July 15, 2009 7:48 PM   Subscribe

As a lifelong manual shaver, I'm giving electric shaving a try. What should I expect?

When I shave, I am all about closeness. If I feel a hair on my face, there will be problems. I tend to switch back and forth between double-edged and safety razors, depending on my mood. Especially with the former, the aftershave hurts like a mofo, but I get the closeness I seek. I tend to tear up my lip.

My girlfriend insists on getting a respectable model of electric shaver as my anniversary present. She felt I was not being as kind to my face as I should be. I have a few reservations about making the switch. How does electric compare to manual? What can I do to maximise closeness? Screw safety. I mean, if it doesn't work out, it can be returned and replaced with a different model, but if electric cuts corners (heh) with shaving, no amount of trial and error will help.
posted by spamguy to Technology (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It takes just as long. It doesn't shave as close. It doesn't feel as good when you're done. But it's not as messy.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:50 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've found that combining the two is much more effective than either alone. I use the electric for the lower goatee area before showering, and the blades for everything else, since each method is more effective exactly where the other is weak, curiously enough.

One problem I have with the Panasonic Vortex shaver is that it shaves a bit too close under the chin, often leaving me bloody there. Also I think it's something of a depilation device cuz after 3 years with the vortex my goatee doesn't really grow in any more.
posted by @troy at 7:54 PM on July 15, 2009

I've never used an electric shaver. I have a very heavy beard. I shave in the shower with a Gillette Mach3 blade five times a week and get a very close shave, and rarely any nicks.

Of course, as with Homer Simpson, it all grows back fifteen seconds after I am done.
posted by dfriedman at 7:57 PM on July 15, 2009

What should you expect? To be disappointed.
posted by dobbs at 8:00 PM on July 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

if you're me, you can expect electric shaves that are not nearly as close or as comfortable as manuals; nothing beats a razor and some luxuriously thick shaving cream. You can also expect itchiness throughout the day and a 5 o'clock shadow. :)

Electrics are often given as gifts, especially to people who collect gadgets. I got mine (which I long since have thrown out) as a gift too, also from my gf.

The problem is - people who dont shave their faces - the gift-givers in this case - are thinking: its electric, its a gadget, so it must be easier/better/more fun than a manual. Problem is the reality is wrong on all three counts when it comes to shaving.
posted by jak68 at 8:01 PM on July 15, 2009

The shave is in general not as close as manual but it depends on the razor. My boyfriend has a Panasonic ES8043 and gets a great, very close shave, better than what he used to get with a manual razor.
posted by phoenixy at 8:02 PM on July 15, 2009

p.s., oh, you can also expect razor burn.
posted by jak68 at 8:02 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

heh, bad edit; should read: "Problem is, in reality this is wrong on all three counts when it comes to shaving". :-/
posted by jak68 at 8:04 PM on July 15, 2009

Instead of a nice fresh blade gliding through your coarse stubble and resulting in smooth face skin, you'll have a device that's somewhere between a vibrator and a piece of landscaping equipment wrenching the stubble from your sensitive cheek and neck-meats.
posted by Jon-o at 8:07 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Ignore these nay-sayers, lol - I am devoted to my Braun! This is all based on my subjective experience, I'm not laying out the Authoritative Shaving Laws here and everything is based on my being a not-particulary hairy (damn you, Errol Flynn goatee I will never have!) white guy.

Important things to note:

1. It will not shave as close. No matter what you - don't expect it to be as close.

As a corollary...

2. It will not irritate your skin anywhere near as much. Ingrown hairs, pimples, rash etc is *so* much less for me now.

3. Circles (i.e. Phillishave et al) get closer but irritate more. Rectangles/Straight (mostly Braun), shave not quite as close, irritate slightly less. This mostly matters around the throat area. I have found either one does the face fine.

4. Some kind of alcoholy pre-shave will help the razor cut closer. And dry shave is impreative. I know some models dispense gel etc. I don't like that jazz. Might as well just be using a blade.

