Safety Razor VS Cartridge Razor: Which Is Better?

When it comes to men’s shaving, one debate rules them all: Safety razor vs. Cartridge razor.

Which is better?

The truth is, most men asking this questions are men who are still using cartridge razors. Because everyone who gives safety razor shaving a proper try will come to the same conclusion.

Safety razors are better because they give you a proper close shave, are cheaper to use, and are less prone to leave you with nasty razor bumps. The only advantage cartridge razors have is their ease of use, but you can quickly overcome that with a little practice.

This article will tell you in the detail why you should choose safety razors over cartridge razors.

safety razor vs cartridge razor

Note: This article may contain affiliate links. That means if you click a link and purchase something, I earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.

Safety Razors VS Cartridge Razors: Pros and Cons

Each type of razor comes with its own pros and cons. So which razor is truly best for you depends on whether you value early convenience over shave quality and costs.

These are the pros and cons of safety razor shaving vs. cartridge razors:

Pros of Safety Razors

  • Close shave
  • Less irritable for skin
  • Razor blades last longer
  • Razor blades are less expensive

Cons of Safety Razors

  • Slightly bigger learning curve
  • Higher initial cost
  • Might nick yourself more at first

Pros of Cartridge Razors

  • Very easy to use
  • Causes few cuts
  • Low initial cost

Cons of Cartridge Razors

  • Cartridges have to be replaced more often
  • Cartridges are more expensive
  • More irritable for skin
  • Doesn’t shave as closely

As you can see, a safety razor may require a higher initial investment, both in learning curve and cost. However, the cost is quickly offset by the money you’ll save on replacement blades. And while safety razor shaving may require some getting used to at first — especially if you’re used to the ease of cartridge razors — the learning curve isn’t that steep.

You may nick yourself a few times at first, since safety razors have a sharp blade, but if you follow instructions closely, you’ll get used to them quickly enough. (And we’ll include instruction on how to use them later in this article.)

Many men imagine a learning curve to be equal to using a straight razor, but a safety razor is much closer to a cartridge than it is to a straight razor. In fact, they were initially invented to make shaving easier and safer, as compared to a straight razor.

I do recommend that when you start out, you use a DE razor that offers a small blade gap. This makes cuts and nicks even less likely. As you learn to wield the razor, you may consider upgrading to a razor with a larger blade gap (which gives an even closer shave).

If you have really sensitive skin, or if you’re really worried about nicking yourself, you may opt for a Rockwell razor, which has adjustable blade settings, and you can set the blade gap incredibly small.

Recommended Shaving Products:

Why Cartridge Razors Are Inferior

At some point, big razor companies — most notably Gillette who started a trend upon releasing their Mach 3 — have convinced us that a single blade is no longer enough. They’ll have us believe that we need five-bladed razors with lubrication strips, vibrating handles and “Flexball Technology.” (What?!)

Even Q from the James Bond movies couldn’t make this shit up.

The truth is, this is all a bunch of baloney. The only reason you need a lubrication strip is because the multiple blades are overkill and cause the skin irritation. The multiple blades, the vibrating handle and the Flexball BS is all just marketing trying to make their product look like “more than just a razor.”

The Gillette Fusion is the most popular cartridge razor on the market today (beating out the previous champ, the Gillette Mach 3). The chief reason it’s most popular is because of great marketing — and hey, I fell for it in my early twenties.

What Gillette doesn’t want you to know is that the old-fashioned, single blade safety razor is a much better investment.

Catridge razors are still a step up from electric razors, but that’s not saying much.

Why Safety Razors Are Better

The safety razor — a.k.a. double edge razor or DE razor, because of their double edge blade — not only gives you a closer shave than multi-blade razors, but they do so without irritating your sensitive skin (if you use them properly).

See, skin irritation from shaving is caused by ingrown hair, which then has to struggle through the follicle. You’re less likely to trap your beard hair beneath the surface of the skin with a safety razor because it never shaves hair below the surface of the skin.

And frankly, wielding a proper blade instead of a boy’s toy just makes you feel more manly. Even applying shaving cream the proper way makes you feel more like a grown-up.

I’ll come out and say it: Using a traditional shaving method, like a safety razor, makes you feel more manly!

