Claim: There is a better way to shave than with a cartridge razor. After testing out a safety razor for the past two months, I can say with great confidence: there is a better way to shave. Now that that’s established, let’s get exegetical.

“There is” relates to my two-month test of a safety razor versus conventional cartridge razors. This testing window proved to be two-part: the learning curve and the proficiency. Cartridge razors are more straightforward to use. And to make the switch, you have to know you’ll nick yourself up a bit. But if you buy into the process, take a teeny bit more time to dial your shaving routine, and give yourself the grace to try three or more shaves with Mr. Safety, there are benefits to be had.

If you buy into the process and take a teeny bit more time to dial your shaving routine, there are benefits to be had.

“Better” is subjective, and needs a proper conditional statement. In this case, I mean both the quality of the shave experience and the quality of the shave. Note: I don’t mean the convenience of the shave nor the convenience of the utensil (though I’ve found those both to be comparable between safety and cartridge). What I do mean is that the safety razor creates a superb shaving experience — weight in hand, weight of razor head, tradition of shaving, reduction of guilt for blade waste — and, it creates a superb shave — closeness to skin, lower irritation to skin, convenience in cleaning, and frequency of blade replacement.

“To shave” here refers to the daily or second-day or after-a-week-of-not-shaving routine of shaving a male face. It also refers to shaving a male face with thick, full hair growth, at different growth intervals. My testing demonstrated that after a short learning period, the shaving process, from day-of growth (24 hours) to short-term beard (10 days), the safety razor made short work of all hair levels. Also notable: the adjustability of the 6S Rockwell razor with which I shaved also catered to the length of the shave, and once I got a hand on proper routes around the face to stick with hair directionality (shave “with the grain”) with the beginner “1” size, I became adept at moving between sizes based on stubble length.

A safety razor is less irritating to one’s skin (one blade), less expensive ($0.10 a blade, which can be used for a full week, or more), and more environmentally friendly (the steel blades can be recycled).

“Than” refers to the comparison between a safety razor and cartridge razor. This does not include straight-blade razors or other types of razors, and is a comparison most directly between a Gillette Mach 3 razor, the Dollar Shave Club 4X razor (which I’ve always found cumbersome) and the Rockwell safety razor. Those are the limitations of my trial, but the general idea is that a safety razor is less irritating to one’s skin (one blade), less expensive ($0.10 a blade, which can be used for a full week, or more), and more environmentally friendly (the steel blades can be recycled). I like all three of the above, and it always felt like a stick in the eye to pay $10 for a six-pack of razor cartridges that will decompose in a trash pile only over the course of the next millennia. For cost and environmental reasons alone, there’s an argument to go safety.

“Cartridge razor” is self-evident, but it’s fair to make the point that I haven’t thrown it straight to the trash bin. For starters, the TSA forbids carrying-on safety razor blades (for rather obvious reasons), so I still travel with a cartridge razor. I also body-shave with a cartridge razor for now, pending further adeptness with the safety. Finally, I love the Mach 3 and all the times we’ve had together, and as much as I’d like to say “Adios, muchacho” to those exorbitant replacement cartridges, the Mach does still come in handy every once in a while.

Addendum: The selling point of the straight razor is simple: close, smooth shave and cheap, recyclable blades. It’s also a nice nostalgia boost to shaving as it was done a half-century back, before giants like Schick and Gillette made animated action heroes out of their razor blades and named stadiums after their empires. It’s a bit of a vote for the little man, with an ecological bent and a smooth face to boot. Is it the only way to go? Will I never again shave with a cartridge? No and no, but if you’re looking to increase nuance in your grooming in the new year, add the safety razor to your arsenal, save some dough in the long term, and return to the way shaving was — a process that wasn’t broken and doesn’t need a million-dollar marketing budget to fix.

About the Razor

I shaved with the Rockwell 6S stainless steel safety razor, which features 6 different sizes for 6 different blade angles. The knurled handle is weighty and feels solid in hand, the system is simple (one screw), and cleaning is a breeze. The blades are sharp, super cheap and, in some kind of primal shaving way, intuitive. It also looks cool and vintage and heritage and all that good stuff on your bathroom counter. Is it the only safety razor on the market? No, but it is the only one with this level of customization. Your call if that’s worth the extra $40–$60 bucks. Buy Now: $100