Saturday, February 7, 2015

Weekly Shave Review: the Astra Superior Platinum Blade

This is the twentieth of my weekly shave summaries. This week is another blade previously reviewed: the Astra Superior Platinum blade, which is manufactured in Russia and listed as having a platinum coating for comfortable shaving.

My primary shave soap again this week is the first pre-production run of Grandad's Slick 'n Creamy Shave Soap for Sensitive Skin (formula SS#11P1).

[Reminder about my skin type: I have very sensitive, thin skin, somewhat loose (on the neck when shaving horizontally), with lots of angles and dips -- paired with a moderately tough beard. It's challenging to get a close, comfortable shave. Shaving gear must be chosen with care.]

The shave prep this week, unless otherwise specified, was a cool-water rinse only, followed by Grandad's shave soap lathered with a boar brush. After-shave treatments are specified in each day's notes.
Tuesday: the 33C head on
the Maggard MR3B handle.

New in This Week's Review:
This week I have tested a new two-razor shaving process. For the first two passes in this process, I use a mild razor such as my favorite, the Merkur 33C. For the final pass against grain, I am this week using the vintage Gillette Slim Adjustable with a low-moderate setting (anywhere from three to five). The point of this process is to get a low-irritation shave that is also as close as possible.

I am also using a new shave-rating system, which is briefly outlined at the end of this article, and on which an entire article has been written for The rating system is a three-criterion evaluation, focusing separately on closeness, irritation, and wounds inflicted; each is rated on a one-to-five scale, where five is best and one is worst.

The Gillette Slim Adjustable, which
is my final-pass instrument for some
shaves this week.
What I Learned this Week:
Using a razor with a positive blade exposure (the edge positioned slightly above the razor head's shave plane, which is determined by the top cap and safety bar, I can get a slightly-closer shave. However, it still takes lots of fussing on the third pass or even a fourth pass to achieve an overall closeness rating approaching 5*. And when I fuss to get a very close shave, it normally adversely affects both my irritation and wound ratings. So next week, I'll be using the Lord L.6 razor head for the first two passes because, though the L.6 has a negative blade exposure similar to the Merkur 33, the blade gap of the L.6 is larger, thus giving it a slightly more aggressive shave character. I'm hoping this will facilitate overall higher-quality shaves.

Noticed the improvement with the new Astra blade right from the first few strokes. The first two passes with the Merkur 33C were close and unmarred by any wounds. Began the final pass with the Slim set to four for neck and under jaw.  One weeper on neck. Reset the Slim to five for chin, cheeks, and upper lip. Two more larger weepers and a couple of pin-point weepers, but very close shave. Could feel slight skin irritation of the sharp blade against my skin. Post shave process included cool-water rinse, touch of styptic on the three bigger weepers. Then after instrument clean up, rinsed off the styptic, followed by a Noxzema wash, and finished with Neutrogena balm supplemented with vitamin-E oil. A really excellent shave -- one of my best -- and only marred by the weepers.

Rating this day's shave (each on 1-5 scale, 5 being best)*:     Closeness-4.4, Irritation-4, Wounds-3

Today was the baseline shave with the new blade. I usually do the baseline shave on Sunday, but yesterday wanted to test my newly-implemented two-razor process. Today's baseline shave was a standard three-pass, no-fussing-at-all shave with my favored Merkur 33C Classic razor head but using the heavy MR3B handle. The Astra blade leaves just a touch of irritation on my skin, but still gives a good shave for me. I almost rated this shave a five because the minor wounds that I opened (one pinpoint weeper and another slightly larger on the tip of my chin) are likely residual from Sunday's extremely close, aggressive, two-razor shave. Tomorrow I'll repeat this process and see if my irritation and wound results improve any.

This shave was capped with cool-water rinses, a Noxzema wash, and a bit of shea-oil-and-tea-tree-oil after-shave lotion.

Rating this day's shave (each on 1-5 scale, 5 being best)*:     Closeness-3.6, Irritation-4, Wounds-4.5

Going for a close shave again today but without fussing, I used the 33 razor for the first two passes, and the Gillette Slim set on four for the final pass. Shaving carefully in that third pass still opened some minor weepers. The post-shave finish today was cool water, then Noxzema wash, then Gillette gel supplemented with vitamin-E oil. Overall, not a bad shave but not as perfect as hoped. Better smoothness on my cheeks, but slightly worse under jaw line and on neck due to my lack of fussing with the final pass as well as (unsuccessfully) trying to improve my wound rating.

Rating this day's shave (each on 1-5 scale, 5 being best)*:     Closeness-3.6, Irritation-4.5, Wounds-3

Today was a four-pass shave: two with the 33 razor head and the Astra blade of this week, and two passes with the Slim and a new Derby Extra blade; the third pass had the Slim set on three, the fourth "fussing" pass had a setting of four.

