It started around the time Gillette and Schick introduced five-blade razors to the marketplace. An already silly arms race among razor manufacturers officially entered the realm of the absurd, and a lot of guys decided enough was enough.
“Until that point, the interest in safety razors was pretty niche,” says Mark Herro, founder and author of the Sharpologist shaving blog. “But when it got to five, people started throwing up their hands and looking at what else was out there.”
Many of them landed on doubled-edge (DE) safety razors. These are the razors your father or grandfather used in the era sandwiched between barbershop straight razors and modern disposable cartridge models. Often constructed of solid brass or stainless steel, these razors hold a single double-edge blade, hence the name.
The benefits of shaving with a safety razor are multiple, Herro says. The first is cost. “Your typical multi-blade cartridge will cost around $3 or $4, while a double-edge blade will cost you a quarter.” You have to pony up some cash to cover the upfront cost of the razor, but you’ll have made up the difference within a year, and from then on your costs for new blades are next to nothing.
“Another thing is, a lot of men have skin trouble with multi-blade razors,” Herro says. That’s because modern cartridge razors work by yanking your hair and cutting it just below the surface of the skin, which tends to produce bumps and encourage ingrown hairs. A single blade safety razor cuts at the surface, making irritation less likely, Herro says. Also, because the blades are recyclable and the razor will last practically forever, a safety razor is an eco-conscious alternative to plastic razors and cartridges.
The one drawback: shaving with a safety razor requires time and technique. “You won’t hurt yourself—at least not any more than if you rushed with a multi-blade cartridge,” Herro says. “But it takes a while to learn the right angle and method to get a close shave with a safety razor.” Even when you have it down, shaving will take you a bit longer than quick-swiping your face with a modern razor.
You could wing it, or check out Herro’s popular instructional video for beginners. He says the most common mistake is to use too much pressure. “You shouldn’t press the blade into your skin with any razor, but you can get away with it more using cartridge razors than you can with a safety razor,” he says.
Here are his picks for the 10 best DE safety razors, tailored to every man’s tastes and budget.
UTOPIA CARE 4” LONG HANDLE
The quality is hit and miss, and it’s not going to last you as long as some of the more expensive razors on this list. But if you’re just getting started with one-blade safety razors, this is a cheap way to dip your toe in the water, Herro says.
This razor couples solid brass construction with a “butterfly” opening mechanism that makes switching blades in and out a breeze. The long handle may also feel more comfortable than the stubby handles common to many safety razors, Herro says.
MERKUR HEAVY CLASSIC 34C
Also known as the “heavy duty” or “HD.” Herro says, “This razor has been in production for many years, and it’s very popular.” All Merkurs are made in Germany.
EDWIN JAGGER DE89BL
With a handle a little longer than the HD, the England-made Edwin Jagger model is “enormously popular,” Herro says. “The DE89 series has many different handle styles, but all versions share the same razor head design.”
GOODFELLA SAFETY RAZOR
“Open comb razors like the Goodfella appeal to shavers who have thick, multi-day stubble because the notches of the comb channel hair and lather to the blade edge,” Herro says. All stainless steel, this razor is made in New Zealand.
MERKUR 40 “BARREL HANDLE”
“If you have big, meaty hands the extra thick handle of this razor will help you maintain a proper grip and avoid slippage,” Herro says. Like all Merkurs, this razor is made in Germany.
ABOVE THE TIE 7-PIECE SET
For the "price is no object” shaver, this razor has a set of interchangeable handles and head parts to create a razor customized to a guy’s whims, Herro says. “Everything is made from stainless steel, versus the chrome-plated brass of most other razors.”
MERKUR 37C “SLANT BAR”
The Merkur “slant bar” torques the blade so it slices hair at an angle instead of straight on. “Many consider it a more efficient razor design,” Herro says.
MERKUR “PROGRESS” ADJUSTABLE RAZOR
Not as pretty as Merkur’s fully chrome-covered models, the Progress is considered an “ugly duckling” by some, Herro says. But it’s also more adjustable, so it can accommodate guys looking for both gentle and “aggressive” shaves, he says.
BEVEL RAZOR + SHAVING KIT
You can only buy the razor as part of a kit that also includes blades, “priming” oil, shaving cream, brush, and aftershave. But there’s a reason for that: most knowledgeable shavers—including Herro—recommend cleaning your face before shaving and applying your shaving soap or cream with a brush. “It’s important to prepare your face if you want a close, consistent shave,” he says. The Bevel razor is well designed and well built, he adds.
A NOTE ON BLADES
You might think all double-edge razor blades are more or less the same. Not so. “There are variations in coatings and metallurgies that can cause different skin reactions for different guys,” Herro says. For that reason, he recommends picking up a blade sample pack ($12, amazon.com) so you try a bunch and find the one that works best for you. Change blades every week to every three weeks depending on how often you shave.