The Elusive Perfect Shave

Back in 2004, The Onion predicted that Gillette would release a 5-blade razor in a satire entitled: “Fuck Everything, We’re Doing Five Blades” and it was hilarious.

By James M. Kilts
CEO and President,
The Gillette Company
February 18, 2004 | Issue 40*07
Would someone tell me how this happened? We were the fucking vanguard of shaving in this country. The Gillette Mach3 was
the razor to own. Then the other guy came out with a three-blade razor. Were we scared? Hell, no. Because we hit back with a little thing called the Mach3Turbo. That’s three blades and an aloe strip. For moisture. But you know what happened next? Shut up, I’m telling you what happened—the bastards went to four blades. Now we’re standing around with our cocks in our hands, selling three blades and a strip. Moisture or no, suddenly we’re the chumps. Well, fuck it. We’re going to five blades.

Well, it happened. It’s called the Gillette Fusion. And now, the thing has a battery and vibrates…

Do we really need 5 blades that vibrate?

Somewhere along the history of men’s grooming, shaving got adulterated and lost its purity, big time. Looking at the toys that litter the market these days, it’s clear that it’s just a marketing war out there.

So Jae and I did some research, revisited our shaving stash, and went on a journey into the art of wet-shaving: a world full of shaving creams scented with Lavender, shaving brushes made of badger hair and ivory handles from England, safety razors from the early 1900′s with blades made in Japan, and methods that looked like more art than anything I’ve associated with shaving before.

Excessive? maybe. We went in to investigate, and this is what we found:

The Classic Double-edged Safety Razor

It may seem like I’m bashing Gillette, but I only have the utmost reverence for Gillette. Gillette is the designer of one of the finest razors ever made, the Double-edged “Heavy Duty” Safety Razor. It is considered by many experienced “wet shavers” as the standard for double-edged safety razors.

I discovered, with the help of many a wet-shavers’ advice, that one of these old school safety razors, coupled with the proper shaving cream, will do a much better job at giving you a close shave than those new 5-6 bladed monsters. It also won’t cost you a tank of gas to buy replacement cartridges, saving you tons in the long-term.

Although they don’t make them anymore, a German company named Merkur is continuing the legacy with the same high quality and design. Search for the Merkur Heavy Duty Safety Razor.

I bought mine at lee’s razor for $35. Shaving never felt so solid and elegant.

They go for around $25-35, but if you’re looking for the greatest shave of your life, it’ll be one of the best investments you make in awhile.

Blades

These classic razors usually don’t come with blades so you’re going to have to purchase blades separately.

However, this is where you really save because Fusion replacements cost $40 for a pack of 8–that’s $5 per cartridge-- while double edge replacement blades will only cost you around $.50 cents.

Different blades work for different people, so you’re going to have to experiment a little. The best bet is to buy small sample pack of the following brands before you go ahead and invest in 20,000 of one kind.

Here are some of the highest quality blades recommended by experienced wet shavers: Merkur (Germany), Personnas (Israel – great starter blades), Derby (Turkey), and Feather (Japanese blades that are feared and revered as ninja sharp blades – the company makes surgical equipment).

Shaving Brushes

Now this is where shaving takes on another level.

Most men do not own a brush nor do they feel compelled to drop $25-$500 on something they can use their hands for. However, if you’re even somewhat serious about getting the “perfect shave,” the shaving brush is an integral piece.

It not only turns your shaving cream into the perfect lather, but raises the hairs on your face for a much better shave. Not to mention, it also exfoliates dead skin off your face.

Types of Shaving Brush Hairs

There are a few types of shaving brush hairs, and these types (including what part of the animal the hair is from) will determine the quality of the brush, as well as the whether it will cost you $5 or $500.

The major types you’re going to find are 1. Badger, 2. Boar, and 3. Synthetic.

The Badger is going to account for your highest quality brushes, followed by the Boar.

For many guys, this is where they might want to cut costs, but opting for the boar hair may result in a harsh brush that falls apart all over your face. You don’t want that, so I recommend going with the Badger.

Within the Badger brushes you’re going to get a few grades. In general the grades are categorized as “pure” (being the lowest grade), “best,” “super,” and “silver tip.” The “super” or “silver tip “badger brushes are going to be some of the softest, highest quality brushes you can find, and will have a white color instead of its usual black/brown. These brushes can go upwards of $500. Personally, I don’t see the need/value, but to each their own.

