In April 2010, Money Magazine published a short article on the frugality of traditional wet shaving. This feature, while helpful in bringing the national spotlight to the benefits of wet shaving, failed to mention many facts. It's important to look at the monetary costs as well as other costs that cannot be quantified. Despite the celebrity endorsements and high-dollar marketing campaigns, men are turning away from disposable razors and returning to old-school products. This article explains the costs and benefits, and explores mass-market shaving vs. traditional wet shaving from a financial and personal perspective.
Crunching the Numbers
In Money Magazine, the writer stated, "[DE] blades will run about $30 a year, vs. $50 and up for cartridge refills." The article didn't specify the brand or quantity of the blades, so I was curious to look into it myself. I use mostly BIC and Feather blades, and generally use about a pack of blades per month -- except when I use my straight razor more frequently. Purchasing one pack of DE blades per month costs on average between $65-75/year.
In order to do a fair comparison, I pulled up a popular mass-market cartridge shaving system on the website of one of the U.S.'s largest drug store chains. Next, I pulled up prices for mid-level quality traditional wet shaving products based on average retail prices of reputable online vendors. Here's how the numbers break down:
Traditional Wet Shaving
|Cartridge Razor with 1 blade||$10||Safety Razor with 1 blade||$40|
|1 Pack Blades (qty8)||$34||1 Pack Blades (qty10)||$ 6|
|Shaving Gel 7oz||$ 4||Shaving Cream 5.8oz||$15|
|Aftershave 3.4oz||$ 6||Aftershave 3.4oz||$16|
|Initial Purchase Total||$54||Initial Purchase Total||$101|
|5x Packs Cartridges||$170||11x Packs DE Blades||$66|
|11x Shaving Gel Cans||$44||3x Shaving Cream Tubs||$45|
|3x Aftershaves||$18||3x Aftershaves||$48|
|Refill Total||$232||Refill Total||$159|
|Grand Total After 1 Yr||$286||Grand Total After 1 Yr||$260|
Obviously from these numbers, the initial investment into traditional wet shaving is significantly more than purchasing mass-market products from the drug store. The traditional shaver must purchase a quality double edge safety razor as well as a beginner shaving brush, which are significant up-front costs. Both of these items can be purchased from a selection of razors and brushes that range from very inexpensive to high-end connoisseur products. In addition, the traditional shaving creams and aftershaves are more expensive than mass-market aerosol gels and creams.
These numbers also show that the numbers flip-flop after the initial investment. To maintain a supply throughout the first year, a mass-market shaver purchases refill cartridge blades that are far more expensive than their traditional counterparts. The very high cost of cartridge refills is 2.5 times the cost of replacement DE blades. In this illustration, the cartridge shaver actually spends about $26 more than the traditional wet shaver after one year.
The graph on the right compares the two methods of shaving. Although the cost of traditional shaving is higher initially, the "cross-over point" (circled in red) is within the first year and savings after 5 years are around $300.
The Vicious Cycle of Cartridge Shaving
For a cartridge shave to be truly effective, the beard needs to be at a short length, ideally only 24 hours of growth for most men. If a man skips a day, his hair may become too long, and the cartridge will have a tendency to pull. Because of the smaller blade gaps, it will also take many more passes over the skin to effectively reduce the beard all the way down for a clean shave. Because of the tugging and irritation from multiple passes, many men hate shaving and don't do it every day. This causes the beard hair to be longer, and thus you have a vicious cycle.
Most men get an average of 4-6 shaves out of a cartridge before they notice a decline in shave quality. Many men will push the cartridge way past its ability to offer comfortable shaves just for the sake of saving money on blades. Rather than getting close and comfortable shaves, they deal with the irritation and problems because of it. One man posted online that he used a dull cartridge because tissue to stop the bleeding was less expensive than purchasing new blades. Drug store shelves are lined with soothing creams and razor bump ointments to make this condition seem common and mainstream.
The cartridge razor itself is only part of the problem. Most mass-market brands of shaving cream are from aerosol cans and contain many harmful chemicals that cause greater irritation while shaving. Many have numbing agents, such as Lidocaine, which simply mask the discomfort of a multi-blade cartridge razor shave. Although they are widely available and inexpensive, long-term use of these products can cause severe drying and premature aging. Those who use mass-market products are easily identified by rough, irritated skin on their faces and necks.
The Costs of Traditional Shaving
As previously mentioned, traditional shaving has greater up-front costs including the use of better quality shaving soaps and creams. Traditional shaving products are available in a range of prices, from LaToja on the low end to Santa Maria Novella on the high end. For this article, I quoted the price of Cyril R. Salter, a good cream for the budget-conscious wet shaver. Traditional wet shavers don't suffer from irritation from harmful agents and these products leave the face feeling well protected and hydrated at the end of the shave.
Another cost of traditional shaving is the purchase of a shaving brush. As discussed in the article Ode to a Shaving Brush, the brush is a necessity for the traditional shaver. The brush creates higher quality lather that protects the skin from the friction of the blade. The brush also softens the hair and lifts the beard for the shave, giving closer results with fewer passes. A shaving brush is an added up-front cost, but a quality beginner brush can be purchased for $50 or less and will last for years. Above I quoted the price of the Vulfix #1000 Pure Badger Shaving Brush, which is a popular starter brush available for only $24.
The Big Picture
As illustrated above, the financial costs of cartridge shaving vs. traditional wet shaving are about the same (within $30 for the first year); however, the real costs of mass-market shaving are not financial. Many men needlessly suffer from burning faces and necks because they believe that shaving with cartridge blades is more economical. Because of the pain and irritation, some men avoid shaving regularly, which can cost them even more. Our friends at The Shaving Shack recently blogged about a survey that concluded that well-groomed men have much better job prospects, and a study sponsored by Schick revealed that men who shave at least five times a week are having sex 15.5 times per month, compared to 7.8 times for unshaven men.
On the other hand, the costs of traditional wet shaving are purely financial. These costs can be small or large depending on one's budget and interest in traditional shaving. Although traditional shaving can be very inexpensive over the long-term, it can also be an expensive hobby if you choose to invest in your collection. Part of what makes my daily shave enjoyable is having the option to choose from a selection of premium razors and high-end brushes. For many men it is a personal luxury and a nice way to start their days. However, if your goal is to save money, you can achieve an equally comfortable shave with lower cost traditional wet shaving products.
In conclusion, Money Magazine failed to capture the big picture and the overall experience of wet shaving. The monetary costs of a razor and blades are only part of the equation. It is important to also compare the intangible costs of shaving, such as the health of your skin, quality of your shave, frequency of your shave, and the way it affects your career, relationships, and self esteem. Regardless of your budget, traditional shaving provides an enjoyable, comfortable shave – an experience that cannot be quantified in monetary value.