The Different Types of Razors

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Alright, it’s time to get a new razor.

I hear you, I have been there several times myself.  This isn’t a purchase we make every day.

With so much marketing jargon about five blades, electric rotary vs foil, double edge, straight razors, etc… It can nearly become a nightmare trying to actually figure out what type of razor will work best on your face.

Look:

Every guy has a different face, different skin, and different hair structure.

The same razor doesn’t work for everyone.

Below, I promise to give you the best comprehensive look of the differences in electric shavers, cartridge razors, double edge razors (aka safety razors), and straight razors.

My goal is to give you the best and most concise knowledge possible so you can make the best decision on your next razor.

Now:

Of all the types of razors to look at, we are going to kick it off by looking at electric shavers, then jump into their cartridge based brethren, hop over to look at double edge razors, then take a look at the razor of yesteryear – the straight razor (CAUTION: There will be blood!). Lastly, we will take a look at a secret option that isn’t mentioned often enough!

Hey, didn’t your teachers used to tell you that knowledge is power? Well heck, they were right; let’s get started and implore all the different types of razors!

Electric Shavers Will Absolutely Decrease the Time You Spend Getting Ready for Work

Rotary Electric Razor
jmawork ‘Razor Upclose’ | (Source)

Look:

Electric shavers get an unfair bad reputation.  There, I said it.

I know the fine folks who are using the straight razors are holding their pitchforks (or razors) and are ready to burn this place down, but wait, let me explain!

The Good:  Electric shavers are extremely good at speed and efficiency during your morning routine.

Hell, they are likely the quickest shave you can get (notice how I didn’t say best).

You don’t see people with shaving cream on their face driving down the highway shaving their beard on their way to work, right?

What are they using? An electric shaver!

Nevertheless:

Electric shavers are also great if you are traveling.

Unless you are staying at a place for several weeks on end, you can likely get away with just packing the electric razor sans the charging station.

Plus, they get you through security; just make sure it’s fully charged with all your other gear.

Electric shavers are best for business people who are always on the go.

The Bad:  The furthest shave you can get (well, besides that of a beard trimmer).

Nothing electric will ever compare to the blade of a cartridge, double edge, or a straight razor.

Absolutely nothing.

So please get the thought out of your head that an electric shaver will make your face as smooth as a baby’s butt.  It wont.

It’s true:

Electric shavers have come a long way in regards to no longer restricting you to ‘dry’ shaves only.  You can do what is called a ‘wet’ shave with electric shavers.

A wet shave is where you can slop on your own shaving cream and use the electric razor right away.

This is supposed to get a closer shave, but as you read in several reviews elsewhere, this still leaves a lot to be desired.

Remember, you buy electric shavers simply for added convenience and speed.

We still didn’t even cover costs yet.  Overall, electric shavers lie somewhere in the middle regarding investment.  Upfront, it can get a bit pricey.  However, the long term cost isn’t too terrible (assuming you buy new blades on an annual basis – which you should).

Here is a break down of a few electric razors:

When you purchase an electric shaver, you should expect to own it for about 10 years or so (just given that your battery may no longer hold a charge).

The Ugly:  Electric shavers aren’t for everyone.  One of the biggest complaints about electric shavers will be the prevalence of acne as well as general skin irritation.

Look:

These are definitely valid reasons and something you should consider if you are on the fence about purchasing an electric razor.

You see, the reason for the acne (and in some parts the skin irritation as well) is that when you mow over your face with the electric razor, you don’t just swipe over it once time.

You will go over that same area multiple times.

When you repeatedly go over an area on your face multiple times, you get natural oil built up in the blades on the razor and are spreading around the oils into your skin, thus clogging your pores.

If you’re not clogging up the pores in your skin, the razor also will be pulling some hair, therefore, increasing your general skin irritation.

Point in Case:

See the hair follicle under the microscope of a hair cut with a razor blade (left) vs one cut with an electric razor (right):

Straight Razor Vs Electric Shaver
Source: Unknown

Electric razors aren’t pretty when it comes to cutting.  In fact, they are down right brutal.

While you can opt for the wet shave option to help reduce irritation and acne, this more often than not doesn’t improve your overall shave.

Mind you, there are also electric shavers that do come with cleaning stations to try and help offset some acne development.  However, this varies person to person.


Sure They Are Pricey, But Cartridge Razors Still Have a Place – Especially When Traveling

Interested in selling your first born in order to get a close shave?  Then cartridge razors are for you.

Cartridge razors (also known as disposable razors) are what you see marketed so heavily from Gillette, Schick, etc.  They will usually come with 3 to 5 blades.

Hell, most American men will get one of these in the mail when they turn 18; I know I did (how they knew I turned 18 and my mailing address creeped me a bit out)!

