Now that the beard is no longer in favour, those looking to stand out from the crowd are opting to go back to the clean shaven look. But after months of effortlessly getting out of bed with nothing to do but shower, brush your teeth and perhaps get dressed, going back to the morning shaving routine can seem like a fairly dull prospect.
The fight against facial hair can be a depressingly futile battle as every day your beard comes back unwavering, stronger than ever whilst you come away battered and bruised, not just in resolve but the irritation left on the skin such as razor burn, ingrown hairs and occasional cuts.
For a long time the accepted answer to this problem has been the increasing number of blades attached to one’s razor.
After years of seeing razors acquire more and more blades but seeing no appreciable difference in shave quality, it is time to come to the uncomfortable truth; multi-bladed cartridge razors aren't doing a very good job.
This realisation isn't actually that surprising when you come to remember that cartridge razors were designed with convenience in mind. Their job is to remove stubble as fast as possible so you can get on with your day but, as with anything that places a focus on convenience, often quality is lost along the way. For this reason there has been a huge resurgence in the use of the traditional double edge safety razor and the shaving traditions of old.
Not only does it give a better shave, with less irritation but most find that shaving in this way is fun.
A traditional wet shave involves keeping your face sufficiently lubricated throughout shaving to minimise all potential for irritation.
It consists of a double edge (safety) razor, a shaving brush, and shaving soap/cream. Each is important for making the most of your shave.
A good quality shaving soap/cream will create a stable lather that remains throughout the shave as well as providing moisturising properties that will benefit the skin. The shaving brush is used to whip the soap/cream into the desired consistency so that it remains slick and easy for the razor to glide over, as well as providing mild exfoliation to the skin removing dead skin cells and lifting hairs, priming them for shaving. The razor itself allows the user control to cut hairs at the correct angle to minimise irritation.
Below we outline the 6 main reasons why every man should learn how to wet shave properly.
1. Gives a more comfortable, close shave.
It only takes a single razor sharp blade to cut through the hairs that grow on your face. Let that sink in for a second, just one blade is needed to effectively remove stubble. With the heavy marketing that accompanies the multi-bladed cartridge system it can be easy to forget the significance of this fact.
It is important to understand that each time you run a razor blade along your face, cutting the hairs, you are also scraping away thin layers of skin with it. Pressing too hard or going over the same area repeatedly can lead to irritation which is known as razor burn, as you remove the lipid barrier protecting the skin and expose the epidermis underneath.
Therefore using a 5-bladed razor means each pass on the skin is the equivalent of going over the same spot 5 times! The blades are placed in at a very steep angle to allow space for debris to escape but this causes them to scrape along the skin rather than cleanly cut the hair.
Furthermore, due to the design of pivot-able cartridge heads, pressure needs to be applied to allow it to adjust to the contours of your face which will only amplify the amount of irritation. The simplicity of using a single blade can be beneficial in reducing irritation as you can control how often you go over the same area, minimise the pressure being applied and control the angle you cut at.
So why have you been using multi-bladed razors if only one blade is needed?
For one; excellent marketing has convinced you to, and many believe the main reason we see razors with an extra blade attached every few years is because companies are chasing the high profits they can gain by exploiting the patent system. A patented product can be sold with a nice profit margin as no-one else is allowed to make it but when that patent runs out everyone jumps on the bandwagon, driving down the price and profits.
By making a slight tweak, such as an extra blade, and patenting it, those profits can continue to be achieved. The increasing reliance of razor manufacturers adding extra blades to their products led the Economist to predict it wouldn’t be long before we are seeing the 14 bladed razor!
2. Better for your skin in the long run.
A poor shave can cause all sorts of problems, razor burn is notoriously uncomfortable and can last for a few hours to a number of days depending on severity, it can also be embarrassingly visible.
Razor bumps, which are closely related to ingrown hairs, are usually caused by hair growing inward rather than out of the follicle, but can also be caused when the hair develops a kink and turns back into the skin.
Ingrown hairs are typically caused by going against the direction of hair growth and, ironically, by cartridge razors. This is because their multiple blades are designed to lift up the base of the hair with the first blade so that the subsequent blades can cut as low down as possible but often it is cut so low that, when released, it falls back below the surface of the skin where it has the potential to then become ingrown.
Over the long term, using inferior shaving tools and poor technique leading to regular razor burn causes the skin to be over exfoliated, which has been linked to premature aging, so it is extra important that you shave in a way that doesn’t cause this.
Not only is the choice of razor important for your skin but also the other products you combine it with. Shaving foam uses propellants so that it comes out of its pressurised container in the convenient manner of instantly available foam. But these ingredients aren’t actually good for the skin and over the long term will dry it out.
