Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Debunking YMMV (Somewhat)

YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary -- it is the ubiquitous abbreviation of shaving forums. The first time it was used, it was clever and amusing. The first time I saw it used, I found it entertaining. Every time it's repeated since that first use, it becomes more and more cliche, tired, not clever, and down right embarrassing. Every time I see it, it makes the copy-cat user seem more dull, more the mindless lemming. Monkey see, monkey do. (YMMV? D'oh!)

I would suggest it isn't even completely true. Where it is true, it applies to inadequate shaving technique or varying pre-shave preparation. Right, if you don't know what you're doing, or are using some third-rate shave soap, then you are likely to get worse results than someone who does know what he's doing or who is actually using a quality, protecting soap. Sure. OK. YMMV. Good enough.

However, where it isn't true are those cases where we aren't talking about skill or cheezy beard prep. The implied subjectivity of the desirability of a given shaving component is sometimes (often) due to misunderstanding of or overlooking of other variables; it's not always about technique or prep. It would be like a size XXL person trying on a size small sweatshirt and saying it sucks, while a size small person puts the shirt on and loves it. YMMV? No, the little guy is correctly applying the use of the shirt, the big guy just has the wrong size. Mileage doesn't vary, but intelligence does.

A simple shaving example would be Person 1 writes that blade XYZ give a close, comfortable shave. But Person 2 says blade XYZ sucks, is harsh and dull. Ah but YMMV, right? Not necessarily. What if Person 1 has tough, fleshy skin like a hard salami, a moderately-tough beard, and shaves every other day with a slant-bar razor, while Person 2 has sensitive skin, a tough beard, and shaves daily with a moderately-mild straight-bar razor? It isn't that their opinions about the blade are so disparate because of subjective experience, it's that their objective circumstances are so different, they're comparing one variable (blade) out of six or more, which include skin characteristics, beard characteristics, shaving frequency, razor design characteristics, blade, and unspecified pre-shave preparation. The blade probably "fits" one of those guys, and is totally the wrong choice for the other.

Much of the nonsense of YMMV would be eliminated if DE users could become more disciplined and informed in their analyses of various products. But this will never happen, of course. It's like saying, we could end war and have peace on Earth if mankind would just acquire a higher level of consciousness, higher awareness. Sure that's true, but that's never going to happen either.

So anyway, silly me, I've already attempted to start to set some objective standards and how they apply to different persons. Razor characteristics that determine capacity and harshness are described in my article entitled "Picking the Right Razor for You, Part Two of Two".

If you really understand what determines razor capacity, harshness, and how that matches to a given face, then you should not get into as many disagreements about which razor is good or not. There isn't really any right answer to those questions. (Well, actually, there may be, but that's a subject for a future article in this blog -- stay tuned! ;-) But most often it's like arguing whether a size medium sweatshirt is good or not. It's not a question of YMMV, it's a question of what fits!

If you have sensitive skin, you need a low-harshness razor. If you have a need for high capacity shaving, you need greater capacity in your razor. Then these must be paired with an appropriate blade to suit the user. If you have sensitive skin and need for high capacity, you need to find that razor that gives a mild shave but can also handle multi-days of growth (yep, that razor's out there :-).

If you have a tough or thick beard, it's usually not a question of which razor at all; it's a question of blade choice: you need a sharp blade. If you have a tough beard and sensitive skin, you need a sharp blade with a good coating for smoothness combined with a face-friendly razor that has the capacity that you need based on your frequency of shaves.

Again, it's not YMMV, and you don't have to keep trying products any more than you need to try every sweat shirt to find one that fits. No, you figure out your size, and then buy the appropriately-sized shirt. Same with shaving gear: figure out what you need, then find the gear that fits you and your needs. This isn't a mysterious process that is exclusively trial and error. No, you can narrow down the field using knowledge and appropriate ratiocination. You can be a Sherlock Holmes of DE shaving, and sleuth out the gear you will like best (or at least get in the general ballpark) with knowledge and careful research.

Get it? No? Well, YMMV!  ;-D

Happy shaving!


  1. YMMV is derived from old Yiddish meaning "I have no idea why this works or if it does at all" or more recently "You're Missing Major Variables"

  2. I like your article (and your shaving blog), and I agree that YMMV is too often used as an excuse for not isolating and analyzing additional variables. However, your summary seems to recommend mild razors with varying sharpness of blades.

    How do you account for the Muhle R41 and other razors on the "very aggressive" end of the spectrum? Many shavers prefer them. I myself think I get a faster, easier, and less irritative shave (especially on my neck) with my aggressive razor (used at a steep angle). Some think the reason is that the blade skips over less stubble when cutting at a steeper angle ... and fewer passes provides less irritation.

    More on which razors I'm thinking of here:



    1. When I wrote this article, what I had in mind was that those with less sensitive skin -- that is, firmer and rounder -- were able to use razors of a more aggressive character with less risk.

      However, if using an R41 at a steeper angle means that you're using the razor such that the blade is more parallel to the skin surface, I can understand this preference. I have found that razors with a small blade angle such as my modified Re,Mei are very low-irritation shavers. By choosing an uber-aggressive design such as the R41 and carefully using it an an angle that reduces the blade's tendency to scrape and increases its ability to slice, this would be very face friendly indeed.

      I guess I tend to be biased against this approach -- though it is quite valid -- because for me, the large blade exposure and generous blade gap would be sure to nip my thin skin. I am sure that for those who can get away with this approach, you get a very fine shave. It makes total sense.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts!

    2. I think we have a misunderstanding of the term, "steep". By steep angle shaving, I mean the blade is at a steep, more perpendicular angle to the face. The handle is at a more parallel angle to the face. Basically, you start with the handle parallel to the skin, and then pivot on the razor's guard/bar until the blade hovers just above the skin ... and then pull to shave.

      Here is my best reference thread on the subject of steep angle shaving:

      This post in particular has photos which clarified a lot in my mind:

      With that cleared up, the R41's exposure is so large and the top cap so thin that it can be used at a very wide range of blade angles. Measurements in the linked to thread peg the available blade angles at between 38 and 56 degrees.

      So, with terminology cleared up, some think that steep blade angles skip over less stubble when cutting ... and fewer passes provides less irritation. Also, steep blade angles can achieve BBS without going against the grain ... which for many can cause the most irritation (the variable there probably being the amount of skin pulled up and cut underneath a shaver's stubble ... this being most prominent for many on the neck)

      That said, others find the shallower the angle the less irritation caused to the skin. This post contains a good photo of a 21 degree angle:

    3. Got it. Thanks for clearing that up. Personally, the razors I've used with by-design larger blade angles, which make for slightly-steeper shaving angles of blade on face, are noticeably more harsh against my skin and prone to leave razor burn. Interesting, though, that some find the steep shaving angles an improvement. I did notice, not surprisingly, that blade durability goes to zero -- that is, one shave only.