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.


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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