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How Safe Is Your Face? Part 5: The Loyal Opposition!

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Aren’t The Results The Most Important Thing?

Continuing the series of posts about barber shaves and what to expect (Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) with a post I’ve termed “the loyal opposition.”  The vast majority of barbershop customers seem to expect a straight razor (or straight razor-like tool with replaceable blades).  But some barbershops and barber spa’s have consciously decided to use a pivoted cartridge razor for their shaves.  I asked Michael Gilman, founder of Grooming Lounge (a high-end grooming business with stores and spa’s in Virginia and Washington, DC) to explain their point of view for using triple-blade pivot cartridge razors with their spa shaves:

“While we are big supporters of shaving with cut throat or double-edged razors, we use the triple-blade method in our shops because ‘it simply provides the closest and most irritation-free shave possible.’ Prior to our opening more than a decade ago, Grooming Lounge’s Founders literally travelled the globe to ID the premiere shaving method out there.  After experiencing several pleasant, but unremarkable shaves, the company Founders decided there had to be a ‘better way.’ That’s when they partnered up with the amazing Aidan Gill, a legendary gentleman and barber from New Orleans, to create a shave utilizing equal parts tradition and technology.  The tradition comes in the form of several applications of hot lather, 7 steaming towels and a finish with an ice cold towel. The technology comes via a modern blade and soothing shaving formulas.
While using the triple blade may on first blush make straight-edge enthusiasts squirm, it’s the results that matter ultimately. And… we think mixing the old and the new provides both the “experience” and closeness men want.  We’ve done more than 27,000 of this type shaves in our shop and could count the complaints on one hand. It would take hundreds of other hands to count the compliments.”


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

21 thoughts on “How Safe Is Your Face? Part 5: The Loyal Opposition!”

  1. I had a shave at the Grooming Lounge in DC and this was 6 or so years ago now I think. I was shaved with a straight razor on the with the grain pass and against the grain pass was done with a Mach 3. I have to say out of the 6 barber shaves I have had GL was easily #2. The only shave that beat it was when Perry Gastis gave me a shave in Vegas at Truefitt and Hill…that was with a straight the whole time. That shave was a tad closer but not very much closer than the GL shave. Perry is exceptional without question. I should note that the shave was closer but I did have a couple of nicks and I had no nicks with the GL shave. I see all sides but one thing needs to be said and that is we should ALL applaud the Grooming Lounge for their concept and vision. I received great service their in a comfy environment. Enjoyed a magazine and a libation as well. I really like their concept. Their products are very nice as well and I think we can all agree they have a fantastic website.

  2. Thee author is clearly biased toward certain beard and skin types. Many of us have curly and/or thin hair follicles and larger pores that tend to result in ingrown hairs. I think there’s enough anecdotal evidence now to conclude that single blade razors and shaving techniques result in far superior results for many of us suffering from ingrown hairs. Five years on, and I haven’t had one ingrown hair after switching from a multi-blade cartridge razor to a DE razor

  3. Certainly understand all comments pro, anti and other as far as multi-blade versus straight edge goes. That said, important to state that from our perspective, it “is all about the results.” We certainly have numerous Master Barbers on staff who are licensed to use a cut-throat razors if that was our system. But, we decided early on the combo of the tradition (towels, lather, shave oil, cold towel) and the the technology (triple blade attached to a custom-made Grooming Lounge handle) was the best option. Cheers to those who go straight edge, double edge or five blade — as long as the experience and results are there at the end. Do what works for you and your guests.

    1. As I stated in my initial reply, I respect your opinion in this matter. However, I simply cannot agree with it. Can someone please tell me why we would ever need three (3) separate blades in the one razor? What’s wrong with the first two?!
      I have already explained the “science” of it – it was a simple marketing ploy of P&G who wanted to cash in on mens general ignorance when it comes to shaving. To shave with any more than one (1) sharp blade, whether you are a professional barber or not, is unnecessary and, in many cases, leads to shaving problems.
      As a fellow professional and with all due respect, I find it sad that you have in your employ “Master Barbers” who are even willing to go along with your company’s policy of using cartridge blades on paying customers. I know I would find it grossly demeaning to the professional ethics and standards of our time-served traditional values.

  4. A lot of great comments I found here…
    I definitely agree with VB UK, CP, Craig the Barber on the subject.
    I am a barber myself. I strongly believe that any self-respecting barber should posses the skill of using straight razor, and only such service we can name as Traditional ‘’Barbershop shave’’.
    Shave with multi-blade cartridge razor my customers can easily do at home. Of course preparation is a key here and the finished product might be similar, but customers expect the barber to use a straight razor.
    Problem we experience nowadays is luck of education how to perform a traditional shave. There are simply not many barbers left who has the knowledge and skills to use straight razor.
    Today, due to hygiene awareness, straight razor-like tool with replaceable blades can also be used; I would never offer a shave with a multi-bladed cartridge at my shop. Customers come to us to experience a traditional shave and this should be done with a straight (or straight razor with replaceable blades), by a professional barber who cherish this tool.
    We, barbers, definitely should keep this tradition alive!

