“At the Art of Shaving, we have definitely seen the safety razor trend grow over the last year, both in our 150 stores nationwide and in our e-commerce business,” says Art of Shaving’s managing director Todd Brisky. “Our safety razor sales increased by 1,000 percent between 2009 and 2014 alone.”
Plenty of smaller, independent brands are getting into the mix, too. Baxter of California is one of many contemporary grooming outfits to include safety razors, double-edge blades, badger brushes and lather bowls among its wares.
“Over the years,” Lawlis says, “Badger & Blade has morphed from being a shaving website to a gentleman’s lifestyle website because many of our users aren’t simply interested in a ‘better shave,’ they’re interested in ‘better.’”
“The shave is actually not as close as a conventional cartridge razor (two to five blades), which tends to cut the hair follicle below the surface of the epidermis, giving rise to folliculitis, more commonly known as razor bumps,” says Chase. “The major performance benefit of using a single-blade razor is the reduction in razor bumps, as the probability is drastically decreased that the follicle will become inflamed.”
Another benefit of making the switch is economic. Gillette Mach 3 cartridges can cost dollars apiece. High-quality razor blades come in at as little as a quarter each. So far, I’ve found that the Japanese-made Feather blades are awfully sharp and best suited to those who know what they’re doing. Derbys, Wilkinson Swords and Merkur Supers have all ably knocked my beard back a step or two and are recommended for rookies.
Here in South Africa though you won’t find any brick and mortar store stocking a good selection of wet shaving products. If you search online you will find most of the products, but at separate sources. Right now the best sourcing is done from online retailers. I will list below some of the best sources that I have found in South Africa.
Why YOU should start wet shaving
Some of the key reasons are:
- It works out a lot cheaper in the long run – safety blades are way cheaper, and break even is usually after 12 months. A straight razor has a higher initial investment but you are not buying any additional blades.
- No vendor lock-in – you can source your razor, blades, soaps, brushes all from different companies. The blades fit all safety razors. Equipment is all suited to general use across products. Local manufacturers often get involved and you can sometimes find artisan products available even from local craft markets.
- No razor bumps or ingrown hair – a single sharp blade is better than multi-cartridge blades. Since I moved to DE blades I have had no more ingrown hairs. This may not be the same for everyone but is the general case for most people.
- Less environmental impact – no discarded aerosol cans of shaving gel or entire plastic razors, nor cartridge blades that are mixed material and cannot easily be recycled. A shaving soap only “wastes” the wrapping, and most refills come packaged in paper or cardboard. Safety razor blades can be collected in a money tin and sent for recycling after two years or so when the tin fills up. Straight razors of course do not have blades being discarded at all.
- More fun – you get to try out all sorts of different soaps and creams to shave with. Venturing on to straight razors has a little adrenaline thrown in too.
- Mostly natural ingredients – this features strongly in the different types of pre-shave oils, soaps/creams, and post-shave products.
- A few days of beard growth is no problem for a safety razor, but a multi-blade razor will tug and clog the blades.
- It’s “manly” – well that is really a subjective opinion, but it is more fun and nostalgic! And actually it is also not just men doing wet shaving, I have also posted on how women are getting involved too.
Video tutorials are the easiest way to see what wet shaving is all about and to learn some of the techniques. I have compiled a playlist of my favourite YouTube videos on this topic here.
This video at https://youtu.be/5t1PdDziPso also shows that you can melt any size shaving soap to fit an existing bowl that you have.
Places to source the best products in South Africa (without importing)
- Merkur 34C razor – only available online at Takealot.com. If they are out of stock, try River Valley Trading on Bid or Buy. A newer entrant is Bundubeard (also artisan and craft made brushes and other gear such as straight razors).
- Feather double-edged razor blades – available at Bundubeard.
- Astra and Voskhol safety razor blades from ShaversDen who will ship to PO Box for only R17.
- Proraso Shaving Creams – available at Fine & Fabulous online at Metelerkamps.
- Bluebeards Revenge products – Edge for Men hairdressers has their brushes and creams at many of their brick-and-mortar stores.
