In recent years, companies have done a lot to jazz up the manual razor -- adding built-in lotion dispensers, vibrating heads and even more blades. However, experts say that more blades don't always mean a better shave.
The five-bladed Gillette Venus Embrace (Est. $10) is the exception, making it the Best Reviewed pick for this report. Women who regularly nick and cut themselves while shaving say they're irritation-free after using the Venus Embrace. The "ribbon of moisture" that encircles the blades doesn't displace shaving cream; rather, it makes the blades glide more smoothly.
Beauty experts and users agree that the Gillette Venus Embrace is at the top of its class. Winner of an Allure Best of Beauty award for five years running, the Embrace is praised for leaving legs stubble-free, and without painful nicks or razor burn. The editors of Good Housekeeping, who bestowed the honor of "Best Refillable Razor" on the Embrace, say "it glides oh-so-smoothly while cleanly removing every hair."
Users, even those plagued with tales of nicks and cuts suffered at the hands of another razor, experienced a close, clean shave in one pass. TotalBeauty.com members call the Embrace the "Cadillac of razors."
The bulky plastic around the pivoting head can make shaving around the bikini line a little difficult, but the Embrace is otherwise easy to grip, use and maintain. Bonus: The blades seem to last longer than those of other Venus models.
The Venus handles are compatible with all Venus cartridges, so if you get tired of one type of refill cartridge you can always switch to another. The Gillette Venus & Olay (Est. $9) has a handle very similar to the Venus Embrace's, and five blades, too. But the Venus & Olay's blades are flanked above and below by two Olay "moisture bars," which are supposed to hydrate the skin and eliminate the need for shaving cream.
Real Simple magazine votes the Venus & Olay the "most hydrating" razor, and owners say it certainly does deliver a lot of moisturizers at the outset. Several say they really can use it without shaving cream, at first. But after a few showers, the moisturizers disappear, but the blades are still sharp, so they use it with shaving cream. The main problem is that the head of the Venus & Olay is even bulkier than the Venus Embrace's, making it hard to shave narrow areas.
High cost of ownership is a weak point for the Venus models. If you replace the cartridges every two weeks, expect spend about $100 per year for either the Venus Embrace or Venus & Olay.
The Schick Hydro Silk (Est. $10) looks like the Venus Embrace's twin, with five blades (surrounded by lubricating strips) and a pivoting head. Several testers say the Hydro Silk delivers a particularly long-lasting shave. User reviews are nearly as glowing as the Venus Embrace's. However, several users find the Hydro Silk's moisturizing strips slimy and goopy, and several (who cheated on their usual Venus razor to save money on the cost of refills, see below) say they nicked themselves with the Hydro Silk, which they never did with the Venus.
Nonetheless, the Hydro Silk gives the Venus Embrace a run for its money. One plus is that refill costs are lower; expect to pay about $80 per year, replacing the Hydro Silk's cartridge every two weeks. This is the same razor that functions as the base for the Schick Hydro Silk TrimStyle, the Best Reviewed pick in our Best Bikini Shaver section.
Although refillable razors get better reviews (less razor burn, better moisturizing strips, longer-lasting blades), disposable razors do have their place. Disposables are cheap and handy to toss into your gym bag, keep on hand for guests, or grab at a drugstore if you forgot your refillable razor on a trip.
Bic Soleil Bella Disposables (Est. $6 for 3) are your best bet among the cheapies. Good Housekeeping names it the best budget disposable. So does TheWirecutter.com, in a test of the best travel gear. And it makes Byrdie.com's list of the best drugstore razors. "It stayed sharp for eight uses!" -- quite a feat for any disposable razor.
Little touches make the Bic Soleil Bella more like a "real" razor than a cheap throwaway. It boasts four flexible blades and a substantial, rubberized handle that proves easy to hold in tests. Even its blade guard works better than others': It slides on from one side only, "so it stayed put in a drop test while the others popped off," TheWirecutter.com says.
Still, reviewers prefer refillable razors. Like other disposables, the Bic Soleil Bella suffers from a skinny, fast-disappearing moisture strip. Several users say the shave just isn't as close as a good refillable razor's -- and then they wind up shaving over the same area multiple times, so they get razor burn.
If you can make each Bic Soleil Bella last a full week (as some testers did), expect to spend about $87 a year on razors. Disposable razors also create more landfill waste than refillables.