Electric shavers - what are they good for?
October 29, 2011 5:07 AM   Subscribe

Why do men choose electric shavers over safety or cartridge razors? Are electric shavers better or worse for sensitive male skin?

I'm working on a web project related to shaving and need *facts* regarding the benefits of electric shavers. Based on what I've been reading so far, the main advantage seems to be convenience (it's not messy, fairly quick to shave with) and not better shaving or skin health.
posted by Foci for Analysis to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (46 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
convenience - shaving in the bedroom with no soap, no mess, maybe no mirror.

don't have to buy new blades or shave with dull ones when you forget. No cuts whatsoever.
posted by jb at 5:27 AM on October 29, 2011

Here's why I ended up going electric about four years ago.

Convenience - never need to buy blades.
Price - Whatever Mach Gillette are up to now is expensive.
Better for my skin - it's not as close, I'm the first to admit, but for me that means less rash and ingrown hair.
Fast - faster than a proper shave for me, at any rate. No cream etc.
Good for stubble looks - has a nifty beard trimmer that keeps my facial hair at a trendy length.
posted by smoke at 5:28 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have heard the shave isn't as close - the SO sometimes has a bit of stubble/roughness after, but has a very light beard and blond as well, so it doesn't show.
posted by jb at 5:29 AM on October 29, 2011

How about the shaving quality? I'm thinking that running those tiny blades across a dry face isn't that pleasant, but maybe I'm mistaken?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:29 AM on October 29, 2011

I actually prefer shaving with an electric razor with a dry face to a just-dried-off-after-a-shower face. Slightly damp skin is, in my experience, harder to shave when you go electric - the razor is more difficult to move across the skin.
Quality wise, electric razors really struggle with the neck area.
posted by itheearl at 5:38 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think there isn't A answer to this question, but rather MANY answers. I think all guys are different in what they like, what they are used to and what kind of skin/beard they have.

Personally, I got sick of shaving wet about a year ago and decided to buy an electric after 10 years of wet. I've stopped using the electric because it leaves my skin red and blotchy and in pain (I bought a Philips, which I was told was the easiest on sensitive skin). I could probably shop around and eventually find an electric that worked for me, or I might be able to get better results if I used my electric wet, but I figure if I'm gonna get wet then I may as well use the cartridge shaver, as (in my case) it does seem to give a (slightly) closer shave.

My guess is that most guys who go electric do so because it's more convenient, not because it gives them a closer cut is easier on their skin.
posted by segatakai at 5:41 AM on October 29, 2011

segatakai, have you ever tried a double blade safety razor?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:44 AM on October 29, 2011

no I have not. The "standard" disposable (double or triple -- I've never tried anything higher) Schick blades are what I've been using the last 10 years. It gets me as close as I feel I need, so I haven't been tempted to try the safety razor -- my impression (true or not) is that (until you get used to them, I suppose) the safety razor is easier to cut yourself with.
posted by segatakai at 5:54 AM on October 29, 2011

I had an electric shaver for a while; the trimmer attachment is handy. You still have to buy blades occasionally. It's convenient, and if you have acne, it won't cut you up.

I use a double edged safety razor now, which gives me a much closer shave.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:03 AM on October 29, 2011

I switched to a safety razor maybe two years ago, and can confirm that there is definitely a learning curve. You will cut yourself more, at least at first. Even now you have to be more careful than when using cartridge razors.

I don't think I get as close of a shave, but it's not bad. Definitely better than electric, which I have also tried. And considering the blades are about 20 cents each, the price is most definitely right.
posted by sah at 6:06 AM on October 29, 2011

Well, I might be your case study. I use both a safety razor, and an electric razor.

I know the conventional wisdom is that you have to stay with an electric razor for it to be effective - not sure of the science behind it, but the idea that your skin has to adjust to a regular pattern of the electric razor use. In theory, the electric razor companies claim it is better for your skin than shaving, as it is just pulling the skin away and cutting the hair, not taking off a layer of skin as shaving will.

From personal experience - I used to have a Norelco wet razor that I loved. Could use it in the shower, it had a little lotion dispenser built into the head, and it was great.

After that died, I went back to regular cartridge razors. Expensive pain in the ass.

