Except for a brief experiment with a horrible electric shaver, I've used a multi-bladed cartridge razor for the past 29 years, believing it to be the ideal instrument for the task. Every few years, I'd upgrade to a new model with a new blade, only to discover that it did the same thing - that is, it left me with a severe red rash and irritated skin that had to be shaved the next day and was rarely permitted to recover.
I came across a safety razor by happenstance one day. Its old-fashioned design and high-quality appeal quickly drew me in. Then I found out that these things were meant to offer you a better shave than cartridge razors like your Gillettes and Wilkinson Swords, and that the blades were significantly less expensive. I ordered one right away to try it out, although I was expecting to be disappointed.
It took some time for me to become used to know how to use a safety razor. After three passes with the safety razor, my skin still felt somewhat irritated and I had a few minor weeping wounds, which I'd grown accustomed to disregarding the angle of the blade and pressing the razor to my face.
However, I noticed that the safety razor caused me less aggravation than my old cartridge razor, so I decided to give it a month's trial before making a decision, keeping the triple bladed razor available until I'd made up my mind or was in a hurry. However, I have yet to put it to use.
The safety razor began producing amazing shaves when I did my homework, learned the proper blade angle, and realised that the weight of the razor provides the pressure rather than my hand. I went from shaving every day with no rash or irritation to shaving every day when I could to let my skin heal. I learned how the hair on my face grows in various directions and how to cut it with the most effective stroke combinations. I learned about proper pre-shave preparation, which I'll discuss in more detail in a future post. Shaving became a peaceful, meditative process instead of a cruel daily duty to be endured.
So, how can a design that was nearly forgotten forty years ago provide a better experience than the new design that succeeded it? Why was the safety razor's design changed at all? We need to look at how the cartridge razor works to answer the first question. We're informed in all the commercials that these products provide the closest shave imaginable, but how do they achieve it?
The design of the cartridge is such that the lowest blade either cuts or pulls the hair. If it cuts the hair, it will pull it slightly out of the skin, where it will be cut again by the second blade before entirely retracting back into the skin. It will accomplish the same thing if it pulls the hair, pulling the follicle forward and allowing the second (or third, or fourth) blade to cut the hair higher up before the hair retreats. This results in a close shave, however the hair may be shaved below the level of the skin. This was the source of my everyday annoyance. I'm curious how many men suffering from 'pseudofolliculitis barbae' or 'razor rash' continue to shave using razors that aggravate or cause their disease.
In terms of why the safety razor design was dropped, I believe it was a cunning marketing ploy by a major razor manufacturer, maybe the developer of the 'loss leader' marketing approach, but I'll leave it at that.
With a safety razor, I was able to get a shave that felt as close as possible, in the sense that I couldn't feel any hair or hear that scratchy sound you get when you run your fingers over your five o'clock shadow, but not so close as to irritate me.