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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vintage Shaving vs. Modern Shaving

Some years ago, and I'm not really sure when or why, it dawned on me what an ecological disaster modern shaving is.  By combining metal and plastic together in the disposable razor and shaving cream can, we render neither of them recyclable, so into the landfill they go by the billions. I read recently that the EPA estimates that over two billion disposable razors wind up in landfills a year.  Two billion! That's just the disposable razors! I couldn't find anything about how many razor cartridges or shaving cream cans wind up there.   I remember buying cartridge-type razor blades at Costco, because they were so much cheaper than at the grocery store.  The big downside to that was that even though they were far less expensive in terms of out-of-pocket cost to me, they were entombed in a huge plastic coffin that made sure I could see what I was getting for my incredible bargain, but no where on this abomination did I see the friendly recycle triangle.  They were ecologically really expensive.  So I rebelled.

I did some research and made the argument to Steve that in the long run, we would save ourselves a ton of money AND do the environment a huge favor if we changed to old fashioned safety razors and if he started plying a shaving brush, to which he agreed.  Please don't confuse an old-fashioned safety razor with an old-fashioned straight razor.

This is a straight razor

They are not the same thing.   I would not go near a straight razor, much less take one to my underarms or limbs, or let Steve shave his precious Adam's apple with one.  Some people like a straight razor, and they are out there if you want to buy one.  I saw one recently that was $696, but it was a hand-made custom job. If you have that kind of money and time- help yourself to it.

I don't think that most people give a second thought to the paraphernalia with which they shave, but I sure wish that they would.  Our razors are made out of metal, yes, that had to be mined, but they should easily last us the rest of our lives.  Or at least until we decide not to bother anymore.  I used to buy Merkur blades from an online tobacco shop in Nashville.  The Merkur blades came ten to a package and were housed in a little plastic holder that came on a cardboard-backed blister pack.  Since I was paying for shipping, I'd order ten packages at a time to last us the year, and with shipping, they came to about $.65 a blade.  When you compare that with a package of refill blades for a modern razor that will set you back at least five bucks, you begin to see what kind of savings can be had.  The other advantage to double edge blades is that they can be much more easily recycled at the landfill where they will cling to the huge electric magnets that they use for metals, and they won't have to be separated from their plastic shells, because they don't have them.

I still felt bad about what little plastic was involved, so I went hunting again.  This time I found an online seller that had a box of 250 individually wrapped Personna blades for around $55 dollars. 250! That would last a couple of years, at least. With the shipping, the Personna blades cost me $.24 a piece.  That's twenty-four cents a piece.  These were much less expensive and there was no plastic involved.  We could have spent more, and purchased the fancy Feather blades at twice the price, but I was looking to get some blades in here cheap.   The Feathers have the reputation for being the sharpest blade out there, and receive enthusiastic reviews, so one day I may treat Steve to some to see how he likes them.  I would caution anyone contemplating a change to double edge shaving, that because they are so sharp, all the reviewers recommend them to experienced double edge shavers only, and to try shaving with another kind of blade for a few months while you get used to double edge shaving.  As Steve put it when we first starting shaving with safety razors, "these blades are unforgiving."  It takes a little longer to shave, and it takes a little while to get used to that.

This is a safety razor
But we did get used to them, and I no more often nick myself with my safety razor than I did with the newer razors.  We do still have a modern cartridge razor, but we save that for traveling, because the TA doesn't get safety razors.  In 2002, when we went to Germany, we had a fairly new pack of Merkur blades confiscated at the airport, which necessitated finding and buying razor blades in Germany.  We couldn't find a match and wound up buying disposable razors, which of course, was an anathema to us.

The other thing that shaving with a brush and safety razor does for you is change the shaving chore into something of a ritual.  If you round out the experience with nicer soaps or fancier shaving creams, and believe me, they can be had, then taking care of this daily routine becomes a lot more pleasurable, and much less a pain, particularly when you allow yourself the time to do it correctly.  And if you shop around, there are some really beautiful razors and razor sets out there that would make a really fine gift for someone, or a swell present for yourself.  The various shaving creams and soaps to be had are very nice as well, particularly those from Europe.  I'm not sure that I'd recommend buying shaving cream one tube at a time from somewhere in Europe- that would carry a heavy carbon price. But if they were purchased in bulk, or at the very least, as a gift, they could make the transition to using a safety razor very pleasant indeed.

A few shaving tips I can offer that I've picked up over the years is that guys should shave after their shower, to allow their beards to soften up a bit.  Girls should shave no sooner than four minutes in, and no later than eight minutes in, for the closest shave.  After four minutes, hair is soft enough to shave well, and after eight minutes the skin is so swollen with water that stubble is more apparent after the skin dries.  The other tip for both sexes is to draw the razor slowly across the skin for the closest shave and to minimize irritation.  Razor burns and cuts happen more often if shaving is rushed.

So I hope I've made my case: modern shaving carries a heavy price, both in terms of the embodied carbon it entails and longevity in the landfill, as well as it costs a lot more to your household budget.  Vintage shaving with a safety razor is much easier on the landfills and your wallet, and can turn shaving into a pleasant experience to which you actually look forward.

1 comment:

Best Shave said...

I totally agree. Shaving with a safety razor will reduce your environmental footprint yet you will actually get a much better and enjoyable shave too.