- Tabac shaving soaps and fragrances – Dis-Chem pharmacies
- iKon & Edwin Jagger razors, various blades and brushes – at River Valley Trading on BobShop.
- Ad-hoc razors and products – Master Shave has a smaller selection, but also good.
- Muhle and Omega brushes – at Sharp Edge online. Sharp Edge also has Muhle razors as well as the Merkur Futur adjustable razor.
- Truefitt & Hill soaps and fragrances – can be found at Victorian Bathrooms brick-and-mortar stores and online at Facebook
- Badger Pre-Shave Oil – can be found at Faithful to Nature online (seems to be out of a stock for a while now) or also some health stores and online at Takealot.
- Sharp Edge – for a pretty good value 3000/8000 grit sharpening whetstone for straight razors (or knives)
- Kitchen Samuari – for a Naniwa flattening stone to flatten a sharpening stone.
- Board & Badger – general shaving products.
Which razor to buy?
A common question and bearing in mind that a good razor is going to last you a lifetime or two (and you also don’t want a bad experience to start with) and I’d recommend that you choose between the Edwin Jagger DE89 or the Merkur 34C razors. The Merkur is certainly slightly less aggressive than the Edwin Jagger. You can see my review here on these two razors. The Edwin Jagger will give a closer shave, but you will need to be a lot more careful with your technique, and make sure you order one with a serrated grip handle. What I have discovered, though, is that a blade such as an Astra or a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge mates very well with the DE89 head (the Feathers may actually be too sharp and less forgiving with the DE89).
Whilst I’d still strongly recommend a Merkur 34C razor with Feather blades for beginners, I have moved to a Parker Variant Adjustable with Astra blades, which allows me to adjust its aggressiveness a bit higher for a much closer second pass.
I should add here that after about 8 years of daily use, the Edwin Jagger DE89 head had its thread post shear off inside the handle. I got the piece out without too much difficulty, as the iKon handle should actually last forever. It could be that that single thread post on this design of razor, could be a weak point after long use, especially with it being chrome-plated Zamac instead of a solid brass, stainless-steel, etc.
What am I currently using?
- Razor: Edwin Jagger DE89 head with iKon handle
- Blades: Astra Superior Platinum Blades
- Shaving Soap: Tabac shaving soap since June 2016 (I’m definitely preferring soaps over shaving creams). Busy testing out some Dusy Kabinett right now, and really liking its lathering.
- Brush: Bluebeards Revenge boar (synthetic) bristle brush because I’m using a harder soap, the stiffer boar hair brush gets that soap lathering quickly. Learn more about boar brushes at http://shavenook.com/showthread.php?tid=296
- Shaving Mug: Crown King Victorian Style Shaving Scuttle but for travelling, I use a collapsible Sea to Summit X-Mug
- Pre-Shave Oil: Badger – love its thicker consistency and spicy smell (sometimes I’m using Rooibos Tissue Oil)
- Alum Stone: Edwin Jagger – nice and compact and comes in a plastic container
- Post Shave Balm: Badger After-Shave Face Tonic with Witch Hazel, Aloe and Menthol. But I also use a cheap Rose Water & With Hazel toner that comes from a local store.
I have also created a “starter’s shopping list” at Amazon that may help first time buyers.
Preparation that works for me
- Put shaving brush in cup, boil some water (or use about 80 degrees Centigrade if your kettle will do this), and fill cup to the height just below the top of bristles of the brush. If the water is too hot it could melt the glue that holds the bristles in the brush, so be careful not to use too hot water.
- Let the brush soak for at least one or three minutes. – Ideally you have showered already and washed your face (steam helps the beard soften) then wet face with warm water (don’t use very hot water as it will strip away the natural oils and damage your skin).
- If you are going to use a pre-shave oil or cream, apply that to your wet face. I sometimes just use plain virgin coconut oil.
- Shake excess water from brush, then give a few swirls in the shaving soap tub until it has a bit of lather (the trick is finding the correct amount of water on the brush – not dripping but also not squeezed out). For other soaps like the Mitchell’s Wool Fat, you will get a bit on the brush and then lather it up in your shaving mug.
