There are five main types of razors: cartridge razors, safety razors, disposable razors, straight razors, and electric shavers.
Below we’ll discuss the differences between each of these razor types. Additionally, we will also share some of the notable advantages and disadvantages of each razor.
5 Types of Razors
Here’s a look at the five different types of razors:
1. Cartridge Razors
Cartridge razors are a relatively modern invention and were introduced by Gillette in 1971 with the Trac II.
Cartridge razors depend on a multi-blade razor that is replaceable. What makes cartridge razors unique from many other razors is that they rely on the hysteresis phenomenon, also know as lift-and-cut. Each razor blade on the end of a cartridge razor lifts and then cuts the hair lower. Compared to other razors, cartridge razors can provide close results.
Cartridge razors are easy to learn, making them suitable for beginners. Additionally, cartridge razors will rarely cut the skin thanks to improved mechanics, including a pivoting head and comb.
Despite their advantages, cartridge razors are expensive and can cause razor bumps for some men. Razor bumps are caused when the hair is cut beneath the skin’s surface and becomes ingrown.
These are the biggest sticking point to owning a cartridge razor. Blades are expensive and not the most environmentally friendly as they rely on plastic and are not recyclable. However, you can find them virtually everywhere, including drugstores, supermarkets, and online. Lastly, replacing them is easy and can be done in seconds.
Cartridge razors require shaving cream to provide a smooth shave. You don’t have to be too picky here. A standard shaving foam, gel, or cream will do the trick.
Unlike other razors, the cartridge razor has unmatched versatility. So whether you are shaving your head or manscaping, the cartridge razor provides smooth results in a relatively safe manner.
2. Disposable Razors
Disposable razors are a modified version of the cartridge razor. Rather than replacing just the razor head, disposable razors are meant only to be used a few times and then thrown out. The lifespan varies depending on the sharpness of the razor blade and how thick and coarse your facial hair may be.
Due to their reliance on plastic, disposable razors are becoming increasingly less popular due to their environmental impact. As discussed in another article, companies have set up special razor recycling programs to reduce environmental impact.
Disposable razors are best for out-of-home use. These razors work well when traveling for business or pleasure or when shaving at the gym. Disposable razors are TSA-compliant.
You can buy disposable razors at a local drugstore, grocery store, or online. When buying disposable razors, you can expect to pay less than $15 for a pack of 20 razors.
Bad For the Environment
Given the disposable nature of disposable razors, they are not the most environmentally friendly. Per the EPA, in 1990, it was estimated that 2 billion pounds of razors are thrown away yearly (source). This is a lot of plastic that ends up in landfills. However, many companies have started to offer recycling programs for razors.
Disposable razors are usually made from plastic and stainless steel.
3. Double Edge Safety Razor
Introduced in 1903 by Gillette, the double edge safety razor was a revolutionary advancement in shaving. The safety razor gets its name thanks to the safety bar extending on both sides of the razor’s head. The safety bar flattens skin to help lessen the chance of the user cutting himself or herself.
Double edge safety razors have regained popularity due to their low long-term cost of ownership. A year’s worth of razor blades cost less than $20, making them a budget-friendly alternative to modern shaving tools. Additionally, safety razors don’t experience the hysteresis phenomenon (lift-and-cut) as there is only one cutting blade. Therefore, you are less likely to experience razor bumps when using the safety razor.
The safety razor does have some notable disadvantages. The biggest drawback to the safety razor is the learning curve. Despite a safety-focused design, surface cuts and irritation are still a concern. Additionally, safety razor blades are prohibited from carry-on luggage per TSA (although you can bring the safety razor handle onboard). Lastly, safety razor blades are hard to find locally. Purchasing online is recommended as the selection is more extensive.
When folks say that they do traditional wet shaving, they are more often than not referring to the double edge safety razor (note: all razors mentioned in this article are capable of wet shaving).
Specialty Shaving Cream
While a safety razor can perform well with any shaving cream, higher-quality shaving cream or soap is recommended. Good shaving cream will provide significantly more lubrication and cushion, allowing the razor to glide across the skin. This will help reduce the risk of irritation and razor burn.
The composition of safety razors varies. More common brands, such as Merkur, rely on a zinc alloy frame with a chrome-plated finish. On the other hand, Parker uses a brass frame with a chrome-plated finish. Specialty razors such as the Feather AS-D2 are made from stainless steel, which is more durable and corrosion-resistant.
Any Blade Will Do
If you come from a cartridge razor background, you may be surprised to learn that you can use any double edge razor blade with your safety razor. You are not “locked-in” to a proprietary system. So whether you want to try a razor blade from Feather, Astra, or Wilkinson Sword, you can do so without any issues.
4. Straight Razors and Shavettes
The oldest shaving tool is the straight razor. Made from a single blade, the straight razor requires skill to get close and comfortable results. When using a straight razor, you must always hold the edge at the optimal cutting angle. Going outside of the optimal cutting angle will result in shave irritation.
Straight razor blades must be honed and stropped regularly. Professional honing can add significantly to the long-term price of ownership. Like safety razor blades, straight razors are prohibited from carry-on luggage.
Shavettes are a modern modification to the straight razor. Shavettes have an injectible razor blade, which is simply a safety razor blade that is snapped in half. Shavettes are used in barbershops due to regulatory or sanitary reasons. Shavettes are cheaper than straight razors, making them ideal for beginners or budget-minded shoppers.
Shaving Soap is the Best
Straight razors and shavettes perform best when paired with slick shaving soap. As with a double-edge safety razor, a good shaving soap will provide more lubrication and cushion, allowing the razor to glide across the skin and cleanly cut the hair. Of course, you’ll also need a shave brush later and apply the soap.
Straight razors are made from a variety of materials. The handle may either be crafted from metal such as stainless steel or brass. More luxurious offerings may be made from wood, horn, or other materials. The blade is made from a single piece of steel and is sharpened on both sides.
5. Electric Shavers
Electric shavers are efficient shaving machines. Able to remove facial hair without relying on shaving cream makes them ideal for men who want to shave quickly. Electric shavers are either rotary or foil-based.
Rotary electric shavers cut in a circular motion. While rotary electric shavers may not cut close to the skin, they can effortlessly navigate the face’s contours.
Foil electric shavers cut in an oscillating motion (back and forth). This cutting motion allows for a close, near razor-like shaving experience. Foil electric shavers have a large head, making them tougher to use, particularly in the mustache area.
Electric shavers are widely available both in brick and mortar and online retailers.
Beard Trimmers (No, It’s Not a Razor)
While not necessarily a type of razor per se, we just had to include the beard trimmer.
Beard trimmers effectively trim down your facial hair anywhere between a stubble to a few inches in length. Additionally, beard trimmers are a great way to maintain your beard without shaving it off.
Men susceptible to razor bumps or sensitive skin will also find stubble or beard trimmers to be a great alternative to shaving as they only ever cut the hair just a fraction above the surface of the skin. This means the hair is never cut below the surface like a cartridge razor, which can lead to ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions we get about razors.
Does the sharpness of the blade matter?
Yes, the sharpness of the blade impacts the quality of the shave. A dull blade will not cut the hair as cleanly as a sharp blade. However, it’s important to note that other factors equally impact the quality of the shave. For example, the quality of the shaving cream or soap, the blade angle, and the pressure applied razor all impact the quality of the shave.
Does facial hair grow back thicker after shaving?
No. Facial hair appears thicker after shaving because the base of the hair follicle is wider than the tip. When you shave, you see the cross-section of the hair follicle at its widest point. This is why it appears that the hair is thicker after shaving.