How to Shave with a Safety Razor
The “classic” safety razor, also known as the double edge shaving razor, was introduced in the early 20th Century (though other “safety” razors existed before then) and probably achieved the peak of its engineering technology by the end of the 1950s, before cost-cutting design changes. Multi-blade cartridge razors started appearing in the 1970s (perhaps coincidentally with the expiration of certain profitable double edge razor patents) and the single blade shaving razor declined into near obscurity in the U.S. by 1990.
But shaving with a safety razor has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance over the past few years, as consumers rediscover the benefits of “old school” shaving. Let’s take a look at why it’s taken hold again.
Benefits of Using a Safety Razor
There are some intriguing benefits to using a safety razor: some are more subtle and ambiguous, but others are quite straight-forward. Here are some things to consider.
Benefit #1: Lower Long-Term Costs
While a safety razor may cost more than a cartridge razor (decent safety razors typically cost about four times as much) up front, replacement blades are MUCH less expensive than replacement cartridges. In fact, in bulk, you can get good double edge razor blades for pennies per blade!
Switching to a safety razor from a cartridge razor usually pays for itself within two years. After that, you are saving significant amounts of money through the life of the shaver.
Benefit #2: More Choice Over Your Shave
When you think of “safety razor”, you probably think that there is only one kind. But there are actually a number of design variations to suit the shaver’s individual needs. And although all double edge blades may look the same, they can be made to different manufacturing specifications. So, heavy stubble? No problem. Sensitive skin? Got you covered. More on how to choose the right safety razor (and blade) for your needs coming later in this article.
Benefit #3: More Control Over Your Shave
The typical modern cartridge razor has a pivot and blades set to a specific angle determined by the manufacturer to satisfy the “average” shaver. But are YOU “average?” The pressure and “angle of attack” on a safety razor can be subtly manipulated by the shaver, providing much more granular control over the shave.
Benefit #4: Less Irritation
Is your shave troubled by skin redness and other irritations? One of the major causes of skin irritation from shaving is “overshaving” with a razor that has multiple blades. A cartridge with four blades is like shaving the same spot four times--when only one might have gotten the job done. Plus the “lift and cut” action of multi-blade cartridges can cause individual hairs to grow back incorrectly. Using a single blade equals a lower chance of irritation.
Benefit #5: Better For The Environment
Most safety razors are made of metal and razor blades do not have plastic parts so shaving with a safety razor are readily recyclable, while modern cartridge razors are much more difficult to recycle.
Benefit #6: A Close Shave
One of the “dirty little secrets” of the modern razor industry is that all those extra blades in a cartridge just aren’t as necessary as they’re made out to be. The fact is, with the right tools and techniques--you can shave just as closely (even more closely) with a single blade than with a multi-blade cartridge.
Benefit #7: Focus, Attention, And “That Moment Of Zen” Ritual
Shaving with a safety razor may take a little more time and attention compared to taking casual swipes with a cartridge razor. But many shavers find that this actually turns into an advantage, providing a pleasant focus and ritual. Some compare it to a meditation to prepare for the day.
How to Choose the Right Safety Razor
Despite what you might think from looking at old photos or watching vintage television commercials, there is actually quite a variety to safety razors. Some of the differentiators with safety blade shaving include:
Safety razors can be built several different ways. Most common are three-piece razors consisting of a handle, a base plate, and a top cap (sometimes the handle and base plate are fused together). These razors are easy and inexpensive to manufacture. A one-piece razor with a top that opens (commonly termed “twist to open” or “butterfly”) is more difficult to manufacture but is also more convenient when it comes to blade replacement.
Skin guard design
The “safety” part of the safety razor is the way skin is protected from the blade edge. The first safety razors used an “open comb” design, with teeth cut into the razor’s top cap to channel stubble and shave lather into channels where the blade edge would cut. This style is still available but a solid bar (either smooth or with a scalloped top) is more common.
A safety razor’s head design can be engineered to provide a specified amount of exposure to the blade’s edge, providing a milder or more aggressive (though some prefer to say more or less efficient) shave.
Weight and handle length
There are razors that are heavier than others and razors with different handle lengths. This affects the balance and comfort of the razor in the individual’s hand.
Want do drop down the razor rabbit hole? There are specialty safety razors that are adjustable, slice hair at a slant instead of head-on. Some have pivots like a cartridge razor, while others are made out of exotic materials by artisans. The possibilities are almost endless!
It’s also worth noting that the safety razor blade also plays an important role to shaving with a safety razor. Unlike a razor cartridge that may be made to a very rigid set of specifications, safety razor blades have several variables:
Yes, a blade can be too sharp for some people!
Blades can be made out of a number of different metals or alloys, such as stainless steel, tungsten, or carbon steel.
Blade edges may be coated with different materials to provide a non-stick surface, longer blade life, or less susceptible to chipping.
When you start shaving with a safety razor, it is worth experimenting with different brands of blades to find which one(s) work best for you.
How to Shave with a Safety Razor
Shaving with a safety razor isn’t too much different than using a modern cartridge razor, but you may have to “unlearn” some lazy shaving habits in favor of a more disciplined approach. There are a few important concepts to keep in mind when learning how to shave with a safety razor without cutting yourself.
