Wet Shaving vs. Dry Shaving: Which is the Better Shave?

Wet shaving with a blade and a lubrication product vs. dry shaving with an electric razor. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Which is best for you?

What is Wet Shaving?

What exactly is “wet shaving?” At its very essence, wet shaving is removing hair with a sharpened edge and water. Practically speaking, it's really about shaving with a manual (not electric) razor with water and some kind of product to lubricate and protect the skin.

Obviously, manual razors have been around a lot longer than electric razors. Here’s a quick overview of bladed razors.

Straight Edge (“Cut Throat”) Razors

The “modern” razor goes back to the late 1600s with the development of the “cut throat” razor (AKA the straight razor). Straight razors were the way most people shaved for about 200 years.

“Cut throat” razors represent the ultimate “manual” shave--the shaver must control every aspect, from the angle at which the razor is held to the geometry of the blade. “Cut throat” razors require regular, careful maintenance.

There are also razors that look like a cut throat razor but use replaceable blades. Barbers often use them because there is no blade maintenance. Some state or local laws may require barbers to use these.

Double Edge Razors

When most people think of “safety razor”, they think of the double edge blade and razor from Gillette. Double Edge (DE) razors as a unit are typically constructed in one of three ways:
  • Three piece Double Edge Razor is the easiest to manufacture. It consists of a handle, a base plate, and a head or cap.
  • Two piece DE razors have the base plate permanently mounted to the handle.
  • One piece “twist to open” (sometimes called “butterfly”) razors are the type that was most common just before the advent of cartridge razors: the top of the razor has two little doors that open to accept a blade.

Cartridge Razors

The “modern” manual razor came on the scene in the late 1970s, coincidentally right about the time certain profitable patents on double edge technology were expiring.

Obviously the most distinguishing features of modern razors are multiple blades in proprietary cartridges. wet shaving vs dry shaving

Blade Edge Technologies

Another thing to mention about manual razors and wet shaving are the various aspects of design and engineering of blade edges.

First, the angle to which the blade edge is set in a cartridge (or manually held to by the shaver with a non-cartridge razor) can make a big difference in the quality of the shave.

Second is the “sharpness” of the blade edge. There are levels of “sharpness” that an edge may be ground to and may even vary for different cartridges of the same type.

Third, non-stick coatings are often applied to blade edges to provide a more comfortable cut.

What is Dry Shaving?

Dry shaving is shaving using a razor that uses electricity (or battery power) to run a motor that powers a system of cutting blades. Typically, you don’t need any lubrication and you can just run the shaver over dry (but clean) skin. There are two basic types of electric razor, “rotary” and “foil’.

Rotary Electric Razors

Modern rotary razors, originally introduced in 1939, have an inner, circular-spinning blade that cuts the stubble captured by an outer stationary guard. Several cutter modules can be combined on pivot points to create a razor surface that can follow skin contours.

As the razor is moved in a circular motion, hairs fall into the angular grooves of the guard and are cut off by small, scissor-like blades. The circular motion can make it easier to maneuver around difficult areas such as the neck or the chin.

Foil (“Reciprocating”) Electric Razors

Jacob Schick is considered the inventor of the electric razor, patenting the reciprocal shaving concept in 1930. The Remington Rand Corporation produced the first reciprocal electric razor in 1938.

Foil razors use oscillating (reciprocal) blades beneath a mesh “foil” to cut hair. The holes of the foil captures hair right where the blades cut it -- without coming in contact with the skin.

Think of a reciprocating saw: that’s the general mechanics of this type of razor.

Like rotary shavers, there can be multiple heads on a “floating” foil that follow the contours of the skin more consistently.

Wet/Dry Electric Razors

The wet shave vs. dry shave debate got a little more confused with the introduction of “wet/dry” electric razors a few years ago. “Wet/dry” electric razors use rechargeable batteries in water-resistant housings.

Using a wet/dry electric razor with a shave cream will almost certainly give you a more comfortable shave, and perhaps slightly closer, too. However, many wet/dry electric razors motors (especially the lower-cost ones) drive more slowly (i.e. the reciprocal or rotary actions are slower than their corded counterparts), which can impair performance. Shavkng razors and electric clippers

Pros & Cons of Wet Shaving

So, the big question: Wet shave with a manual razor or dry shave with an electric razor? As you might suspect, for some people it is not a “cut and dry” decision. No pun intended. There may be some subtleties involved. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Wet shaving has been around a long time and there are some compelling reasons to shave this way--especially in the long-term. But it may not be the best solution for everyone under all circumstances.


