No chore pains me more than shaving. Best-case scenario: clean shave. And then I do it again tomorrow. Worst-case scenario: severed artery. And then I hope I can do it again tomorrow, God willing. Middling- and most-common-case scenario: redness; irritation; blade-evading straggle whiskers; nicks; outright cuts; full-on gashes; and ... I still have to do it again tomorrow.
In hopes of easing this horrific burden, I sought out the perfect, or, barring that, least awful shaving method. I enlisted friends and colleagues in the search. I shaved a lot. Herewith, my findings. Products are ranked, within each category, from first to worst: shaving right to raving shite.
1. Panasonic ES727 Wet/Dry Double Blade ($77.95)
2. Grundig Pro Avantgarde ($244.95)
3. Remington M-2820 MicroScreen Intercept ($89.95)
4. Braun Flex Integral 6515 ($97.95)
5. Norelco 5615X Advantage Wet/Dry ($109.95)
All electric razors warn that, if you've been shaving with a blade, it takes 21-30 days for you to "adjust." Remington says it's to "find the optimum shaving method for your particular beard type." (This time period closely corresponds with the warranty length, but let's assume good intentions for now.) I simply didn't have a month to spend with each razor. Only a few days. Question my methodology if you must, but ask yourself: Can you afford a month of razor burn as down payment on a shaving Shangri-La that may never transpire? Here are the results you'll get if, like me, you don't have time to wait:
Bad, bad results.
I purchased the top four brands and the overpriced Grundig from ElectricShaver.com, which offers the largest selection of e-razors and the lowest prices on the Web. The Panasonic is the best of a poor lot. Letting you use shaving cream and shave in the shower, it offers by far the closest shave of the group. In easy regions—cheeks, upper lip—it excels, rivaling a decent blade shave. But like all electrics, it just can't get those tricky sub-jaw zones. Under the chin? Forget it. Neck cowlicks? No sir-ree. And if you've gone two days without shaving, it's useless.
The Grundig Pro Avantgarde (what, am I Eric Dolphy?) works OK. But at these prices, it ought to clean the sink when it's done. The Grundig also jets forth a mist of powdered whiskers as it shaves: One tester mentioned "clear cutting." You're paying for looks with this one. Its elegant, Teutonic hauteur will impress snooty friends.
The Remington is worse than the Grundig—it's about as good as a good disposable. The Braun? Much, much worse: One tester says it turned his face into "No. 10 emery cloth."
The Norelco Advantage Wet/Dry should never, ever be purchased, utilized, given as a gift, received as a gift, or loaned. 1) It cut me. This is the cardinal no-no of electrics. The whole point is they don't cut you. That's why politicians use them. Shame, Norelco. 2) This model squirts out moisturizing Nivea goo. Not only does the goo not improve your shaving, it also bonds with shaved whiskers to form a nasty, whisker-goo compound that you don't want anywhere near you.
(Note: The Braun and Remington were stolen from my office before I could try them, so I relied entirely on a deputy tester. Tellingly, the razor thief left the Norelco behind, even though it sat next to the other two on my desk. He may be a crook, but he's no masochist. Here's to you, thief!)
1. Gillette Good News (10 for $4.49)
2. Bic Women's Disposable (10 for $2.23)
3. Bic Disposable (10 for $2.09)
The good news is the Good News is double-bladed, with a moisturizing strip, and it'll do in a shaving emergency. The bad news is the Good News will slice the bejesus out of you if you give it half a chance. With very slow, very careful guidance, however, it can produce a pretty good shave.
The Bic disposable can't. This single-bladed, yellow demon offers no moisturizing strip and no mercy. Avoid at all costs. You'll bleed a river.
The advantage of the Bic women's disposable (for my purposes) is not that it comes in pastels, but rather that its double-bladed head is quite small—the smallest of all I tried—and so can sneak into face crannies that even the best cartridge shavers are too bulky to reach. If you tend toward divots and nooks, maybe give this one a try. Otherwise, the Good News works better.
A note on costs:
Disposables seem to last about four shaves. That breaks down to about 5 cents per shave. Cartridges cost around $1 each, but last about 10 shaves—10 cents per shave. So, over a year, shaving 5 times a week, costs come to:
Cartridges—$26, plus one-time purchase of handle for around $6
With disposables, that means almost 20 years of shaving before you've equaled the cost of the Grundig.
1. Gillette Mach 3 ($6.99)
2. Gillette Sensor Excel ($5.99)
3. Schick Protector ($5.99)
4. Schick Diamond ($6.99)
By now, rhapsodies over the Mach 3 design have become old hat. But indulge me a little. The three blades, each shaving progressively closer to the skin. The open casing, allowing water to wash through from either side. The pivot at the heel of the cartridge, instead of in its center—the shaving motion is like painting now, instead of planing. The Mach 3's lone drawback: a huge cartridge head, meaning it can't fit in tight corners.
In face-to-face tests (shaving one side of my mug with a Mach 3, other side with competitors), the Mach 3 dispatched first the Sensor Excel (a less evolved, double-bladed, center pivot, but still a pretty damn good razor), then the Schick Diamond (a nightmare that sliced me), and then the Schick Protector (a Sensor wannabe that's not as good as the Sensor, but better than the Diamond). The Mach 3 shaved closest, it never once cut or nicked, it was fast, it was efficient ... forgive me, I'm getting a little choked up here. Let's just say I was impressed.
On the other hand, there's Schick. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with being second best. The world can accommodate alpha products (McDonald's, Coke) and beta products (Burger King, Pepsi), with room for the odd Wendy's or Royal Crown, too. The problem is, Schick just makes stinky, stinky razors. Imagine: It's a year after the Mach 3 debuts, changing the whole landscape. You're ready to launch your big response. And the best you can do is the Diamond? Its sole claim to distinction is the "diamond coating" on the blades, yet I found the blades less effective than even those on the Sensor! Oh, Schick. That's just sad.
So no surprises here. The Mach 3 truly is the best a man can get, as most men already know, judging by market share and my informal surveys of friends and acquaintances. It crushes the ineffective electrics. It outperforms nick-prone disposables. And it outclasses its cartridge brethren. Yet one last challenger remains, yearning to claim Gillette's crown ...
I went for a straight-razor shave at Salon Fodera in the basement of the St. Regis Hotel, Fifth Avenue, midtown Manhattan. Here, stylist Gianni Fodera ushered me into the world of having your face shaved for you. Gianni's card says he was "Silver Medallist Team & Individual Marcel Lamy World Championship, Seoul, Korea 1998" and "Winner of the Gary Bray International Award 1997." I've never heard of these awards, but I'm hoping they are somehow hair-related; otherwise it would be odd for him to list them on his card. Apparently, they justify charging $40, plus tip, for a shave.
Gianni sat me in his chair and aimed a steam machine at my face. After a wait, he worked in some heated shaving foam. Then applied a hot, steamy towel, right over the foam. The towel came off and more hot foam went on. At this point, eyes closed, steam-sweat dripping down nape, it could have been the Everglades in muggy season. The shave began.
Gianni stretched my cheeks to glide the blade across them. His award-winning fingers tugged the bulb of my nose upward to get at whiskers on my upper lip. More stretching, more tugging, more gliding. It was delightful in a being-serviced kind of way. I wish it led to a fantastic shave. It didn't. Gianni missed a few spots. He was timid with the blade. He even lightly nicked me, though no blood.
All in all, I could have done a better job of it myself, using the Mach 3—at a fraction of the price. Final challenger: Vanquished. Gianni, we hardly knew ye.