The Ultimate Guide To Buying And Shaving With A Safety Razor

So you have taken the plunge and purchased a safety razor or, maybe you are just thinking about it and need some information on what to look for when buying one and how to use it to make sure it’s right for you.

From the how’s to the why’s, this article will explain everything you need to know about achieving a great shave with a safety razor. Starting with the advantages of a safety razor over cartridge and multi blade razors we move through choosing, assembling and using a safety razor to safely achieve the perfect shave.

Why You Should Use A Safety Razor

It provides a better, more cost effective, less irritating shave. OK, I guess I can’t leave it at that, let’s dig a little deeper.

What’s new. Always, there’s the new innovation that promises a better, closer shave. The problem is that the marketing hype never tells the whole story or the truth for that matter. The multi blade, swivel handle masterpieces that cost the same as a weekend in Paris promise all sorts of benefits when in reality nothing is further from the truth.

Let’s take the usual marketing points for these razors one by one.

Why Safety Razors Are Better Than Multi Blade Cartridge Razors

A closer shave with more blades.

A closer shave is dependent on a number of factors, the least of which is the number of blades. Far more important is skin and beard pre-shave preparation, the sharpness of the blade and the technique used.

Less irritation with more blades because you need less pressure and the pressure is distributed over a bigger area.

Not the case I’m afraid. Skin irritation is caused by dryness through natural oils being removed and skin layers being removed when shaving. Every time a blade passes over the skin it causes damage regardless of the pressure. In one stroke of the razor you just passed 3, 5 or more blades over the same piece of skin. That’s multiple times the damage of a single blade. If you have a sharp blade very little pressure is needed.

Less irritation because you only need one pass for a clean shave with multiple blades.

Here we go again. I’m beginning to sound like a stuck record. More blades equals more irritation, end of. One pass of a five blade razor is the equivalent of five passes with a single blade safety razor. If you have one good sharp blade it will do the job in less strokes with less irritation.

The swivel head maintains better contact with the skin.

Sort of. In reality all it means is that you can make longer strokes and change angles easier. With a fixed head razor you need to lift the razor away from the skin more often. The thing is, in order to get a better shave you should be doing this anyway. Using shorter strokes is far mor beneficial than long strokes that clog the blade and cause friction.

The blades last longer.

Maybe, but while the blades at the rear of the razor head may stay sharp it’s because they do less cutting. The first blade in the head does about 85% of the hair cutting on a stroke of the razor and dulls significantly quicker. Another problem is that while some of the blades may stay sharper longer, as there are more blades there are more places for hair, skin and dirt to get trapped and this leads to increased friction and more irritation.

So, the takeaway from that appears to be that multi blade razors are not as great as the hype they are marketed with.

So now let’s cover the benefits of a safety razor.

The Benefits Of A safety Razor

A single double edged blade. This blade is extremely sharp, assuming you buy a quality blade and provides a very close shave. Because it is a single blade it has less places to build up blockages. 

Less irritation – Being only a single blade, it causes far less irritation and damage to the skin than dragging three or five blades across the skin at a time.

Easily cleaned –  Because you can quickly and easily take the razor apart it is possible to clean and clear blockages quickly which can extend the life of the blade. 

Better cutting angle – The blade is positioned in the head at an angle of around 30° to optimise the cutting of hair, giving a very close shave while reducing friction and irritation.

Cost – The cost of blades, even good ones, is far cheaper than replacing cartridges on multi blade razors to the point of saving hundreds in cash over a period of several years.

Useability – The slim design of a safety razor makes it much more user friendly for accessing hard to reach areas like under the nose.

Better quality blades – In general manufacturers use higher quality steel and better production techniques to produce sharper, better quality blades than cartridge blade manufacturers. Just remember that you get what you pay for and there is the bargain basement for everything, razor blades included

Many men are now seeing the benefits of safety razors and leaving multi blade and disposables behind.

Professional barber shops use single blade razors, be that cut throat razors or safety razors so take a tip from the professionals and use the right tool for the job.

