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Just What IS A “Safety Razor”?

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The term safety razor gets thrown around a lot and it seems like the meaning changes depending on the context of the conversation I’m in.  So just what is a safety razor?

What Is A Safety Razor? What The Reference Sources Say


“A safety razor is a shaving implement with a protective device positioned between the edge of the blade and the skin. The initial purpose of these protective devices was to reduce the level of skill needed for injury-free shaving, thereby reducing the reliance on professional barbers. The term was first used in a patent issued in 1880, for a razor in the basic contemporary configuration with a handle attached at right angles to a head in which a removable blade is placed (although this form predated the patent).

Plastic disposable razors and razors with replaceable blade attachments are in common use today. Razors commonly include one to five cutting edges.”

Merriam Webster:

a razor provided with a guard for the blade to prevent deep cuts in the skin


“Razors have evolved dramatically over the past century. From the first safety razor–a razor handle that houses a double-edge razor blade—to ProShield™ lubrication technology, Gillette® has been on the forefront of shaving innovation. See how Gillette innovation has produced better shaves for more than a century.”

“The modern blade razor consists of a specially designed blade mounted in a metal or plastic shell that is attached to a handle. This kind of razor can be designed as a refillable cartridge which can accept new blades or as a disposable unit which is intended to be thrown away after the blade becomes dull.”

Reference Today:

“A safety razor is a razor where the skin is protected from all but the very edge of the blade.”

United States Patent And Trademark Office:

“In 1901, Gillette formed the American Safety Razor Company (soon thereafter renamed for Gillette himself). For the first time, using his portrait and signature on the packaging (trademark registration #0056921), razor blades were sold in multiples, with the razor handle a one-time purchase. The Gillette Safety Razor Company has thrived for 100 years…”

So according to the references it seems to be generally agreed that a “safety razor” is any razor (double edge, single edge, cartridge) with a skin guard.

What Is A Safety Razor? What The Shave Nerds Say

But what do the enthusiasts and aficionados think?  I asked on social media and some of the shave forums.

The overwhelming response on social media was that a safety razor is the classic double edge (DE) razor:

A poll I ran on Facebook had over 80% respond that it meant a DE.

A similar poll I ran on Twitter had almost 90% respond that it meant a DE.

Some comments:

I tend to classify the modern, big box types as cartridge razors despite any “skin guard” type jargon. Straight, safety and cartridge.

Yeah to me it means double edge. When ever I hear the term I think of a Gillette Fatboy.”

“I’ve always associated it with DE, but I don’t use the term often.”

On the other hand the shave forums seem to be more split:

“Others may have different opinions, but my definition is just based in logic. Any razor that has some means of protection (safety) from the naked blade, regardless if it’s a DE, SE, or straight, is a safety razor.”

“I voted for the classic double edge razor, but I was limited by the poll choices. For me, the SE is a safety razor, but the cartridge is not.”

“Traditionally it would refer to any razor that has some sort of guard so you couldn’t accidentally or on purpose cut deep enough to slice an artery in the neck and kill somebody. These days it seems to still be the same though some people also think it means you not being able to cut yourself at all with a razor forget about how deep of a cut. Then you have those that confuse blade type with the concept of a blade guard and calling anything with a style of blade like DE an safety razor whether it has a guard or not even if it is only relatively unsafe i.e. you can’t cut deep enough to slice a major artery but can still cut yourself real good…”

“I am not sure of the history of the term and if implied a certain type/style of razor. Some usage today implies DE razor. If we ignore the marketing terminology, any razor designed for protection from shaving cuts could be called a “safer” razor. That could include the Lady Gillette.”

“Language and meaning change over time. Safety razor doesn’t have the same meaning it had 100 years ago.”


I said at the beginning of this post that the term “safety razor” seems to have different meanings to different people.  From this casual research it looks like it generally depends on the background of the person being asked.  From the reference sources a “man on the street” response seems to generally indicate any modern manual razor.

To the shave enthusiast the more predominant opinion is that it specifically means a double edge razor.

What does the term “safety razor” mean to you?  Leave a comment below.



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

7 thoughts on “Just What IS A “Safety Razor”?”

  1. For me, a safety razor is any razor with a guard, before plastic junk hit the scene. This would include DE, SE, injector, and other early models with stropable blades.

  2. How is a cartridge razor not a “safety razor”? It is the same concept as a DE or SE razor except that the protected blade is permanently fixed within the razor head. Instead of just opening the razor head to insert a new blade you just replace the entire head with a fixed blade inside. It doesn’t matter if the cartridge has one or two or five or a hundred blades. The sharp edge of the blade is still contained within a housing for “safety”. It’s like the difference between a ballpoint pen with a replaceable refill or one that is fixed and not replaceable. Why do we have SE blades at all? How is that any better or even different from a DE blade?
    Can’t we just move on to a more significant issue such as which is best: beef tallow, sheep tallow, donkey milk, water buffalo milk,duck fat, bear fat, lanolin or J&J Baby oil?

    1. I have to assume that you have never shaved with a Cobra or any of the other excellent SE razors currently available. No one who had could link them with cartridge razor shaving or state that they were no different to a DE blade. Just pick up a DE blade and an SE blade. Without even putting them in a razor the substantial differences are fairly obvious.

      Which is better is of course a matter of individual choice.

  3. Almost all of these definitions could imply an electric as well. They have a guard between the blade and the skin, too

    1. An electric shaver is not a razor. It is a shaver. It does not operate by a blade touching the skin. It has more than a guard. It has a barrier. That is why an electric never match either a cartridge or a single-edge.

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