I discovered the magic of safety razors, and I shall never buy a Mach whatever again. Close shave, cheaper all around. Once you get a feel for it, which did not take long, there are occasional irritations and cuts, but nothing bad.

A few years ago I bought a regular Remington electric razor, from great online reviews. While the dry shave isn't as easy and comfortable as the Norelco wet one, I do manage to shave with little irritation (I have a problem around my neck).

Now I use a combination of safety razors and electric, as a matter of time and convenience. For the most part post-shower will be safety razor; electric razor is used for even touch-up, or if I'm in a hurry out the door. No ill effects for me from either one.
posted by shinynewnick at 6:09 AM on October 29, 2011

Very interesting, shinynewnick. It seems like electric shavers are convenient to use and while they don't give the closest shave they are fairly easy on the skin, and they are cheaper than cartridge razors.

If anyone knows about any scientific research related to shaving, I would be much obliged to hear about it. I haven't found anything of substance using Google Scholar.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:16 AM on October 29, 2011

while they don't give the closest shave they are fairly easy on the skin,

For me, there is an effect where the electric is irritating until you use it for a week or two in a row, then it's OK from there out. Never as good as the floating multiblades, though.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:22 AM on October 29, 2011

Here's a different answer for you: Orthodox Jewish men aren't allowed to use actual razors on their faces, so those who shave use electric.
posted by callmejay at 6:28 AM on October 29, 2011

Been using an electric for the last 40 years, more probably ... now just trim my neck below the beard, and the bald pate too to keep the stragglers under control!

I use a beard trimmer with depth guide for the beard, but the razor's trimmer is fine for the mo.

I use a Philips, at the lower (not lowest) end of the price scale, and have no complaints.
posted by GeeEmm at 6:29 AM on October 29, 2011

I use a Panasonic electric shaver wet in the shower along with lubricant. I find this offers even coverage and less irritation. I also have a Mach3 razor which I use (again in the shower) occasionally, with a heavier shaving cream. The Mach3 can potentially shave closer, if I take some time, and it generally gets closer on my neck, but not dramatically so. The Panasonic does a very acceptable job everywhere. I've tried a dry electric shaver before and found it too irritating.
posted by blob at 6:30 AM on October 29, 2011

Also, electric razors are more than just a one time cost. Replacement blades and foil screens are needed, although not very often. I usually replace mine once a year or so, as eventually the foil will deteriorate, the blades will dull, and it will start to irritate or cut you.

Regardless of method, the best bet is to shave in or right after the shower.
posted by shinynewnick at 6:30 AM on October 29, 2011

callmejay, that could actually be very useful because I need to be mindful about various ethnic/religious practices too, like that many black men have thick and coarse facial hair which makes wet shaving problematic.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:34 AM on October 29, 2011

shinynewnick, how much do you figure foil and blades cost you per year?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:35 AM on October 29, 2011

I tend toward really dry skin, and have to shave really, really close for purposes of being a drag queen (and fairly close for day-to-day not-having-a-beard) - using any sort of bladed razor would just dry me out so badly I'd end up with crazy-paving makeup as my skin desperately sucked the moisture out of everything within several feet. Since moving to a wet-dry electric shaver (used wet, straight out of the shower, with sensitive skin shaving gel) I can shave more or less every day with almost zero impact on my dryness, and twice in a day if I'm feeling fabulous. There'll occasionally be a bit of finishing-off to do with a regular razor, since the shave isn't 100% as close, but generally barely any.
posted by emmtee at 6:37 AM on October 29, 2011

Interesting, emmtee, because I always thought that electric shavers dried your skin. Guess you really have to give it some time plus that a wet electric shaver helps.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:42 AM on October 29, 2011

For the specific model I have, foil and blade set ranges from $20-$30, if I buy online or locally at Walmart. I would estimate once a year, but perhaps slightly sooner.
posted by shinynewnick at 6:44 AM on October 29, 2011

Thanks, shinynewnick. $20-30 seems pretty cheap, on par what I pay for shaving cream and razor blades for my Merkur. Now that I think about it, shaving is pretty cheap if you just stop shaving with cartridge razors...
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:47 AM on October 29, 2011

For me I can only use regular razors of all types once a week other wise I get ingrown hairs and sensitive skin.