So now you are convinced that a safety razor is the way to go, you had better learn how to choose one and use one as it’s a little different than using your throw away cartridge, multi blade razor.

Choosing Your safety Razor

Image of a safety razor and blade
Photo by Nacho Fernández

A safety razor is a simple, basic design so choosing one should be simple. It may be a surprise to learn that there are still a multitude of variations for this basic tool. Not only that but if you have an allegiance to a particular brand you may not have some of the options available. The choice is yours.

Common variations include –

  • Weight
  • Handle length
  • Head size
  • Bar or comb design
  • Grips
  • Blade securing mechanism
  • Fixed or adjustable

Choosing a razor’s head size will depend on your facial features. If you have tight or fine features a smaller head size would be preferable.

The blade securing mechanism has three common types. 

First up is the butterfly or twist to open type. This is a one piece design that incorporates a twist mechanism in the handle that opens the top plate of the razor to access the blade.

Next is a two piece design. This consists of the lower part of the razor that includes the handle and blade holder and a separate top plate that unscrews.

Finally there is the very common three piece design. This is a handle, a bottom plate on which the blade sits and the top plate which screws in to secure the blade.

Choosing between a safety bar or an open comb type razor depends on the type of shave you want. The open comb design provides a much more aggressive, tight cut but comes with the increased risk of cutting or nicking your skin. The design differs from the safety bar type in the fact that it allows more hair into the razor on a single stroke.

A fixed blade is exactly that, the depth of the cut it produces is fixed. An adjustable has moveable safety plates that widen or contract in order to vary the aggressiveness of the cut.

Handle size, grip and razor weight are determined by your hand size and the feel you prefer. 


Image of a blade leaning against a safety razor

When it comes to blades there’s plenty to choose from. Its best to choose from a recognised brand to ensure you are getting a good quality blade. There are plenty of cheap blades on the market that don’t really cut it so to speak.

Good brands known for producing top quality blades – 

  • Wilkinson Sword
  • Merkur
  • Feather
  • Gillette
  • Shark
  • Astra
  • Treet
  • Parker

If you are new to using a safety razor it may be best to pick up a sample pack that contains a good selection of blades from different manufacturers to find a brand you prefer.

Shaving Foams, Gels, Creams And Oils

Spoilt for choice. There are so many choices when it comes to choosing what to soften your whiskers with. From the supermarket branded gels and foams to the high end creams and oils, are there any real differences?

Your first consideration in choosing a shaving medium is your skin type. Differing skin types will have different needs when it comes to choosing what to lather your face with.

Another consideration is price. Balms, creams, oils and specialist soaps are always going to cost more but usually they are worth the extra if you are looking for that perfect shave without turning your skin into a battle ground.

It will also depend on your hair growth and type. If you are prone to leaving it several days between shaves or have particularly strong, thick facial hair you will need a product that aggressively softens the hair. Some products need longer to activate, others work best in combinations such as applying an oil followed by a cream. Regardless of what you choose, you need to follow a good procedure for both skin care and shaving to get the best out of your razor.

Supermarket gels and foams are not really recommended if you are serious about your facial skincare and shaving.

Oils are used to soften a beard while providing a slick surface for the razor to travel over. These are great for longer hair growth.

Soaps are supplied as solid blocks or powders for mixing in a cup. They are best applied with a good shaving brush to lift hairs away from the face while softening them. Soap is great for all lengths of facial hair.

Creams are a little thicker and are massaged into the hair. The combination of massage and the cream soften and raise the hairs ready for shaving. 

Specialist shaving gels soften the facial hairs and are usually pretty good at providing some protection for your skin while shaving.

I would suggest researching a few products and trying a few to see what works best for you.

Shaving Brushes

If you are using soap or prefer not to use your hands to apply your shaving product then you will  need a brush. Using a good quality brush ensures that your facial hair is lifted from the skin and soaked with your choice of soap or other product. The softer bristles are also less aggressive on your skin than massaging with your fingers.

