Three blades? Four? How many is enough?
This report covers manual razors. ConsumerSearch has a separate report on men's electric shavers, and our report on women's shavers covers both electric and manual shavers for women.
Finding comparative reviews of cartridge razors is easy and difficult at the same time. It's easy because there are comparatively few products; most reviews involve head-to-head comparisons of a handful of razors manufactured by Gillette and Schick (which between them control about 95 percent of the market for manual razors). It's difficult because shaving is a subjective experience, meaning we were forced to rely disproportionately on the opinions of users through mostly subjective research, such as blog posts.
That said, we did find a few sources that conducted large-scale, balanced reviews of razors. The best comes from the U.K.'s Which? magazine, whose April 2009 report easily takes the top spot in the Our Sources section. The magazine compares six leading razors using 48 male testers for a total of more than 700 shaves. Other less extensive reviews come from websites like StrictlyMensBusiness.com, ConsumerReports.org and ValetMag.com, as well as news organizations like The Boston Globe and National Public Radio, whose correspondent compares razors by Gillette and Schick while on the phone with a Gillette executive. We also consulted various blogs and websites -- MarchDecember.com, ShaveReview.com, RMS Snowdrop and BadgerAndBlade.com -- whose relative obscurity is counterbalanced by their deep devotion to finding the best shave.
In February 2004, the satirical newspaper The Onion ran a mock editorial from a Gillette executive, saying the company was going to leapfrog over its archenemy Schick and introduce a razor with five blades. This parody predicted reality: a year later, Gillette introduced the Fusion, a five-blade cartridge razor (with a sixth, external blade for trimming). A few years before, Schick had debuted the four-blade Quattro razor, and a few years before that, in 1998, Gillette started this little war with the hugely popular, three-blade Mach3 manual razor.
In between all these product innovations, from 2003 to 2006, Gillette and Schick were involved in a series of increasingly acrimonious lawsuits. In 2003, Gillette sued Schick, claiming that Schick's Quattro razor infringed on patents used in the Gillette Mach3. Schick quickly countersued, taking exception to Gillette's slogan "the best a man can get" (Schick claimed the Quattro was objectively superior to the Mach3). Probably tired of doling out money to lawyers, the two companies quietly put the issue to bed in February 2006.
Despite the introduction of more and more blades, reviewers accuse giants like Gillette and Schick of taking advantage of consumer gullibility, maintaining that three (or even two) blades are all you need for a reasonably close (and reasonably cheap) shave. Manufacturers now incorporate batteries into some of these razors -- hence the Gillette M3 Power (*Est. $13), and the Gillette Fusion Power (*Est. $12). They claim the powered models, which pulsate, reduce friction when shaving. Only one of the reviews we found preferred a battery-powered manual razor.