Using a shaving soap or cream is a far better alternative because they are made with moisturising properties in mind. What’s more, the lather they generate is made up and applied with a shaving brush which provides gentle exfoliation to the skin, lifting up hairs to prime them for shaving and in turn helping to prevent ingrowing.
3. Can be much cheaper if you’re on a budget.
A common complaint among shaving men is the cost and, if you don’t enjoy the act of shaving, that’s not a surprise.
Why would you want to pay for something that you don’t enjoy?
But cartridge razors don’t come cheap, leading many to buy inexpensive disposables which do a terrible job and are even worse for the environment. Due to their expense, most don’t buy in bulk which can lead to the painful experience of having to drag a dull blade across your face because you forgot to buy more. Similarly, shaving foam cans cost a lot considering they don’t last very long.
In contrast to this; wet shaving the traditional way can be far cheaper in the long run, especially if you’re not worried about using the nicest products. You’ll have to fork out a little bit more at first as safety razors usually start at about £20 and a good shaving brush around £30 but from then on it’s much cheaper. DE razor blades cost pennies each and a full sized shaving soap can last 6 months if you look after it. You can easily get by on less than £15 per year if you want to, which is about the price of a pack of cartridge razors!
However, for many that take the plunge into wet shaving, the idea of eliminating cost as much as possible becomes obsolete as they tend to find that they have started to enjoy their morning routine and no longer worry about counting the pennies.
Ironically, many cartridge shavers sick of paying through the teeth for their razors that move over to traditional wet shaving end up spending more because they look forward to trying new soaps, creams, oils and balms and seeing how enjoyable their combination can make the daily shave as well as the benefits they see to their skin.
At first, using a safety razor can seem so alien and scary. You are suddenly in control, you can even see the blade!
You may wonder how running it along your face can ever seem like a good idea, but after a short training period of a few shaves it will seem like the most natural thing in the world. All you have to know is how to hold the razor at the correct angle, how much pressure to apply (hint: none. Let the weight of the razor do the work) and how to make up a thick lather.
Once you have gained some practice it will seem like second nature and suddenly there is joy to be found in the morning routine. Every shave is different and most find that they no longer resent the obligation to stay fresh faced and instead find pleasure in the ceremony of it.
Wet shaving forces you to learn every bump and contour of your face as you continually improve and find the best ways to efficiently and comfortably remove your stubble. It’s this aspect of moving away from a mindless task, into honing a technique, that most find so appealing and transforms shaving into something to look forward to rather than a chore to despise.
What’s more, there is enjoyment to be found in the sheer amount of variety on offer. There are numerous brands of shaving soap out there, each with their own distinct fragrance, lathering and moisturising properties.
Due to the relative ease of making soap there are a lot of small independent artisanal producers that often create fantastic soaps that are better than their mass produced equivalents. Similarly, there are a lot of pre and post shaving products that can be used to create a more enjoyable shaving experience such as oils and balms that don’t tend to be noticed by cartridge shavers but most traditionalists swear by.
This allows for many wet shavers to customise their daily shave, for example pairing complementing or contrasting fragrances together from a soap, balm and aftershave.
5. Friendlier to the environment
Using a disposable razor is perhaps the worst thing you can employ in your shaving routine, not just because of its sub-par performance but also because of how wasteful it is.
Most estimates claim at least 2 billion disposable razors are thrown into landfill sites every year in the US alone, in the UK it will be millions more and due to them being predominately plastic they are likely to remain there forever.
In short; they are taking up valuable space and the process of making them damages the environment. Even if you use a cartridge razor with a replaceable head, that head has the same problem of being thrown into landfill as its complicated housing makes it not worth salvaging for recycling purposes.
On the other hand, a double edge safety razor is made from solid metal and with proper care could last a lifetime. The only element that needs replacing is the blade and once used this can be saved up and put into metal recycling. If you were to use a straight razor the environmental benefits can be even higher as nothing is replaced, the blade is sharpened before each use with a leather strop.
6. It makes you look sophisticated and bad-ass at the same time.
Need we say more? Let’s face it, cartridge razors, especially those with the plastic handles, look cheap and nasty. They quickly get grubby and in general just look unimpressive.
In stark contrast is traditional wet shaving gear. The razor itself is stainless steel and looks deadly, many will balk at the sight of it whilst you calmly let it glide along your stubble.
A good quality shaving brush and shaving soap evokes thoughts of old-world luxury as you imagine the process of manually building up a warm lather and applying it to your face. When you have a sink lined up with a classic safety razor, brush and soaps, you can’t help but feel like a sophisticated gentleman.
If clothes make the man then it’s just possible that grooming makes the gentleman.
Plastic cartridge razors and canned foam are all about speed and convenience, they represent the man always in a rush without the time to do things as he should. Traditional wet shaving gear tells you this is a gentleman that doesn't rush around chasing his own tail, he has time to do things properly and for that he reaps the rewards.