Saturday, October 24, 2015

Multi-Bladed Cartridge Razors versus Double-Edged Razors

There is a reason that the pivoting, multi-bladed cartridge razors exist. The reason is not as simple as the cold-hearted greed of western razor developers, who seek to develop new, patent-protected products to thwart direct competition and thereby keep profit margins high -- though that is what many would have you believe.

It is true that cartridge-razor sellers do try to maximize profits (of course!), but it is by offering razors that will have unique features and benefits that their customers will appreciate.

The fact is that Gillette and others do extensive product research and development, and that includes panels of shaving testers, who evaluate and compare existing products to new ones being considered for release to the public. The panels of test shavers evaluate these products and truly find them (that is, the ones that make it into the stores) superior in enough aspects that the razor marketers feel confident selling these new-and-improved products.
The Dorco Pace-7 razor:
the world's first seven-bladed design.

What makes the two-, three-, four-, five, and even seven-bladed cartridge razors superior in some respects is the concept of hysteresis, which is the dependence of a system's output on past and present inputs. In terms of the multi-bladed cartridge razor heads, this hysteresis is a blade in the razor that first arrives at a hair shaft extending the hair outward as it cuts, and subsequent blades engaging the hair shaft before it can retract completely into the skin. This sequential extending and trimming of a hair with a single razor stroke allows the blades to be positioned in the razor head so that they generally have very light contact with the skin surface. Further, pivoting-head designs have evolved so that it is very easy for the user to maintain the razor head in optimal orientation on the skin for the best shave. These same pivoting features make it difficult for the user to exert enough force of cartridge against skin to make the shave unduly hazardous or harsh.

All in all, this means these cartridge razors give a very good shave in a single pass.

That doesn't mean that they are without drawbacks, however. They can be pricey. They can clog easily and be difficult to unclog. They may have a shorter useful life span than one would prefer in order to get the best utility from the investment in the instrument. They are also made of plastic, are disposable by design, are not recyclable, and therefore have a small but negative environmental impact. [UPDATE: They also tend to encourage in-grown hairs.]

They also make getting a close, comfortable shave easy -- no challenge at all. Many men -- most probably -- would see this as a benefit. To others, who enjoy the game of seeing how good of a shave they can get due to their own skill, this virtually-guaranteed, easy, comfortable shave is something of a drawback. It turns the morning shave from a focused, zen-like minor challenge, a daily game, into a quick, mindless, boring daily chore.

Now I, for one, am a confirmed double-edged-razor user. I think it's fun and a small daily challenge to see how good my shave can be (and it's always adequate). I also like the economy of the process as well as the fact that my razors will last virtually forever, and the blades are both long lasting and recyclable.

Is double-edged shaving for everyone? I don't believe so. It clearly does have its place in the market, however -- as do the various cartridge-razor options. As the old saying goes: you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Happy shaving!


  1. Good article! Keeping a company solvent is always important in the eyes of the owners. When your patents are about to expire they have to innovate and market or die to cheap competition with your own product. That's a death that no company wants.

    As a former multi blade user I found that the 2 bladed razors worked better than the 5 or more. My skin was so sensitive to these things. Less was always better. DE products are just available in my home town.

    One thing that I have noticed the last couple of weeks is that my "perfect" shave routine has failed me. Rough shaves with unexpected weepers has me baffled. Today I was thinking if the change in weather conditions is causing the problems.

    When I first started DE shaving it was in the summer when the humidity in our area was high and my skin stayed well hydrated. However, with the change into fall and soon the low humidity of winter, I feed that dry skin is impacting my shaves and now I have to learn a new routine to deal with the winter skin problems.

    Not having read all of your blog entries, have you ever thought along those lines or experienced how weather and humidity effects your shaves?

    Just curious.

    1. My skin is more dry in the winter, and that is when I most appreciate my year-round routine of cool-water shaves.

  2. Good grief! They have gotten to you! How much did they pay you?!

    1. One thing I have come to appreciate, over time, is the early effort Gillette did put into user instruction. (Mr. Razor's website is amazing for that.) Some 20 years into it, I think, there was an ad that said, in essence, "we know you're not listening to us" about oblique strokes, hinting that user error was a top concern. So it probably was a logical and ethical progression to the cartridge design.

      Some of us just don't have the skin to spare for a close cartridge shave. We have been left behind by technological progress and until very recently condemned to pain, misled to these products by empty promises and no commercial alternative. I don't think my characterization of money-grubbing capitalists is anywhere near as harmful as their characterization of the "sensitive" shaver.