On top of that, you’ll also save some money on shaving products and won’t have to think about replacing them as often either.

Know what? Lets compare.

Cost of Cartridge Razor VS Safety Razor

Giltte VS. Merkur

The Gillette Fusion (pictured left) is the most popular disposable razor, so let’s see how it holds up to the Merkur 23C (pictured right) which is one of the most popular double edge razors.

First, let’s compare prices:

Huh? Wait… What? Didn’t I say the safety razor would be less expensive?

No, I told you that shaving with one will be less expensive. First, because the stainless steel Merkur will last a lifetime, but most of all, because safety razor blades are dirt cheap and have to be replaced less often.

See, Gillette’s business model relies on giving you the Fusion for cheap but then charging you ridiculous prices for the razor blades.

So let’s go ahead and compare those as well…

Cost of Refill Cartridges VS Safety Razor Blades

Razorblades Compared

Again, let’s compare prices first: 

That’s quite a difference, isn’t it?

With Gillette, you get 12 blades for $34 and with Derby you get 100 for $9.

That means after replacing only 12 Derby blades, you already made up the difference of what your Merkur razor cost!

And that doesn’t even take into account durability

Durability of Safety Razor Blades VS Cartridge Blades

Companies like Gillette or Wilkinson Sword would have you believe that their blades will last five weeks. The truth is, how long a razor blade lasts depends on your beard growth. Some guys are luckier than others. The only way to truly tell when it’s time to replace your blade is when you feel the razor pulling on your beard. When I was still using them, I had to replace them at least every 1-2 weeks.

(Note: Gillette’s packaging suggest that you change the blade as soon as the lubrication strip has disappeared, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the blade has dulled.)

I saw no difference in durability with Derby blades. They lasted the same period of time. I’ve seen some other online sources suggest that double-edged razor blades last longer than disposable razors, but this wasn’t the case for me. (Admittedly, I’m quite prone to razor bumps, so I will replace my blade as soon as I feel the slightest tug. Imagine my neck when I still used an electric shaver!)

Anyway, after I bought my double edge safety razor, I bought a pack of 100 blades, which lasted a little less than two years. I didn’t have to think about getting new razor blades for two friggin’ years, guys. This might not seem like much, but it’s quite a load off your mind.

Why You Should Use a Shaving Brush

Wet shaving requires you to lather up, and to do this properly, you need a shaving brush.

If you’re going to invest in a safety razor, you should also invest in a shaving brush. (Honestly, they are helpful even if you stick to cartridges.)

Perfecto Shaving Brush

Perfecto Badger Hair Shaving Brush

If you desire a clean shave, a shaving brush is an absolute must-have. Barbers everywhere use them for a reason!

See, the typical way most men apply shaving gel, foam or cream, is they use their fingers. But by doing this, you essentially press your facial hair against your skin.

When you use a shaving brush, you do the exact opposite. You raise your whiskers rather than push them against the skin. You make them stand for attention so your safety razor blade can’t miss them.

On top of that, it’s a much more effective way to apply an even lather while using less of your shaving foam, gel, or cream.

Speaking of which…

Shaving Foams and Gels VS. Shaving Creams

The other ingredient for a great wet shave is the lather product.

Most men use shaving gels or foams that come out of aerosol cans, like one of these:

Gilette Shaving Gel

The truth is, these cans are designed to spray their gel or foam at rapid-speed, which leads to men almost always using much more foam to lather up than they need.

When you use a shaving brush with a shaving cream or shaving soap, you only need a tiny amount to achieve a full lather.

Shaving creams come in containers that allow you to open the lid and dab the tip of your brush in, giving you much more control than if you were using a pressure can.

Most of the time, you’ll find that dipping your brush just once will be enough.

What keeps many men from using shaving creams instead of their canned counterparts is the price. Shaving creams are often more expensive, but that’s only when you don’t take into account how much use you get out of them.

So again, let’s compare:

This Gillette Fusion Shaving Gel pictured above costs $6.40 on Amazon for 6 ounces (or about 177ml).

