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. $14) is the exception, making it the Best Reviewed women's razor year after year. 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 replace 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 other razors, experience 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.
High cost of ownership is a weak point for the Venus models. If you replace the cartridges every two weeks, expect spend about $104 per year on refills.
The Schick Hydro Silk (Est. $7) 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) 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. The Hydro Silk costs half as much as the Venus Embrace, and Schick charges slightly less for refills, too; expect to pay just under $100 per year if, as recommended, you replace the Hydro Silk's cartridge every two weeks.
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.
Unfortunately, bare-bones, bargain-bin disposable razors (you know, the kind that come in a big bag of a dozen or so for $2) can slice and dice you. "Even the most skilled shaver recoils in the face of a disposable razor," says Britt Aboutaleb at Byrdie.com. "It's nearly impossible to use a dinky plastic handle with one or two dull blades and not cut yourself."
Instead, the Gillette Venus Embrace Disposable (Est. $22 for two packs of 3) is a much, much better bet. Yes, they cost more than other disposables -- because they're the closest thing to a "real" razor. Good Housekeeping, Byrdie.com and TotalBeauty.com all name it the best women's disposable razor.
"The clear winner for disposables" at Good Housekeeping, the Embrace Disposable earns raves from testers. It looks a lot like the refillable Venus Embrace, with a thick, cushioned handle and five-blade pivoting head surrounded with a moisturizing ring. Testers say it shaves closely on the first swipe (no need to shave over and over the same spot), without irritating skin -- and it beat all 11 other disposables in the Good Housekeeping test with its blessedly nick-free shave.
The moisturizing ring makes the difference, Aboutaleb says. Amazon.com customers agree: It's the top-rated women's disposable razor there, earning 4.3 stars in more than 120 reviews.
The lone voice of dissent: TheWirecutter.com. Tester Ganda Suthivarakom doesn't like the moisturizing ring, saying it leaves "weird goop melting off the head on a wet shower shelf (or in your toiletry bag). But the main downside is the price. Even if you can make each razor last a full week, expect to spend about $180 a year on razors. Disposable razors also create more landfill waste than refillables.