Guide to Shaving with a Safety Razor: Why and How to Make the Switch


Eve: Cut-throat razor. How very traditional.
James Bond: Well, I like to do some things the old-fashioned way.
Eve: Sometimes the old ways are best.

A Vicious Cycle

Shaving has been a pain ever since peach fuzz first sprouted from my youthful face.

After all, it’s quite unpleasant to slice, tug, and rip through your stubble each day with worn multiple-blade cartridges. But that’s what happens when you try to maximize their lifespan, which is a natural reaction to their exorbitant cost. It’s amazing how long you can make them last if you don’t mind dealing with irritation, in-grown hairs, and other forms of facial destruction.

This is why, when I was a full-time student, I tried to either shave every other day or just shave my neck from the jawline down. However, since starting full-time employment, I have had to shave every single day of the week. By Wednesday, my face was sufficiently irritated. By Friday, I hated my life.

I absolutely dreaded shaving until my friend told me about a new an old-fashioned way to shave—wet shaving with a double-edged safety razor.

To protect his identity, let’s call my friend “John.” John is essentially a senior citizen in a 28-year-old’s body. He never shuts up about outdated and boring topics, including old movies and Frank Sinatra.

One time, he wouldn’t stop talking about how he started shaving with an old-school double-edged safety razor. I rolled my eyes as he described different types of blades, shaving creams, and post-shave lotions. And shaving brushes made from badger hair! Oh boy. When he bragged that each blade cost only a few cents, I made fun of him for shaving like a grandpa.

But I did notice that he had a great shave.

A few months later, after running out of a bulk pack of multi-blade razors that I bought at Costco, I was forced to buy a pack of three razors at a smaller convenience store. It came out to over $3.00 per blade. I paused for a second, realizing that I was just starting the cycle over again. Buying expensive cartridges, overusing them because they are so expensive, irritating my face, and feeling miserable every morning when it was time to shave.

I decided that it was time to try something new. I gave John a call.

The Equipment

John was a good sport and was happy to tell me what he knew about wet shaving with a double-edged safety razor. He told me that I needed the following equipment:

1) Merkur 33C Safety Razor

This is a reasonably priced, high-quality safety razor. It is light-weight, easily maneuverable, and feels great in your hand.

I liked John’s suggestion because he gave me a specific endorsement of a great razor, which didn’t subject me to the paradox of choice. You know, when you have so many options that you get overwhelmed and do nothing.

John said “get the Merkur 33C,” and so I did, and so should you.

2) Sample pack of blades to see what works well for you.

According to John, “Blades are very important, and different blades work better for different people.” John was a fan of Feather blades.

This advice was consistent across every website I read on the topic, and most recommended the Double Edged Razor Blade Economy Sample Pack.

I, however, took a small leap of faith and just purchased 120 Crystal Super+ Razor Blades for a whopping total of $18.88. That’s right: $18.88 for 120 high-quality blades. That’s 16 cents per blade.

The deal was too appealing to turn down. This was a low-risk, high-reward investment—if I liked the blades, then I had just scored 120 blades at about 16 cents per blade. If I didn’t like them, then I would only be out $18.88, and I knew that possibility was unlikely based on the large number of positive reviews on Amazon.

Luckily, the blades worked well for me.

3) Shaving brush to apply traditional shaving cream and build lather.

When shaving with a double-edged safety-razor—or actually any type of razor at all—you should reapply shaving cream before making another pass with your razor. Shaving cream lubricates and moisturizes your face, which reduces friction and prevents irritation.

A shaving brush is a convenient way to apply and reapply shaving cream to your face without getting it all over your hands each time. It allows you to use just a little bit of shaving cream mixed with a little bit of water to produce a tremendous amount of lather, which avoids wasting more cream than you need to. It also exfoliates your skin and may even soften the hair on your face, making it easier to shave.

I ordered the SimplyBeautiful Basic 100% Pure Badger Shaving Brush, which costs $10.95. Yes, a few hairs will fall out of the brush now and then, but it’s no big deal. Months later, my brush still works great.

