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Friday, November 24, 2017
Personal Reflections ... Practical Advice ...

This one is mostly for the guys, because it’s mostly about razors.  Once in a while I do a little product review here (unpaid, unsolicited), and today looks like a good day to talk about the cheaper variants of the high-end 5+ blade cartridge razors.

So let’s go to shaving world.  There are still a lot of options out there for guys who don’t use electric razors, guys like me who get out their hand-held razors and apply shave foam or gel or “shave butter” and then start scraping away.   (There seems to be something almost spiritual and craftsman-like about shaving by hand, something that you lose in the constant buzz of an electric razor.)  There don’t seem to be any “official statistics” on this, but a popular estimate is that about 25% of shaving men in the US use electrics, meaning that about 3 quarters of us non-bearded guys still use hand-held hedge clippers. 

There are various options for us manual shavers. You can still buy the old fashioned 2-edge “safety razor”; the blades are cheap and you get a close shave, but it’s also very easy to nick your face.  If you’re even more old-fashioned and are not squeamish about blood, you can still buy a “straight razor”, like the ones that some barbers still use (recall the strap on the side of the barber’s chair where the razor is stroked, so as to put a sharp edge on it). But unless you have the skills of a barber, it’s probably best not to mess with a straight. And then there are also disposable hand-held razors, but the handles are cheaply made and not all that comfortable and easy to control. From my perspective, the multi-blade replaceable cartridge system is pretty much the gold standard.

But before I start talking about what razors I use, here’s some info on my own shaving perspective.  I’m not a beard or mustache guy, so I shave my full face just about every morning.  But in addition, I also shave my head.  Yea, I’m one of those “false-baldies” who go around trying to look as much like Yul Brenner as possible, above the neck and eyeline anyway.  For better or worse, I still have active hair follicles over my entire head; I am not naturally bald nor balding.  But around 10 years ago, I started to experience “alopecia areata“, when suddenly my hair would just drop out from a 1 to 2 inch round segment on my head; there it would be at my feet while taking a shower in the morning.  A-A causes rather weird-looking temporary (read 4 to 8 month) bald spots, which eventually go away but then eventually come back somewhere else on the head.

Some guys with alopecia (and women too — it’s not a male-only condition) try to comb their remaining hair over the spots, while others decide to go with shorter haircuts.  I decided to wack it all off.  I work in a law enforcement office, where male baldness is quite well accepted and fairly common amidst the male population (and even one of the female staff).  Baldness is somewhat “chic” within the law enforcement community.  Given my small and thin stature, some people seemed at first a bit dubious as to whether I could pull off the “tough bald guy” look, but after a while it was clear that I was now a member in good standing of the baldies club.  My alopecia spots continued to appear and disappear for another 8 or 9 years, but they were not all that noticeable given that the rest of my head was also hairless (although, if you looked close, you still see could see where the spots were, given that they are completely smooth whereas the rest of my head gets a “4 o’clock shadow” from the stubble, well before 4 o’clock).

And then one day . . . I hope I’m not jinxing it by mentioning this . . . but a few years ago, the alopecia spots seemed to go away, I wasn’t getting them anymore.  I’m not sure that this will continue, but for the past few years, I’ve felt the fuzz over my entire scalp each evening before I wack it with a cartridge razor.  (I usually do my head shaving in the evening before bedtime, given that it takes too long to get it all done in the morning while getting ready for work — although I might still do a few light strokes with the blades at that time, as to get any night growth back down to skin level).   So, even though I don’t really need to be a voluntary baldy anymore (knock on wood), I learned to like the look.  As such, I have no intention of re-growing my hair.  Especially since it will be mostly gray anyway and just make me look older.

Getting back to razors then — what kind of blade cartridges do I use to get a clean face and clean head every night and morning?  First off, I’ve found that you need more than a 3 blade cartridge to get a good head shave.  I’ve tried 2 and 3 blade systems on my head that worked just fine on my face, but it seems really hard to control cuts and nicks when using such razors on one’s head.  Shaving the entire head by hand involves a bit more art than a regular face shave, and if you are not an artist at it, you can draw quite a bit of blood and fill your pate with unsightly looking scabs and red spots.  Maybe it’s easier when you are naturally bald on top and only have to trim the sidewalls and the back-side to get to the full chrome-dome look.  But when you have to shave your entire head, you really have your work cut out for you!

After all these years I am still perfecting my own head shaving art, and so I still inflict a wound or two every week; there are still days when I go to work with a band-aid on my scalp.  When head shaving, you need to manipulate the razor handle in a lot of different ways and use angles that would not apply in a regular facial shave.   The back of your head is like the dark side of the moon; unless you are lucky enough to have a sink with mirrors both in front and in back of it, you are grouping in the dark when you start dragging your shaver around back there.  Same, really, for the top of your skull.  What you need to do is to “feel your way around” in these areas; I use a two-handed shaving technique, where one hand controls the razor via the handle, and the other hand feels the scalp and guides the blades over the terrain.  During most of my strokes across the head, I keep a finger or two on the razor-head itself.  And actually, this is a factor in selecting the appropriate cartridge to use, as will be explained next.