  5. I would argue, that once learned, ALL razors are a “1 fits all” system. You see it on the forums…”DE’s will work for you if you have (insert type) beard or skin!”. It seems that it doesn’t matter what your face is like. A DE or straight will work for you…ONCE you learn how to use it. This is the gospel preached to EVERYONE.
    And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Learning how to use the razor. If you are getting ingrowns and razor burn with DE’s or straights then you “need to develop technique”. But if you are getting ingrowns with carts, then they are labeled as junk. Why is that? Why can’t it be that you just have to develop your “technique” with a cart?
    I can get irritation and ingrowns with a cart or DE if I want. I know exactly how to do it. I can also get a close comfortable shave at will just by changing my technique with both. I see guys using carts at the gym all the time and no wonder some people complain about their shave…they don’t know how to properly do it. It isn’t the cart’s fault. Therefore, if properly used by a barber, I don’t see what is so terrible about shaving a customer with a Mach 3, especially when there is a disclaimer and a great end result.
    Anyways, most barbershops use shavettes. Which are an illusion of tradition.

    1. I think its safe to say that the only thing a DE razor has in common with a Mach 3 (i.e. cartridge razor) is that they both are used to wet-shave. A DE razor provides the freedom to shave your beard as closely as you want because it is a single blade, which creates a more customized shave that is similar to a straight razor. As for the multiple blade system, like a Mach 3, it has a lift/cut system that promotes a very close shave with a simple pass. This is achieved by the blade lifting and then cutting the hair so short that it falls “below the skin-line.” Men who struggle with ingrown hairs typically have wavy to curly beards that grow out of the skin anywhere from 0-40 degrees (straight hair grows @ 90 degrees), therefore using a system that dictates the closeness by cutting the hair below the skin-line will always create more opportunities for the hair to have difficulty growing out, resulting in ingrown hairs. With a DE razor it’s much easier to achieve a close shave while also keeping the hair “above the skin-line,” thereby reducing those chances. To be quite honest, there is much more technique associated with a DE than that of a Mach 3, proven in part by the overwhelming viewership of Mantic59’s videos.
      As I mentioned before, multiple blade razors work for many men and women… heck, I even have one in my gym bag for times when I’m in a hurry. But, unless a barber only services a specific hair-type, a Mach 3 (i.e. cartridge razor) should not be the primary instrument.
      BUT the point of this thread is the true barber shave experience, not DE vs. cartridge. So I believe I’ve said my peace.

  6. First off, let me say that I thoroughly enjoy any conversation that surrounds the practice of barbering. It keeps our profession relevant and that’s a good thing. As for the many comments surrounding the use of a straight-razor or cartridge razor, I have to say that I am very disappointed that there is a such a polarizing division in the practice of offering a “true” barber shave.
    I think that the supporters of the straight-razor shave not only enjoy this method of shaving, but the barbers (such as myself) are also very passionate about holding true to long-standing traditions. As many of us know, the #1 difference between a barber and a cosmetologist is the ability to wield a straight-razor. With that being said, only a licensed barber can learn, practice and master this craft.
    Unfortunately, for barbershop owners, that last sentence can make or break their entire business. Simply because there are not enough barbers that practice the straight razor shave enough to not only be proficient, but to also fill the need of “chain barbershops” (for lack of a better term). So in order to fill the need, it’s much easier for shop owners to hire barbers or cosmetologists to use an unlicensed instrument like a Mach 3/cartridge razor and offer the “barber shave experience.” Not to mention, a cartridge razor is much easier to use in the case of an unsteady or “shaky” hand, caused by nerves or perhaps old age. So if you look at this from their point of view, the passion for keeping the straight-razor tradition of barbering alive may not necessarily appeal to them. And I say this because I once worked in a barbershop that used the Mach 3/cartridge razor system for several years and I saw this first hand.
    The reason a straight-razor shave is recognized as an art-form is because it takes many years for a barber to confidently recognize every man’s skin and beard, and then master the ability to tailor the shave. Because of this, achieving a close and comfortable shave will always be different for each customer that sits in the chair. The phrase “closest most comfortable shave” simply cannot be achieved by using a razor blade system that is designed around taking the beard off through a 1-razor-fits-all system. Of course a cartridge razor works for many, that is why they sell. And to be quite honest they give many men and even women great shaves. But in my opinion this type of instrument should not be in the hands of a barber offering a service called a “barber shave” and for that matter anyone calling it such.
    The sometimes common results of a 1-razor-fits-all system is irritation in the forms of burning, itching, redness, and the worse one: ingrown hairs. This has become big business for many companies selling razor burn and ingrown hair treatment products. However, with the right education on how to properly shave, irritation is a non-issue. And that education has and will always will be the responsibility of the barber. So barbers, let’s try to keep our traditions alive because no one else will.
    Thank you.