I HAVE to use an electric razor most of the time . M yskin does not allow me otherwise.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:13 AM on October 29, 2011

I went to ask Mr. Moonlight his thoughts (he uses an electric razor and even brought one when we went on vacation/holiday) and he said:

1. Safety -- the razor has a little guard thing over it (sorry for lack of technical terms, this is what he said)

2. Laziness -- you don't have to be precise with an electric razor and you can just move it over your face without thinking about it

Any more questions you may have to MeMail me and I'll ask Mr. Moonlight.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 7:40 AM on October 29, 2011

I'm with Mr. Moonlight. Those are both good reasons, and they both apply in earnest when I'm fresh out of bed and not at my best. That's no time to wield a naked blade on my tender flesh.
posted by bryon at 8:03 AM on October 29, 2011

I have a very sensitive skin and I use no-name or BIC double blade razors for a shave. No need to buy Gilette.

To use cream or not is something like a religious question. Some people claim mineral oil is better.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:06 AM on October 29, 2011

I'm female, but if you'll accept my father as anecdotal evidence: he switched to an electric as he got older. It was easier and cleaner, he liked the shave it gave him, and though his hands got a little shaky from Parkinson's disease, he could still (safely!) take care of things himself.
posted by easily confused at 8:07 AM on October 29, 2011

Are electric shavers better or worse for sensitive male skin?

Anglo-mutt type dude here with a heavy growth/straight hair/fine-textured beard and sensitive skin.
  • I generally have no skin issues following either straight razor shaves or safety razor shaves.
  • Shaving with a Mach 3 using a good shaving soap and a badger hair brush gives me generally a fine close shave but a bit of neck rash that goes away in an hour or two.
  • Using a foil shaver attachment for a Phillips all-in-one trimmer contraption cuts as close as the blade with no irritation ever.
  • Using a "regular" electric razor of the three-discs type cuts reasonably close but gives me all sorts of ingrown hairs. Using an electric razor of the flat-head variety has been woefully disappointing given that 2/3 of my beard hair never makes it into the guard.

posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:27 AM on October 29, 2011

There was a program on tv in the UK a few years ago where two engineers researched and improved things (eg. bras) and one of the things was razors for the chemist boots. They ended up with a manual razor that vibrated like an electric one (almost). I can't remember what the program was called, sorry.

Personally, I find electric more convenient but I am fairly lazy with shaving anyway. I've found that using a good disposable (3 blades and extra soap strip) with good foam makes a big difference to the comfort of the shave and less cuts than a cheap disposable.
posted by kg at 8:32 AM on October 29, 2011

Are electric shavers better or worse for sensitive male skin?

My skin reacts worse to an electric shaver than my double edged safety razor. Back when I used it, if I shaved too quickly with the electric the skin on my throat would end up irritated, but shaving with the grain with a safety razor I've never had a problem.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:49 AM on October 29, 2011

I find exactly the opposite of a lot of the pro-electric points here, and it puzzles me. I've shaved with a nice electric for years and ended up switching back to manual razors when I realized that manuals:
  • were cheaper (buy non-patented blade holder designs and stay away from Mach Turbo Ultra Extra 6); I currently pay about $0.02 per shave for lovely three-blade Sensor Excel clones, about half the daily amortized cost of my old electric razor
  • less irritation: single pass makes for a perfect shave instead of having to scrub an electric razor over each spot two or more times
  • faster: I can shave in the shower mirror in about eight seconds, no exaggeration. My face is already soapy; when is it ever going to get any easier?
So, I guess to answer the OP: there may be some situations where an electric is more convenient than a manual. Shaving in the car. Shaving in an airport bathroom. Etc. Otherwise, who the heck knows?
posted by introp at 8:52 AM on October 29, 2011

I went from an electric to disposables to a safety razor. The move from electric was prompted by the electric starting to give me razor burn and skin irritation as my bristles got stiffer with age. (Even after replacing the blades, the foil, and finally the razor itself.) Next, I tried disposables and still got skin irritation, plus they were very expensive. Finally, I tried a safety razor. The initial investment was about $100 ($40 brush + $30 razor body + blade sampler + cream sampler). Since then, I've spent maybe $10/year on cream. After the sampler informed me that Israeli-made blades were the way to go, I bought a 20-pack bundle off Amazon and I'm still going strong.

