One successful retail business model is the concept in which a company sells a main device at a discounted price while the necessary, refillable or replaceable supplies for that device are sold at a premium. One example is the ink-jet or laser printer; the printers are generally priced to be bargains, occasionally included for free with computers, because the manufacturers know the customers will be coming back to the well for ink cartridge after ink cartridge. A consumer who buys a Canon brand printer will basically be locked into buying Canon brand ink.
The same is true for cartridge-based razors. Some time after college, I graduated from the electric razor to the Gillette Mach 3 razor and shaving cream system. I had heard that making this switch would be better for my skin, and like Smithee, I was dealing with razor bumps and ingrown hairs. I have a habit of sticking with things for a long time even if they don’t work, and this was not an exception. The razor-in-a-cartridge system was an improvement over my cheap electric razor, but I still wasn’t quite happy with the results.
Ten years later, I decided to make the adjustment. Other shaving techniques, like the use of a straight or double-edge razor, was foreign to me. I remembered reading an article by someone I knew as The Frugal Law Student, teaching his readers on The Art of Manliness how to shave like their grandpas. Searching out the article and reading advice from more experienced shavers on the Badger & Blade message board, I took the plunge.
In February, I ordered new shaving materials from Amazon.com:
- Merkur Model 180 Long Handled Safety Razor ($32.49)
- Omega Stripey 100% Pure Badger Shaving Brush with Stand ($27.25)
- Colonel Conk World’s Famous Shaving Soap, Bay Rum ($6.20)
The razor came with one blade, but that would not be enough for me to grow accustomed to a new shaving technique. Armed with advice from the message boards, I purchased a blade sampler pack from Amazon.com ($38.75 for 80 blades) in order to determine which brand of double-edged blade is best for me. I am still progressing through the brands, experimenting with my technique, and discovering what works best with my skin. Each brand is surprisingly different. My favorites so far — those which do not do much damage to my skin while providing the smoothest shaves — include Feather and Astra, while I will likely never let another Bic razor touch my face.
While this seems like a significant financial outlay at the beginning, it’s a much cheaper system than a cartridge system. My start-up cost was $66, and the recurring costs of blades at one blade per week will be about $0.50 a week or $25 a year if I continue shaving three times a week with multiple passes using one blade per week. You might be able to find blades on Amazon for even less, approaching $0.15 a blade. The shave soap might last six months so that’s another $12 a year. The total cost for the first year is $103, and the total cost for every subsequent year is $37.
Compare this with the costs of the cartridge system. The Gillette Mach3 Turbo costs $8 but 16 blade cartridges cost $30, or about $2 a piece. One blade a week (three shaves) adds up to $100 a year, though we can subtract $8 from the first year because the razor includes four blade cartridges. (In other words, they’re giving away the razor.) Shaving foam costs $18 for a pack of six, which might last one year. The total cost for the first year is $118, and the total cost for every subsequent year is also $118.
When I previously shaved with the Gillette Mach3, the earlier version of the Mach3 Turbo, I would do so in the morning and the process would take about three minutes. Shaving with a double-edged blade and safety razor is more of a ritual. At first, it took from twenty minutes to half an hour to shave properly, including hydration, building and applying the lather, shaving with two or three slow passes, and further hydration. To accommodate the new requirements of my time, I shaved at night. I woke up in the morning still smooth, and that was never the case when I shaved at night with a cartridge razor.
As readers have already mentioned in the comments below, it is possible to keep this process under ten or even five minutes. My face has adjusted to the new shaving technique and the process no longer requires as much hydration, speeding the process further.
More important than the cost savings, and worth the extra time and effort, is the fact that my skin is much more comfortable. For the most part, I have no more ingrown hairs, razor bumps on my neck, or other unsightly skin blemishes due to dull blades that require pressure and pull hairs away from the skin.
Although I’m happy with the change I made, whether you follow suit is up to you. It will save money and will eventually be just as quick as shaving with a cartridge razor, but it’s a personal choice. If you are already satisfied with using a cartridge razor, there is no need to change your process, but this has proven to be worthwhile for me.
I’ve already mentioned some of the resources I’ve used to improve my shaving technique, but I also recommend the instructional videos on YouTube created by mantic59 for anyone who is interested in pursuing a similar path. As you watch these videos and read articles on Badger & Blade about finding the right technique, you will find a lot of differing opinions. It’s best to take some suggestions and experiment in order to discover what works best for your skin. There is one thing to be sure about: just about anything other than a cartridge system will be best for your wallet.
I should also note that I use no other chemicals on my face during this process other than the shaving soap. I prepare my face with hot water, keep hydrated with hot water, and rinse only with cool water. I don’t use any fragrant aftershave chemicals, astringents, or balms. There is a tendency for my skin to dry out after the shave if I don’t hydrate with enough cool water.
What materials do you use for shaving, and are you satisfied with the results?
Updated September 12, 2011 and originally published April 28, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.