  7. “Another reason for not using multi-blade cartridges is that they can actually greatly increase the chances of ingrown hair.” Yes, Village Barber is right on here.
    “But for the most part my personal grooming is personal.” Good point, Dr. K. You also make a good point about the cost of a barbershop shave and what one could buy with that money instead.
    “I think we ‘wet shavers’ tend to get a bit snobby on the whole subject and forget that it is the results that really count.” Midwest Blade, remember that ingrowns are usually the result of multi-blade cartridges. Pay attention to what Andrew says below you: “The whole reason I got in to traditional wet shaving was because multi-blade razors gave me irritation.” Ever have that terrible neck itch on the second day after shaving with a cartridge razor?

    1. Jan’s, I don’t believe that ingrowns or irritation from shaving are the sole domain of multi-blade cartridge razors. Having shaved with straights, SE, injectors, DE and cartridges I can honestly say that ingrowns and irritation can be had by all. I think that we must look to technique and facial skin care for part of the answer.
      With that understanding it is entirely up to the shaver as to what they choose to shave with to get their best results.

  8. I’ve had several Barbershop shaves. All a delightful experience. But the quality of the shaves has varied. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect otherwise.

    1. Quite right Fido, I think to a large extent we have romanticized the barbershop shave to something above and beyond what it really was even back in the old days. Nothing wrong with holding on to romantic notions of days gone by but when reality sets in we realize that the shaves back then may have had the same variability that we see today.
      When it comes down to it, most people probably back in the 1800’s probably never got to be shaved and groomed at T&H, most likely they shaved themselves or stopped by to see the neighborhood barber/surgeon once or twice a week.

  9. Why just get the “smell” of a real barbershop shave, when, if the barber uses a straight razor, you will get to “eat the steak”.
    True, the preparation and associated ritual of the shave is important, and I agree that the finished product, with the barber using a multi-bladed cartridge may well be acceptable. However, part of the TRADITION of getting a ‘barbershop shave’ is the barber using a straight. I believe that most men coming in for a ‘barbershop shave’ would, and should, expect the barber to use a straight razor.

  10. Reading the comments here (and on a reddit thread at it seems like the issue is largely one of expectations and tradition–customers expect a single-blade, hand-held razor wielded with skill and precision from an experienced barber. Grooming Lounge on the other hand is trying to give their customers the “flavor” of the classic barber shave experience (and say so up-front in their literature) but with using a modern razor to make the shave itself more consistent. A razor with a pivot is (probably) going to result in an acceptable shave even when used by a barber who may not have the experience level of a classically-trained straight razor professional.

    1. “A razor with a pivot is (probably) going to result in an acceptable shave even when used by a barber who may not have the experience level of a classically-trained straight razor professional.” Fine, but don’t claim to be ‘Master Barbers’ whilst offering such a “service” – It only serves to cheapen my profession!

  11. …the whole reason I got in to traditional wet shaving was because multi-blade razors gave me irritation. If I am paying money for a shave, the last thing I would expect would be any irritation whatsoever…

  12. I think we “wet shavers” tend to get a bit snobby on the whole subject and forget that it is the results that really count. Whether those results come from a straight razor or a multi blade cartridge as long as they are acceptable to the person everything else is a non starter.
    I for one believe that a good shave can be had from a variety of blades and razors and have become most “un hung up” on that belief.
    What does count is the preparation one uses when shaving and the care one uses in looking after their face. From this perspective these fellows seem to be practicing what they preach.

  13. As VB_UK stated… if I ever went to a professional barber and they pulled out a multi-blade cartridge razor, I would run for the hills in a hurry. To me, it’s the equivalent to looking into a professional chefs kitchen and seeing a microwave (fyi, I don’t own a microwave).
    VB_UK and Craig also make another excellent point…. many times the closest possible shave is not the more desirable. For a lot of men I know, a super close shave means irritation, in-growns and bumps later on. I can get a very nice shave with 2 WTG passes, using a well designed (1 bladed) razor.