I got my best badger brush at Crabtree & Evelyn. It’s one of the best values you’re going to find for a really high-quality badger brush.

Some other great look-for brands are: Vulfix, Savile Row, and Shavemac.

If the idea of using animal hair rubs you the wrong way, Men-u’s Premier Shaving Brush is a synthetic brush that is highly recommended by experienced wet shavers. 3-years in the making, many say the men-u premier surpasses the effectiveness of badger brushes in creating a phenomenal lather.

Shaving Creams

Even if you decide to skip the brush, and even the safety razor, you’re going to see a huge improvement in your shaves by upgrading your shaving cream.

Look for a glycerin-based shaving cream as it binds well with water. Throw away that shaving gel as they most likely contain alcohol which closes your pores and drys out your skin. Here are a few brands I would recommend:

Taylor of Old Bond Street ($13)

Geo F. Trumper ($15)


Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood Shaving Cream ($15)

Proraso ($8)

Here is another great shaving cream that I would recommend: The Art of Shaving Unscented Shaving Cream Tube

How to Shave w/ a Single Blade:

It took a bit to get used to shaving with a single blade instead of “5 plus the precision of 1.” I was used to rushing, and worse, pressing down on my skin in order to get a closer shave.

Preparation is Key

“Ninety percent of shaving is preparation” – Adam Dishell, of The Shave Beverly Hills

Shave after a hot shower, or at the least, wash your face in hot water for at least 30 seconds. This will open up your pores and get your hair exposed for the shave. You can also put a hot towel on your face like when you’re getting a wet shave at a barber. You can also go as far as using pre-shave oil to make your whiskers stand, but I find that a little excessive–a good shaving cream will do that for you.

Here’s a great video of a single blade in action:

The Aftermath

So many guys forget to moisturize their skin. Shaving tends to expose new skin and really dry it out. Use a good moisturizer to avoid the red and itching that may be the aftermath.

Here are some great after-shave balms:

Nivea Extra Soothing Balm ($6)
At $6 this is one of the best values when it comes to after shave balms.

Proraso Liquid Cream After Shave ($12)
The Italians know what they’re doing when it comes to shaving, and this after shave cream is a prime example.

Art of Shaving After Shave Balm ($38)


Personally, I think Art of Shaving is overpriced, but their products are quality. Their shave balm is especially good.

Geo F. Trumper Skin Food More a luxury than a necessity.

The Verdict:

Now the question is does all this result in a better, closer shave? or is it all merely a hyped-up hobby? I went out and bought some of the latest and greatest, and began to truly scrutinize my shaves.

At first, the shave was comparable between my old gear (Gillette fusion, can of gel shaving cream) and the new (merkur HD, taylor’s shaving cream, badger brush). In fact, using the classic safety razor initially resulted in a somewhat lack-luster shave with some nicks and cuts. However, after a few shaves under my belt, and a few revisions to my strategy, I began getting some of the closest shaves ever.

If anything, the shave brush and shaving cream upgrade alone magnified my shaving experience by ten-fold, even with my old multi-blade razor. The Merkur just took it to the next level. Not to mention, the whole process is an addictive, luxurious treat that sets the tone for the entire day.

Try it, and see for yourself.

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  • basil

    Great article.

    Gillete are primarily responsible for the perversion of the shaving industry. They started off as a traditional razor company but the lure of greater profits led to them creating what is called the ‘loss-leader’, wherby they practically give away the razor but make you pay a fortune for the cartridges.

    People of course believe more blades creates a better/easier shave and therefore they can charge more for the cartridges.

  • Sam

    awesome post. just got myself a merkur razor and some proraso shaving cream to give all this a try.

  • A manly man

    I shave in the shower with a disposable razor that is old. I don’t use soap or creme or anything. Just hot water.

  • Tim

    Use Jack Black’s Beard Lube instead. It is faster, cheaper, cleaner, and leaves my skin feeling great in addition to fewer breakouts from all the heavily oiled above-mentioned products. I have used Proraso and Geo F. Trumper for years but switched to Jack Black’s. It is better and cheaper.

  • Sid

    Nice post… I personally use Merkur razor and badger brush… and I love the way they treat my skin… not to mention the nicer shave..

