When weighing out the benefits of safety razor vs cartridge razor shaving, the differences may initially seem futile. However, going beyond the stick aesthetic, each razor is unique, especially considering the number of blades, moving parts, and shaving techniques.
It can be hard to give up on the familiar disposable cartridge razors, but you will eventually have to graduate into a better shaving experience. Before diving straight into the expert-level straight razor which can be a little difficult to maintain, buying your first safety razor is the easier way to transition.
But are safety razors better than cartridge razors? If yes, why? And if not, what makes a cartridge better than a safety razor?
Table of Contents: Safety Razor Vs. Cartridge
Safety Razors and Cartridge Razors: A Shared History
Jean-Jacques Perret's blade guard was the first kind of safety razor. Photo courtesy of Collector's Encyclopedia
The first kind of safety razor was a blade guard that Jean-Jacques Perret made in 1762.1 It is simply a wooden sleeve that you slide over the blade, protecting the skin and reducing shaving injuries.
After Perret's safety razor, many people quickly came up with new and better versions of a safer alternative to the cutthroat shaving tool. There was William Samuel Henson's hoe-shaped design with a detachable comb tooth guard and the Kampfe brothers’ infamous 1880 Star blade, the first safety razors manufactured in the United States.
The Star's success propelled the search for the perfect modern safety razor design. However, it has one quirk: its razor blades require regular stropping and occasional honing.
King Camp Gillette finally diminished the need for blade maintenance. Gillette introduced the world to the first system safety razor in 1903.2 This two-piece double-edged safety razor had a thin, strong, reusable handle and a breakthrough disposable double-edge blade.
Meanwhile, disposable cartridge razors did not enter the market in the 1970s. The French company Bic introduced a one-piece shaving system with cheap disposable razors with a single blade and plastic grip.3 It proved popular with men wanting a quick shave without jeopardizing their skin with a regular double edge safety razor.
Despite the constant debate about safety razor vs cartridge razor, this is how safety razors led to the creation of cartridge razors. This generation is lucky because we enjoy the best of both worlds.
The Differences Between Safety and Cartridge Razors
As an adult, you must choose between safety and cartridge razors. Like when Morpheus offers Neo the blue or red pill in The Matrix. If you take the blue pill, you will only know what a cartridge razor is. If you take the red pill, you will find out how far shaving goes down the rabbit hole. Pop movie references aside, many people often need help choosing between a safety razor and cartridge razor.
Ultimately, only you can decide which is better, between safety razor vs cartridge razor. But before that, let us go over all the basics and the things you need to consider when choosing between disposable cartridge razors and safety razors.
What is a Safety Razor?
A safety razor is a shaving tool with a protective element, known as a safety bar, positioned between the blade's edge and the skin to lower the amount of expertise required for injury-free shaving. The types of safety razors are single-blade safety razors, double-edged razors, two-piece safety razors, and three-piece safety razors. The amount of aggression varies depending on the comb type, which determines the exposure amount of the blade's edge.
What is a Cartridge Razor?
A cartridge razor is a disposable razor where the head, or cartridge, can be taken off the handle. The cartridge design keeps the razor blades at a set angle, making them easy and convenient to shave. When the razor blades get dull, the cartridge head is removable to allow a replacement in its place.
Now, let us take a deep dive into their differences:
Keep in mind that just because it is quick and safe does not mean it will give you the soft, baby-bottom smoothness you are looking for.
The number of blades in disposable cartridge razors can cause skin irritation. Using a five-blade razor is equivalent to using a single-blade razor five times, which yields five times the skin irritation of a single pass. Dermatologist Dr. Terrence Keanney agrees that multiple razor blades increase the likelihood of nicks: "with multiple blades so close to the skin, there are more tiny nicks thus more prone to being cut or injured."4
Shaving with a safety razor vs a cartridge razor is better for your skin because it only has one blade and is less likely to cut you. Safety razors provide a superior shave and greater control than shaving with a cartridge razor, with the option of going up, down, beveled, or aggressive.
Also, safety razors work best for wet shaving. Unlike a cartridge, shaving with a safety razor involves a barber-like lather from shaving soap or shaving cream. Wet shaving with safety razors is a shaving routine that provides a better shave with moisturized skin instead of settling with lubricating strips.
There is also something to be said about differences in the quality of the material used for safety razors and cartridge razors.
Because they are single-use, disposable razor blades are cheap and dull quickly. Because cheap steel blades do not stay sharp for long, edges are more likely to be chipped off than safety razor blades.
Cartridge razors are also notable for being primarily composed of plastic. I hate to be a snob, but it is plastic, man. This behavior betrays a lack of appreciation for the sartorial craft of shaving.
