Close shave: are more blades really better?
Are five-bladed razors really at the cutting edge or a thinly disguised effort by manufacturers to keep us trapped in the upgrade cycle?
High-tech gadgets rely on faster chips and innovative apps to edge out competitors and find new markets but how do you stay current in the shaving game? Add another blade, of course.
But with five-bladed razors now a shaving aisle fixture, it's the question on every man's upper-lip: do all these blades really stack up?
Aftercare for skin
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The five-bladed razor maker Gillette said its research had demonstrated that single-blade razors were "demonstrably inferior" to twin-blade ones and even more inferior to five-blade razors such as its Fusion ProGlide.
According to skin and grooming experts, though, it depends on what you want in a razor. Multiple blades really can make their mark, for instance, when it comes to the close shave.
The first blade is blunt, which pulls the hair forward and upward, leaving the following blades to slice the further and further down the follicle until the hair lies beneath the surface, manufacturers say, leaving your face smoother for longer.
But multiple blades can't fix every shaving problem and they may even compound some, grooming experts say.
For instance, people prone to ingrown hairs and razor bumps may find the multi-blade razor aggravates the problem by slicing hairs too short.
Five blades are also less nimble around sharp corners, increasing the chance of nicks and cuts.
And men with sensitive skin may find the additional friction of multiple blades causes razor rash.
When it comes to preventing these common shaving hazards, though, don't turf your slick, new razor just yet. More often that not, the solution is more about technique, says Will Fennell, a Sydney grooming expert.
"Three, four, five blades, vibrating, glide strips, contoured handles, smart microchips . . . All of these developments have made shaving smoother and easier but nothing beats taking your time," he says.
Here are more tips to avoid common problems:
Blades tend to scrape off skin as well as hair, which can cause irritation. The more blades, the more potential for scraping.
You don't necessarily need to ditch your multi-blade — just use fewer strokes, Fennell says.
"A five-blade razor is going to cut through the facial hair easier, meaning you shouldn't have to go over an area again and again – if you have the right technique . . ."
Also, always shave hair in the direction that it grows. Don't apply too much pressure. Use sharp blades that glide over your skin. And rinse your blade after every stroke.
Use warm water to soften the hair and in turn reduce the force required. Gillette says soaking in warm water softens hair and causes it to expand, making it 70 per cent easier to cut.
Face products can also help ease the burn. For a pre-shave clean, skip the soap and instead go for a stubble-softening face wash or exfoliating scrub.
Switch from a cheap shaving foam to a good quality cream or gel – or use both – Fennell says.
"Both shaving oil and shaving creams will work well on their own but to get the closest shave without any irritation you should use the two of them together. Put the gel on first to protect the skin and help with the glide of the razor and then lather on the shaving cream, which will help to soften the hair."
Lastly apply an aftershave balm or moisturiser – but not an old-fashioned, alcohol-based aftershave – to keep your skin moist and soften the hair to make your next shave even easier.
Those irritating little razor bumps are caused by ingrown hairs, which occur when the hair grows through the follicle wall and into the surrounding skin or when curly hair grows back in on itself.
Shaving too close and going against the grain – which gives your hair follicle a sharp tip – are among the worst culprits.
The most vulnerable areas are those with hairs that grow at an angle – like the neck.
Daily shaving can help the problem but if you really suffer, it may be worth growing some designer stubble. You can use an electric razor to keep hair a millimetre or two in length.
Skip skin products like old-fashioned aftershave that contain fragrance or alcohol as these dry the skin. Dry pores can seal your skin and trap hairs.
Products that exfoliate and moisturise can help, says Dr Natasha Cook, a Sydney dermatologist.
"I recommend active-ingredient exfoliators, not beads and scrubs, which again damage and irritate. The type of ingredients I am talking about are the alpha and beta hydroxy acids. These can be found in many skin products such as serums and moisturisers," Cook says.
Nicks and cuts
Don't apply too much pressure when shaving as this creates a hill of skin in front of the razor that is easily cut. Go lightly, especially when using a sharp new blade.
Cuts can also result from a blunt razor as you tend to apply more pressure. If it doesn't glide easily, change it.
You may find five-bladed razors don't handle as well around corners as those with fewer blades.
To compensate, razor makers like Gillette have added skin guards to help flatten the skin. They also have special trimming blades to help with tricky areas.
However, Fennell finds he can get a better line from most three-bladed razors than he can from single trimming blades like Gillette's.
Gillette suggests leaving tricky areas like the upper lip until last and applying plenty of shave gel or cream.