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 two or three blades are all you really need for a close, comfortable shave.
Gillette's line of Venus razors are indisputably the best reviewed by experts and owners. 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 Spa Breeze (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 a few shaves -- but some users complain that they look "goopy" after a few minutes in water. We also found 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 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 goop factor but still offers good protection for those who are particularly susceptible to razor burn. 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. $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, which is easy to hold and manipulate. The "moisture strip" doesn't displace shaving cream; rather, it takes the place of after-shave moisturizer. Most of the time it works well, but we found a few reports that it obstructs a clean shave.
The original Gillette Venus has been eclipsed by more recent additions to the Venus line. Instead of moisturizing strips, the original Venus has protective pads surrounding its three blades. Testers with Good Housekeeping say it is easy to hold and use, and 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 $100 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 $102 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 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.
Many women still use men's razors, and plenty feel they're better than or equal to women's models. So it's no surprise that two popular men's models, the Gillette Fusion ProGlide (Est. $13) and the Gillette Mach3 Turbo (Est. $10) are very popular with women as well.
The three-bladed Mach3 Turbo, in particular, is functionally very similar to the Gillette Venus Divine. However, users say 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 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 the Fusion ProGlide's textured handle is easy to grip when wet but breaks easily when dropped.
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. $9) 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 found a few gripes about moisturizing strips wearing off quickly and the inability to get a close shave in the underarm and bikini areas. However, if you're not a Gillette Venus fan, the Schick Quattro for Women makes an excellent alternative.
The Schick Hydro Silk (Est. $13) looks like a Venus razor, but performs in a league all its own. Users achieve a close, nick-free shave that lasts on average three days longer than a shave using another razor. Plus, many find the lightweight, textured handle appealing. However, when negative feedback is mentioned -- and it's hard to find -- the slimy moisturizing strips are always to blame. The seaweed serum moisture strips turn gelatinous when introduced to water, and then simply disappear after only a few uses. Nonetheless, the Hydro Silk gives the Venus Embrace a run for its money.
The larger, and more expensive cousin of the Schick Hydro Silk is the Schick Intuition Plus (Est. $11). Reviewers say it cuts shaving time with four blades and a moisturizing gel strip. The size of the handle gets praise from users, who say it feels substantial and is easy to hold in the shower. Its great performance requires no pressure to effectively remove hair, and its easy grip makes it a great choice for beginners.