such as the cartridge razor, the disposable razor, and electric razor—all tools that were marketed as convenient and easy.

Quality of the shave-Safety razor vs Cartridge razors

It's true that a traditional wet shave with a safety razor takes longer and requires more technical expertise. But the implement doesn't have such glaring limits as its disposable counterparts, which can never really yield that closeness that a double-sided razor blade offers.

The most popular cartridge razors have three blades. Sometimes they have even more blades, as many as five blades. The logic is that they all interact with your skin separately, so the second blade accounts for what the first one misses, and so on.

But the reality is that an increased amount of blade contact with the face just irritates your skin. Cartridge razors are much more likely to yield razor bumps and razor burn.

The De safety razor just has just one blade exposed on two sides that can be alternated keeping a sharp edge with every pass with or against the grain and treating your skin better. Less repetitive passes on the skin mean a relatively irritation-free shave and fewer razor bumps, less red face from razor burn.

If you have sensitive skin, the undeniable better choice is the double-edged safety razor.

How close of a shave can I get with the different types of razors?

In reality, you also can get a close shave when shaving with a safety razor but a different kind of close, just not the baby butt smooth shave you might be after. With that takes manual control and technique. Cartridge razors have built-in plastic guards and lubricating strips that offer facial glide and comfort while traditional De safety razors rely on blade aggression (distance of the razor blade from the safety bar) high-quality shaving soaps and creams for lubrication and shaving angles. Both use sharp blades the only reason why you would think a single-blade razor works better than the other is the possibility of skin irritation and both are guilty of it, that's it.

You could contrast and compare them to a sports car with a manual transmission vs automatic.

With the De razor, you have more freedom to decide what angle suits you best, better balance and leverage of the razor blade, and the best angle for your contours while a disposable type is one blade angle for all. And double edge razors aren't just for men and facial hair, more women are turning to the classic DE razor more than ever.

It's true that you can be more vulnerable to nicks and cuts, especially as a beginner, there's a bit of a learning curve but in time it becomes second nature, instinctual, and learned, you did learn to shave with a disposable as well and most likely suffered the very same consequences of poor technique and dull blades no different.

A closer shave is achieved best when you're in control.

Is the quality of steel a factor too?

The quality of steel also has something to do with the quality of the shave. Because cartridge razor companies are so undisguisedly implicated in a disposable product market, it's not hard to believe the quality of the razor blade steel is, on the whole, much worse often using inferior quality steel while double edge blades always use medical grade stainless steel.

In addition to the superior shave it brings, the DE razor is better for the health of your facial hair. The multi-blade razor system makes you more likely to develop ingrown hairs than if you were to use a safety razor.

Economics

economics of safety razors vs cartridge razors

The disposable safety razor and cartridges may appear cheaper upfront just because their price tag is less for the entire system in the long run, but that system is flawed, much more expensive, and adds waste to landfills that never degrade.

Disposable cartridge safety razors are cheaper in every aspect, the body and handles are built to be thrown away compared to a high-quality beginner safety razor that can last for years if not decades.

If we focus on the business end, razor blades cost the same, the exact same, pennies so where is the economic difference? While you may get similar performance a lot of what you are paying for when it comes to cartridge razors is marketing.

When is the last time you saw an advertisement for double edge blades?

Double edge blades are inexpensive at around .10 cents per blade offering you up to 5 close and comfortable baby butt smooth shaves and come in compact packs of 5 or 10 and bulk saver packs of 100. While the blades all dull at the same rate depending on the coarseness of hair the short lifespan of double edge blades also ensures your keeping your shaving routine sterile and clean.

The costs of shaving with a cartridge razor explained

I'll offer an example:

A 20-pack of cartridges for the Gillette Mach3 turbo costs $30. If you shave every day you'll need to change out the cartridge more than once a week. You'd probably buy five of those cartridges 20-packs per year. And if you're not so savvy maybe you'd buy the 6-pack or 10-pack, which costs more per cartridge. (The short-run thinking is what makes people opt for the cartridge razor anyway, so that feels like a safe assumption.)

A reusable safety razor handle costs less than that. (Of course, you can buy nicer, more expensive ones, but you can buy a standard one for under $100.) And the disposable blades—the only part of the safety razor shave that requires replacement—are cheap: Some 100-packs cost under $15.

You could replace the blade every shave and still save money even within a period of a year. Over a longer period, you save even more money. You might only have to buy one safety razor handle in your lifetime (depending on how many mechanical parts it has).

Environmental impacts of cartridge razors

Environmental impacts of cartridge razors

 

 All those disposable elements of the cartridge razor that go in the trash end up in the landfill. I have a lasting image in my mind of heaps and heaps of multicolored plastic razor handles piling up in a landfill. The plastic doesn't break down. It just accumulates.

