Detailed explanation why I'm doing this and my methodology:
I’m going to be testing the longevity of several razor blade cartridges compared to DE blades when used for head shaving. My purpose is to satisfy myself (and answer a challenge from a friend) which is cheaper strictly based on the number of comfortable and effective head shaves. Nothing to do with which is more fun and enjoyable. I’m sure this has been done before but I couldn’t find any comprehensive results and definitely couldn't find a head shaving test. Either way, I want to see/feel for myself. I have no intent on saying which is better or more enjoyable to a larger audience but if I truly love or hate something I'll probably mention it. I don’t hate cartridge razors and don’t have an ax to grind against Gillette, Schick, Harry's, Dollar Shave Club or any other cartridge razor manufacturer. My theory is that you can actually get the number of shaves from the cartridges that they claim but their definition of a shave is one pass which may or may not be BBS. My definition of a shave is three passes plus touch up/buffing (3.5 passes) because I personally require BBS. If I can get a BBS with one pass with a cartridge then I will count it as one shave. If it takes me 3.5 passes with a cartridge I will still count it as one shave but it will be noted in my shave log. Originally I hadn't planned on limiting my passes but I was forced to do 5.5 passes to get a BBS during my first try using the Trac II. That was just too much for my skull skin. If a razor or my skills can't provide a BBS with 3.5 passes then I'll grade the shave appropriately. My intent is to shave with a cartridge razor at least once per week until the end of this experiment. Once I start testing a cartridge I will stick with testing that cartridge until it's worn out. I may move around with my DE blades.
My personal definitions of shave quality:
BBS (baby's butt smooth) - Passes the cotton ball test. Feels perfectly smooth. I can rub a cotton ball across my head and no fibers will catch on stubble. A BBS must last me at least 8 hours for me to consider it a BBS. When my wife rubs her cheeks against it she says, “Mmmm, soft.”
DFS (damn fine shave) - The shave feels like BBS when I first finish but I can feel very light stubble, like a very fine sandpaper, in less than 8 hours. My hair usually grows into this category 9-12 hours after a successful BBS. I usually get a DFS with a DE razor I’m not used to yet or when I rush through my 3.5 pass shave. My wife says, "Mmmm, soft."
CCS (close, comfortable shave) - I can feel very light stubble, like a very fine sandpaper, immediately after finishing my shave. I usually get a CCS when I shave with disposable razors, a one pass shave where I can take my time on the one pass, or a normal 3.5 pass shave with a really crappy DE razor. I don’t necessarily consider it a comfortable shave. My wife says, "Don't kiss me again, you're giving me whisker burns".
SAS (socially acceptable shave) - I only use this definition for face shaves. You definitely will feel stubble over 100% of your face with a SAS. Up to 24 hours growth or a shave using a disposable razor with nothing but the very bare minimum (think just cold water and/or hand soap). This is shaving because you're required to shave and in an environment where you only have a razor and hopefully some form of lubricant. This is a shave done out of a canteen cup in the woods that takes off enough whiskers your 1SG, PSG or peers won’t call you out on it and high enough quality to lead by example and motivate your Soldiers to keep up on their shaves. A very hurried one pass shave. In the field or camping I let the hair on my head grow and actually have people buzz it with clippers if it gets too long. My wife says, "Why did I bother kicking my boyfriend out before you came home."
I’ve been shaving since the mid to late 1980s. I joined the military in 1990 and began head shaving in 2004. In 2005 I switched to DE razors for head and face shaving. I retired from the military in 2019 and now only shave my head. The area of thick hair on my head is 10-15% larger than an average man’s beard. I also have very thin hair on top. My head hair is not as coarse as my beard.
I recently had a conversation with the old Army buddy that started head shaving at the same time as me in 2004. I was telling him how awesome the Leaf razor is for head shaving. This led to an argument on which is cheaper and/or better, DEs or cartridge. For the record, the Leaf is not a cartridge razor and it's not a DE. It's its own thing that happens to use DE blades and requires its own unique technique. I can always tell people that haven't used one at all or haven't used one very much because they say it's just a cart.
My buddy and I started head shaving using Gillette Mach3s. I started to play with DEs just for fun but the main reason for the 100% switch to DEs was cartridge costs. Face shaving plus head shaving more than doubles the use of a blade. I just got sick of paying for twice as many cartridges. I have a very vivid memory of experiencing sticker shock in 2005 at the checkout counter while purchasing Mach3 cartridges. I also experienced ingrown hairs on the front of my neck and on the back of my neck at the base of my skull but didn’t really make the connection that those were caused by my cartridge razor until much later.