This Maca Root based shaving cream from The Body Shop is the one I’ve been using (and it’s amazing). It costs $16 for 6.7 ounces (or 200ml):

Body Shop Maca Root Shaving Cream

The Body Shop Maca Root Shaving Cream

Typically, a can of Gillette shaving gel would last you for a bit over a month. But for fairness’ sake, let’s say you apply it extremely sparingly and it lasts two whole months.

That pales in comparison to the Maca Root shaving cream, which lasted me at least a year (when using it along with my shaving brush).

In other words, you’d spend around $38 of shaving gel per year vs. only $16 on shaving cream.

Again, seems like an easy choice, doesn’t it?

What Aftershave Should You Use with a Safety Razor?

After shaving, you want to apply some aftershave to your skin to soothe, moisturize and close your pores so you don’t get any dirt trapped inside. Whether you use cartridge or DE razors makes no difference in what aftershave you should use, so you can keep using whatever you like.

With that said, I recommend against using alcohol-based ones, especially if you have sensitive skin

Because most men are still using alcohol-based aftershaves that make you go like this:

Kevin from Home Alone applying aftershave

Now, despite the sting, these aftershaves actually have something refreshing to them. But most guys use them just because they feel like the sting is telling them it’s doing its job.

In fact, many believe the alcohol in this aftershave helps close any nicks and cuts and that it helps prevent razor burn. It does neither. In fact, the alcohol is unnecessary, and for some men can cause skin irritation or drying of the skin.

These aftershaves also tend to have strong odors, which can cause interference in case you want to apply some nice cologne.

So what’s the solution?

Aftershave balm.

Balm contains no alcohol, which means it doesn’t sting. It barely has any scent to it, which means you’re free to wear any cologne you like. And it will often provide a more soothing and moisturizing effect on your freshly shaven skin.

And you don’t have to get anything fancy. This balm from Nivea works like a charm:

Nivea Aftershave Balm

Nivea Post Shave Balm (3-Pack)

How to Shave Like with a Safety Razor: A Step-By-Step Guide

Now, let’s explain how to use these products. Because if you’re transitioning from a cartridge razor to a double edge razor, it can take some getting used to.

Not knowing the proper way to wield a real man’s shaving blade can cause you to nick yourself more than you normally would. (In fact, you may experience a few more nicks than usual on your first few tries, but don’t give up if you do.)

So here’s a guide that tells you step by step how to shave with a safety razor:

Shaving with a safety razor isn’t the same as shaving with a cartridge razor like Gillette Fusion, and wielding the blade the wrong way will actually cause more nicks and cuts.

For the optimal shave, follow these steps:

  1. Make a towel wet with hot water and apply it to your beard and neck area. Keep it there for about 30 seconds.
  2. Make your shaving brush wet with warm water.
  3. Dip the tip of your shaving brush into the shaving cream.
  4. Use the brush to apply the shaving cream to your beard and neck area in a circular motion. Make sure you have a good, even lather, and leave it on for 30 seconds.
  5. Warm up you razor with hot water. The razor should feel warm, not so hot that it’s painful.
  6. Hold your razor gently at the base of the handle between the tips of your fingers.
  7. Hold the razor against your face at a 30 degree angle. Avoid applying pressure and let the weight of the razor do the work. (Applying pressure is a big mistake many men make when they switch from cartidge razors to safety razors. You will cut yourself when you do this.)
  8. Move your razor along your beard, shaving in the direction of your hair growth. Keep your passes short and rinse with warm water after every pass.
  9. Optional: If you still see stubble on your face, relather and shave again.
  10. Optional: If you want an even closer shave, you can lather up again and now shave across the direction of your hair growth. Never go against the direction of your hair growth. (You should only do this after you’ve practiced with the safety razor and feel confident wielding it.)
  11. Rinse your face with cold water.
  12. Pat your face dry with a towel.
  13. Apply aftershave balm.

Let’s End the Debate: Shaving with Safety Razors Is Better

The debate of safety razors vs cartridge razors has been going on for decades, but we have a clear winner here in terms of which is better. The only minor downside of safety razors is a brief learning curve, but that’s easy to overcome.

Only if you truly value short-term convenience over a better quality shave and lower costs should you consider cartridge razors. Otherwise, switch over and enjoy the close shave that safety razors give you.

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