[Updated June, 2020] Sharpologist is all about the single blade manual razor but there are times when an alternative might be required, as my father-in-law recently discovered. Can you use an electric razor with shaving cream…and get good results? The results seem to point to–under certain conditions–yes!
Some Background – Why Try An Electric Razor With Shaving Cream?
My father-in-law, Keith, had a bit of a tough time with his heart last year. As the doctors were straightening things out, they put him on blood-thinning medications.
Keith has been a Mach3 razor user for years. I had converted him to using a brush and lathering cream or soap years ago, but he balked at a DE (hey, he’s 80-odd years old. I can understand that). The combination of blood thinning medication and a manual razor–even a “gentle” cartridge razor–didn’t give the doctors the warm fuzzies and they suggested he use an electric razor.
Keith wondered whether he could get a shave approaching that of a manual razor by using a “wet/dry” electric razor and his regular soap. So we decided to make it a “research project” by trying a wet/dry electric by itself (dry), with water in the shower, and with his regular brush and soap setup. Keith did most of the work of course but I took a stab at using these products too, to confirm some of his findings. We tried each product for at least a month.
I should stress that we tried “wet/dry” electric razors. These are razors that can operate in water, with sealed batteries and electronics. Don’t go trying this with an electric razor that plugs into an electric outlet to operate!
Also note that the links to the products mentioned in this article are Amazon links for the convenience of getting more detail on the product’s specifications. Sharpologist has an affiliate relationship with Amazon but in this case these products (or equivalent products) should be fairly widely available locally so you don’t have to go to Amazon.
Looking for a good shaving cream to use with a wet/dry electric razor? Check out Sharpologist’s What Is The Best Shave Cream For 2020?
The first Attempt
The first thing we bought was an inexpensive, two head rotary shaver, a Philips Norelco SW175/81. Admittedly this is considered a “novelty” product in that there is a Star Wars tie-in, but it was a comparatively low-cost way of trying an electric razor with shaving cream.
Unfortunately this turned out to be a poor performer under the circumstances: shaves under all the conditions we set (dry, with water in the shower, and with shave lather) were not close at all. And the two-head design provided inconsistent coverage. This razor might be good for an adolescent with thin, patchy hair but for us older adults with grizzly stubble this is no more than a “novelty” razor.
For our next test we purchased more of a mainstream product, in this case a Philips Norelco Shaver 4100 (Model AT810/46). This model of shaver has several variants but they’re all very similar products at a similar price-point.
As you might suspect, results with this three-blade rotary shaver were much better than the previous unit under all three conditions (dry, wet, lather). Keith thought this unit performed best with water in the shower, while I thought it did a better job used with lather. Coverage was more consistent than the two blade rotary. For comparison’s sake I would say the results with the shaver would approach (but not quite achieve) the DFS (“darn fine shave”) level of a good manual razor.
By coincidence, at the same time we were testing this unit, I got an email from a PR rep asking if I would be interested in reviewing an electric razor for Sharpologist. At any other time I would give them a polite “not a good fit for Sharpologist” reply but right then the stars seemed to line up so I took them up on their offer: I received a Sweet LF 3D IPX 7 rotary shaver to try at a substantial discount.
The design and performance of the SweetLF is almost the same as the Norelco 4100 for us…at two-thirds the price. The only real difference I could tell is the battery charging scheme is the same as a mobile phone’s (the Norelco’s is proprietary) and the razor’s charge status display was a little different. According to allaboutrazor.com, if you don’t care about brand-names the SweetLF is a good deal.
Curiously, Keith thought this unit worked a little better with lather and I thought it worked a little better with just water! But, like the Norelco 4100, a shaving aficiando would consider the results no better than approaching “DFS.”
Still not satisfied we next decided to try something significantly more expensive, a Philips Norelco 5550 (model S5590/81). This shaver has a better-flexing head, a better rotary head design, and a “Turbo Mode” that increases the rotary head’s rotation speed about 20% for “dense areas of your beard.”
The performance of this shaver is noticeably better than the previous products (at a commensurately higher price) under all conditions but particularly with lather. In fact, in the “Turbo Mode” we get really good shaves. Maybe not baby’s butt smooth (BBS) but solidly in the DFS territory! The trade-off is reduced battery life.
Trying A Reciprocal Electric Razor
Although neither Keith nor I prefer reciprocal (“foil”) shavers (we both tried them over the years before we each found that we liked manual shaving better), we decided to give one a try for our little project. We settled on a Panasonic ES-LT41-K Arc3 Wet Dry Electric Razor. Admittedly this is an older generation but after spending the money we had already put down on the rotary units we did not want to break the bank.
Fortunately we were rewarded with a positive experience. While the different pivoting head took some getting used to, the unit gives us admirably close shaves under wet or lather conditions (dry…not so much). Again, not BBS well well into DFS territory.
Keith recently had a very successful surgery and he’s off blood thinners now…and back to using his Mach3 (though he has just started a flirtation with the newest Fusion cartridge. Still, we have come to the conclusion that using a wet/dry electric razor with shaving cream can produce very good results under certain conditions:
- No leisurely shaves. The longer an electric razor runs, the hotter the motor gets. A hotter motor definitely degrades the shave.
- More heads are better. One (reciprocal) head or two (rotary) heads just can’t do the job effectively. Go for three or more heads for a more even, consistent shave.
- Higher speed is better. A reciprocal shaver with a speed of at least 13,000 CPM or a rotary shaver with a “Turbo Mode” will provide better results.
Do you have any experience with a wet/dry electric razor with shaving cream? Leave a comment!