Why the Derby blade in the Slim? I wondered if a mild-shaving blade might be more compatible with this razor. I also considered that perhaps it might be appropriate to have a finishing blade to go along with my finishing razor. More to come on this as I continue trials.

The first three passes were uneventful, with no wounds except for a single recurring weeper on the point of my chin that I keep re-opening without even feeling it. On the fourth pass, I got careless in my enthusiasm for a perfect shave, causing a minor cut on my upper neck under my right ear as well as several additional weepers. All the wounds got a touch of styptic, and then I took an alum rub over my entire face and neck. After my tool clean up, I rinsed the styptic and alum off with cold water, and washed my face with Noxzema. I finished the shave with a generous application of Nivea balm laced with vitamin-E oil.

The details of the outcome were as follows:
Regarding closeness of the shave: cheeks-4.5, upper lip-4, chin & lower lip-5, under jawline-4.5, and neck-4; all of which averages to 4.4.
For all the fussing with the Slim, irritation was surprisingly mild at 4.
My fourth pass spoiled the wound rating, which would have approached five. However, it was actually a 3.

Rating this day's shave (each on 1-5 scale, 5 being best)*:     Closeness-4.2, Irritation-4, Wounds-3

Today was the Astra blade in the 33 and a new Personna red-label blade in the Slim set on 3. The first two passes were uneventful. With the Slim on the third pass, I opened two weepers on my chin and a couple others -- all so minor that no treatment was required. I finished the shave with a cool-water rinse, a Noxzema wash, and Nivea balm supplemented with vitamin-E oil.

It occurred to me to tomorrow try some pre-pass treatment with oil under my lather for the third pass.

Rating this day's shave (each on 1-5 scale, 5 being best)*:     Closeness-4.3, Irritation-4.3, Wounds-3.2

This day's shave was actually a little better than yesterday in terms of all three categories, though going strictly by the rating key, below*, they would get the same ratings. So I'm really splitting hairs in the rating system by making subtle distinctions in the ratings.

The Astra blade in the 33 razor head and the Personna red blade still in the Slim. Three passes with shave oil used only prior to the third, finishing pass. Two passes: uneventful. Third pass was improved: just a couple of pin-point weepers. Closeness: cheeks-4.5, upper lip-4.5, chin-5, under jaw-3, neck-3. Finished the shave with a cool-water rinse, then Noxzema wash.

Rating this day's shave (each on 1-5 scale, 5 being best)*:     Closeness-4, Irritation-4.5, Wounds-4.5

The final shave with the Astra in the 33 used two buffing passes with grain and cross grain. Then a final careful pass with the Gillette Slim on five using a Personna-red blade. The final pass with the Slim was not fussy at all. Closeness: cheeks-4, upper lip-4, chin-5, under jaw-3, neck-4. Finished the shave with a cool-water rinse, then Noxzema wash, then about four touches with the styptic pencil. After gear clean up, I capped the shave with a final cool-water rinse and applicaton of Gillette after-shave lotion for sensitive skin supplemented by vitamin-E oil.

Overall rating of this day's shave (each on 1-5 scale, 5 being best)*:     Closeness-4, Irritation-4, Wounds-3

Next Week:
For next week I'm returning to the Personna Super (blue wrapper, so-called "lab-blue") blade with the "comfort coating," which is actually PTFE (also known by the brand name, Teflon). Still in search of the optimal shave, next week I'll be using the Lord L.6 razor head for the first two passes, then again using the Gillette Slim Adjustable razor for the final against-grain pass paired with the Personna-red blade that I used this week.

*Rating Key:
Closeness -- a separate evaluation is done for each of these five areas: a) upper lip, b) cheeks, c) chin, d) under jaw line, and e) neck; then these five are averaged together for a single closeness rating. The following are the scale criteria:
5 – Smooth when rubbed against grain & other directions
4 – Smooth across grain but not against grain
3 – Smooth with grain only
2 – Not smooth to touch, but appears adequately clean shaven
1 – Not smooth to touch, and stubble apparent

5 – No perceivable irritation
4 – Minor irritation just after the shave, disappears quickly with time or applied balm
3 – Minor irritation that lingers for more than an hour but less than six
2 – Irritation that is perceived throughout the day
1 – Visible razor burn

5 – Absence of any wounds
4 – Pinpoint weepers only
3 – A total of three or less nicks, small cuts, and larger-than-pinpoint weepers
2 – A total of four to six  nicks, cuts, and larger-than-pinpoint weepers
1 – Worse than 2, above (first aid, quick!)

Happy shaving!

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