Gillette-18th-Birthday-Present

The Good: So just like their electric razor brethren, cartridge razors have a place in some men’s bathroom cabinet.  They are great for beginners as they are pretty damn near impossible to cut yourself with.

If you will faint at the sight of blood but want to have a close shave, a cartridge razor will be your best bud.

Case in point:

If you are away on business, you can get away with bringing your cartridge razor on the airplane and skip the check baggage line.

Also, if you want to… ummmm “manscape”… cartridge based razors will be your best bet (remember what I said about nicking your skin? – best not to risk it…ever).

The Bad:  While skin irritation and acne might not be as bad as an electric razor, it’s definitely not perfect.

Cartridge based razors are good for only a few shavings (while you will likely use them way longer than just a couple of times).

Using the razor several times will cause the blades to dullOnce dull, you will experience an increase in skin irritation as you will no longer be getting a clean cut.

Here’s the kicker:

More blades do not necessarily mean a better shave.

Think about it–when you have five dull blades stacked on top of each other going across your face, your hair and skin is getting lifted and cut five times in a row by a razor.

In addition to having the stacked blades, they are much more prone to clogging the natural oils found in your skin along with your hair, shaving cream, and dead skin.

When your blades get clogged up, you are going to inadvertently start clogging up your pores.

As you can see in the picture below, it illustrates how  hair will naturally build up within the razor blades:

Cloggled Used Cartridge Razor
Source Unknown

This will also lead to an increase in acne found on your skin the longer you use the same blade.

If you go the route of a cartridge razor, you will need to replace your blade often for the best results.

The Ugly:  I thought about renaming this section from ‘The Ugly’ to ‘The Cost’.  If your face is being saved by not bleeding at all, great! But that doesn’t mean you won’t be bleeding elsewhere — your wallet.

Here’s the bottom line regarding cost:

Not to single out Gillette, but it’s just too damn easy.   According to their website, they say that their Pro Fusion branded razor 1 refill will equate to one month of shaving with the asterisk of ‘Based on 4 shaves per week over average cartridge consumption’.

So a cartridge of four will cost $18.

That’s an annual cost of $216/year if you replace your blade every week!

Gillette Cartridge Refill Cost
Source: Gillette

Double Edge Razor: Quite Possibly The Best Option For Guys With Severe Acne or Skin Irritation

A modern safety razor, based on the classic design. | Evan-Amos

You’re right if you started hearing about safety razors as they are starting to rise rapidly in popularity.

A quick look at Google Trends yields us this graph:

Google Trends Safety Razor

While you can see it’s a bit in decline at the moment, the obscenely large peak in 2014 was for the holiday season.  Year-over-year growth is still in the black.

So what’s all the hype about?  Well, let’s take a look!

The Good: Double Edge safety razors are a damn great investment for the cost.  

It’s true:

A decent electric razor will set you back in the neighborhood of $75 to $300, and a cartridge based razor will set you back about $200/year. How much do you think a double edge will cost you?

Total cost for a decent double edge safety razor will be about $100 for the first year.  Wait a second, you thought I said they were a good investment?

Might as well just get a cartridge based razor, right?

No!

I said that was the cost for the first year.  Every year thereafter, you are looking to pay about $20 (shaving cream + blades, if necessary).

Let’s look at the breakdown of that, shall we?  If you are getting a double edge razor, you will need the following:

While you could nix the brush and the cream, if you care about your face this much, you shouldn’t do that.  You will be much happier with a higher quality shaving cream and badger hair shaving brush.

While mentioning all of this, I almost forgot to mention the actual purpose: The shave!  So how does it rank up?

Here’s the deal:

The double edge razor will give you an amazingly close and clean shave.

Since you can invest in higher quality razors than those found on a cartridge based razor, you will be going over your face a lot less times.

So all of this is boding pretty well for the double edge razor, right?  Well, what about those with acne or sensitive skin like your dear author here?  Yeah, a double edge razor is one the best razors you can get.

It gets better:

While we saw that a cartridge razor will last you about three shaves before you need to replace it, a razor blade for a double edge razor will last a few more times; about five total.

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but you’ll be getting your blades for a fraction of the cost.

The Bad: As great as a double edge razor is and can be, it does have a few drawbacks.  First, there is a bit of a learning curve to using one of these bad boys.

Here’s the kicker:

Don’t expect to be done nearly as quick as an electric razor or even a cartridge razor.

Since you are prone to cutting yourself more with one of these, you have to learn the correct technique.

Some people can pick it up quite quickly whereas others may take a bit longer with getting used to this type of razor.

