Occam’s Razor: When it Comes to Shaving, Less Means More

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by Andrew Connor, Men’s Editor

Occam's Razor

Way, way back in 1975, during the airing of the first ever episode of SNL, the world learned of the “Triple-Trac” razor, a new type of shaver that promised a closer, smother shave thanks to a revolutionary, three-blade design. This was a monumental moment, not because the shaving game changed but because it was one of SNL’s first commercial parodies. In fact, the razor’s tagline was, “Because you’ll believe anything.” Funny, then, that in 1998 Gillette introduced the world’s actual first three-blade razor, and ever since shaving hasn’t quite been the same.

Lets just put something in perspective: back in 1975 the idea of three blades on a razor was so absurd it was among the first of SNL’s many fake product commercials. Why? Because around this time some health and beauty companies started releasing the first double blade razors that many consumers wrote off as a cheap gimmick. But twenty-three years later the triple blade razor did become a reality, and in 2011 you could (and still can) buy a razor with six blades. Yes, you heard correctly, six blades. Six. So why on earth has it been decided that, when it comes to shaving, more blades is better?

The principle behind the multiple blade design it this: the first blade on the razor isn’t so much a blade as it a blunt grabbing…thing. This will grab the hair and pull it up and out from your skin while the second blade, razor sharp, cuts the hair. Thanks to that first blade the shave is much closer and your face is now smoother because it could theoretically cut the hair at a point that is bellow the skin’s surface. The third, fourth, fifth, and six blade, uh, finish the job?

No one is quite sure to be honest. A study found that a two-bladed razor did cut hair at a point that left it under the skin, versus an electric shaver that could only cut at the surface, but there’s not much evidence for the three and up designs. Gillette say the logic behind their multi blade razors is that the second blade cuts close, then the subsequent blades keep cutting closer and closer. This could be true to an extent, but you really have to take Gillette’s word for it. In other words, you have to trust that the people charging you several dollars for a new razor cartridge aren’t screwing with you.

But even if we want to take Gillette’s claims seriously, there is still the issue of comfort. Multi-blade razors love to bill themselves as more comfortable, but scientifically speaking they’re full of it. Dermatologists say that when you add more blades you add more potential for nicks and razor burns. More blades equals more friction, and thus more irritation. Not to mention razors with more blades spaced closer together clog up more often.

So if the claim of a closer shave is questionable, and if you actually are more likely to harm that delicate, delicate face of yours, what’s the point of a three, four, five, or six blade razor? Well in some ways you can think of it as a “pissing match” between razor companies — after all, they have to get your business somehow. And, when you think about it, how exactly can a company justify selling you a more expensive version of something as simple as sharp, thin metal? It’s simple, just give everybody more and say it’s better.

A dozen one or two-blade disposables will cost slightly less than one cartridge for a multi-blade “shaving system,” and considering the razor with less blades gives you just as good a shave and will cost you less,the decision should be a no brainer. However, if you’re tired of literally throwing away your money with disposables and cartridges you could go with old school safety razors and straight razors. They are more of an immediate investment, but they can be resharpened and will last a lifetime.

In the end the choice is yours; you should pick whatever you think is going to be more comfortable, but if the concentration of ads for razors with more blades than sense is any indicator, you’re starved for choice. No one advertises straight razors and disposables because in the long run they’ll make less money than the expensive “shaving systems,” and the claim that they give a superior shave is questionable at best, if not an outright lie. Do yourself a favor by trying out the less expensive options first; you might find that they’re better. After all, if SNL and even The Onion are poking fun at the way you shave, maybe it’s time to rethink having as many blades as you have fingers.

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