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Shaving: Neither Electric Nor Expensive

This article was written by in Frugality. 16 comments.


I have trouble shaving, and it seemed to be getting worse with age. It seemed that no matter what I did, I’d end up with a red bumpy neck and hairy spots I had missed. In the last eighteen years, I’ve tried every normal razor and electric razor I could find, and none of them ever made me look like the guys in the commercials.

Some of this just comes down to genetics: some men don’t grow a lot of hair, other men do, some men don’t have stubborn hair, some men do. I have the unfortunate combination of tricky, light-colored hair and more than a couple acne scars, which means that even if I went with a beard, it’d take about four months to grow out and it’d look patchy anyway. So, shaving it is. But none of the razors or shavers worked.

The Problem Part 1: Pores

A few weeks ago I even sought out an old grizzly barber with a straight razor, and he acknowledged that there was something abnormal about my facial hair. It just doesn’t respond easily to blades.

However, he did something before the razor that I’d never heard of before: he pre-treated my face with a hot towel a couple of times. I knew that skin was supposed to be humid before shaving, but I always thought that simply wetting it with a shower or a washcloth would be good enough. Not. At. All. This was the missing link! It got me halfway toward solving my problem. Here’s what I have to do these days:

  1. Drench a small towel, squeeze out most of the water
  2. Fold it in half (twice if it’s big enough) and roll it from both ends so the rolled-up bits meet in the middle
  3. Put it on a plate that won’t get hot in the microwave
  4. Put it in the microwave for two minutes

The towel will be quite hot when you unroll it, but don’t let it get too cool before you put it on your face. Use your best judgment; we at Consumerism Commentary certainly don’t want you scalding yourself. Lay back and smush it against all the hairy parts of your face and, I don’t know, ponder the nature of the Universe. Over time, the towel will grow cold. When that happens, follow the drench / squeeze / heat / roll / face process once more. Your face should now be ready for shaving.

The Problem Part 2: Blades

I like the expensive razors. They work well. The problem is that they only work well maybe three or four times before they’re used up. In my research I even saw recommendations to use the same blade only once. When you’re talking about something like a Mach 3 blade, those are over $8 for three cartridges. Nobody should have to spend that much merely to appear civilized.

Thankfully, my wife is awesome, and she found this video which solved the other half of my problem. All you need to make your blade new again is your forearm:

I’ve tried this and can vouch that it works. If your face responds well to electric razors, you’re blessed and can ignore all this, but if you have trouble, give this a try. It works for me.

Updated September 8, 2011 and originally published April 6, 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.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Kyle C.

I can’t handle an electric razor. All it does is irritate the crap out of my skin. I also like to use the expensive Mach 3 type razors. I will have to try out this forearm thing though. It seems a little far fetched to me.

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avatar Eric

Sorry to hear from everyone…..I guess I AM blessed that electric razors work perfectly fine for me. Not the closest shave ever (I’ve done better when I used a regular razor) but it’s quicker and more convenient.

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avatar Matt SF

I use a pair of old jeans to resharpen my razors. Been working well for years now.

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avatar Evan

Years ago WAYYYYYYYY before I started writing online, there was a PF Blogger not sure which one that talked about getting an old school straight razor – so I tried it out. Put simply, it is bad ass. I own a Merkur the handle alone was $35, but blades are CHEAP…REALLY CHEAP. I bought $20 bucks worth of them on Amazon and still haven’t run out since October 07!

Smithee, I would really check it out, it takes some getting used to – google straight edge shaving, but I can go 3 or 4 days without shaving and then on the 5th day NO PAIN from this thing.

I try to push this thing on everyone lol

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

Thanks, Evan. I am intrigued by using a straight razor. Do you have a link for the blade you use? Does it look like this: http://www.amazon.com/Merkur-Classic-Safety-Razor-Straight/dp/B000LY2AKI (a “safety razor”)?