Safety razors have medical-grade stainless steel razor blades.5 The edges of its sharp double-edge blade are extremely fine and do not wear quickly. Meanwhile, the wooden or heavy-duty steel razor handle helps balance the blade's weight for a closer shave.
The metal construction of a safety razor lends an air of masculine strength and durability. Its durable construction and quality steel ensure it will serve you well for years compared to cartridges. It is no surprise that there is a thriving subculture of men who collect vintage safety razors among those who worship shaving, and that is the definition of respect right there.
Number of Shaves
As you shave, the pressure on the steel will quickly damage the small soft spots on the cartridge razor blades, which are its weak spots. The multiple blades limit your shaving angle, and recent research found gliding the razor perpendicular to the hair lessens steel damage.6 Manufacturers recommend throwing away the blades of cartridge razors after three weeks with only five uses.
On average, users of double-edge razors report their blades dull after three to four uses.7 If you use a high-quality DE razor blade and do not shave daily, you can get up to 50 shaves from one blade.8 Stropping the blades of a safety razor down and sharpening them may help prolong their lifespan, but it is optional for beginners.
To save money, you should opt for a disposable option or cartridge razors. But if you want a razor that will last you a long time with minimal maintenance, shell out the cash for a safety razor. A cartridge razor will always be less expensive, but investing in your safety is important.
Let us do a simple calculation to compare the cost of buying safety razors vs cartridge razors.
Replacing blade cartridges is more costly than throwing the whole razor away. Shaving with a cartridge razor will cost you $12 for three blades or $4 per blade. If you are using a safety razor vs cartridge, replacement blades cost only $0.80 each.
Buying disposables, like a cartridge razor, is more expensive in the long run than investing in a quality safety razor once. But that is only if you do not become a fanatic. Collecting safety razors and double-edged razors is a worthwhile hobby. You can even sell your safety razor in the future.
Regarding recycling and environmental friendliness, disposable and cartridge razors rank near the bottom.9 Due to their composite construction—plastic frames, rubber grips, and metal blades—most of these tools wind up in landfills or pollute our water supplies. The hybrid setup of a disposable razor makes it very hard to separate different materials for recycling.
Compared to disposable cartridge razors, safety razors have stainless steel razor blades that are very thin and easy to recycle. You can store dull safety razor blades in a tin or metal container for safety, seal them, and contact your local council for a recycling facility.10 You can reuse dull safety razor blades to scrape food off dishes or open mail. Hence, that is why using a safety razor is among the better razor options for the environment.
Safety Razor Vs Cartridge: Which is the Best Razor?
Safety razors have better materials, are more eco-friendly, and cheaper vs. cartridge razors.
Now that we have gone over what you need to think about when choosing between a safety razor and a disposable razor, let us get back to the original question: safety razor vs cartridge razor, which offers a better shave?
Although a cartridge razor has an easier learning curve, a double-edge safety razor is better than a cartridge razor because it is made of better materials, delivers a better and closer shave, costs less, and is better for the environment. Remember that one high-quality blade from a safety razor is much better than a bunch of low-quality disposable razor blades.
Not to mention, the long-term benefits of safety razors surpass the early cost. Safety razors may seem like a splurge at first vs cartridge razors’ costs, but with good care, a safety razor may become a priceless heritage.
You can get a close shave with hardly a nick or cut and a razor burn by shaving with a safety razor. Now, is a clean shave not an achievement you can be proud of?
Shaving with a safety razor vs a cartridge razor can give you a close shave, like at the barbers, where your facial hairs are cut at skin level. Meanwhile, cartridge razors do not always guarantee to deliver a smooth shave and might promote the appearance of hair ingrown. The more you use disposable razors, the more lousy your shave will be.
And what comes after a lousy shave? Nicks, cuts, razor bumps, and razor burn! All of which you want to avoid. Not to mention, if you already have sensitive skin, using a cartridge razor vs a safety razor can cause more skin irritation, leading to more consequential costs. You will have to buy ointments and products to treat the cuts.
There is also a possibility that you will even visit your dermatologist if you can no longer remedy the skin irritation at home. So, save yourself the trouble and invest in a quality safety razor instead of settling with something cheap like a cartridge razor.
Shaving with Safety Razors: The Basics
Shaving with a safety razor vs cartridge razor requires a step-by-step wet shaving routine, unlike the cartridge shave-and-go alternative. To use a safety razor for shaving, you should follow a wet shaving routine:
Use a fresh blade
Due to the low cost of replacement blades, there is no reason to use the same ones repeatedly. When finished, wrap the head in paper to safely remove the blade by unscrewing the head.