So again, you need a cartridge with more than 3 blades to do your dome.  Although there are a fair number of different brands of cartridges, I myself have narrowed my choice down to three widely available contenders:  the Gillette Fusion 5 (5 blades), which comes in a variety of levels (regular, ProGlide, ProShield, and ProSheild Chill); Dorco, which offers a variety of blade configuration, including 4, 6 and 7 blade variants; and Harry’s, which has one basic cartridge offering 5 blades.  Gillette is the old main-line razor-maker going way back, whereas Dorco and Harry’s are more recent entities that were born in the internet era (and are mostly sold on-line).

Then there is the perennial also-ran Shick, with its Hydro 5-blade cartridge; I will mention it, but I’ve never tried it.  Perhaps this is unfair, but I used some Shick blades years ago (in 2 or 3 cartridge configuration), and they seemed somewhat inconsistent; sometimes you got a nice blade that gave a good shave, but the next one might be a dull weed-wacker that would cut you up pretty quickly, or would hardly cut at all.  So I haven’t been anxious to try the Shick option, but again, this may be a bit unfair.  Perhaps I should give them another look at some point, as there are some very positive reviews on-line for the Hydro 5. 

But for now, I’m mostly familiar with the Gillette, Dorco and Harry’s products.  And here’s what I have to say about them, from both a facial and cranial perspective.  Let’s start with Gillette.  Gillette is the highest quality razor, even at the base level of its Fusion 5 series.  Gillette blades are hard and sharp, and are designed quite well, they flex easily and at the right angles.  Overall, you get a good shave with minimal injury, and the blades last for at least a week, usually more.

The downside on Gillette is the price.  Gillette blades are pretty expensive, even if you buy them in bulk on-line.  A recent look on Amazon indicated that Gillette Fusion 5’s can be had for around $2.85 per cartridge or so when purchased in quantity (12 or 16).   To be fair, Gillette has a “Gillette On Demand” web site which offers certain discounts, such as every 4th order free.  But there seem to be a lot of conditions with this, and not every blade appears to be offered (I didn’t see the basic Fusion 5 version listed). Personally, I like to get a set price for a set purchase when I buy something on-line, with no strings attached.

The other 2 blades under consideration offer set on-line prices (although you can also get them under a “club” arrangement where you agree to regular shipments and maybe to buying other stuff like shave cream and after-shave lotion with your blades).  And their prices are definitely lower than Gillette.  The question is, how much do you trade off in quality and shaving comfort when you move away from “mother Gillette”?

Dorco offers a lot of options in the >3 blade range.  At bottom, and cheapest of all, you can get a 4-blade “Pace 4” cartridge from Dorco, whose blades are mostly manufactured in Korea.   But to be honest, the 4 blade Dorco is not such a good head wacker.  My experience is that you need to step up to the Dorco “Pace 6” to get decent results and get them for more than a day or two.  I have been using the Pace 6 for a few years now, and I’ve had something of a love-hate relationship with them.  They sometimes seem a bit too sharp when you first use them, and it’s easy to nick yourself multiple times if you aren’t really careful (for me, the worst spots for nicks are the two edges where the temple, forehead and crown meet, i.e. where three skull surfaces come together).

After the second or third shave, though, Pace 6 blades seem to “settle down” and you can go 6, 7 or sometimes even more days without anything more than an occasional ding, nothing worse than a paper cut.   But after that, the blades start to lose their cutting power, and you spend more and more time applying multiple strokes to get that smooth feeling back.  That’s when you change your blades and start the cycle all over again.

As far as price goes — Dorco Pace 6’s are pretty reasonable.  A look at Pace’s own web site indicates that you can order 16 blades for $1.78 each, and if you want to go even lower, they will send you 24 blades at $1.60 each.  Which is more than a dollar under the Gillette Fusion 5 price.  But Dorco’s are not Gillettes.  Their blade steel is noticeably softer.  As far as cartridge design goes, the Pace 6 is not all that bad compared to a Fusion 5, and the overall razor handle architecture is OK too.  In sum, the Pace 6 is definitely usable as a head shaver, and with some practice, you can get good results; but not every shave is going to be as nice as what a Fusion 5 would give.

Next, let’s talk about Harry’s.   Harry’s appears to be the most recent entrant to the on-line shave club world.  Of course, the founder of that world seems to be the Dollar Shave Club.  I haven’t said anything yet about Dollar Shave, but in a way I don’t have to, because their blade offerings are all from Dorco.  Since I don’t want to sign up for regular refills and shave accoutrements (I like to buy whatever gel or foam is cheapest at the local supermarket), I never got involved with the Dollar Shave Club.  When I want Dorcos, I buy them directly from Dorco (you can also get them on Amazon, and K-Mart stocks some Dorco models on its shelves).

Harry’s seems to be pushing its own version of a regular subscription arrangement for its razor and blades, along with appurtenant shaving aids. But, if you drill down far enough on their web site, you can buy a shaver and refill blades from Harry’s at will, without committing to a re-ordering schedule.  And you can also buy their shaver handle and two blades right off the shelf at Target.  I was recently shopping at a local Target, and so I decided to take the plunge and check Harry’s out.  I had been intrigued with the claims that Harry’s makes on its ads about owning its own razor blade factory in Germany, such that it can maintain a high level of quality.  And Harry’s blade refills aren’t much more than the Dorco Pace 6 — if you buy 16 on their website, it comes to $1.75 per blade.