The best quality brushes are usually made from badger fur. Brushes made from other animal furs and hairs are generally a lower quality but are a good substitute if you don’t wish to go to the expense of top quality brush.

Applying soap with a brush should be done in circular motions to lift the facial hairs and to allow the soap to penetrate all the way down the hair to the skin.


Shaving Stand

Now you have your shaving kit assembled you may want to display it nicely on the shelf in the bathroom. There is a great choice of brush and razor stands available. Some are just stands for the brush and razor while others incorporate a bowl or cup for mixing your soap. 


Whether you have a specific shaving mirror or not, it would be advisable to get one if you are using a safety razor. The increased risk of cuts means a good, well lit view of your shaving area is a must have.

Styptic Stick Or Alum Bar

Regardless of what type of razor you use, at some point you are going to nick yourself and watch that dribble of blood trail its way down your chin or neck. The old goto method of sticking a piece of toilet paper over the cut to stem the bleeding is a poor solution.

A far better option is a styptic stick or alum bar which can be run under the tap then rubbed over the cut to stop the blood flow.

Post Shave Care Products

 You need to be prepared for the final act. Applying a good quality balm or moisturiser is absolutely necessary after shaving. This replaces lost oils and hydrates the skin after the friction of shaving has removed a few layers of skin and dried it out. 

These products should be alcohol free and applied generously to ensure thorough re-hydration of the skin.

Getting The Best Shave With Your Safety Razor

For new users of safety razors, your first experience and results may not be the best but it is important that you don’t give up. After a few attempts you will get used to how to hold, move and generally use your razor. Perseverance and patience are key.

Cleanse – First up is the same for shaving with any razor. Thoroughly cleanse your face and neck with hot or warm water to remove any dirt, dead skin and grease. This also opens your pores and starts to soften the hairs on your face.

Apply soap – Apply your soap, gel, cream or whatever your chosen product is. Allow the product time to soak into the hair in order to soften it.

Stretch the skin – Keep the skin area you are shaving as taught as possible. Keeping the skin tight, smooth and flat provides the best possible surface for the blade.

Begin to shave – Start shaving in the direction of the hair growth. It is usually best to start with the sides of the face and move to other areas after

Razor angle – Try to keep the razor at 30° to minimise friction and to give the best cutting angle for the blade. 

Don’t press – Don’t press on your razor, use light pressure at the most, the superior blade sharpness and quality does not require heavy pressure to cut and doing so will result in razor burn and irritation.

Clean your razor – Rinse your razor regularly to remove any build up of hair, skin and soap. This also keeps a supply of water going to the skin to reduce inflammation.

Shorter strokes and less passes – Try to use shorter strokes with each cut and clean the blade between passes. Keep the number of times you shave each area to a minimum, certainly no more than three times.

Keep the skin wet – As you shave over an area and remove the soap it becomes necessary to lubricate the area for each repeated pass with the razor. Rinsing the razor between each pass provides a good supply of clean water to the area and reduces friction and irritation.

Repeat – To really obtain a glass smooth result from your shave it is better to use single passes with the razor, thoroughly rinse the skin then reapply a thin layer of soap and shave the area lightly again. This is preferable as passing over the same area several times inflames the skin, even if using fresh water with each pass. A new layer of soapy lather provides far more lubrication and hydration to the skin and reduces the chances of skin damage significantly.

Rinse – Now is the time to rinse your face and neck with cold water. This will close the pores and lock in any remaining moisture the skin may have retained.

Apply post shave products – Immediately after rinsing your face you should liberally apply your chosen after shave product. The skin will soak up quite a lot of moisture to replace the lost oils and water from the skin so make sure to apply plenty.


So there you have it, a great guide to buying and using a safety razor. While disposables and multi blade cartridges can give a decent shave, if you want a really close shave with the minimum of irritation, a safety razor is definately the way to go.

Author: EricD

Lead generation consultant and website designer specialising in local service business marketing. I created Hair, Beard and Beauty as a marketing tool for hair and beauty businesses based in the UK. The website is operated by my marketing agency. If you are a local service business based in the UK and need website design or marketing visit