Over time my preferences in razors has shifted — in some cases back and forth, returning to preferences once held, then abandoned. Today I offer my ultimate recommendations.
Bear in mind that there are almost (a slight exaggeration, obviously) as many double-edge (DE) razors as there are different kinds of faces, skin and beards. This gets further complicated by other variables such as shaving lubricants (foams, soaps and creams) as well as the brand of razor blade used. So I can’t possibly have used — much less considered — all available razors.
That said, my suggestions are intended to be universal, within the stated assumptions, of course. I start with general recommendations, then add additional thoughts regarding those who are new to DE shaving.
There are other razors that may well fit the usages described below. Some may be more expensive, others may have minor design disadvantages such as comparatively poor grippiness of the handle. But this is, after all, one man’s suggestions.
For Sensitive, Fragile Skin
As a person with sensitive and rather fragile skin , my general experience has been that I’ve never used a one-piece razor (that is, a twist-to-open, butterfly design) that I really liked. This includes even extremely mild razors such as the Weishi 9306 models. So my recommendations are for two- and three-piece razors. I also tend to value value (meaning I appreciate economical options).
Fragile skin may be due to skin that is innately susceptible to nicks and cuts, or may be due to healthy skin that has relatively little subcutaneous fat making it rather thin and pliable. (This latter circumstance is that which makes my skin somewhat fragile and injury prone.)
So given the preceding information, my recommendations are as follows (Amazon* links for convenience however all these razors are widely available):
- Lord LP1822L* – a very economical three-piece option that can be used as purchased — that is, with the four-inch aluminium handle. Because aluminum is soft, one has to be smart about not over tightening the handle, which can be done using my recommended method of installing blades. Refer to my old review on this razor for best method of blade changing. Bear in mind that with time and experience my opinion of this razor has risen a great deal.
- Merkur 33C Classic – reasonably priced and slightly milder three-piece option than my current favorite, the aforementioned LP1822L. I don’t get quite as close a shave, but paired with a top-ranked-for-sharpness blade, this may eliminate that issue. For me, I go with more moderately-priced blades and the LP1822L. Those with less-smooth skin also may prefer the Merkur because it’s slightly less likely to nip.
- Merkur 34 HD* – ever popular, this model may have the same razor-head geometry as its cousin, the 33C. (This represents a reversal in opinion on my part. My earlier opinion that the 34 HD was more aggressive was based on some input data that I’ve subsequently learned was false. Garbage in, garbage out!) Albeit more expensive than the 33C, the 34 HD is heavier and has a larger-diameter handle. It’s also a two-piece razor, which is slightly more complex and possibly a slightly higher risk for long-term durability issues. For those who like the heft and size of the handle, an equivalent option may be the 33C razor head paired with a more substantial handle.
For Not-So-Sensitive Skin
Well, the world is your oyster, isn’t it? The key here would be to find the level of aggressiveness in the razor design that is best for your combination of hair length, hair toughness, hair density, skin smoothness and contours. Two sub-categories of recommendation are appropriate: frequent versus infrequent shavers.
For Those Who Shave Frequently
If you shave often — meaning that your stubble never gets too terribly long — then I think an adjustable razor is the way to go. This allows you to dial in the closeness of shave to suit your particular conditions.
The two razors that I’ve mentioned below are both smooth shavers in addition to being adjustable in aggression. There is, of course, a whole world of other fine (and not-so-fine) razors — both adjustable and non-adjustable — that you might use. However, if one chooses a comfortable adjustable, then there’s no functional reason to acquire others; additional instruments are only needed if one desires more variety in his choice of razor options.
- Parker Variant* – a smooth-shaving adjustable razor that is very close to a one-size-fits-all instrument. It didn’t make my recommendation for those with sensitive and fragile skin simply because the blade exposure (the degree to which the blade edge lies above or below the shave plane formed by the top cap and safety bar) is fairly neutral, where my sensitive-and-fragile-skin suggestions have a negative blade exposure, with the blade edge lying within the protective cove of the razor head. On its most mild setting, this Parker razor is still pretty darn good for even those with sensitive skin. If you have sensitive skin as defined previously, then this razor may be okay, but for fragile skin, the recommendations above may be slightly easier to use, requiring slightly less skill and more tolerant of slightly-excessive razor pressure on skin.
- Ming Shi 2000S* – another smooth-shaving adjustable razor that shaves very nicely, but has the added benefit of being relatively inexpensive. It also has the larger razor head, which has the benefit of protecting skin from blade-tab nicks, but does make shaving in tight areas such as under the nose take a bit more attention and care. This razor also has no handle knurling, so is best handled with dry hands. The 2000S is available on ebay for perhaps the lowest price by a tad, but is also available from USA distributors such as MaggardRazors.com, who can provide quick delivery and proven customer support.
For Those Who Shave Infrequently
If you don’t shave often, then you are shaving rather long hair. The DE razors that will be the most effective in these circumstances will be open-comb (OC) designs. Many believe that OC razors are aggressive in shave character. This probably comes from the shave character of OC vintage Gillettes and more modern incarnations such as the Muhle R41. However, just because a razor is OC, it’s shave character is more dependent on other design characteristics.
- If you have sensitive, fragile skin and shave infrequently, the best option may be the Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements’ (PAA) original double-open-comb razor,* the DOC. This razor is mild, a smooth, non-irritating instrument, but has other benefits. It’s DOC design makes it excellent for reciprocating strokes such as buffing. It also can be made slightly more aggressive in shave character by not snugging the handle quite so tightly when inserting the blade.
- If your skin is not sensitive or fragile and shave infrequently, there are a range of other OC razors from the afore-mentioned Muhle (aggressive) to Parker OC razors*to the Merkur 15C* (rather mild, but not as smooth as the PAA DOC).
For Newer DE Shavers
If one is new to DE shaving — and especially if coming from multiple-bladed disposable razors — the predominant problem in transitioning to DE razors is the tendency to press the razor against beard with too much force. This (and too many repeated strokes) is usually the reason for irritated skin as well as nicks and weepers.
For this reason I recommend starting with mild, forgiving razors.
- The Merkur 33C remains my favorite because of its negative blade exposure (as previously discussed) and the moderate blade-bar span(the distance between the blade edge and the safety bar), which limits the amount of skin that can bulge across the shave plane and come in too-direct contact with the blade edge.
- The Lord LP1822L is a less expensive first razor, but is slightly more risky because its blade-bar span is longer, allowing both for a slightly closer shave and a slightly greater chance to bite if one is careless or presses too hard.
- The PAA DOC is another mild razor that may be very good for less-experienced DE shavers, and especially for those who shave infrequently.
- Both of the adjustables I suggested above, the Parker Variant and Ming Shi 2000S, may also be okay for newer DE shavers, but should be used on their lowest setting initially, and used with care including very light pressure (almost none) to avoid the cuts and nicks to which newbies often succumb.
As I wrote above, there is a whole world of other razors, but if one fits the general categories above, then these razors are likely to be safe bets.