    Thanks.. I hope your article helps more people realize that shaving is not just one of the daily mundane tasks.. but an art that “sets the tone for the day” …

  • http://darkstar.frop.org/~zwhite/blog Zach

    Safety razors are simply razors with training wheels. If you want the truly perfect shave you need to learn how to shave with a straight razor.

    / aspires to be able to shave with one

  • andy

    I’m a straight-razor man myself, but your article has convinced me to obtain a safety razor and give it a try, though I’ll probably only use it when I’m traveling.

  • Bob

    I just use an old gillete safety razor. Black handle, gold colored top. Shave after a shower, don’t dry off your face, just step up to the sink, hot water and shave. Works for me at least. I used to go the whole brush and shave bar thing about 10 years ago. I liked the ceremony of it all, but really nothing but the blade now works just fine. The blades I have now are cheap pieces of crap from Russia. But they work fine as well.

    Nice article, need to get people away from the Onion type razors. That’s just stupid.

  • ian

    Good read. It looks like Vintage Blades LLC sells the Merkur razor shown above as the “Heavy Classic”
    http://www.vintagebladesllc.com/vshop/xcart/home.php?cat=129
    I’m going to get a good synthetic brush and a Merkur, thanks for the reccomendation

  • http://www.chrisinch.com Chris

    Great article. I’ve never actually tried shaving with a safety razor, however I’ve tried most of the “modern” razors as well as straight razors. I used to use a brush and shaving soap religiously, but now I’ve switched to using only olive oil to shave.

    I wrote an article about it on my blog in case you’re interested in trying something new: http://www.chrisinch.com/blog/articles/show/Why-I-shave-with-olive-oil/

    Anyway, good article, I will have to pick up a safety razor and give your method a try.

  • http://www.emmynate.com Chris P.

    I saw mantic59′s videos on youtube last year and tried some proraso products to get started. I then found out that one of the ‘prophets’ of wet shaving has a store in my hometown of Austin Texas. He goes a step further and advocates a user created foam/emulsion for shaving which is created from a soap block, liquid added during lather build up and conditioner added also during lather build up. I now get awesome shaves which make my skin feel better after the shave than before. I used to have a ton of irritation, now I have none.

    Look into wet shaving with brush and Merkur, there is a little transition time you’ve got to get through, but afterwards, its a great way to shave.

    What’s cool is you can set up an appt and he’ll have you shave at his store and give you tips and advice on how to deal with your particular beard.

    http://www.enchanteonline.com/pages/shaveculture/wetshaving.htm

  • http://www.betterthanyourboyfriend.com Tynan

    Great article. I use a Merkur razor and the Dovo silver tip travel brush (amazing – Dovo makes a lot of other super good stuff).

    That synthetic brush seems really cool. If I wasn’t traveling I would check that out.

    Tynan

  • Rapscallion

    What? no injector shavers?? A single blade, ease of use, cheap and effective. Get a 1960′s model adjustable Schick, cheap CVS branded platinum coated blades, dial it in for your preference and you are good to go.

    I learned to shave on a double edge, but quickly found the injector to be easier and faster to use. Not too mention easier on the face. I’ve been using one ever since except for a brief time when I couldn’t find the blades. Thanks to the internet, I’m back in business.

  • chad

    I used to shave as soon as I got out of the shower, but I always had dissapointing results (nicks, cuts). Plus, there was extra cleanup and such.

    After doing some online reading, I finally realized that I should try shaving in the shower. There’s no shaving cream to buy, and nothing to clean up. I’ve found it to be so much more comfortable to shave in the shower. There’s no problem with not having a mirror, you’ll just instinctively know where to shave. Typically, I play it safe with my sideburns and even them out when I get out of the shower if need be.

    I really liked the video tips about getting those hard to move-around areas – the shower doesn’t make those areas any easier.

    You should give it a try. By the way, I still use the 5-blade-turbo Gillette razor in the shower (I found it’s much better than the 3 or 4 blade ones), but maybe I’ll try going back to a simpler razor as I hate blowing my money on replacement blades. Thanks for the advice.

  • http://jgohil.typepad.com Jay

    Great article. I recently came across this article as well – How to have a perfect shave and get rid of ingrowing hair, razor bumps and rashes e.t.c. The products they recommend include Tend Skin, American logistics, lab series e.t.c. – http://www.hqman.com/the_perfect_shave/1612/feature.html

  • Calamity

    Nice article. But for those of us who have problems with shaving pimples and ingrown hairs, wouldn’t a even closer shave create more problems? The chance of a ingrown hair seems higher.