My argument to my friend was the old “cartridges are crazy expensive.” My friend’s response was to point out most people don’t follow Gillette’s recommendations for razor and cartridge care and maintenance. He said he gets 10 - 20 combination face/head shaves with his Mach3 and 20-40 combination face/head shaves with his Fusion5 depending on how careful he is with prep and cartridge maintenance. He says he ONLY follows Gillette's recommendations, no fancy honing, no mineral oil baths, no climate controlled ionizing blade dryers or other magical aftermarket cartridge life extenders. I pointed out he must be in the late stages of methamphetamine psychosis. He pointed out that if someone was actually smart enough to read and follow basic instructions, they could test and document the results for themselves which would show costs are a lot closer than at first glance. He dared me to follow Gillette's recommendations and give my old Mach3 another chance. I had also noticed over the years on some shaving boards that people are claiming 40, 50, 60, 100 face shaves per cartridge (usually with some magical method of extending the cartridge life). I saw one guy claim his Fusion5 cartridges lasted him over 250 shaves since he honed the blades with old strips of denim and used a special cartridge dryer. I was forced to assume these people have almost no hair to shave, are liars, are stupid, are trolls, need to feel special or have very high pain thresholds. This all piqued my interest though. Unfortunately, like everything I do for a hobby, I couldn’t let it be simple and easy. I decided to dig out my original Gillette Sensor they mailed to me in a cardboard tube when I turned 18 (I remember loving that razor, I was a man and Gillette knew it). I also dug out my old Mach3 handle. Then I decided to have some real fun with this game. I bought a Gillette Trac II (NOS), Atra (NOS), Gillette Fusion5, Gillette Proglide along with all of the available different types of Gillette cartridges for them. I ordered some modern Schick handles and a variety of cartridges for them. Finally, I also ordered a Harry's Truman, a Dollar Shave Club Executive, a Defender and all of the available cartridges for each.
I dug into Gillette’s documentation, recommendations, historic Gillette statements and news articles to try and figure out the rough number of uses a cartridge should provide. Schick put the number at around 30 shaves. Harry's and Dollar Shave Club recommend changing their $2.00+ cartridges every week. I'm not liking their recommendations. I don't NEED to throw out an $0.08 DE blade in 7-8 shaves. One final note, Harry's does not recommend using their razors for head shaving. I'm not sure why but it's probably not a good sign.
Background and source information on the cartridges I’m testing:
The area of normal thick hair coverage on my head is 10-15% larger than an average man’s beard. My bald spot is a cul-de-sac on the top of my head and still has hair, it's just very thin. My head hair is not nearly as coarse as my beard.
My standard shaving pattern for a 3.5 pass BBS head shave is as follows:
Pass 1 - Lather. From base of the neck up and around the right ear in one stroke. Repeat for the left ear. From the base of my neck to my forehead in one long stroke. Repeat mowing the lawn until first pass is complete.
Pass 2 - Lather. Clean up around ears. From my forehead go backwards to the base of my neck in one long stroke. Repeat until second pass is complete
Pass 3 - Lather. Clean up around ears. Going right to left (ear to ear) shave one long cross stroke until just passed the middle of my head. Finish the right side of my head and repeat the process for the left side. I mow my entire head and neck using this process.
Buffing/Clean up - Wet my hand and use residual slickness to make sure I haven't missed anything. Clean up my three usual troublespots and verify around ears. If I don't have enough residual slickness I'll use leftover soap.
I plan on shaving at least once per week using a cartridge and recording the results. I will strictly follow Gillette’s usage and maintenance recommendations with the exception of replacing the cartridge when the use indicator strip says to. I’m convinced indicator strips are Gillette's Jedi mind trick to get folks to change cartridges too often. When the cartridge is either too uncomfortable or fails to remove hair I will consider it finished, make a note and throw it away. I will be grading each shave in my shave log using MY definitions of BBS, DFS, CCS and SAS. I’m also going to do the same with my DE blades. In the past when I shaved both my face and head I almost never retained a DE blade past four shaves whether they needed to be replaced or not. It was just my rule of thumb to replace a DE blade after four shaves. All of the numbers will be recorded and charted on this webpage and my shave log. I will note the shaving soap/cream etc used in my shaving log but I won’t be controlling for that. I’m going to use what I feel like using. It may be high end artisan soap or cheap crap. I won’t be directly publishing costs because people can always pay too much or get a great deal. The costs I'm using are based on what I actually paid for the blades/cartridges at the time I was purchasing. Several of the older NOS cartridges were quite expensive to source on short notice. My belief is folks can do their own math when they see the absolute maximum a blade/cartridge can be effectively and comfortably used. My numbers won’t line up exactly for each individual but the ratios between cartridge and DE blade shaves should roughly track accurately and the overall blade trends should be roughly accurate. As always, standard disclaimer, YMMV.
I will be testing the following original cartridges in their OEM handles in this order:
If Gillette’s claims and anecdotal accounts are correct, this project will take a long time to complete unless I use a cartridge more then once per week. I’m willing to commit to one cartridge shave per week but I'm not willing to commit to more than that. I may do two or three cartridge shaves occasionally. I am open to testing other brand razors and their cartridges if anyone has suggestions. I’m trying to stick with Gillette cartridges for the first part of testing since I think this is going to take quite a while and I’m most familiar with them. Also, Gillette seems to get the most grief about their cartridges.
Note: I won’t be recording shaves with my other traditional DE razors since I want to keep the test razor constant and I truly love the Leaf for head shaving. I’m not willing to give it up for this experiment. If you want to see strictly DE razors used in this test you are more than welcome to reproduce the project yourself using the methodology and equipment you prefer.
Note: After my first experience with the Trac II I decided I have to limit the amount of passes to 3.5. Five full passes and cleanup/buffing. I managed to get a BBS but 5.5 passes is just too much for my poor skin.