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avatar Evan

I went with:
http://www.amazon.com/Merkur-180-Chrome-Long-Handled-Razor/dp/B000NL0T1G/ref=pd_sbs_hpc_1

Same thing but longer handle. I meant safety razor in my post not straight. Straight is too hardcore for me that is basically what the barbers use.

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avatar Paul Williams

Evan, are you talking about a safety razor? I have a Merkur double-edge safety razor and it works great. As you said, the blades are extremely cheap. I think I picked up a year’s supply for about $20-30 or so. (Can’t remember since it’s been so long.) I prefer the Japanese Feather brand razor blades over the German Merkur brand blades. They seem to be much sharper and give a better shave.

I seem to have the same problems as Smithee. I have a terrible time with any technique. I’m using the safety razor followed up by a second pass with a Gillette Fusion razor. I found some improvement using old school shaving cream and a badger hair brush, but I need to try the hot towel. I’ve read about it before and decided it was too much work, but it sounds like it’ll be worth trying.

I’m going to try the sharpening technique as well. Those Fusion cartridges are expensive!

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avatar Alan M.

I highly recommend using shaving soap and a badger-bristle shave brush. I even take one on the road with me when I travel for work (then I really have to keep clean-shaved).

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avatar Josh

I sued to be the same as you. Red bumps, irritation and the works. Check out http://www.badgerandblade.com – it’ll rock your world.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,371 (Platinum)

Count this as another vote for double-edge. I switched from Mach 3 about a month ago and I’m still working through my sampler pack of blades, which will seem to last a life time. There are start-up costs involved for the right tools, but I expect to save tons of money over time compared to those cartridges. I am also getting a much better shave with no ingrown hairs and fewer bumps on the neck (still refining and discovering the right technique for me). The only downside is my shaving ritual now takes 30 minutes rather than 2. I shave at night when I have more time. I plan to write an article about the transition.

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avatar Evan

That 30 mins will drop dramatically as you get used to it. I promise. It takes time to get weight down and the strength of the blade

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

The thing that worries me that I left out is that as the weather gets warmer, I know I will be less and less likely to be okay with putting a hot towel on my face.

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avatar Anthony

I am fortunate enough that electric shavers work on my face without issues. Unfortunately, I have a self-cleaning system: I have to buy the liquid solution about every 3 months and have to change the blades about once a year. Add to that the cost of electricity. All told, I spend probably $30 – $40 a year just to maintain the electric shaver I have now.

Plus, the shave is not nearly as close as I want it to be…

I’ve been thinking about switching to a safety razor. My biggest concern is that I have never even held one before. I’ve used electric razors all my life. I’ll make the switch one day.

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avatar kzoo1

+1 to Badger and Blade!
Also check out the “Shave Tutor” http://www.youtube.com/user/mantic59

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avatar Josh Heckathorn @ Creditnet

Thanks for sharing this sharpening tip Smithee. I’ve been living in Beijing for the past 6 months and decided to grow a full beard when I ran out of new razors for my Schick Quattro. Not only are good razors hard to find here, but they’re even more expensive than in the US.

I must admit it’s been nice not really shaving at all through the cold winter, but it’s starting to warm up fast. So, I’m pumped to pull out the old razors and test this forearm technique as soon as it gets to hot to sport the full beard.

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avatar John H

I made the switch from a Mach 3 to a traditional double-edged safety razor (a Merkur) about a year ago and have never looked back. Coupled with a nice hard proper shaving soap and a shaving brush, shaving has gone from a chore to something I look forward to every morning. The soap+brush produce a lather that is vastly superior to anything I ever got out of a can while the blades are precision ground and blisteringly sharp yet so cheap I happily throw them away after only three shaves. My shaves now take slightly longer (but only by a matter of 2 or 3 minutes) but the results are worth it especially as the shaving rash under my jaw-line that I put up with for YEARS has completely disappeared.
The sad thing is that hundreds of millions of men have been brainwashed by various multi-national companies into thinking that expensive multi-blade cartridge razors and canned goo are the only way to shave yet better and cheaper alternatives are so easily available.

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