The Lost Art of the Close Shave

Marketing is one of the many multi-faceted byproducts of capitalism.  I’m not talking about the ingenious birth of new products that make life easier and more comfortable.  That’s a byproduct too.  No, I am talking about creating a market where none existed before.  I’m talking about the art of convincing someone they need something today that they didn’t need yesterday.  Like the snuggie, picnic pants, or the privacy scarf.

Somewhere along the line, marketing convinced men that they needed razors with 3, 4, even 5 blades.  In fact, Saturday Night Live ran a skit in 1975, advertising an as-yet fictitious (and supposedly ridicuous) product called the “Triple Trac” razor.  (“Triple Trac. Because you’ll believe anything.”)

Did you know that men who participated in the first trials of multiple-blade razors were less than impressed?  They said they felt “like a cheese grater.”  But thousands of Super Bowl advertisements later, here we are.


Here’s the thing.  I won’t argue that multiple-blade cartridge razors aren’t convenient.  The concept behind a multiple-blade cartridge is that each blade is making a separate pass across your cheek, making cuts further and further down the hair follicle, thus giving you a closer shave.  There are varying viewpoints on whether or not that’s true, and it may well vary from individual to individual.

But there are several counter-arguments.


One.  Each blade that passes over your cheek creates friction, and irritates your skin, leading to razor burn and other problems.  Moreover as the blade dulls, the first dull blade will tug at the hair, while the second blade will cut it.  Cutting the follicle below the skin increases the likelihood that the hair will become ingrown – which is nearly as painful as it is unattractive. This problem is amplified for guys with curly hair.

Two.  Multiple-blade cartridges actually create a lot of waste.  Both in the manufacturing process and in what you’re throwing away each time you dispose of one.  Plus, neither disposable razors nor cartridges (nor the blister packaging they are sold in) are recyclable.  According to the EPA, two billion disposable razors are landfilled annually.

Three.  Multiple-blade cartridges are seriously expensive.  Single and double-edged blades (used in a traditional safety razor) cost less than 20 cents each.  Compare that to the cost of a cartridge, which can easily be $2 – $3 each.  That’s literally ten times the cost.

Can you imagine making that same decision with other things in your life?  Imagine if the gas station had a “superior” gasoline that they said was better for your car.  The only catch is that this new gasoline costs $38.00 per gallon, rather than the standard $3.80.  What would you do?

But ever since cartridges just started showing up on our Target shopping lists, we don’t even question their place in our lives.

Four.  Once you buy a brand’s handle, you’ve committed to buying that brand of razor blades until the end of time. Business students actually call this “razor and blades marketing,” referring to the practice of selling a loss-leader (the handle) that commits the user to buying the product (the blades).

Marketing and manufacturing companies also employ what’s called “planned obsolescence.”  (That’s a business concept too.)  Basically it means that the new razor blades do not fit the old razor blade handles – by design.  Want to try that new 5-blade model with a vibrating handle and an LED headlight?  (Seriously?  Why?)  Well alright – you’ll need to buy the handle to go with it.  And then what happens to your old handle?  (Refer back to #2 above.)

Compare this to using a safety razor (below).  The blade you use is up to you.  If you don’t like a particular brand or style of blade, you can easily swap it for a different one.  In fact, you can even start with a sample kit and figure out which style suits you best.


There are basically two reasonable alternatives: safety razors and straight razors.  Safety razors are much simpler to maintain because the blade is replaceable.  Plus, as the name implies, the blade of a safety razor is in a protective housing, keeping you from injuring yourself while you shave.


The first patent for a safety razor was registered in 1847 by William S. Henson.  In 1904, Gillette was awarded a patent for the disposable double-edged blade that made the razor more convenient.  Gillette largely owes the success of these razors to WWI, when it was awarded a contract to supply double-edge safety razors in a soldier’s field kit.  When the soldiers returned home, they were allowed to keep their razor.  And they retained the shaving habits they developed at war.

Patent for the Safety Razor

Safety razors are all constructed in basically the same way.  The straight handle screws in to the head that holds a replaceable double-edged blade.  Some heads are designed to come apart to replace the blade.  Some heads are designed to open (butterfly) to replace the blade.  The blades are universal, and high-quality blades are not expensive.

Safety Razor

Safety razors used to be difficult to find.  But, recently stores like The Art of Shaving and several internet sites have popped up where you can compare several models.  And whereas you’re going to spend a few dollars for the safety razor (handle) itself, you shouldn’t spend any more than about $40 for a new one and it will save you money on blades in the long run.

The blades, in contrast, are not difficult to find at all.  You can find them online or in any local pharmacy.

Places to buy a safety razor:

Learn to shave with a safety razor:

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