First, let’s look at the advantages of wet shaving vs. shaving with an electric razor.

Pro #1 - A closer shave

Almost by definition, wet shaving will give you a closer shave. If you’re looking for that “baby’s butt” level of smoothness, wet shaving is the way to go.

Pro #2- Better for the skin

Wet shaving is better for the skin over the long haul. The shave “software”--cleanser, cream, aftershave--will keep you looking younger and healthier.

Pro #3 - Exfoliation

Wet shaving removes a very small amount of the skin’s surface layer. That’s actually a good thing, as it gets rid of tiny bits of dirt and debris from the skin.

Pro #4 - Razors are smaller

Wet shaving razors are definitely smaller, lighter, and easier to store or transport than their powered dry counterparts.

Pro #5 - Razors don’t require power

Don’t have a reliable source of electric power for running or charging a powered razor? Then a manual wet shaving razor is for you.

Pro #6 - Saves money up front

Wet shaving definitely costs less up front. While the cost of blade cartridge refills might catch up to you later, going with less expensive blade alternatives (like an old fashioned double edge razor blade) can mitigate that problem.

Pro #7 - Better sensory experience

This is a major PRO for a lot of people. Wet shaving products come in a wide variety of scents that can make the process of shaving more interesting and enjoyable. Some add to that experience by using a shaving brush. No matter what razor you are using, select a high-quality cream. Don’t use a foam out of a pressurized can (the propellant can dry out your skin). Use something rich and creamy from a squeeze tube. The results will be noticeably better.


Of course, that’s not to say that wet shaving is a universal solution. There are a few “cons” too:

Con #1 - Requires water

Wet shaving requires a source of water.

Con #2 - Requires more time/intimidating

Wet shaving takes more time than using an electric razor and the learning curve can be a little intimidating to some people.

Con #3 - Cartridges can be expensive

As mentioned earlier, while the initial cost of a manual razor can be quite low, the cost of some cartridges can add up over the long run.

Con #4 - Blades don’t last as long

You can usually run an electric shaver for years without having to change blade heads. Manual razor blades and cartridges will dull after a much shorter period of time. It might be a week, or a month, but eventually you will have to get a fresh blade.

Con #5 - Blood

OK, if you’re careless with a manual razor, even with the best shave cream, you could get a nick or cut. If you’re predisposed to bleeding problems (like those on blood-thinners) it may be a good idea to stick to an electric razor and not go for that “baby’s butt” look.

What About After The Shave?

Don’t forget to clean up after shaving and take care of your tools properly, too. Be mindful of others using the area.

It’s also time to think about aftershave products. If you’re using an electric razor, your after shave skin care may be a bit easier. Just maintain a healthy skin with a good moisturizer. After wet shaving with a manual razor, you may need to be a bit more thorough, as the process of shaving actually removes a tiny bit of skin -- some combination of moisturization and protection may be necessary.

Aftershaves can be divided into two broad categories: splashes and balms. Splashes are runny and generally contain a combination of ingredients to cleanse and provide a degree of antiseptic or antibacterial protection to the skin. Balms have a thicker consistency and usually provide irritation relief along with moisturization to the skin. Both splashes and balms often use some kind of humectant to increase the effectiveness of other ingredients.

What About Ingredients?

A Humectant is an ingredient used to increase the effectiveness of another ingredient. They’re also used to minimize the dehydrating effect of other active ingredients. Examples of humectants include glycerol, propylene glycol, and sorbitol.

A moisturizer is not a single ingredient but a combination of ingredients, like oils and humectants, working together. Moisturizers are ingredients specially designed to make the external layers of the skin softer and more pliable by increasing the skin’s water content. Contrary to popular opinion, a moisturizer does not put “moisture” into the skin but rather limits the ability of the skin to lose moisture.

“Good” vs. “Bad” Ingredients

Ingredients to look for: aloe vera, chamomile, tea tree oil, calendula, witch hazel, lavender, jojoba oil, grapefruit seed extract, rose oil distillate, and various vitamins.

Ingredients to avoid: high concentrations of alcohol, camphor, or eucalyptus; parabens, grapefruit (if you're going to be outdoors a lot), and lemon oil (if you have sensitive skin).

Adjusting To A New Shave Routine

If you change your shave style--whether it’s from electric to manual, rotary to reciprocal, or cartridge to single blade--be aware that it may take a couple weeks for your skin to adjust to the new way of doing things.

Thanks for reading. We hope this helps you choose the shaving method that’s right for you. May all your shaves be smooth, enjoyable and nick-free. Make sure to check out Cremo's supply of wet-shaving products cremocompany.com/shave

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