Let me know if you have any other questions. :) Oh, and Btw, once you get to the $120 mark, the cost-improvement ratio really widens. Don't bother spending $500.
posted by smoke at 8:10 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, gonna pile on as a nay-sayer. I say this as someone who hates shaving and can't really comfortably shave two days in a row. Because of that, I've tried electrics a couple of times, but I found them to be even more uncomfortable on my skin than a regular blade. And as everyone here has said, you simply just can't get a close shave.

I don't know why you are tearing up your skin, but as far as aftershave, I suggest you stop using one with alcohol. Use a creamier, aloe-type aftershave. Then it won't hurt.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:16 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've had good luck with the Norelco triple head razors in the past. The latest version I used is an early 90's model 985RX. It really depends on how heavy your beard growth is to determine if an electric is viable. When I shaved with an electric shaver (I keep a stubble & use hair clippers to trim now) I could easily go two or three days between shaves. Shave with a manual razor & it was once a week. I'd suggest purchasing one at Wal*Mart (only because you can get your money back on any purchase, not because I embrace them as the paragon of retail goodness) and give it a try. Given your penchant for safety razors (I own several vintage models and use them for - ahem - other areas), I doubt the transition to electric shaving will be effective for you.
posted by torquemaniac at 8:19 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bearing in mind that I normally shave only about once a week (which gets me to a heavy kind of three-day-growth)...I find that the electric razor always has problems getting rid of a few odd stray hairs - not the same ones or the same spot or anything, for some reason some hairs just refuse to go in there & get snipped off.

In other words, expect to finish off with a manual razor anyway. It's also a good opportunity to give yourself a quick once-over for extra closeness, too.

Expect your shaving costs to virtually disappear after the initial outlay.

And finally - the best bit: expect to be able to take your (cordless, rechargeable) electric shaver wherever you like in the house (or garden, or car) and absent-mindedly shave, mirror-free, while you're doing something else - like browsing MetaFilter, for example. The hairs all get captured inside the shaver, so there's no mess - just empty it out into the bin later, and finish off afterwards with the manual razor.

Which reminds me...expect not to have to deal with annoying stubble in the bathroom sink any more.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:20 PM on July 15, 2009

By and large, expect to be disappointed. That said, get a cordless one and you'll be able to shave on the go, which I think is about the one advantage of electric razors.
posted by pompomtom at 8:27 PM on July 15, 2009

Unless your girlfriend likes 24/7 stubble (which she might), you'll be switching back to a blade later.
posted by rokusan at 8:32 PM on July 15, 2009

I don't think it's that disappointing; you just need to understand that if your beard gets past a certain length, you'll need to sort of "reset" everything with a manual shave, in my experience. And don't think you'll get a better shaver by spending a million bucks; my is a refurb Norelco and it's been great, and it cost around $25 or so.
posted by littlerobothead at 8:35 PM on July 15, 2009

I just switched to a decent Braun electric after swearing I'd never do it. It was a great move, even though it doesn't shave as close.
  • It's way faster
  • It's close enough, especially now that I've learned how to use it
  • I can do most of it while chasing after my toddler, can easily stop anytime and pick up 2 minutes later, etc.

    For me the last point is huge, since carving out 5-10 uninterrupted minutes while being Parent On Duty was pretty hard and was leading to several consecutive non-shaving days a week, leaving the office wondering how the Yeti learned the way to work. "Pretty close" every day is way closer than not shaving for 3 days.

    I have two theories about the 60-day or-your-money-back promises, and I can't decide between them. Theory A: 60 days is long enough for you to lose track of when you need to return it, everyone loses track, Braun/Norelco/The Cabal wins. Theory B: It took me about a month to develop decent technique and start getting borderline-acceptable shaves. I'm convinced this has everything to do with manual technique and nothing to do with my hair growing differently.

  • posted by range at 8:40 PM on July 15, 2009

    The one great thing about electric razors is when you let your stubble grow out to about a week or more. Using an electric razor allows you to trim pretty quickly and then you go for a close shave with a manual.