  14. Whilst I respect the opinion of the author here, I simply disagree with him in some of his concepts when it comes to shaving.
    For instance, to state that the triple-blade method of shaving ‘simply provides the closest and most irritation-free shave possible’ is, in my opinion, way off the mark and indeed, shows a lack of understanding of the actual ‘mechanics’ of shaving.
    The simple truth when it comes to shaving is that you are scraping a sharpened piece of metal across your skin – you are going to cause damage. The key to a good shaving regime is to minimise the damage and then importantly, quickly repair any damage caused.
    Taking that analogy to its natural conclusion, if scraping a single blade over your skin causes damage, what will scraping three (3) blades do?!
    Another reason for not using multi-blade cartridges is that they can actually greatly increase the chances of ingrown hair. When the first ‘twin-blade’ came onto the market, the “science” behind it was that the first blade wasn’t necessarily sharp, it simply pulled the individual hairs further out of their follicles, the second, sharper blade then cut the hair. Yes, a closer shave I hear some say. However, the hair has been cut that short that its tip is now embedded UNDER the dermas (skin) – a classic ingrown-hair!
    As Craigthebarber quite rightly is always at pains to preach – leave “baby-butt” smooth skin to babies butts! As professionals, surely our remit is to educate guys in correct shaving techniques, not pander to the mass marketing, as well as hugely misleading when it comes to proper shaving techniqes, juggernaught that is P & G and others!
    Please don’t think that there is any more “technology” involved with these multi-blade cartridges – they utilise the same tinsel steel as their single razor-blade counterparts. Indeed, in many cases, single razor blades designed for DE’s and ‘straights’ are produced to higher standards. Cartridge blades are simply angled at the correct 30 degrees and packaged in such a way that they would not look out of place on a Star Treck movie! It’s more about ‘boys and their toys’ than good shaving.
    In conclusion then, whilst the rest of the author’s regime appears to be in keeping with good shaving technique, I have to say that I would still be mightily disappointed, and indeed feel cheated, if I was to arrange for a “professional barbershop shave” only to be confronted by a ‘barber’ wielding a plastic, multi-blade cartridge razor which I could easily use on myself at home!

  15. I’d be interested in hearing from those who have had barber shaves performed, even really good ones, whether a barber shave (with any razor) is a service they think is worth the price. I’m not against it or anything. If there is a need or desire for this, and people can get paid to do it, more power to them. I used to do cartridge shaving and it was for the most part a pleasureless chore. But after a brief learning curve with DE shaving, I found that I can get irritation-free, ridiculously smooth shaves in the comfort of my own bathroom every day. I enjoy experiencing a variety of razors, blades, brushes, creams, soaps, and aftershave products. I have paid for and enjoyed occasional massages in the past. This is something that would be very difficult to do to yourself! I regularly pay for haircuts. If I could do that well myself I would. Sometimes I enjoy them, sometimes not, but it’s something I have to rely on someone else for.
    But for the most part my personal grooming is personal. As good as my shaves are at home, I find it hard to believe that any barber would know my face and my beard as well as I do. So the idea of paying $45 or $60 or whatever it costs for one shave doesn’t seem worth it to me. Not to mention the added inconvenience of getting dressed and ready, driving over there, etc., all the things you don’t have to do to shave in your bathroom.
    I realize it’s a luxury and a pampering, etc., but I wonder if I would be disappointed that the shave wouldn’t be any closer than what I routinely get at home. And unlike a massage, or a haircut (or even a manicure if that’s what you’re into!), which have effects that can last for weeks, within 24 hours of a barber shave, I still am going to need to shave again! To reiterate, I’m not against it, just stating a personal opinion. If it were given to me as a gift, it would be a good excuse to get one, and as I shave with a DE razor, the straight edge shave would be a novel experience for me that I hopefully would enjoy and remember. But to pay for it myself (I could get a new razor, some blades, and some rather decent creams or aftershaves for the price of that one shave), I just don’t see it being worth it. I know, I know, it’s a luxury, not an everyday thing. Still, would be curious to hear anyone’s thoughts. How much is too much? How often?

    1. Dr K, I’ve only had one barber shave at the Art of Shaving, so I don’t have much experience to draw from. I can say, however, that despite their use of a 5-bladed cartridge, the shave was MUCH more relaxing than any shave I’ve given myself, and I have had many incredibly relaxing shaves. Perhaps just letting someone else focus on my face allowed me to fully enjoy the process; I almost fell asleep in the chair versus only getting a little sleepy while shaving myself. Also, the shave was very close and comfortable even though I know my face far better than any barber. I believe that barbers are trained to be able to quickly and accurately learn the “terrain” of a man’s face, especially if they ask him things from his own esperience. I agree that a professional shave should be a once-in-a-while treat, but it is highly worth it in my opinion.

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