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If the demon barber of Fleet Street has you terrified of a straight edge (cut throat) razor, it’s time to look at these razors anew, or get a safety razor. Either way, a reusable razor that might last you your whole shaving life is far better for your skin and for the environment, not to mention your wallet.
Why safety razors are more eco-friendly
Safety razors have been around for well over a century and are an excellent investment if you want to reduce your environmental footprint, ensure your shave is cruelty-free (unless you count the odd nick), and enjoy a closer shave.
A safety razor is made up of the durable parts, i.e. the metal handle and a head that screws or clamps together, and the thin, double-sided steel blade that the razor head contains. A quality safety razor is easy to use and if you take some simple precautions, the body will last basically forever, and the blades will last far longer than a disposable razor ever will. Go for a quality razor right from the start, rather than one that is just coated with stainless steel which will be more prone to rust. Keep your razor out of the shower and dismantle and thoroughly dry the razor after each use to avoid rust.
Safety razors are typically made from steel or a chromed zinc alloy. As such, if the body of the razor is damaged and can no longer be used, it can be disposed of in an eco-friendly way. And, happily, Rockwell and some other companies offer a free replacement if your razor breaks, because they’re that committed to minimizing plastic use. In fact, Rockwell razors come with a lifetime guarantee, and their blades are rust-proof and last for 5-7 shaves on average, depending on your skin and hair. When you need to switch blades, place the dull blade in a blade bank.
You could even make your own blade bank at home using nothing more than a tin of broth, a sharp knife, and about twenty minutes of your time. All you need to do is to cut a slit into the top of the can, in the center (Wiggle the knife slightly side to side to fold the metal under), drain the liquid and rinse the can, then pop your used blades through the slot. Once the can is full, pop it in the recycling bin with the rest of your cans or take it to a scrapyard or the recycling center for proper disposal.
Two additional advantages of safety razors are that the blades are much sharper than those in disposable razors and are double-sided. This means you’re more likely to get a good shave with no nicks or cuts and you can switch the blade around for double durability.
Before choosing a razor that could last you a lifetime, you will want to know a little about the different styles of safety razors. Everybody has their own unique way of shaving and varying degrees of skin sensitivity. For beginners, a closed comb safety razor is probably best and is the most common type available. This style has a safety bar or guard that provides protection between the blade and your skin and reduces the risk of cuts.
Open comb razors have a safety bar with small openings that expose more of your skin to the blade. This is great if you need a more aggressive shave and/or have thick hair, as it will get rid of hair faster. However, it does raise the risk of nicks and cuts.
Straight edge razors
You might also want to consider a straight edge razor (also known as a cut-throat razor). Shaving with one of these is something of an art form but is a great investment if you want a seriously good shave and a durable, reusable razor. If you shave your face with one of these, you may find that you only need to shave every few days instead of every day with a disposable razor.
If you don’t have a shaving mentor to learn from, you might want to book a classic shave at a reputable barber shop to see how a straight edge shave is done. Just don’t watch Sweeney Todd before you go.
Below, I offer my top picks for eco-friendly razors, including a better option for disposable razors (yes!).
The best eco-friendly razors: our top picks
Here are a few of my favorites for green razors:
Highlights: Six levels of blade ‘gap’ to tailor your shave to what you’re looking for, and made from high-end materials that are built to last.
Made in Canada, the Rockwell 6C Razor is ideal for any skin type and stubble length, has six levels of blade ‘gap’, so you can tailor the closeness, smoothness, and comfort of your shave, and is a great choice for beginner shavers and pros alike. It’s made from stainless steel with high-end chromed zinc alloys and could easily last you the rest of your life and then be passed down to the next generation of shavers. The company offers a serious lifetime warranty and provides replacement blades for just 10 cents each!
Highlights: Much like the 6C, this razor offers six levels of blade angle customization, but with a body made entirely of stainless steel.
Known as the Heirloom razor, the Rockwell 6S is similar to the 6C in that it offers all six blade angle settings. The difference is that this one is solidly pure 316L stainless steel. This gives it a little extra weight and a bit more ruggedness to your shave. So, if you’re an old hand at shaving, you’ll likely like the 6S, but go for the 6C if you’re after some glide and are just starting out with safety razors.
Highlights: Merkur’s razor offers a three-piece design that makes it exceptionally easy to clean and switch out blades.
With a knurled handle and a non-slip grip, this safety razor is a breeze to use. It has a three-piece design for easy cleaning and switching out blades and is made from Solingen steel by a German company in the razor business since 1896! The Merkur razor is available in both closed comb (Model 23C) and open comb (Model 25C) styles, with the latter more popular with those with very thick or tough hair.
Highlights: Compatible with disposable Mach 3 blades, which may be a bit more convenient for some people to find.
This well-balanced razor offers a close, safe shave and is made in Sheffield (my birthplace!) in England, the home of Stainless Steel. The Edwin Jagger razor loses a leaf because it can only be used with disposable Mach 3 blades. Still, it offers the luxury and eco-friendliness of a safety razor, is chrome plated and available in four colors, and has a longer handle than most other safety razors, which may make it the right choice for your particular ergonomic needs.
Highlights: Made entirely out of recycled plastic, making these disposable razors much more environmentally friendly than the average competitor.
If disposable razors are a must, or if you’re traveling and don’t want to or can’t take your straight-edge or safety razor in your carry-on luggage, consider Preserve.
Preserve’s disposable razors are a lot more environmentally friendly than the average disposable razor because they are made entirely out of recycled plastic from yogurt cups (number 5, polypropylene plastics). BPA-free, these razors feature disposable blades with lubricating strips that contain aloe vera and vitamin E oil, instead of the usual lanolin and glycerin. This makes Preserve razors vegan-friendly, and the company is strictly against animal testing. You can also recycle the handle through the company’s Gimme 5 program (with drop-boxes at many Wholefoods locations across the US).
Any other contenders?
In short, no. As far as we can tell, Preserve’s is the only program of its kind in the US. In France, in 2011, BIC launched a mail-in program to collect and recycle disposable razors, turning the blades into metal parts for washing machines and other appliances. Clearly France is much smaller than the US, but with almost a decade having passed, you’d think a problem of this scale would have a solution by now.
Some companies have made efforts to trim the amount of material and resources going into making disposable razors, including using bioplastics. Still, the impact of these throwaway products with in-built obsolescence is staggering. If you do want to use disposable blades, consider getting a durable safety razor type handle such as the Edwin Jagger Razor that takes Mach 3 Turbo heads. Ignore the description saying it’s for ladies; eco-friendliness is for every gender. Read the full review here.
Slant razors use torqued razor blades that slice hair at an angle. This can take some getting used to but is very efficient once you do. They are a good option if an open comb razor is irritating to your skin or not getting the job done.
Adjustable razors are those that let you customize the space (blade gap) between blade and safety bar. A larger blade gap means a more aggressive shave. This type of razor is a great option if you tend to vary how frequently you shave, or if you like to adjust the intensity of your shave part way through.
Finally, a butterfly razor is a safety razor with ‘butterfly’ doors that open from the top to let you remove and insert blades quickly and easily. They have a more traditional look and are a good option if you’re a little nervous about handling blades.