[Updated August, 2020] What is the best razor blade? It is not as easy an answer as you may think. I have been researching razor blades over the past few months, even using a scanning electron microscope to look at blade edges, and have come to realize there are a number of variables that come into play with deciding on what is “best.” Even though I have been looking at double edge (DE) blades I think my comments should apply to any razor/blade combination, including blade cartridges (Fusion, Mach3, Dollar Shave Club, etc). Looking for an article about the best double edge safety razor? CLICK HERE.
I think there are actually two sets of variables when it comes to the performance of a razor blade. One set is the manufacturing characteristics of the blade itself: the type of metal used, how the edge is ground, and the non-stick coating used (if any). The other set is more “environmental” including the mineral content of the water the blade is exposed to, the type of shave “lather” used (including oils, gels, creams, etc.), and the characteristics of the hair being cut.
There was a good documentary on how razor blades are made a while back. Here it is:
Let’s take a closer look at some of the manufacturing characteristics.
The most obvious manufacturing characteristic of a razor blade is how the edge is made. The process is referred to as “grinding” and the result is “ground” of a blade. Here you can see the striations, or the marks and furrows made by the grinding process:
Manufacturers can grind blades to different specifications so they all won’t look like the one above. Here’s another brand and another grind:
There are actually microscopic ridges and furrows to these grinding marks:
Most blades are coated with a non-stick material that helps the blade cut more easily and comfortably. There may also be some value to retard oxidation or degradation? Some coatings are thin (the “wavy” area near the top blade edge of this image)…
…while others are much thicker: (The scanning electron microscope had trouble focusing on this image because the non-stick coating was so thick.)
Metallurgy refers to the type and “hardness” of the metal being used. It can be difficult to determine because there are so many grades of metal. But as an illustration here is the “inside” of a blade (right at the tip of the blade’s edge, made by immersing a blade in liquid Nitrogen and then snapping it in half for the cleanest possible cross-section):
And here is the tip of another blade brand:
You can see the upper image is more dense than the lower image.
While the manufacturing characteristics of a razor blade are a little more objective, I believe environmental factors also play a role in the performance of a blade.
Water Mineral Content
The mineral content of the water used definitely plays a part in the shave. “Hard” water generally makes a poorer lather compared to “soft” water, making a slightly more difficult job for the blade. I am sure “hard” water would also tend to degrade some types of blades faster, depending on their metallurgy.
Maybe it is obvious but worth mentioning anyway, a blade will have an easier time cutting thin, fine hair compared to thick, coarse hair (all other things being equal).
As an example of how the shave product (soap, cream, gel, etc.) can affect a blade, here is a used blade that was exposed to a bendonite clay-based shaving soap:
And here is the same brand of blade used with lather from a shaving soap that did not have clay:
More recently researchers at the University Of Wisconsin was able to take an even closer look at how blades go dull.
So What’s The Best Blade?
After reviewing blades over the past few months I cannot come to an objective conclusion. I was hoping some kind of characteristic of a “good” blade would become apparent during my research, but it did not. It became clear near the end of my time on the scanning electron microscope that to do this “right” in the scientific sense I would have to sample many more blades, with multiple samples of the same brand. Unfortunately that is just not possible for me: it would take a lot more time and money (time with a scanning electron microscope is not cheap!) than I have. It has been an interesting exercise though. I sampled these blades:
- 7 o’ Clock “Yellow”
- 7 o’ Clock “Black”
- Astra “Blue”
- Astra “Green”
- Personna “Lab Blue”
- Personna “Med Prep”
- Personna “Red”
- Polsilver “Super Iridium
- Studio (Walgreens, made by Dorco)
The Feather, Polsilver Super Iridium, and Personna “Med Prep” blades were easily the preferred, “top shelf” blades…for me. The Derby and Merkur blades were at the bottom of the heap…for me. Everything else was acceptable under most circumstances but not preferred…for me. The common wisdom of trying a number of blade brands to find the right one(s) for you is still the best advice.
What blade(s) work best for you? Leave a comment with the blade(s) you like best, the razor you use most often, and whether you have “hard” or “soft” water!
Special thanks to John Koonz formerly of West Coast Shaving for his help obtaining blade samples, Douglas Smythe at Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements for his help with some blade variables, and the Microscopy Department at Texas A&M University for access to one of their scanning electron microscopes.