  • Scott

    I love Proraso, especially the cooling effect you get from the eucalyptus and menthol. I prefer the type that comes in the plastic tubs, as opposed to the tubes. The tub makes it easy to lather with a brush.

    I get all my supplies from http://qedusa.com

    The customer service is really great, and they’ll really take care of you. The navigation on their site is a little buggy, but it’s worth it in my opinion. I’ll have to try out that Jack Black’s Beard lube, as it seems I’m starting to get breakouts again and I have a feeling I might be developing some sort of allergy to Proraso or one of its ingredients…it’s too bad since it really wakes you up when you use it.

    Something else nobody seems to have mentioned is the smell.

    All these old-school shaving supplies have really unique smells that really bring back lots of memories of barber shops and such. Just another benefit it seems to me.

  • Pingback: The Feared Shave: Straight Razors

  • Francisco Esteban

    its kinda interesting that here we all are… grown men, in some respects, seeking shaving advice from other grown men on shaving. To quote Fight Club: “I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need ( like 5 bladed razors that vibrate =P ). We’re the middle children of history, man.” Now we must teach ourselves how to survive/to shave! lolz

  • Tex

    I started using, yes……Extra virgin olive oil! Closest shave imaginable. No more red bumps, ingrown hairs, aftershaves, shaving creame etc, etc…….

    It’s also GREAT for the face. The lubrication is amazing. I’ll never buy cream again.

  • Ron

    I’ve been shaving with a double-edge for about a year now, using a Merkur Barberpole razor and a variety of blades. I usually start with Proraso preshave, then a Taylor and Bond cream, applied with a badger-hair brush. I find that if I shave in the evening, I can go the entire next day without the classic ‘five-o’clock shadow’. It does take a little longer to shave this way, but I get great resluts with no razor burn.

  • Rake

    This was such a great article…Thanks for placing this…..

  • Rival

    When I was younger, I did’nt need to shave that often. My whiskers wer’nt that tuff then. Shaved in the shower and used just about any razor.
    Now I’m older and girlfriends used to complain how prickley my face was (expecially when we were in hockey mode)Now I know the importance of grooming expecially if you was to keep and attract women. I can still feel the prickly face of my father and the smell of scotch on his breath when I was a child,it can be a mood killer.
    I still shave in the shower and I have alway used a soap bar and twin blade disposable razor. I leave a mirror in there and never use an after shave, any sort of moisture cream and people still cant guess my age, and thats a good feeling.
    If you have tuff bristles a cheap twin blade wont cut it,
    get a better quallity blade and it will stay sharper for longer. As gilete says,’you can feel the difference’
    Rival

  • Brad

    I’ve tried straight-razors and gillette vibrating 5-bladers as well. The only thing that really gets me a smooth shave is my Remington electric shaver.

    You do need a lotta other face-care stuff, though, like exfoliating face-wash, soothing aftershave balm and alcohol-based toners and astringents to keep those nasty bumps & pimples at bay.

    Its well worth the effort, though, I get a extremely close shave that leaves my face smooth and supple. The ladies love it!

  • http://www.colttrickle.com Adam Martin

    Nice article. I really enjoyed it. Thanks.

  • DC Vandal

    Just a few weeks ago, I bought a beautifully finished Edwin Jagger razor from Sheffield, UK and I’ll never go back. Gillette and Schick have been lying their tails off for decades by trying to convince poeple it’s all about the blades. Well, it ISN’T! It’s about the lubricant under the blade. Get a mug and brush and a double edged razor and you’re set for life!

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    Thanks for sharing such great products. I will look for this stuff in the market.

  • Jay B.

    I just came across this great post. For years I have been using a forty-year-old Gillette safety razor, which is adjustable for closeness, that I got from my grandfather. I have another one exactly like it in reserve that I purchased at an estate sale. The quality is such that I will never need to worry about getting another. I feel like I became a man the day I started using this razor. Like the book says, “when I became a man I put away childish things” like multi-blade cartridge razors and aerosol shaving foam. Since then I have enjoyed a flawless close shave and the masculine ritual that goes along with it.

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