Do you need six blades -- or just one?
If you learned to shave before 1970, you almost certainly started with an old-school safety razor. One handle, one metal blade. Simple.
Then came the razor wars. Bic, Schick, Gillette and the rest began one-upping each other. More (and more and more) blades, pivoting heads, throwaway handles, lubricating strips, vibrating razors, foldaway trimmers -- even a razor with built-in shaving cream.
But does your modern six-blade drugstore special really shave closer than your granddad's trusty old safety razor? Can you actually get a decent shave with a $2 disposable? What about Internet "shave clubs" that ship razors to your door once a month -- are those a good deal? We lathered up and took a clean, close look at the reviews to find out.
Types of razors
Men's razors fall into three main types (for electric shavers and women's shavers, including electric and manual options, see our separate reports):
Safety razors are the old-fashioned type. You buy the sturdy handle (usually metal), and replace only the thin metal razor blade. Until 1970, this was the only kind of home-use razor you could buy (unless you shaved with a straight "cutthroat" razor, like a barber with a leather strop, but most ment didn't take it that far).
You can get an excellent safety razor for $35 or less, and good replacement blades for about 33 cents each. Expect each blade to last for about five shaves, according to shaving expert Mark Herro at Sharpologist.com. Over 10 years of daily shaving, that works out to $255, or about 7 cents per shave.
Devotees say only a safety razor gets their faces truly BBS ("baby-butt smooth") -- an acronym you'll see a lot on websites for shaving enthusiasts. Some dermatologists say it's less irritating to your skin than a multi-blade cartridge razor. It's cheaper in the long run, too. However, you'll have to shave more slowly and carefully than with a cartridge razor, or you'll wind up with the BAS ("blood-and-stubble") look instead. Also, safety razors are banned from carry-on bags on airplanes, due to their exposed blades.
Cartridge razors are what most men use nowadays. You buy the handle (usually plastic), and when the blades get dull, you replace the whole razor head (aka cartridge). Fanned out in the plastic cartridge are at least two, and up to six metal blades -- one (or five) to lift the whisker, and one to actually cut it -- plus a lubricating strip or two.
You'll pay about $9 to $13 for the handle, and $2 to $4 each for the cartridges at the drugstore. Internet shaving clubs sell them for less. Expect each cartridge to last for about 14 shaves, Herro says. Over 10 years, you're looking at $800, or 22 cents per daily shave (assuming the plastic handle doesn't break).
It's hard to slice yourself to ribbons with a cartridge razor, since the cartridge holds the blades at the proper angle. And some users say a multi-blade razor with lube strips gives them a closer, more comfortable shave than a safety razor. On the downside, you'll spend triple the amount on shaving, and you might not get as close a shave as with a safety razor. Multi-blade razors can irritate the skin, too.
Disposable razors are like a cartridge razor, but you throw the whole razor away when the blades dull. You can buy single-blade disposables for as little as 25 cents each, but the top-rated disposable razor costs $8 for a three-pack. Disposables dull after about four shaves, Herro says. That's 67 cents per shave -- or more than $2,400 over 10 years.
If you're traveling and forget your razor (or can't pack your safety razor in your carry-on), disposables can bail you out. But their cost is hard to justify for regular use; $2,400 can get you 10 years' worth of disposable razors, or a week in Aruba -- your call. Less costly disposables are available as well, but users say the cheapest disposables can leave your face a nicked-up, razor-bumpy mess.
Finding the best razors
To find the razors that'll give you that holy-grail BBS shave, we sifted through professional reviews (head-to-head shaving tests, as well as recommendations from dermatologists, celebrity groomers and others) as well as everyday users. Users posting at Amazon.com and Target.com aren't shy about letting other guys know which winning razors are worth their cash -- and which hack jobs they should pitch straight into the bathroom trash.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Razors | Buying Guide | Our Sources