There's no way to recycle plastic disposable razors or the blade cartridges. Anything that's a hybrid of metal and plastic can't be recycled.

With the individual safety razor blades, though, they're so small that you can just keep them all in a blade disposal tin.

Some recycling centers will take your full tin of disposed blades.

Many American houses built before 1970 even have a blade disposal slot in the medicine cabinet for the individual blades to be discarded. (They just sit in between the wall and the medicine cabinet for eternity, but at least they're not in a landfill.) Out of sight, out of mind.

Differences In Design

 Differences in design between a cartridge razor vs a double edge safety razor Differences in design between a cartridge razor vs a double edge safety razor

 

The head

Cartridge razors often have a pivoting head, which allows the cartridge razor blades to interact with your skin at the angle that is required, without any technicality, passing over your face's natural contours.

Safety razors, alternatively, have a fixed head that does not pivot. The shaver is in control.

The lubricating strip

Another difference is that cartridge razors have built-in features to condense the shaving process into one step. They have a lubricating strip and a comb built right into the cartridge, along with the multiple blades.

Safety razors don't have any of that. You have to bring your own accessories—shaving cream, shaving soap, etc.

Length and weight of the razor

Cartridge razors are upwards of five inches in length, and safety razors are usually in the three-and-a-half-inch range. They're much shorter.

Cartridge razors weigh less than safety razors, though the specific weight depends on the materials that compose the razor. Plastic weighs less than steel.

How to choose the best double edge safety razor?

 

How To Choose The Best Double Edge Safety Razor?

Mild to aggressive, handle length and grip (knurling), and who can ignore style. You have to know yourself and your skin and experiment and level up as you acquire skills and further shaving performance demands.

There are multiple types of safety razors and knowing the difference will help you choose what you need. They can basically be grouped into one-piece, two-piece, or three-piece double edge safety razors.

What are the different types of safety razors?

The one-piece double-edged razor (or butterfly) is popular for how easy it is to put in the replacement blades. They're difficult to clean though, and because they have a lot of mechanical parts, they might not last as long as some of the other types. The two-piece is mostly similar in terms of how easy it is to put in a new sharp blade, but there are fewer mechanical parts so it lasts longer.

With the three-piece, it's easier to keep your safety razor clean and your shaving tools sterile.

What other variations of safety razors are there?

You might want to opt for an open comb razor if you have coarse, thick facial hair. Otherwise, the closed comb razor brings a comfortable shave.

Another consideration is the aggressiveness of the safety razor blade. A more aggressive razor head exposes the razor blades more, which can improve the shave quality if you're skilled. As I mentioned, there is a learning curve if you're angling for a precise shave.

Another consideration is the handle: If you have bigger hands, you'll want to choose one of the safety razors with a longer handle. The inverse is true of smaller hands.

Which safety razor should I buy

Which Safety Razor Should I Buy?

Choosing the best safety razor is about knowing yourself and your preferences, but these two safety razors are the most popular double edge safety razors available.

ROCKWELL 6C ADJUSTABLE SAFETY RAZOR

ROCKWELL 6C ADJUSTABLE SAFETY RAZOR

It helps to avoid skin irritation, especially for people with sensitive skin, but it's good for all skin types. It's adjustable to six different sizes, which means you can get a very close shave if you want, but you decide the degree of closeness.

It's made of a premium white chrome and the handle has a deep knurled grip so your hands don't slip while you're trying to get a smooth shave. This double edge razor will make you want to ditch cartridge razors and electric razors for good.

EDWIN JAGGER CHATSWORTH DOUBLE EDGE SAFETY RAZOR BARLEY HANDLE

EDWIN JAGGER CHATSWORTH DOUBLE EDGE SAFETY RAZOR BARLEY HANDLE

It's a classic double-edged safety razor, but the handle was manufactured to be heavier and also with an intentionally lower center of gravity for a shave that only requires gentle guidance.

It comes with a five-pack of feather hi-stainless Japanese double-edged razor blades. And all Edwin Jagger products have a guaranteed lifetime use.

Edwin Jagger products are also largely made in Sheffield, England, which is where the first stainless steel razors were manufactured in the early 1900s.

Is the cartridge razor really bad all around?

In short...Yes. Mostly it really depends.

The only viable argument that could be made in favor of the cartridge razor is that it's convenient. As a razor customer, if your number one priority is convenience, then maybe the cartridge razor is for you. If it's a chore that you need to get out of the way, the cartridge razor truly does bring a faster shave.

There are factors that come into play with safety razors that aren't concerning for people who use cartridge razors: Do I have to dry the safety razor? How do I store it properly? How do I clean it? Which replacement blades do I like best?

If you don't want to think about any of that, just sign up for the Dollar Shave Club and you don't have to. A new razor head will come in the mail every so often and you can throw it away when you're done with it. You don't have to think too hard. By now you should know the drawbacks to that approach though.