So it was finally time to put the metal to the skull, courtesy of Harry’s.  Overall, my first head shave went pretty well.  Harry’s handle and cartridge have their interesting design features (the handle is round and rubbery, and is thus easy to grip and maneuver), and the blades seem quite sharp and hard.   But the second and subsequent shave sessions weren’t as good.  Things got a little bloody.  And not just on my head; I noticed that I was also cutting my fingers while trying to guild the blades over my cranial terrain.  That’s because Harry’s has a “trimmer” blade on top of the cartridge, which can be a wonderful feature for finishing up a facial shave.  But it can also be a hazard to the fingers when trying to guide the main blades over the foamy patches of the pate.  It soon became apparent that Harry’s was not the best blade for head shaving.

To be fair — the Gillette Fusion 5 ALSO has a trimmer that you need to be careful of when doing a 2-hand head shave.  And Dorco has a variant of the Pace 6 with a trimmer — but obviously, I buy the Pace 6 plain version, which saves a few cents (and some finger nicks).   But even aside from the trimmer issue, Harry’s 5 blade system just doesn’t seem all that “friendly” relative to the general techniques that you need to clean off your noggin.  So I seem to have arrived at a “choose your poison” dilemma here — pay the big money and get the better design and blade quality of Gillette, or save some coins and live with Dorco’s occasional nicks and scabs.

But there may also be a “best of both worlds” option — something that I am trying out right now.  What if a cheap-skate head shaver like me were to use BOTH a Dorco razor and a Harry’s in getting the job done?  Dorco seems pretty good in getting most of the hair off of most of the head.  But it loses some of its usefulness in the final stage, when you are going after the last bits of stubble in the more uneven or inaccessible places.  So, what I have been doing lately is to use the Dorco Pace 6 for an overall trim-down, using long strokes.  Then I clean the Dorco off and put it away, and pick up the Harry’s razor so as to finish up the job.   With a series of short, careful strokes directed in the right places, Harry’s harder and sharper blades along with that rubbery handle do pretty well in getting the last few spots down to that smooth feeling that we false-baldies crave.  So long as you keep the strokes short and remain mindful (including the danger to your fingers), you can keep the injuries way down when using a Harry’s razor as a “finisher”.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had only a few minimal dings and bruises using this two-step / two-razor method of shaving my head.  Harry’s seems to allow me to be a head shaving artist when art is mainly needed, i.e. at the finish; whereas the Dorco Pace 6 does a good job accomplishing the yeoman’s work of leveling down most of the skin territory that a head shave necessarily involves.  I haven’t really been able to study yet whether there is a cost increase from using both blades; hopefully I can stretch the Dorco’s a little farther and get a lot of days use from Harry’s, such that I’m not paying significantly more by using a 2-razor system (which would thus give up the advantage of staying away from Gillette).

So that’s my razor review for today.  Again, I am tempted to try the Shick Hydro at some point in the future and see how it does relative to Gillette, Dorco and Harry’s (perhaps this will be my 2018 New Year’s Resolution).  But for now, I have discovered a synergy between the Dorco Pace 6 and the basic Harry’s 5-blade cartridge, a pretty good way of accomplishing the tricky task of doing a full head shave on a day-by-day basis.   I guess that every hairy guy who wants to be bald develops his own methods and techniques.  I hope that this will be of some help to those razor-baldies who are still trying to get it right.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:03 am      

  1. Jim, I suppose I have no business even attempting a comment here, but how about a couple of questions:

    I know they sell some kind of depilatory for men; I’ve even seen them use it on their face. Wouldn’t it be OK for one’s head? Why not use that instead of shaving and risking nicking/cutting oneself? They have plenty of it for women. However, there may be issues regarding how hair grows in later????? Just wondering.

    I also wonder why the “fashion” lately has been for men to grow beards. It seems there are “beards everywhere”. The “beard” thing has become the “in” thing since there have been more Middle Eastern men in the U.S., or so it seems to me. I’m kind of getting tired of seeing American men who don’t ordinarily wear beards growing them. Seems it’s also become a kind of “one-upmanship” thing among men. Perhaps I shouldn’t say it, but maybe it’s a “mine’s bigger than yours” kind of thing??????? MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — November 25, 2017 @ 11:42 am

  2. Mary — as to depilatory cream to the skull — personally, I don’t like “chemical warfare”. Depilatory’s come in various strengths; to do any good against the brillo-pad stubble up on the noggin, one would need to use the maximum strength stuff. Depilatories are generally known to cause irritation and possible allergic reactions. Also, one would have to use it just 2 inches above the eyes — it would be easy for some of the chemicals to run down into the eyes and cause irritation there.

    As to beards — that’s a different world, a different psychology. I’m just not a beard guy.

    Comment by Jim G — December 6, 2017 @ 1:09 am

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