But fear not; once learning how to shave with a double edge razor, you will be on your way to a close shave without the excessive costs associated with the other options presented so far.

Hold on:

In addition to the learning curve with using a double edge razor, another drawback is portability.

Now this isn’t a huge drawback for some, but per TSA regulations (mentioned in a 2010 blog post), double edge and straight razors are not allowed as a carry on.

So if you are always on the go, you might want to keep this in mind (or always have a cartridge backup handy when traveling).

The Ugly: The single biggest drawback as mentioned briefly in ‘The Bad’ section is getting nicked.

If you’re coming from a background of electric shavers or cartridge razors, you can probably count the number of times you cut yourself while shaving with one hand.

I had a hard time putting this into ‘the ugly’ section as this is only bad until you learn how to use the double edge razor.  Once learned how to handle your razor properly, this is going to be a non-issue.

The Bottom Line:

If you have extremely sensitive skin or severe acne, a double edge razor single handedly is your best bet.


The Straight Razor Will Be the Only Razor You’ll Need for the Rest of Your Life

This ain’t your dad’s razor, it’s your grandfather’s razor!

Straight razors, just like their double edge counterpart, are making a huge comeback as well.  Another quick look from Google Trends shows us the following graph for a straight razor:

Google Trends Straight Razor

Again, the large peak in 2014 was attributed to the holiday shopping season.

The Good:  Just like the double edge razor, these razors will give you an incredibly close shave.  So, if you experience terrible acne or have super sensitive skin, these types of razors will be your best bet (just like the double edge razor).

  • Shavette:  This is the ability to pop in the same blades that are found in a double edge razor (after they have been split in half) and insert them into your straight razor.  You may also see these referred to as injectors (i.e. you can inject the razor blade into the handle).  Shavettes are most common in barber shops as barbers will swap the blades for sanitary reasons.
  • Straight Razor: These are by and far the more popular of the two.  A standard straight razor is typically made out of stainless steel.  These razors do require that you sharpen them on a regular basis with a strop.  A razor in this category will last you your entire life.

What’s a strop?

A strop is a leather belt that you can hang from your bathroom sink to flatten out the blade (as opposed to sharpening it by removing steel from the blade itself).

You can read more about a strop here on its own Wikipedia page.

Stropping is more prevalent with a straight razor than with a shavette.

Sure, some people might strop a shavette, but since the very purpose of the shavette is that it’s using disposable blades, stropping isn’t necessary.

The Bad:  It’s a long term investment.  If you want to get a straight razor, decent ones can get pretty pricey (north of $200).

Here’s the deal:

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a straight razor online as there are different variations in sizes.  You have to purchase the one that feels most natural in your hand.  

You might be able to find a shave shop in your area that does have an ample supply of straight razors.

Or you could also visit your local ‘The Art of Shaving’ store to get some more details about these razors (not plugging this store in particular – more so they are widely available across the U.S. and there’s likely one near you).

Now:

That being said,  if you stick with it, the only costs you will have on an annual basis will be the shaving cream.  With a shavette, you will be provided the added costs of blades + shaving cream (about $20/year).

Also to note, there is a learning curve with this type of razor.

So be prepared to nick yourself a couple of times while you learn the blade and get the correct angle down to a science.  Just try not to be like this guy:

Straight Razor Cut on Neck
Source: Reddit – Protosynesis

Just like its double edge counterpart, you cannot travel with these on the plane.  So if you want to take your strop, shaving cream, and straight razor with you, you’re going to have to check it.

The Ugly:  The biggest setback for the straight razor will be the time to shave.

It’s a very lengthy process.

This is why the razor has evolved so much over the years and why we have cartridges and electric razors (for simple convenience sake).

Granted, you will look like a total badass when you pull out your straight razor and start shaving away.

But again, it’s a lengthy process and if it’s something you thoroughly enjoy, then it might be for you.


The Much Forgotten Beard Trimmer:  For Those Who Don’t Need a Close Shave Every Day

Do you really need an absolute close shave all the time?

If not, you should also keep in mind that a beard trimmer might be just as suitable for you.

The beauty of beard trimmers is that you don’t have to worry about irritation or acne all that much since you don’t have a razor up against your skin.

Instead, you simply just have the clippers going through your beard in the same way that you may get your usual haircut every few weeks.

So seriously consider this option if you aren’t looking for the best and closest shave on a daily basis.

That’s a Wrap

So there you have it, the differences between electric shavers, cartridge razors, double edge razors, straight razor, and finally the beard trimmer.

We hope that this guide was helpful in your research.

About Shawn Burns

Shawn Burns is the founder and senior editor of Tools of Men. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. Shawn's expertise includes in-depth product reviews and how-to articles. Shawn was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise.

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