Think of it as learning a new skill, like riding a bike or playing a musical instrument, only with men’s shaving products. It may take a few shaves to get the hang of it but the learning curve is usually short and totally worth it. For the purpose of this article, I’ll assume the face is to be shaved. Here’s a step-by-step outline on how to shave with a double edge razor, with some safety razor shaving tips.
Step #1: Wash Your Hands
Wet shaving with a safety razor means the skin needs to be wet! Doctors say it can take up to three minutes to properly clean and hydrate the face with warm water for a shave, so spending time here will pay off during the rest of the process. The most important thing to remember is to use a cleanser specifically meant for the face, like Cremo Face Wash. Why? Using a “deodorant bar,” “body bar,” or other all-over soap will strip off too much of the skin’s natural oils needed for a more comfortable shave.
Step #2: Don't forget your neck
And don’t forget to pay attention to the neck. Shavers often splash water all over the face but neglect the neck. The skin there is thinner and more sensitive which makes careful preparation all the more important.
Step #3: Fill A Sink With Warm Water And Have A Mirror Ready
To be used during the shave. A Shave Mirror is useful here.
Step #4: Apply A Shave Lubricant
Shaving with a safety razor is most effective with a really good shaving cream like Cremo's Original Shave Cream. Its rich, concentrated formula packed with ultra-slick molecules so almost any blade can glide effortlessly over your skin. It comes in a variety of scents that make the shaving process more interesting and pleasurable. Apply an almond-sized amount (or perhaps just a bit more) to the fingers and spread evenly over the face and neck and let it sit for about 30 seconds to prepare the stubble for shaving.
Step #5: Set Razor To Skin
Grab the safety razor by its handle, rinse the head in warm water, then place the head on the side of the face with the handle perpendicular to the skin, with just enough pressure to hold it to the skin--don’t press down. Rock the handle down until the blade just makes contact with the skin--it should be at roughly a 30 degree angle off the perpendicular.
Step #6: Shave In The Correct Direction
Like all manual razors, you want to be aware of how the stubble grows (the “grain”) and initially shave in the same direction (“with the grain”). However, unlike multi-blade cartridge razors, you don’t have to be a slave to the grain with a safety razor--you may find you can probably shave in the predominant direction without having to follow every twist and turn.
Step #7: Take Short Slightly Overlapping Strokes Over Flattened Segments Of Skin
Unlike a cartridge razor with a pivot, when you use a double edge shaving razor YOU must maintain the angle of the blade against the skin. So you are going to have to manipulate how you hold the razor as you shave. It may be helpful to “lock” the wrist and use the arm as a unit to help maintain a consistent angle as you take shaving strokes, adjusting for the contours of the skin. I have found it useful to consider the face as a diamond and shave along the facets. Use your free hand to flatten the skin if necessary but take care not to over-stretch.
Step #8: “Rinse And Repeat”
Present a clean blade edge when you start each facet. Since a double edge razor blade has two edges, you only have to rinse the razor head in water half as much (just flip the razor around).
Step #9: Reduce The Stubble In Stages Or Passes
After you have finished shaving all the facets in the direction you have chosen, rinse thoroughly with warm water. Are you satisfied with the results? If so, you’re almost finished, move to the next step. If not, re-lather and shave again across the grain (90 degrees away from the direction you just finished with) following steps 5-8.
Step #10: Take Care Of Your Skin After The Shave
After you have finished your “passes” and rinsed thoroughly with warm water to remove any remaining lather residue, rinse with cool water to refresh the skin. Then apply a good aftershave balm. Cremo Cooling Post Shave Balm offers additional benefits like helping fight razor bumps and blemishes.
Don’t forget Cremo’s other fine men’s face care products, too. Following a proper grooming regimen will pay dividends throughout your life.
Maintaining a Safety Razor
A safety razor is a pretty hardy item and it can take some abuse but there are a few things you should do to keep it working well and lasting longer. Most safety razors are made out of chrome-plated brass or nickel alloy (though some of the more expensive ones use stainless steel). So, basically, keep it dry and clean it periodically.
Step #1 Rinse And Dry The Razor After Each Use
A simple daily routine is to just rinse the razor with clean water and dry it with a clean dry towel. Some people remove the blade, some don’t (most people find no significant difference).
Step #2 Store The Razor Safely In A Dry Place
Don’t leave the razor in a high-humidity environment like the shower. And if you keep a blade in the razor don’t put it some place where someone could accidentally grab it the wrong way and get cut by the blade!
Step #3: Periodically Clean The Razor More Thoroughly
Depending how “hard” the water you’re using is, you may need to clean the razor of mineral deposits on a regular basis (every few months to a year). It can be as simple as using soap, water, a soft-bristle toothbrush, and a clean dry towel.
Is a Safety Razor for Me?
Safety razors can provide excellent shaves, but they may not be for everyone. If you don’t have a reliable source of water, if you are on blood-thinning medications, or if you need to shave as quickly as possible, then you may want to consider other shaving alternatives.
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About the Author
This article was written by the gents over at sharpologist.com. Sharpologist is the go-to resource for men's shaving needs providing you with every bit of knowledge your Father didn't teach you about shaving.