#ClimateStrike Gets Personal: Can You Save the Planet with Your Choice of Razor?

#ClimateStrike Gets Personal: Can You Save the Planet with Your Choice of Razor?
(Do try this at home; other stuff, too. Photo by the author.)

No. Don’t be silly. Of course you can’t.

But the question came up today after the Wall Street Journal sent reporter Sharon Terlep to talk to men about why they were switching from disposable cartridge razors to old-fashioned double-edge (DE) safety razors, even at “the risk of a little bloodletting.” And, yes, pushing today’s progressive narrative in a shaving story, saving the planet did come up.

I was a wet shaver with various Gillette products since my beard came in 30-mumble years ago, and I’ve been DE shaving for over ten years, so this is an issue near and dear to my face. Yours, too, if you’re one of the seemingly few men left who hasn’t grown a purely ironic lumberjack beard, and still shaves almost every day.

Terlep insists that “safety is something of a misnomer” for a blade she mistakes for “basically a straight razor attached perpendicularly to a handle.” What might possess a man to use such a risky object against his throat every morning? For one source she quotes, it’s about nostalgia, reconnecting with the past via “their own family or a romanticized version of a 1950s barber shop.” Others have more environmental concerns, such as the man who said, “it offended me on a moral level” to pay so much for disposable, un-recyclable cartridge blades.

But then Terlep gets back to what really seems to fascinate her, the “perils of grandpa’s razor.” She marvels at online users of “virtual communities of men who share tips on surviving an old-timey shave.”

Did anyone ever die from a nice shave? Asking for a friend.

I was active briefly in the online DE scene, back when I first started. Before going all-in on an expensive shaving kit, I wanted to know if it was really for me, and was also looking for tips on how to shave without slicing off bits of my face. As any DE shaver can tell you — and did tell me, in the online forums — there is a short learning curve. But I literally can’t remember the last time I nicked myself, much less left wondering if it is “normal for your face to look like a war zone,” as Terlep quotes one online board member. Use a light touch, go slow at first, and you’ll be fine.

Of course, with anything as personal as shaving, your mileage may vary.

Talk to any DE shaver though, and the reasons for switching have nothing to do with saving the planet or with nostalgia — and you won’t find many complains about injuries, either.

From what I’ve read and experienced, the main reasons to switch are:

• Big savings, after the initial buy-in

• Far fewer ingrown hairs

• A much better shave

Let’s go through these in order.

As I’ve written here before, the buy-in can be a little intimidating. You can buy a cheap razor handle and do just fine with it, but you shouldn’t skimp on the shaving brush — and a good badger brush isn’t cheap. Then you’ll have to choose from a plethora of pre-shave oils (not necessary but very nice!), shaving soaps or creams, and DE blades. I’ve been at this for a decade now, and while I got the right razor, brush, and blades on the first try, I’m still playing around with various expendables.

As the owner of a coarse and curly beard, cartridge razors frequently left me with nasty ingrown hairs, probably three or four times a year. I’m not sure I’ve had three or four, total, over the last ten-plus years of DE shaving. For black guys, or white guys with beards curly like mine, DE shaving is almost a no-brainer.

Is it really a better shave? Yes, and in more ways than one. The first thing you’ll notice after your first DE shave is how much closer it gets than a cartridge does. I always wondered why my beard always seemed to grow so quickly the first day, and then slow down after that. It turned out that it wasn’t growing quickly the first day; it’s just that those Gillette/Schick/Harry’s cartridges were never getting very close to begin with. How does a DE blade get so much closer? A safety razor is a proper steel blade. The multiple “blades” on a cartridge are basically slender strips of foil, stretched tightly enough to act like a razor, more or less. The former slices easily through any hair in its path. The latter tries to do the same job with quantity over quality. For shaving, quality wins.

You’ll also cause far less irritation. As it turns out, it irritates your skin less to drag one razor across it once or twice, than it does to drag three/four/five blades across it two or three times. To test out what I thought I was experiencing, years ago I tried shaving one side of my face with a Gillette Fusion, and the other side with my then-new DE razor. After, I applied an alcohol-based aftershave. The Gillette side felt the alcohol burn, but the DE side felt almost nothing at all.

Finally, with the money you save on longer-lasting DE blades (between ten and 25 cents a pop), versus a cartridge ($2-$4 each), you can spend on better everything else. Generally speaking, the better oils and soaps are much kinder to your skin than any chemical goo you might squirt out of a can.

My current setup is:

• Merkur Futur razor ($72, Amazon)

• Feather DE blades ($22)

• Parker silvertip badger shave brush ($60)

• St James of London Mandarin & Patchouli Pre-shave Oil ($25)

• Proraso menthol and eucalyptus shave soap ($10)

• Instead of aftershave (the alcohol-based stuff is not nice to your skin), Baxter of California Oil Free Moisturizer ($22)

The razor was my first and best purchase. I bought the Merkur when I first started because it’s adjustable — just twist the handle from One to Six, easy to aggressive. One is nice and safe for beginners, but you’ll need at least two passes to get a great shave. I moved pretty quickly up the dial to Five, which provides almost barbershop-level closeness. Most days I stick with Four. I tried Six once, but that setting is best reserved for when you’re stranded in the rainforest without a machete. My oldest son’s peach fuzz is beginning to darken, which means soon I’ll get him his own Futur — and we’ll start him on One and leave it there until he develops a steady shaving hand.

None of these items is cheap, but the razor and the brush are both once-in-a-lifetime purchases, so long-lasting that your sons will argue over who gets to inherit what. The lotion will last for a few months, and the oil and soap will go almost all year. And the $22 you plonked down for blades is at least two years worth of the best DE blades you can buy. Versus the $400 I used to spend each year on cartridge blades alone, I’m way out ahead.

Admittedly, I might not have saved the planet, or whisked myself back to an idealized version of a ’50s barbershop, and sadly I don’t seem to have sliced off any of my ample schnoz. But I do have a great shave, no ingrown hairs, and skin that feels better now at 50 than it did in my 30s. And my wife finds me pretty damn kissable, too.

That’s why I chose DE shaving, no matter what the WSJ says — how about you?

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