    That being said, I've never had a shave with an electric razor that was good enough on its own.
    posted by fantasticninety at 8:51 PM on July 15, 2009

    listen to range. I have a badger hair brush, real shaving creams from one of those British places, a real razor, the whole shebang. I also recently got a high end Braun electric.

    Nothing is as close as a razor and real shaving cream. Your electric will not be. But the new high end electrics are fairly close. WAY closer than the ones I tried a couple years ago. As range says, it's close enough.

    But the real benefit? I can shave whenever and wherever I want. I don't have to do it right after showering. I can, and do, shave with the electric while reading Metafilter. In other words shaving with the electric doesn't take any time out of my day because I can be doing other things (TV, internet, etc) while shaving. Obviously I do a 30 second touchup in front of mirror when I'm done but not a big deal.

    So the real razor will still be a little closer but it's far more inconvenient. So I keep both the real razor and the electric around and shave with one or the other depending on time and how I'm feeling on any given day.
    posted by Justinian at 8:56 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

    It's different. I've made two runs at electric and just haven't been able to stick with it. But my dad has been using one happily for decades. He uses a pre-shave fluid to prime things and then uses his hand to pull the target skin taut before moving the razor over it. He uses one with the three circular spinny blades and moves it in a circular motion. He gets a close shave.

    When I used an electric, I prepped with a pre-shave powder stick, such as this one by Remington. It's like a fat, stubby chapstick but made of compressed powder. You drive it around your beard and then shave. It really helps, particularly when things have gotten a bit longer around the chin. It makes the thing run smoother over your skin and not snag and IMO helps with closeness.

    In regard to stray hairs, I had that problem sometimes too. Sometimes you just buzz over and over an area and three hairs bravely resist. And for me it did the poorest job on my neck, which is where I want stubble the least. But as you get more experience, your technique will improve both of those things to some degree. No problems for my dad in that regard. Electric should help you have fewer stowaways on your chin, as @troy's right about it being more effective there than manual in that area.

    One thing the razor companies tell you is that it takes your beard a couple of weeks to "get used to" an electric razor. I'm not sure I buy that, but it may just be their polite way of saying, "do this for at least a couple of weeks so you get your technique down instead of returning it to the store on day 4." One thing you might try in the early stages is using the electric first and then following with manual, just so you don't feel half shaved and start picking yourself to death. Maybe after a while you won't need the manual followup.

    One thing people don't realize sometimes is that even electric razor blades go dull. I never knew how to get mine sharpened or where to buy a replacement razor head, so my shaves got snaggier and snaggier over time. Just keep in mind that you'll need to sharpen/replace the blades at some point for smooth sailing.
    posted by Askr at 8:58 PM on July 15, 2009

    Electrics make my face hot and irritated. I've owned about 3-4 different models over the years as gifts.

    Getting used to wet shaving takes a while. But it's worth it in my opinion. Just make it part of your after shower routine.

    I'm not a shaving snob, and I have an average to heavy beard, and normal skin. And I have learned that I really dislike electric razors, and find them to not work very well.
    posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:15 PM on July 15, 2009

    I spent a lot of time tearing up my face when I was younger. If it's relevant, I'm a white guy of mostly Anglo extraction with very straight, medium-coarse, heavy growth beard hair. Here's what has worked for me, and this takes very little time ouf of my normal non-shave routine:

    1. Get in shower, rake my beard area lightlywith fingernails or a washcloth to shift any hairs that have started to ingrow since my last shave.
    2. Get out of shower, use a Hershey's Kiss-sized lump of King of Shaves Alphagel Shave Gel to cover my (wet)beard area. Run the faucet on the sink and use my fingers to work as much water into the gel as I can until it's a smooth, creamy layer.
    3. Shave as usual, only with the grain. Rinse very well afterward.
    4. Wash face as usual.
    5. Aftershave balm.

    I prefer to shave about every 3 days but if I do this I can get away with shaving every other day and still avoid ingrown hairs and razor burn.
    posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:19 PM on July 15, 2009

    This issue seems to bring up a lot of argumentation, and I think this is simply because everyone's face is different. It's not just a subjective issue of whether you value closeness of a shave over convenience or whether you find razor burn nastier than nicks and cuts. For some people, that razor burn is going to be really nasty while others won't ever have a problem with it.

