Friday, April 11, 2014

Why a Single Edge?

I feel that I'm overdue writing a post dedicated to the single blade razor. Lately I've been emphasizing the importance of the brush and preparation, at the end of the day it's not the brush that removes stubble, and I do love my razors.
For clarity: shaving with a "double edge" safety razor counts as single edge shaving, as only one of the two sharp edges should be in contact with your skin at any time. If both edges are touching your skin, your shave has gone badly wrong!

Reasons to shave with a single edge:

  • Cartridges cost more over time than DE blades or a straight razor.
  • You are not locked into a specific brand of blade.
  • Traditional razors are built to last a lifetime, not until the next model comes out.
  • Traditional razors look far more impressive.
  • A single edge gives you more control.
  • A single edge gives you more feedback- especially a hollow ground straight razor.
  • Traditional products have a sense of historicity.
  • You get to learn a new skill.
  • You may achieve a much closer shave than you've had with cartridges.
  • You are less likely to experience ingrown hairs.
  • You are less likely to experience razor burn.
  • The best reason: Because you want to.
Some of those points need no elaboration, but I do want to emphasize a few.

Control and Feedback

When you shave with a cartridge razor, you have much more material in contact with your face- several blades, the blade guard, and a "lubricating strip" of questionable benefit.

Shaving with a safety razor, you only have the single blade and the safety bar (or comb) in contact with your skin. A straight razor has even less contact: only the finest edge of metal against your skin.

One of the first revelations I experienced when shaving with a traditional razor was how much more feedback I ever had with my cartridge razors. The analogy that came to me the first time I experienced this was of car enthusiasts talking about being able to ``feel`` the road beneath them through the suspension and steering. This feeling is most pronounced when using a hollow ground straight razor, which allows you to feel individual hairs ``pop`` as the blade cuts through them.

As well as being an incredibly useful tool for perfecting your technique, this feedback give you a great connection to your shaving ritual, and will teach you about the contours of your face and growth patterns of your hair, which is useful to know whatever razor you use.

Control (again)

The second way in which single edge shaving gives you control is in your choice of blades. Once you buy a Fusion, Hydro 5, Azor, or other cartridge handle, you are locked into buying the specific cartridge meant for that model, from the one manufacturer that produces it.

Double Edge blades are standardized in shape, but made by many manufacturers under many brands, with some key differences in quality, sharpness, materials and treatments. This means that if you decide that your blades are too sharp, too dull, too short-lived, you can try another brand. At the time of writing, the Kaliandee store carries Astra, Dorco, Feather, 3 models of Gillette, Merkur, Personna, Wilkinson Sword and Derby- and this is not an exhaustive selection of available brands, they are just the most popular.

With a straight razor, you are locked into one brand- the make of the razor. In the case of straight razors, this gives you all the more control as you can stop and hone (or have honed) your straight razor to your exact specifications.

Ingrown Hairs and Irritation

Most traditional shaving enthusiasts feel that a single edge beats cartridges for reducing irritation and ingrown hairs. There are a couple of reasons why this is probably true:

1) Fewer blades across your skin

Shaving generally requires multiple passes- the aim is to reduce hair over multiple passes of the blade rather than lop it all off at once. One of the selling points of cartridges is that their multiple blades give the effect of several passes in one. In my experience multiple passes are still needed for a close shave- and when you have 5 blades in one razor, even if you only go over the same area twice (as opposed to my usual 3 passes), you are accumulating the equivalent of 10 passes with a single edge.

2) Cartridges "tugging" on hair
Some people feel that cartridge razors tend to "tug" on the hair, pulling it slightly before cutting it. If this does happen, this will cut the hair below the level of the skin, leading to an increased chance of ingrown hairs. I've yet to see convincing scientific evidence for this, but ask the members of any shaving forum why they prefer a single edge over a cartridge and you are likely to hear ingrown hair and razor burn horror stories about cartridges.