4) Traditional shaving cream or shaving soap

You, of course, need shaving cream to go with your shaving brush.

I ended up buying Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shaving Cream Bowl. Again, there were so many options out there that I just wanted to pick something good and have it shipped versus spending hours researching shaving creams.

This particular cream smells great and provides an incredible lather for your shave. If you have been using Barbasol, Edge, or Gillette shaving cream or gel that shoots out of a pressurized tube, then you are in for a treat. I wish that I had discovered this stuff sooner.

At $13.54, this shaving cream is a little more expensive than your typical pressurized can of colored goo that you can purchase at your local supermarket.

But, then again, this stuff lasts a long time. All you need is about a dime-sized amount per shave, which you mix with a tiny bit of water in a bowl to form a large amount of lather. I have been using it every day for the past two months, and I still have a little more than half left. This means that this one container will likely last me four or five months, which is about $2.71 per month.

Cost and Investment Breakdown

Razor companies make huge profits by selling or even giving away their new, innovative razor handles while getting your money later with expensive razor cartridge refills. But is it really necessary to have razors with multiple blades, swiveling ball-hinges, pivoting heads, vibrating bases, lubricating strips, and more?

In my opinion, no. These companies innovate without any real reason to. They are doing it to draw you into their system and keep you there. They want you to believe that you need the top-of-the-line razor and that nothing that costs less will suffice. If you buy into this, then you will buy their razor blade cartridges—for life.

But, in my experience, you can save a decent amount of money and get a high quality shave by using a double-edged safety-razor.

I’ve made a pricing comparison to help convince you. The comparison is not scientific. It can’t be. After all, I just told you how I used to overuse multi-blade cartridges, thereby destroying my face in the process. This is why I suspect that there is such a large range of opinions on the Internet concerning how long particular multi-blade cartridges last: some people say one week, some people say two weeks, and the company might claim five weeks. I have personally found that a typical cartridge wears out after about five shaves, but again, this is my own opinion.

The cost of shaving cream is not included below because the cost difference depends on what type of cream you use, and this is usually a negligible difference. A standard can of pressurized shaving cream might last you two months and cost you $7.26. A high-quality traditional shaving cream might cost you $13.54 and last 4-6 months. And there are also great in-between options, such as shaving soaps, which usually cost less than traditional shaving cream.

Double-edged Safety Razor

  • Merkur 33C Razor: $38.88 (first year only)
  • Badger Brush: $10.95
  • 120 Crystal Super+ Razor Blades: $18.88 ($0.16 per blade, which lasts 3-5 shaves. If you use each razor for three shaves, then this would almost last you one whole year).

Total Cost:

  • First year: $68.71
  • Subsequent years: $18.88

Multi-Blade Cartridges

  • Gillette Fusion Razor: $10.77 at Walmart (first year only)
  • 16 Gillette Fusion Replacement Cartridges at Costco: $50.58 ($3.16 per cartridge. If you change cartridges once per week, this will cost you $164.32 per year).

Total Cost

  • First year: $175.09
  • Subsequent years: $164.32

Shaving Technique and Tips

Shaving with a double-edged safety razor takes a bit of practice. To learn technique, John was particularly fond of a YouTube user named Mantic59. There are a lot of other great videos out there as well. You should watch a few, but don’t get carried away. This is something that you have to practice.