    As for me, I have a beard that is very light in color and very sparse outside of the goatee area, which I've worn as a goatee for as long as I've been able, only shaving it entirely off once every 6-18 months. I try to keep the rest of it trimmed up, but it's light enough that I don't have to shave every day to do this. I started with an electric razor because that's what my dad used, and I used it for years. It irritated my face a fair amount, leaving it slightly red, itchy and raw for a few hours afterwards. If I'd been shaving every day, I would have definitely tried something else much earlier. About 5 years ago or so, I switched to shaving manually (I think I've been using a Mach 3 all this time, but I'm not 100% certain). The razor burn disappeared completely, although I had to learn how to shave properly since it had never been an issue before. I won't use electric anymore. But I have no reason to suppose that your experience will be the same. I offer my story mostly just to add another data point in an effort to help turn a couple useless anecdotes to some vague semblance of a statistical survey (though one badly tainted by self-selection).

    To answer your question directly, from what I've heard, I don't think an electric razor is going to be more "kind" to your face. You may get less big cuts, but if you are particularly picky, you'll find yourself going over the same spots repeatedly, exposing your face to a helluva lot more razor swipes than it would have experienced otherwise. Does your girlfriend shave with an electric razor? If she insists on shaving manually, then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for her to insist that you shouldn't.
    posted by ErWenn at 9:48 PM on July 15, 2009

    what can you expect? you can expect to be given the shaver anyway despite your protestations based on the above advice, use it begrudgingly 3 or 4 times, hate the way it grinds and yanks at your face, leaving you raw but somehow still stubbly, give it up and go back to wet shaving, offend your girlfriend by not using her gift, resent the way she's trying to control you, and get in a big fight where it comes out that she gave it to you because she thinks your hair-yanking and gnarly lip are gross.

    you're probably better off just learning to wet shave properly, because if you really are missing as many hairs as you describe, your face is all raw and stinging, and your lip is all cut up - well, my friend, you're doing it wrong. girlfriend sees this and is trying to help by giving you what she thinks is a more foolproof method.

    shave ONLY after a hot shower, so your whiskers are soft and standing up. change your blades every 3 or 4 shaves at the most. don't PRESS into your skin, just let the razor glide along the surface. use multiple, short strokes, not long single ones, with plenty of rinsing in between with HOT water. lather up a second time afterwards and give it a second, gentle go-round to get any strays. use your free hand to stretch your lip, chin, cheeks so that they're flat or slightly convex. around your mouth, shave toward your lips. rinse after with COLD water.
    posted by sergeant sandwich at 9:58 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Nthing the sentiment that electric razors just don't "cut it." I've went back and forth several times before finally accepting my Murkur for the wonderful piece of heaven-sent technology that it is.

    I tried repeatedly to adjust to an Electric Razor, but I never really felt like I had actually shaved afterwords. It just felt that I had just wasted effort to set back my follicle growth by ten hours or so.
    posted by ktrey at 10:30 PM on July 15, 2009

    Not an answer to your razor question but if you want to take care of your face, I've recently switched to Solar Flair shaving butter.

    Just spread it on, wait 30 sec and shave. No need to wash your face clean, just let it absorb. I'm very impressed. Your face is so less dried out. So perhaps your girlfriend could but you some of that instead?

    Prior to that I tried King of Shaves, which is OK--but not in the same league as the butter. (I do use their razor though.)
    posted by NailsTheCat at 10:36 PM on July 15, 2009

    If you do decide to go through with trying the electric, I suggest you wash your face thoroughly with warm water and gentle soap, dry it completely, and then apply Williams Lectric Shave. This will soften your whiskers, encourage them to swell slightly out of their follicles, remove excess skin oils, and the Williams will provide some necessary lubrication. If you prep your face this way, you'll get a much closer shave than if you just start buzzing it off without any preparation.