I haven't nicked myself in ages; the last time my styptic was used was when Mrs. Machine cut a bit too deep while trimming the dog's nails. It takes me about 5 minutes to shave in the morning. (Lather, one pass with the grain, lather, one pass across the grain, lather, one pass across the grain, lather the neck, one pass against the grain on my neck. Done.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:53 AM on October 29, 2011

I disagree that electric shavers are "not messy". I have had the pleasure of living with two people now who have used electric shavers and some how (perhaps through cleaning it out with those little brush things) manage to regularly get little bits of thick black hair all over the surrounds of the bathroom sink.
posted by Sinadoxa at 8:58 AM on October 29, 2011

I used Mach whatever razors for a long time, and always hated them. I got terrible irritation around my neck no matter how long I used them for, shaving foam is a pain in the ass, and I could never seem to get the hang of shaving 'difficult' areas, especially if I was in a hurry.

Now I have a relatively expensive (70 euros when I bought it) Phillips electric razor, and I love it. I've never cared too much about a really close shave, despite having very pale skin and very dark, coarse facial hair - for me, convenience is king. If I can run it over my face just before I dash out the door and be relatively clean-shaven within minutes, not almost zero irritation, I'm set.
posted by anaximander at 9:14 AM on October 29, 2011

"If anyone knows about any scientific research related to shaving, I would be much obliged to hear about it. I haven't found anything of substance using Google Scholar."

The act of shaving is an art not a science, but I found some old stuff
posted by Blasdelb at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2011

I use a straight razor. Not a safety razor, one of these guys. Cost me about $75 in early 2007. Since then, I've had it professionally rehoned about once a year, costing about $15 each time. I use a badger brush--I'm on my third--and a leather strop--on my second--plus a whetstone that I've yet to replace.

All in all, I've spent less than $200 on shaving over the last four and a half years, something like $0.17 a shave, and as time goes on, that continues to drop as the cost of the blade continues to amortize. After 10 years I'll be down to an average of $0.11.

I switched because electric razors never really shaved close enough for my taste, and the multi-blade disposables give me godawful razor burn. Shaving with a straight razor takes a little longer, but I have a beard, so I can get away with doing it every other day, and it's actually kind of nice to be forced to slow down a bit and acquire the skill.

Because make no mistake, unlike disposables and electrics, wet-shaving with a straight razor really is a skill. It's not just the actual shaving either. Proper care and maintenance of your blade is pretty key. Honing and stropping effectively takes practice, and it took me about a year before I really got the hang of it. I'm thinking of getting a second blade to give them a chance to "rest" between uses, something that actually seems to make a difference.
posted by valkyryn at 9:37 AM on October 29, 2011

I started using cartridge razors as a teenager but switched to electric razors after a couple of years. I was probably doing it wrong (since so many folks seem to enjoy it), but using safety razors was a slow, messy, painful and (literally) bloody experience. Electric shaving is much more pleasant for me with the additional bonus that I can do other stuff while shaving, which comes handy during the usual morning rush.
posted by elgilito at 9:41 AM on October 29, 2011

After yo-yoing back and forth between blades and electric for years, decades, millenia, I bought an expensive wet-dry Panasonic which I use dry before my shower and then I use a wet multi-bladed Mach 2000 or whatever to do touch up after the shower and without shave cream. I think it's a great system.
posted by bz at 9:50 AM on October 29, 2011

I don't think you can generalise between all electric and all safety/cartridge razors. There is a huge difference between shaving with a cheap blade from the dime store and a good quality blade.
Similarly there are big differences between electric shavers - the Philips three-disc type gives the closest electric shave but the flat foils are a bit more gentle on the skin.
posted by Lanark at 9:53 AM on October 29, 2011

Stubbly McStubble here. I have very fair skin and dark, thick hair.

I've used safety razors, disposables, and two kinds of electric (Braun and Norelco). Here's my experience.

Safety razors give the closest shave of all the above – their the only option that will leave me with smooth skin for an entire work day, but take more preparation than the other options. I have to shave in a hot shower or apply a hot towel to the skin before shaving to relax the skin, then I have to lather up (warm later, not from a can), then I have to shave carefully so I don't cut myself. I can use a two-sided Feather-brand safety blade for ~10 days at 50¢ ea. Per year cost: $18.

