How to Pick a Razor

This post is in tribute to every woman who’s stood in a CVS staring dumbfounded at the razor options as decision fatigue starts to overwhelm her. I see you. I understand you. I’m sorry that happened to you.

It happened to me too, so I fell down a google rabbit hole trying to find out what I should be considering while buying. Here’s what I figured out.

Razor manufacturers don’t care about you getting a “better shave.”

Razor manufacturers engage not just in direct marketing but in more subliminal tactics. In researching this article, many of the top google results were posts that were either written by or written in consultation with razor manufacturers. Unsurprisingly, advice in these articles benefited the profits of those companies, usually by claiming that there really is a difference between men and women’s razors and that more blades equals a better shave.

I couldn’t find any scientific studies (let alone rigorous scientific studies) to support any of these claims. Instead, I found the alternative motive for razor company shills: product differentiation.

Gillette patented the disposable, single-blade razor in 1901. After that patent expired and rival companies started to flood the market with virtually identical products, Gillette came out with the two-blade razor. And then the three-blade razor. So on and so forth.

Razor companies create different products not to benefit the consumer but to differentiate themselves from the competition. Of course, they could do this by just creating products that are better and telling us, factually, why their stuff is better. You see this in the skincare industry, where the promoted ingredients have some clinically-tested record behind them. When you research a moisturizer, you can usually figure out what exactly each ingredient is supposed to do, how well it works, and whether people sometimes have reactions to it.

Meanwhile, I don’t even know what kind of metal my razor blades are made of.

So until we see a shift in the industry, I’m going to largely ignore packaging claims and focus on the only substantive differences between razors: number of blades and men’s vs. women’s products.

You don’t need more blades.

When confronted with decision fatigue in that CVS aisle, I gave in and picked a razor for two reasons: one, it was pink and I like pink, and two, four blades is better than three, right? Like three dollars better? Then I got home and realized that the first blade must cut the hair so…what the hell do the rest do?

Razor companies are smart engineers. Also, xkcd is still one of the best comic strips in the world.

As it turns out, more blades is better, but only to an extent. In order to get a close shave, a razor actually needs to cut the hair below the skin. A straight razor can do this by changing its angle, but a disposable razor blade is static. The first blade catches and lifts the hair so the second blade can cut it below skin-level. A third blade cleans up the excess. A fourth and fifth blade are, in my opinion, pretty superfluous.

And more blades can be more detrimental. More blades means more friction which can increase the chance of razor burn, etc. It’s possible more blades actually harm your skin. Companies have claimed that their optimally calibrated spacing and coating of the blades make this a non-issue, but I’m skeptical and, again, there was no real research I could find one way or the other.

Ignore gendered marketing, but buy the pink one if you want to.

Companies like to claim that there is a difference between men and women’s razors. Since men tend to shave their faces and women tend to shave their legs, differences in hair texture, sensitivity, and shape call for different angles and mobility. But that argument makes no sense to me: facial hair is coarse, facial skin is sensitive, and shaving a neck seems to be at least as complicated as navigating around my knee. There’s no indication that a women’s razor handles any of these challenges better than a men’s razor.

On the other hand, many women buy men’s razors to combat the pink tax, a phenomenon where a gender-neutral product is marketed toward women and costs more as a result. However, in my experience, the women’s razors aren’t necessarily unit-for-unit more expensive than a comparable men’s razor – I feel like this is likely a regional issue. Also, if I have to pay a few cents more for my razor to be pink, because I do like pink, I’m fine with it.

Some women also claim that men’s razor’s just work better than women’s razors. That might be true and I wouldn’t be surprised if companies put the better “razor technology” into men’s products — but it also wouldn’t make sense for them. These companies operate with no measurable indicators of quality, and there’s no rational business reason for them to spend more between products without promoting the hell out of it.

At the moment, I don’t think there’s enough evidence to sway me either way.

Accept that razors are a mystery and control what you can.

There are qualities in a razor that matter for a good shave. Sharp blades are better than dull ones, so I’d spend more for a product that would keep its edge for longer. I’d love to know about the durability of the handle (this one apparently breaks often) or what the blades are made of (some products say stainless steel, others literally don’t tell you). But none of these questions have been answered for me.

So, after becoming quite disenchanted with the entire razor industry, I’ve decided there is no right answer. Personally, my plan is to buy cheap, three-blade razors in colors I like and compensate for any unknowable variations in quality by being more careful with how I shave. Other articles indicate that you can get a better shave by changing the blades more regularly, using conditioner or shaving cream instead of soap, exfoliating properly, and storing the razor dry and in a dry place.

But how often do you have to change your blade? Wait, every five to ten shaves, maybe even less?

BRB, spiraling down another shaving research rabbit hole.

xoxo, Kim

P.S.: What do you shave with? And how often do you change your blades? Do you use a men’s razor and can you feel a difference? Do you change your razor every five shaves??? Let us know in the comments!

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image courtesy of julie.

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