    Then, with your face clean and prepped, proceed to immediately shave with the electric, without pressing it into your face. A light touch is best, and you should use your free hand to slightly stretch loose skin and wrinkles taut, to minimize stray hairs you'd otherwise miss. Keep the razor moving constantly and lightly over your face. Don't judge the closeness of the shave until a few minutes after you've finished; electric shavers will tug at your whiskers more than wet shaving, and the stump hairs will retreat into their follicles a little bit, within a few minutes of being cut. Use a lotion aftershave with plenty of emollient, to keep your skin soft, and provide some replacement oil to your beard follicles and skin pores, to help your beard grow out in the next few hours after shaving, and minimize in-grown hairs.

    I think it takes 4 to 5 days of shaving with an electric for your skin to acclimate, and for you to get used to the feel of your face after shaving. The best electrics can get my beard down to within 2 or 3 hours growth of the closest shower shave I get, and when I lived up North, I got a lot less tendency for facial chapping in the winter with an electric, than with shower shaving. So, when I lived in the land of snow and ice, I shaved electric from November to April, and shower shaved from May to October. Here in Florida, I shower shave year 'round, but it hardly ever even freezes solid, down here...
    posted by paulsc at 11:14 PM on July 15, 2009

    "I tend to switch back and forth between double-edged and safety razors"

    I thought a double-edged razor was a safety razor.
    posted by dance at 1:16 AM on July 16, 2009

    It really depends on your beard and your standards. I gave up on daily wet shaving when I realized that my post-excellent-barber-shave face, which felt perfectly smooth, still looked rather stubbly because the darker hairs of my beard were quite visible beneath my pale skin. Thanks to my speedy follicles, it also felt plenty rough a few hours after the shave. Since an electric is faster and easier for me and has pretty much the same visual end result, I stick with that most of the time.
    posted by backupjesus at 3:05 AM on July 16, 2009

    I use a hybrid method- Electric Razor before shower which gets 99%. I then jump in the shower and with a cheap disposable (that lasts a month) I give it a once over.

    I find it is the best of both worlds. No mess. Very close shave. Shortest time.
    posted by lamby at 4:27 AM on July 16, 2009

    After a rough experience with a blade as a teenager, I pretty much grew up using an electric. I thought it'd be gentler on my sensitive skin. I was around 32 when I gave blade shaving another try, and found it to be actually far more comfortable than the electric.

    Now I've gone so far as to use a Merkur razor/DE blade and a shaving brush with a nice shaving cream.

    Sure, it's a little messier, but it doesn't really take much more time, and the result is far superior in my experience.
    posted by sriracha at 4:52 AM on July 16, 2009

    I use a high-end Braun razor (the 8995) and love it--no, it doesn't shave as close as a razor, but I don't get ingrown hairs, and after practice I can get a good shave (within about four hours' growth compared to a blade) in roughly 2.5 minutes. I've never had any problems with razor burn from the Braun.

    Use some kind of talc on your face before shaving. Remington makes a fairly expensive stick of talc called Facesaver, but Johnson's baby powder will do just as well.

    I asked a question about electric razors in 2007 that might help you.
    posted by Prospero at 5:09 AM on July 16, 2009

    Not all electrics are created equal, and neither are faces. I've found that I get a better shave (closer, more thorough around the trickier angles of my chiselled jaw, less irritation, takes less time) from a pocket-sized £10 Remington travel-shaver than from a deluxe £150 Braun.

    If you're serious about giving electrics a proper crack of the whip, and you're prepared to have a slightly odd conversation with a handful of friends ("Do you use an electric? What brand/model do you like? Could I, you know, take it for a spin?") then try two or three types before telling your girlfriend what to buy. Follow basic hygiene (wipe it down before and after with alcohol or a babywipe or something) and see how it feels on your skin and on your stubble, and whether it gets close enough for you. There really is a huge difference between brands and styles.
    posted by Hogshead at 5:33 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Count me as another one who uses the dual-method. Electric for under the nose and over the chin, and then go over everything with the Mach3. It took me a long time of experimentation to figure out what works for me.

