Going out on an edge


At some point in every shaving man’s life, the moment comes when he looks himself in the mirror and asks: “How many blades are enough?”

From the time a caveman first laid a piece of chipped flint against his face until Gillette introduced the first two-blade safety razor (the Trac II) in 1971, a single blade was all that was necessary.

After the debut of the twin blade, there were tweaks along the way -- pivoting heads, retractable blades, “microfins” that were supposed to raise up the facial hairs for a closer shave -- but it remained a tranquil time for tonsorial technology. Then, just five years after Gillette added a third blade in 1998 (the Mach3), Schick got into the safety razor arms race by introducing the four-blade Quattro -- which Gillette countered with the five-blade Fusion in 2005.


Some men -- including me -- are perfectly content to continue using the same number of blades they’ve used for decades, switching only when forced. After 27 years of stubbornly sticking with the two blades I’ve used since I began shaving, my moment of truth came in June, in a Parisian pharmacy on Rue Du Bac after arriving in Paris for the men’s runway shows and realizing the cartridges for my Gillette Sensor Excel had remained next to a sink in Milan.

According to the pharmacist, France had long since moved on from such outdated technology, so my choices were either to use a Bic disposable razor or, finally, to homme up and add a third, fourth or even fifth blade. I baby-stepped up one blade to the Mach3, with a head so wide the razor looked like an upright vacuum cleaner. When I finally had the courage to put it to my cheek, it felt like I was pushing a dinner plate across my face.The biggest difference is the added width from the third blade, which makes precision cornering (at the edges of the mouth and under the nose) more difficult.

In addition to the inertia of habit, I’ll confess price perception was another reason I’d resisted experimenting with “upblading.” But recent comparison shopping found an average 60-cent-per-cartridge price difference between Gillette’s two- and three-blade cartridges. Assuming a daily shave and a blade replacement every other week, that works out to an additional $15.60 a year. (And the closer shave afforded by that third blade meant I could occasionally skip my morning ritual without looking like a hobo.)

But habits die hard. The Mach3 remains in my Dopp kit, awaiting my next trip to Paris, while I’ve returned to the familiar two-blade.

According to statistics published in Chain Drug Review earlier this year, I’m in the minority: In 2008 the U.S. shelled out more than $97.1 million for Gillette’s assorted three-blade cartridges, followed by $80.7 million in five-blade Fusions. The Sensor Excel? Just $13.4 million worth -- outselling the women’s Gillette Venus by little more than a whisker.