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A close shave doesn't have to be painful

Using a razor remains the simplest method of hair removal. In recent years, companies have done a lot to jazz up the basic blade razor -- adding built-in lotion dispensers, vibrating heads and even more blades. Still, experts say that two or three blades are all you really need for a close, comfortable shave.

Gillette's line of Venus razors is indisputably the top of the heap. 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 Venus Spa Breeze's (Est. $12) contoured, padded handle is a particular hit with reviewers who say it's easy to hold and handle.

If you have particularly sensitive skin or dislike using shaving creams, this shaver is worth a look. White-tea-scented gel strips on either side of the Spa Breeze's three blades are supposed to eliminate the need for shaving cream or lotion. They work great -- for just a few shaves -- but some users complain that they look "goopy" or "snotty" after a few minutes in water. The Venus Breeze (Est. $9) is identical, except that its gel bars have a different scent. We did find a few scattered complaints about skin reactions to the gel bars. So if you're particularly sensitive to cosmetics, this might not be the best razor for you.

The Gillette Venus Divine (Est. $9) also has three blades and lubricating strips, which are small and less likely to get in the way than the bars on the Venus Spa Breeze. This mitigates the goopy/snotty factor but still offers good protection for those who are particularly susceptible to razor burn, and reviewers say the Venus Divine's pivoting head glides nicely over your skin. Once the gel bars wear out on either razor, however, expect a rougher shave -- especially with the Spa Breeze.

More blades don't always mean a better shave, but the five-bladed Gillette Venus Embrace (Est. $9) is the Best Reviewed pick for this report. Women who regularly nick and cut themselves while shaving say they emerge unscathed after using the Venus Embrace, which is easy to hold and manipulate. The "moisture strip" doesn't displace shaving cream, but takes the place of after-shave moisturizer instead. Most of the time it works well, but we found a few reports that it dries in place and obstructs a clean shave, in which case it has to be peeled away.

The original Gillette Venus (Est. $6) has been eclipsed by more recent additions to the Venus line. It nonetheless remains very popular with reviewers, including some men who borrow it from their girlfriend or wife and can't believe how well it works. Instead of moisturizing strips, the original Venus has protective pads surrounding its three blades. Testers with Good Housekeeping say that it is easy to hold and use, and that the pivoting, rounded head removes hair in one pass -- but it can also cause nicks and scrapes.

High cost of ownership is a weak point for all of these models. If you replace the cartridges every two weeks, expect to pay about $88 per year for the Venus Spa Breeze or $75 per year for the Venus Divine. Changing the refill cartridge often is particularly important for the Spa Breeze; owners say that without the gel bars, you're much more likely to get a rough shave with nicks and cuts. We base these estimates on the retail price for cartridges, so you might be able to find them for less.

The Venus Embrace has the highest cost of ownership of any razor we evaluated -- about $100 per year -- but some users say the blades last longer than on other models. We also found reports that every so often the handle breaks, and there's a little too much plastic around the head for some women. Still, this model is the hottest darling of the Venus line and an overwhelming favorite among women, luring away many dedicated fans of other Venus models. Refills for the original Gillette Venus are harder to find and average around $8 per month.

Men's razors remain a hot item

A survey published in Which? magazine found that two-thirds of the women questioned feel men's razors are better than or equal to women's models. So it's no surprise that two popular men's models, the Gillette Fusion ProGlide (Est. $10) and the Gillette Mach3 Turbo (Est. $11) are very popular with women as well.

The three-bladed Mach3 Turbo, in particular, is functionally very similar to the Venus Divine. However, users say that its lubricating strip -- which doubles as a wear indicator for the entire razor -- wears out very quickly, after just two or three shaves. Reviewers say that the blades themselves don't last long either. But as long as they're sharp, they give a particularly clean, close shave. Expect to pay about the same for Mach3 Turbo refill cartridges as for the Venus Divine: about $75 per year.

The four-bladed Gillette Fusion ProGlide also offers a clean, close shave -- but reviewers say its cartridges wear out quickly too. They're significantly more expensive than the Mach3 Turbo's cartridges. Users say that the Fusion ProGlide's textured handle is easy to grip when wet but breaks easily when dropped.

The Gillette Fusion ProGlide also comes in a powered version (Est. $11) that uses one AAA battery. In the manufacturer's words, the ProGlide Power produces "soothing micropulses to help you reduce the friction and increase razor glide, so you'll barely feel the blades." Reviewers, however, don't seem to be terribly impressed by this vibrating razor; the powered version regularly scores somewhat lower than the manual ProGlide razor.

Gillette dominates, but it isn't the only brand

Although Gillette dominates the world of both women's and men's razors, Schick also produces a line of popular razors for women. The Schick Quattro for Women (Est. $8) is particularly well liked by professionals and consumers alike. Its four spring-loaded blades, two lubricating strips and pivoting head make for a close, clean shave.

This is the same razor that functions as the base for the Quattro Trimstyle bikini trimmer. Even without the Trimstyle, reviewers say the Quattro for Women is a little heavier and better built than most women's razors; it feels like it should last. We did find gripes about moisturizing strips wearing off quickly, however, and a few more reports of razor burn and skin irritation than for the top-rated Gillette Venus Divine. Still, if you're not a Venus fan, the Schick Quattro for Women makes an excellent alternative.

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Gillette Venus Divine Sensitive Women's Razor Handle, 1 Razor and 2 Razor Blade Refills
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GILL MACH3 TURBO RAZOR
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Gillette Venus Embrace Women's Razor 1 Razor 2 Refill Cartridges and 1 Showerpod
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Schick Quattro For Women Razor
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Gillette Venus Spa Breeze Razor
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Gillette Fusion Proglide Men's Power Razor, 1 Count
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Gillette Venus Breeze Women's Razor, 1 Razor Handle and 2 Tropical Scented Razor Blade Refills 1 Count
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Gillette Venus Original Women's Razor 1 Razor Handle and 2 Razor Blade Refills 1 Count
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