    Your Mileage (and Face) May Vary.
    posted by Citrus at 6:13 AM on July 16, 2009

    Response by poster: I thought a double-edged razor was a safety razor.

    I guess I meant disposable. I never think of double-edged as safety razors because, well, they're not safe, or they were safe in 1940.

    Thanks for all the advice! I will look forward to shaving wherever I want, and then hating the job I did. Keep the thoughts coming.
    posted by spamguy at 6:34 AM on July 16, 2009

    Pain and stubble.

    If you decide to stick with blades, make sure your face is wet enough before you start: shaving straight out of the shower helps here. And search for previous questions about shaving, which include lengthy screeds about various products and techniques. (Me: Merkur HD razor, crazy-sharp Feather blades, and the wonderful Mitchell's Wool Fat Shaving Soap.)
    posted by wenestvedt at 6:39 AM on July 16, 2009

    Look, just get one of these. It costs about as much as an electric, and if you throw in a strop, whet stone, and brush, you're looking at $200. But that's about all you'll spend on shaving for the next three or four years. A new piece of soap costs about $1, and I'm only on my second one.

    I've never been satisfied with electric razors. Not close enough, heats up and dries out my face, etc. Safety razors a la the Mach3 or whatever the hell Gillette is selling now give me terrible razor burn. I switched to a Solingen three years ago and haven't looked back. Took me a few months to get the hang of it, and another few months to finally be up to par caring for the blade, but it's totally worth it. Closest shave I've ever had, and my face feels amazing afterwards. I don't even need to use aftershave very often. And no ingrown hairs.
    posted by valkyryn at 6:42 AM on July 16, 2009

    your face just won't feel as clean -- manual razors don't simply cut off the hair, they scrape off skin (dead cells, etc) and give you that feeling of cleanliness you're probably addicted to if you like really close shaves so much.

    I'd say stick to manual razors, and if they make you bleed too much or ruin your skin too much you're doing somethign wrong (your face is not warm/moist enough before the shave, pores not open, wrong shaving cream -- foams often don't work well -- etc)
    posted by matteo at 7:45 AM on July 16, 2009

    I dont see how this is possible a time shaver. I shave with disposable razors after a shower and it takes all of two minutes. When I bought an electric I spent 5 minutes trying to get the hairs and only managed to burn my face. There's a whole culture of wacky antics to get the electric to work. Its just not worth it.

    I guess I meant disposable. I never think of double-edged as safety razors because, well, they're not safe, or they were safe in 1940.

    I just the cheapest triple edge CVS brand disposables and they work great. Never buy BIC. I have thick hair yet one lasts me 3 to 4 shaves. I use edge gel cream for sensitive skin too. Reguar cream doesnt seem to have as much friction reducing properties nor aloe or whatever the edge people put in their sensitive skin formula.
    posted by damn dirty ape at 8:46 AM on July 16, 2009

    I guess I meant disposable. I never think of double-edged as safety razors because, well, they're not safe, or they were safe in 1940.

    They're safe once they're in their holder, and you're normally concentrating when loading them.

    Also, best shave and most recyclable, imho.
    posted by pompomtom at 4:41 PM on July 16, 2009

    Since there is no "surprise" factor to this gift, I would suggest doing what I did - buy as many electrics as you can find (ensuring all have money back guarantees) from a store you trust (so that you will in fact get your money back). Then, try all of them. I tried a 1/2 and 1/2 system with three (you can read the result here).

    The reasons I recommend this: 1) Only you can tell how a particular razor feels on your face (as seen above some like the rotary, some like the linear). 2) Only you can tell which size works for you (some units are big, some small). 3) If you do a 50/50 style - you get much more useful comparisons (instead of trying to remember exactly how close - or not - another shave was). 4) You will have the opportunity to shave with them for a period of time - especially since you are not used to (nor is your face) electrics, this will give you time to decide if the discomfort is passing or chronic. 5) Also, if you do the 50/50 thing, you can involve your girlfriend in the decision process, since after all, it is a gift from her.
    posted by birdsquared at 12:41 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

    « Older How weird is a father-daughter road-trip?   |   Escape from QA Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.