- Use the brush now to lather the soap onto your face and do this for about a minute.
- Use gentle strokes of the blade (do not press like a cartridge razor) shaving downwards from the sideburns to about an inch under your jawline (direction of hair growth). Use short strokes and rinse the blade under hot tap water. I cannot emphasise enough – do not use pressure – the secret is no pressure, then do a second or third pass which takes a bit more off.
- Stroke upwards for the portions of the beard further down (lower neck).
- Rinse your face and use the remaining lather on the brush to cover the jawline again, and run the razor gently over the same area (the idea is to do multiple passes taking a bit off at a time – two passes are usually enough for me).
- Wash the face afterwards with cool water, and rub an alum block gently over the shaved area. If it stings a bit, it is telling you that you shaved too closely on those parts. The alum block also has the effect of closing the pores and acting as a mild antiseptic.
- The shaving brush should be rinsed in warm water and then have a final rinse under cold water. Only clean it on a hand towel that has not been washed in conditioner. You can use shampoo to clean the shaving brush properly once a week. Brush should hang bristles downwards, to dry.
- The razor should be rinsed off under running water and dried carefully so as not to rub the blade edge itself. As a rule of thumb, I put a new blade in every Monday morning. If a razor is not going to be used for a while, clean it thoroughly and dry it, and coat it lightly with liquid paraffin oil.
- I finish off by rinsing off the alum with cold water and using a face wash. Then applying an after-shave balm or toner if required.
Tips for Shaving With a Straight Razor
I’m having a second try at shaving with a straight razor again so these tips are for real beginners as I learn a few things along te way that hopefully make a difference this time around.
- Try buying a 3″ strop as then you don’t have to bother with X-pattern stropping. You have enough to concentrate on.
- You will need a strop with some chromium oxide paste (green) for the fabric strip, and some stropping balm or conditioner for leather strip, as well as a 12,000 grit water stone, and a flattening lapping stone to keep the water stone straight (see tip below on substituting 400 grit sandpaper). If your budget is tight then get the strop and paste/conditioner first, followed by the water stone (and a holder), and then followed by the flattening lapping stone later on. I’ve opted for a 3000/8000 grit sharpening stone that I sourced in South Africa from Sharp Edge.
- Watch a few videos on stropping but note that the razor blade lies basically flat on the leather strop with little pressure at all (always stroking away from the sharp edge). It is not about speed, but rather the technique and using both light pressure, and rolling the blade around correctly over its spine. A good video to watch at https://youtu.be/mVjU1f0lye0. Some tips here about repairing and caring for your strop.
- Usually a strop comes with a fabric strip and a lather strip. The chromium oxide only needs to be used every week or two, so an idea is to use the inner side of the fabric strip for that, and use the outside of the fabric strip for normal stropping. I do about 20 round trips (forward and back) on the fabric, and a good 50 to 80 round trips on the leather side.
- There is mention of a 30 degree shaving angle but that is too close for comfort for me. I’ve started out pretty fine with about 10 to 15 degrees.
- You do want to pull your skin taught as it not only shaves better especially around angles, but it presents less chance of the skin catching the blade.
- Take your time: Muscle memory only develops over a good many shaves (some even say 80+) so start just on one side and just the cheek (your dominant hand/side is best to start with). It is really easier to learn this way, and then move onto the other cheek, and then progress wider.
- NEVER move the blade sideways as it will slice, always move downwards with the blade.
- Instead of buying a flattening stone to prepare your honing stone (sharpening stone), you can also try just taping a 400 grit sandpaper to a very flat marble or granite surface. Put some criss-cross pencil lines on the stone (see photo below), so that when they disappear it means you have the surface flat. Soak your stone as usual though before flattening it.
- Honing is done by moving the blade with the sharp edge leading (opposite of the leather stropping). You can put insulation tape on the spine of your blade if you wish to protect it from wear whilst honing, but then stay consistent with using it, as it slightly alters the angle.
** Disclaimer: All the above information is my personal opinion based on my experience and other reviews I have read. I receive no compensation or donations of any products from any suppliers **