Wet Shaving Razors
Straight or Safety?
Wet shaving is the process in which a razor is used to cut unwanted hair while the skin and hair is moistened with water and some type of lubricant. This is opposed to dry shaving which is usually done with an electric shaver, but can be done with a traditional razor. The lubricant used in wet shaving is a cream, soap, oil or gel. These provide varying levels of moistening for the skin and hair while permitting the blade to safely slide across the face and cut the wet, soft whiskers. The best shaving creams are those which create a lather using a shaving brush.
Some electric razor manufacturers also make shavers that are waterproof and can be used while in the shower. However, electric razors work best when the whiskers to be cut are dry and stiff, not moist and soft.
There are two primary types of razors used in wet shaving: straight razors and safety razors. Within the category of razors known as safety razors, there are many different types. The main ones are double-edged safety razors, cartridge razors and disposable razors.
Straight razors are the type of razors that barbers traditionally use to provide a good clean shave to their customers. Many states and countries have laws against the commercial use of straight razors today. Therefore, not all barbers are able to provide a straight razor shave. Modern straight razors were first popularized in France starting in 1740. The razor has not changed much since that time.
A straight razor requires quite a bit of skill to be used safely. With practice a straight razor can yield a close shave without damage to the skin that multi-blade disposables cause. Straight razors are more cost effective over time and can last several decades.
Because straight razors are not disposable, they need to be sharpened for regular use. Stropping is when the blade is pushed backwards up a leather strap. This straightens the slight imperfections that the blade gets from regular use. Stropping is not so much sharpening as it is fine tuning a blade. A straight razor is usually stropped at least as often as every shave. Sometimes it needs to be stropped more often. Actual sharpening is called honing and only needs to be done a couple of times a year. It is even possible to buy straight razors today which have replaceable blades.
When using a straight razor this is the most important time to use shaving cream created from a quality lather.
While safety razor refers to a group of razors, what is meant in this article is the type of razor where only the blade is replaced, not the whole head like cartridge razors. By the 1870s an inventor had developed a single blade safety razor that could be used without the same concerns that a straight razor carried with it. In 1901 King Camp Gillette invented the safety razor with disposable blades. Gillette is famous for cheaply selling the razor handle, but maintaining a constant revenue stream by then selling the replaceable blades.
Double-edged safety razors have two blades so that the user needs to change blades less often. These are the most popular type of traditional safety razors used today. It is easy to find blades for as little as $0.10 which make these types of razors cost effective. Even though they are referred to as double-edged razors, they only have one blade that is used at any one time.
While they are not as easy to clean as straight razors, double-edged safety razors are the easiest of the safety razors to keep clean. Since there is only one blade, they do not suffer from the problem of soap and whiskers clogging the razor head. Even single blade cartridge and disposable razors can clog easily.
One advantage to the customer with safety razors was that there was competition in the blade manufacturing market, however, that convenience was not good for the razor manufacturers. A few companies were selling handles, while dozens of companies were making and selling razor blades. This caused two main problems for the razor handle companies. First was the problem of them not selling blades and making a profit. Secondly was the fact that they were no longer in control of the quality of the blades being used in their razor systems. In 1965 Gillette came out with the first cartridge razors to combat the problem. The cartridge razors that are more familiar to shavers today were not introduced until 1971.
Cartridge razors were even safer than the previous generation of safety razors. However, their cost was significantly more per blade. Today cartridges cost $1-$4. That is at least 10 times the cost of a double-edged safety blade.
With the advent of the cartridge razor came the beginning of having multiple blades per cartridge head. These blades purportedly give a closer shave, but at considerable cost. Because the blades are so close to one another, they tend to get clogged and are harder to use effectively. The multiple blades also cause more razor burn and razor bumps. Those who suffer from such problems will get a better and less painful shave by switching to a single blade cartridge or safety razor.
Disposable razors are an evolution of the cartridge razors. In 1974 Bic introduced the first disposable razor, but Gillette was the first to the US market in 1976 which them a market advantage. Disposable razors are usually cheaper than cartridges, but to keep their cost down, the blades are not as high quality. This causes the user to need more razors over time.
Some type of lubricant needs to be used when wet shaving. The main things to look for in a shaving cream, gel, oil or soap is that it both lubricates the skin and that it softens the whiskers. Lubrication is missing in many popular shaving creams used today. However, lubrication is critical when using a straight razor. Buying a shaving cream, or shaving soap, which has glycerin in it will provide the needed lubrication.