Pre-shave skin prep
The pre-shave routine for a safety razor shave is identical to that of a cartridge razor shave. Use warm water to soften the skin and facial hair, and then apply pre-shave oil to nourish and condition both before the shave.
Pull the skin tightly
While shaving, keep your skin taut. Don't drag, let go, or apply pressure accidentally. Maintain a smooth, sturdy surface. Tilt your neck, turn your face, and draw your skin taut.
Follow the proper shaving angle
Keep the angle between 30 and 45 degrees, and don't apply any pressure. The weighted handle should give you all the force you need for a steady and clean shave, and you should keep it at a 30° to 45° angle away from your skin.
Shave with the grain, not against
When shaving with a safety razor, follow the way your hair grows. You should shave with the grain instead of against it. You should examine your growth patterns before you shave and learn how to do face mapping. Pay close attention because your hair grows in different directions.
Use short, straight strokes
Shave in small, consistent strokes, rinsing in between, and with minimal dragging. Do one pass over a small area, lift your safety razor, and proceed with the next section. Make sure to clean the blade, switch sides, and only shave the same spot once to avoid irritation.
Rinse face and apply aftershave
After shaving, close the pores with cold water and apply an aftershave on the skin. It will cool and soothe the skin and stop irritation or infection, like razor burns and bumps.
Dry and store your razor properly
The entire razor should be completely dry using a towel to remove excess moisture. Doing so prevents rust, wear, and other deterioration that will compromise the quality of your safety razor, even if it has a stainless steel or carbon steel material.
What Makes the Best Safety Razor?
Naked Armor's Gaswain Safety Razor has a beginner-friendly comb design complemented by a durable olive wood handle.
When looking for the best double edge razor or safety razor for beginners, you need to think about the head, the handle, and the blade type.
For the safety razor head, remember that, unlike a cartridge razor, the blade inside a safety razor is not fixed at a certain angle; hence the more ‘open’ your double edge safety razor is, the more chances of nicking yourself.
Open-comb safety razors are best for coarse and thick beards, while beginners should start with a closed-comb safety razor for a less aggressive shave. According to expert barbers, 11closed-comb safety razors provide a more protected shave because the blade is more exposed than in open-comb safety razors.
If you are ready to explore the wonderful world of safety razors, we make a beautiful wet shave kit featuring our Gaswain Safety Razor with a natural olive wood handle known for its excellent corrosion resistance.
With the Gaswain Safety Razor, our Safety Razor and Stand Kit includes an olive wood synthetic shaving brush, organic shave soap, stainless steel bowl and zinc-alloy razor stand. You won’t need anything else to achieve a close shave at home.
We guarantee that once you experience the luxurious shaving experience using a double-edged safety razor, you will stop thinking about which is better, between safety razors vs. cartridge razors. There is no doubt that you will ditch your cartridge razor for good! After all, there is nothing better than trying to know.
More Naked Armor Reads
- From Perret to Kampfe: Origins of the Safety Razor. Shave World. http://www.shaveworld.org/images/PerrettKampfe-rev2.html
- Our History. Gillette. https://gillette.com/en-us/about/our-story
- 1975 Launch of the first one-piece razor. BIC. https://www.bicworld.com/en/1975-launch-first-one-piece-razor
- Ask a Mentor Q&A Recap with Dr. Terrence Keaney. Next Stemps In Derm. https://nextstepsinderm.com/resident-corner/ask-a-mentor-qa-recap-with-dr-terrence-keaney/
- What is surgical steel? The role of stainless in healthcare. Essentra Components. https://www.essentracomponents.com/en-gb/news/industries/medical-equipment/what-is-surgical-steel-the-role-of-stainless-in-healthcare. November 9, 2022
- J. Chu. Why shaving dulls even the sharpest of razors. MIT News. https://news.mit.edu/2020/why-shaving-dulls-razors-0806. August 6, 2020
- How Long Should Your Double-Edge Razor Blades Last?. A Superior Shave. https://www.asuperiorshave.com/safety-razors/double-edge-razor-blades/how-long-should-your-double-edge-razor-blades-last
- How long is the life of a double edged razor blade? Quora. https://www.quora.com/How-long-is-the-life-of-a-double-edged-razor-blade
- How to reduce waste using a safety razor (and avoid nicks!). Biome. https://www.biome.com.au/blogs/beauty/safety-razor-how-to-care-zero-waste
- How To Recycle Razor Blades-Shave The Planet. Grown Man Shave. https://grownmanshave.com/blogs/grown-man-shave-society-articles/shave-the-planet-how-to-recycle-razor-blades
- L. Corsillo. The 10 Very Best Safety Razors (and Blades). The Strategist. https://nymag.com/strategist/article/best-safety-razors.html. May 6, 2022