Cartridge razors work almost as well and I can get a decent shave without great lather or super-hot skin, so better for running out the door shaves, but I go through a cartridge or disposable a week at 80¢ ea. Per year cost: $42.

Electric razors are the worst in terms of shave quality. You can't see where you're shaving as easily, and even after multiple passes, the stubble is just barely gone. However, I don't need to shower or prep to shave with an electric, so I can shave in the morning and then do a touch-up shave during the day without hassle. The razors I use cost around $80 (Braun) - $150 (Norelco wet-shave), and you're supposed to replace the blades what, once or twice a year at something like $20 - $50.

tl;dr - Electric razors suck for good shaves but win for convenience and lack of nicks. Safety razors give he best shave but take the most time and care. Cartridges are the best compromise but are expensive.
posted by zippy at 10:22 AM on October 29, 2011

I don't think I've seen this mentioned yet: My husband keeps an electric razor at his office. He has a five o'clock shadow by 3 p.m., so he keeps one there in case he needs a touchup for a late afternoon meeting or an after-work event, or for some reason needs to shave at the office (running late for a morning meeting and doesn't shave until after it; snowed in at the office; whatever).

When he was driving all over creation to country courthouses, he kept a battery-powered electric one in his car, for the same sorts of touch-ups.

He gets a closer shave with one of those Mach-3 thingies that he uses at home, but the electric does fine and is convenient for being away from home.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:34 PM on October 29, 2011

tl;dr - Electric razors suck for good shaves but win for convenience and lack of nicks. Safety razors give he best shave but take the most time and care. Cartridges are the best compromise but are expensive.

As someone who uses both electric and cartridge this sums it up. I don't particularly enjoy shaving and will happily skip days whenever possible. If I need to shave daily its the electric (Philips fan here) as I can stumble out of bed and scrub off the stubble while half asleep. If its been a few days or there is a reason to be smoother than normal its the cartridge (usually with one of those oil/lotion beard lubes rather than lather/brush, never anything out of a can, its all YMMV). Tried safety and straight razors, didn't find they were worth the hassle and bloodshed.
posted by N-stoff at 1:15 PM on October 29, 2011

I've used Norelco razors for pretty much most of my shaving life. My father started me on them. I've used a regular razor before and I hate it. It takes too long, it's messy, and I don't find the shave to be any closer. I love norelco electric razors. These days, they can actually get really close. Don't go with the cheap ones...buy the top of the line ones and you won't be disappointed. The only area where I feel the electric razor is not strong(although it's getting better) is shaving the neck. There's been some advances in neck shaving, but I still find stubble after some shaves on the neck. For the neck, I will sometimes go over it with a regular razor and that takes care of it. But other then that, electric razors are awesome!
posted by ljs30 at 2:59 PM on October 29, 2011

I get a much better and quicker shave with my foil Panasonic electric than with any other method I've tried. That's why I've been using an electric for about 20 years. The shavers have also gotten far better in quality over the years so my shaves now never require a blade to "touch up". I never have razor burns, no ingrown hairs. The only time I've ever felt a closer shave was when I had a professional straight razor me. I get the same shave with my electric in 7 minutes without any of the possible side effects of using a blade. Also, I have thick salt and pepper hair so it's not a question of fine hair.

I shave about 10 minutes after getting out of the shower so that my skin is dry but still warm. No lubrication because it just gums things up. The key is applying the right amount of pressure and rotating the shaver to follow how your hair grows. I rinse with cold water to close the pores and sometimes apply some aftershave gel.
posted by sub-culture at 3:15 PM on October 29, 2011

Thank you everyone for your contributions. If I was adamant about including electric shavers in my shaving guide ("Why would anyone shave with anything than a double edge safety razor trololololo?"), I no longer am.

I honestly don't know what to make of this data other than that the choice of razor and shaving technique is so personal that dealing in absolutes is pointless. Still, I believe it's fairly safe to make these general claims about electric shavers: very comfortable/easy shaving; no or few cuts/nicks; not the closest shave but good enough; not as irritating as wet shaving for some people; fairly cheap long-term investment, even if you have to change the blades; dry/wet electric shaving depends on personal preferences.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:01 PM on October 29, 2011

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