What type of razor blade should I be using in my safety razor?
The beauty of wet shaving is the sheer scope of customisation that allows you to get a much better shave. If you have recently converted from cartridge razors there are likely a few things you need to consider that you didn’t have to worry about before. One of those things is the brand of razor blade that you use in your safety razor.
The blades you use have a huge difference in the effectiveness of the shave you will get. Of course, all blades will handle the task of cutting hairs no problem but each brand is manufactured in a different way using different materials that make it ideal for certain skin types and hair thickness. It is the job of every wet shaver to discover the type of skin they have, the thickness of their beard and, through trial and error, the blades that best suit them.
How are brands of razor blades different?
The way razor blades are manufactured are what give them part of their personality but in essence there are two main ways that blades are different:
Obviously all razor blades are sharp, very sharp, however some are sharper than others and we therefore end up discussing their sharpness in relative terms. For example Derby Extras are known to be quite a dull blade whereas Feathers could slice the air in two given the chance.
Some manufacturers add a special coating to the blade to help it glide across the skin easier or last longer. For example Wilkinson Sword claim to add a synthetic polymer coating that is supposed to prevent cuts and irritation in this way.
Why would you want a relatively dull blade, surely the sharpest of the sharp will do the best job? Again that depends on the user, the sharper the blade that you use, the more risk there is of causing razor burn and general irritation. Therefore you want to use a blade that effortlessly and painlessly removes your stubble. Derby Extras are good for those with finer hairs as they won’t need a super sharp blade but also those with more sensitive skin, as it isn’t so aggressive.
Based on the above information you may think that it is relatively easy to narrow down the type of blade you want. If you have fine hairs, go for Derbys and if you have mini tree trunks bursting from your pores then go for a sharper blade such as the Feathers.
However it isn’t that simple when you factor in your skin type. What if you have very thick hairs but incredibly sensitive skin? Using a very sharp blade would certainly give you a smooth shave but likely at the cost of a lot of pain. This is why experimenting with different blades is such a necessity.
A few tips on finding the right blade:
If you find that you have to keep going over the same area for multiple passes because the hairs don’t seem to be getting cut uniformly, and similarly if you find that the blade is uncomfortably tugging at your hairs instead of cleanly slicing through them, you likely need a sharper blade.
If you find that after only 2 or 3 passes, no matter how gentle you are, you always come away with sore, irritated skin, then it is likely the blade is too sharp for you.
How long will my blade last before I need to replace it?
Again there are no hard and fast rules here; different brands of razor blades last different lengths of time. In general they all last between 3-7 shaves. You can expect those with thicker beards to get less shaves out of each as those blades are working harder. It also depends how frugal you want to be. Many wet shavers simply change blades every 3 days rather than risk a sub-par shave, others will wait until they can feel the tell-tale signs of a worn blade before changing.
You can tell when a blade is past its best when it stops cleanly slicing through the hairs, which you will feel as an uncomfortable tug on the face. It will also tend to cut inconsistently, causing you to have to keep going over areas you have already done, and can cause razor burn more easily. The best way of knowing is experience, you will be able to tell after a shave when the blade needs changing because you just won’t feel that it did as good a job as normal. From then on you know how many shaves you can safely have with that brand before it needs changing.
It is worth noting however that it isn’t uncommon to get a duff blade in a pack. Sometimes you will get a blade that simply doesn’t perform as well as it should be doing and therefore you may want to give a brand another chance before you label it as “x number of shaves”.
Storing razor blades between uses
Many people, once they have finished their shave, submerge their razor in an alcohol solution to sterilise the blade for next use. This is an unnecessary step probably gained from watching professional barbers do it. Barbers (the good ones) will clean the blade and handle after each use to ensure they don’t spread infection and bacteria from customer to customer. As you will only be shaving yourself there is no need to disinfect your tools. All that is required is that you rinse it thoroughly and shake off or pat with a towel to get rid of the excess water and leave in an open space to fully air dry.
In between shaves it is perfectly acceptable to leave the blade in the razor as they have a relatively short lifespan (3-7 uses) before being replaced. However if you are planning on not shaving for a while or perhaps you plan on using a different razor, it is advised that you take the blade out of the razor head that is not going to be used to prevent the possibility of corrosion which could in turn damage the metal finish.
What do I do with all these used razor blades?
Billions of disposable cartridge razors are thrown into landfill sites every year where they will remain, as they don’t bio-degrade, for thousands if not millions of years. A great benefit of shaving with a traditional safety razor is the reduced impact on the environment it has because only the blades themselves need disposing of. But there is still an issue of what to do with these blades. Can they be recycled, and what do you do with them until then?
In terms of storage, the most common way is to get an empty tin can or a glass jar you don’t want and pop all used blades in it. Once full, put a lid on and seal the top securely (such as with masking tape). You can also buy fit for purpose blade banks that work almost like a piggy bank, with a slit on the top but usually without an opening so that once a blade goes in, it doesn’t come out again. These tend to be used in place of cans purely for their aesthetic purposes.
When you have filled a container with used blades, clearly label it and then many wet shavers will just leave it and start filling up a new one (After all, it can take a long time to fill one up). Another option is to take your clearly labeled and secured tin to a waste management facility, the next time you go, as they often have containers for loose steel. However it is always best to ring them up beforehand to check. You can also check with your local council to see if they will allow a secured tin to be included with the rest of your normal recycling. Some people have found that those in the creative community are interested in any bits of scrap metal and might be willing to take used blades for an artistic project, it doesn’t hurt to ask.