Here are a few pointers that I found helpful:

  1. If possible, shower before you shave. This will soften your beard and open your pores. Even if you shower, splash some warm water on your face before you shave.
  2. Saturate your shaving brush in warm water, shake some of the water out, and then use the brush and a small bowl or cup to swirl around a dime-sized drop of shaving cream to make lather.
  3. Take about 30 seconds to apply lather to your face before each pass. If the lather starts to get too dry, simply dip the tip of your shaving brush in hot water and then reapply the lather. You will know that it is too dry when the blade no longer easily glides across your face.
  4. Before you start to shave, run warm water over the blade.
  5. The goal is gradual beard reduction, not immediate beard elimination. Do not attempt to get rid of all stubble in one pass. Rather, take 3-4 passes at different angles. I personally recommend 3 passes: down (with grain), across from ear to nose (across grain), and up (against grain).
  6. Rinse the razor frequently with hot water to clear shaving cream and stubble from the blade.
  7. Do not make a pass without first applying shaving cream. Doing so will cause irritation.
  8. Apply as little pressure as possible. Do not press the blade into your skin. Let the weight of the razor do the work.
  9. Listen to ensure that you are using the correct angle. If you have stubble on your face but don’t hear any scraping sound when you shave, then you are not using the correct angle. Shoot for a 30 or 45 degree angle, but adjust based on sound and what feels comfortable.
  10. When you are finished, rinse your face with cold water and pat your face dry with a towel. Be sure to dry the brush, the razor, and the blades with a towel as well.

I mastered this type of shaving in about two weeks. While learning, I simply used the safety razor as much as possible and touched up certain harder-to-shave areas, like my chin, with a cartridge razor.

I have been asked, “But do you cut yourself more?” Absolutely not. If anything, you are more likely to cut yourself with a dull cartridge razor than a sharp double-edged blade. This same principle applies to chef’s knives—sharper is safer. As long as you don’t get careless and slice your lip or something, then you will be ok.

The Results

I obviously love shaving with a double-edged safety-razor, or I wouldn’t have written this absurdly long article about it.

I continue to shave every day, yet my face is no longer irritated. Each blade costs 16 cents, so I don’t feel bad about changing blades often. And I don’t get pissed off when I have to use a new multi-blade cartridge only to have the special lubrication strip degrade two days later.

More important, I no longer dread shaving. I actually look forward to it. It’s become a fun part of my daily routine: I eat breakfast, I shower, and then I shave. While shaving, I play music, drink coffee, and slow things down a bit. It would probably be a bit of an exaggeration to say that this is somehow “meditation,” but it certainly has meditative benefits. Additionally, there is some strange sense of accomplishment in achieving a great shave. It’s a great way to start the day.

But is it Anti-Strive?

The question remains: is this type of shaving consistent with striving, or is it anti-strive?

“Striving” is the valiant and focused pursuit of goals that improve the quality of your life. “Anti-strive” is anything that inhibits or negates striving.

Something could be good while also being anti-strive. For example, it’s good to eat organically-grown vegetables, but am I going to go plant a full-blown garden? No, not at this point in my life—I have more important ways to spend my time. So I’ll just buy the damn things from the supermarket.

The only downside I can see to this style of shaving is the time factor. It does take a little bit longer. When I was first learning, it took me 20-30 minutes per shave. Today, it takes me between 10-15 minutes.

But then again, when I was shaving with cartridges, I didn’t reapply shaving cream between passes. I didn’t focus on technique. I didn’t do a lot of things correctly. It was all about speed, not precision. This meant that my face became irritated in the process. So it’s not entirely fair to say that safety-razor shaving takes that much longer.

In the end, it’s clear to me that shaving with a double-edged safety razor is not anti-strive. It saves money, it allows you to swap out blades frequently, gives you a better shave (in my opinion), it has meditative benefits, and it is great way to start your day.

Closing Thoughts

It seems as if every person who switches to wet shaving with a double-edged safety razor loves it and swears not to switch back.

This makes me think that maybe the big razor companies are getting it wrong. Maybe men aren’t looking for the latest, most efficient razors that have multiple blades, swiveling ball-hinges, pivoting heads, vibrating bases, lubricating strips, and more. Maybe men don’t want to squirt some artificially-colored gel onto their hands, slap it onto their faces, and make a few quick but unsatisfying passes with their razor.

Maybe men want to put a little bit of work into something to get a great result, thereby beginning the day with a sense of accomplishment. Maybe they want to strive.

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