A Close(r) Shave
I was about 14 when I started shaving. I believe my very first razor was a Gillette Mach3. Whether it was the first or the second, once I used it, I saw no reason to stray during the next 20 years, though at some point I started ordering what I called ‘Mach III Turbo’ blades. I’m sure something with roughly that name did exist, but the website only mentions the Mach3 today, so the details are lost to time.
A decade later, I was gifted a compact Dalvey shaving kit that I swore gave me a better shave. I’m skeptical now, since it used the same Mach3 blades as my regular razor, just attached to a much smarter-looking handle; however, that may have been the first time I ever contemplated the idea that my regular razor was anything less than perfect. Despite that, I continued using the Gillette.
Now, my skin is dry and sensitive at the best of times. Never having discussed shaving in detail with anyone, I assumed the constant added irritation was normal. The razor blade caused no small amount of burning, regardless of what I used it with. I always had to take extra care around the contours of my lips, but I still managed to give myself small nicks with annoying regularity—all the more frustrating because I could never remove that last little bit of hair on the edge. On top of that, my neck developed folliculitis within a few years of starting, resulting in a few occasionally bloody, perennially uncomfortable spots around the center.
It was only about three and a half years ago—in 2018—that a dermatologist informed me I’d been shaving incorrectly all my life: I shaved my neck in the single direction I thought I was supposed to, but the hair was visibly growing in four different directions! To put it another way, it was almost 18 years before I understood the simple principle of matching the blade to what I saw. The misapprehension wasn’t helped by previous dermatologists having assured me that my approach was correct, but discovering the truth still made me feel like an idiot.
In any event, not fighting the grain was the first major step towards a better shave. The folliculitis naturally disappeared within a matter of months and the discomfort around my neck dissipated.
Those who lived through it will agree that 2020 was an abysmal year for many reasons.
One of the ways I adjusted to spending much more time at home than even I like was by not shaving very often, but I did shave—it only needs a couple of days to a week for the growing moustache or beard to start bothering me, and then out comes the razor. On one such occasion, I managed to cut myself quite badly next to my mouth. I’m used to nicks and scratches, but this was deeper than ever. It didn’t just smart, it hurt for days. I had to completely avoid the area for a not inconsiderable period.
As it happens, perhaps a month before that, I’d read about an interesting American company called Supply, a purveyor of something called a ‘single-edge razor’ and its accessories. Where Gillette and its competitors are in an unending race to stuff more and more blades into each razor, Supply belongs to an opposing school of thought: that multiple blades are inefficient, bad for the skin, and dangerous. Instead, it offers razors with a single edge, designed to be safe, smooth, and effective. I was intrigued by the concept at the time, but, wary of pandemic-related shipping delays, I felt I could wait.
This especially nasty cut, however, reminded me of Supply and better razors. I headed to the website once again and almost went through with it… but stopped, again. After all, there were still bound to be delays and issues with shipping. And it wasn’t as if I would cut myself badly again now that I’d done it once, after all. I just needed to be patient.
As I waited for ‘the right time’, though, I couldn’t help reflecting every day on how I was risking grievous harm with what I had nearly come to view as a dangerous weapon rather than a shaving implement. I dreamt of the new razor being delivered, and of the new razor delivering me (from peril). Then waited some more. Then repeated the process. I kept up this routine until the beginning of last year, when I could stand it no longer: I gave in, ordered the razor, and settled down to wait again.
My package arrived in the fullness of time. I unpacked it, admired the craftsmanship, read the instructions, and waited some more for the right moment to try it. It was only on the 3rd of March—a full month after I placed the order—that I finally used a Single Edge for the first time. And it was glorious.
I’d never had such a smooth shave. Sure, it still needed some care around the lips, because the contours of the human mouth simply aren’t designed to be shaved easily, but when it came to the rest of my face and neck, all I had to do was follow the guide’s advice:
The Single Edge uses a very sharp blade that is effective at mowing down the thickest beard out there. There's no need to press on the razor while using it. Think of shaving as sweeping or slicing the hair off your face - allow the weight of the razor to do the work for you!
Rest assured, this is an entirely factual description. Apart from the problematic areas I mentioned, the razor glides down my face. I just pull.
It isn’t a panacea, of course. It took time and experimentation to learn how to bring the blade to bear on the ‘crossroads’ at the center of my neck, which is a quick and trivial action now. I’ve also cut myself twice more since, in the same spot as before, though not as deeply. This is a consequence of the Single Edge providing such a close shave that any missed areas stand out while also making one forget about the blade. It’s all too easy to notice a spot which didn’t get a proper going-over and flick the razor across it only to belatedly recall its nature. To quote the guide once more:
Going even further, though, it's best to limit the amount of strokes you take on your bare skin to none — even for a closer cut. You definitely DO NOT want to take repetitive quick, hard strokes in the same spot to get a closer cut — our blades are extremely sharp and this would surely irritate your skin.
With that lesson learned, the Single Edge is a precise, eminently safe instrument and a pleasure to use. All it needs is unhurried patience to give me the shave of my life every single time.
I still use a Gillette razor when I travel for reasons of habit and convenience. On the first trip after adopting the Single Edge, I expected to find I’d magnified the difference in my head out of sheer novelty. I was very wrong. My Mach3 blades feel like sandpaper in comparison, and, worse, can neither safely remove the hair around my lips nor cut what hair they do reach quite as well. There’s no contest. The Single Edge is a marvel.
The third and most recent step in improving my experience had a much less dramatic genesis, but almost as much of an impact. You see, along with the Mach3, I’d also always been faithful to Gillette’s shaving gel (or once upon a time foam). Some time before I’d ever heard of Supply, I thought I’d try some alternatives.
The first was a shaving foam from Kama Ayurveda. It gave me a slightly smoother shave, but felt thin and unsatisfying. I moved on to a promising gel from L’Occitane, which I tried with the new razor and quite liked apart from its frustrating release mechanism. I thought I’d get another bottle of the same thing as soon as it finished, but it was out of stock by then. I made do with the Kama Ayurveda foam again for a while. It was just as insubstantial as before.
This constant nagging dissatisfaction led me at last to look again and discover Aveeno’s Therapeutic Shave Gel. The description sounded like just the thing for my skin. In short order, I bought it, I tried it, and I loved it. This gel is just wonderful: soft, soothing, comfortable, and easy to shave with. I never want to use anything else again. Granted, the fragrance is a bit peculiar, but that’s a small price to pay for how good my face and neck feel.
I won’t deny my shaving routine takes longer now. I move slowly, take great care over every area, and emerge with soft, smooth, unbroken, and unblemished skin. It seems worth the effort to me. I should note that, somewhere along the way, I switched to using Biotique’s Bio Grass after shave gel—I’ve tried many sprays and gels, and this is the best so far, but it doesn’t transport me. The perfect aftershave still waits somewhere out there.
Having at this point rambled about my experiences with shaving to the tune of nearly 1,700 words, I’d like to conclude by thanking a friend of mine who innocently joked that I should write a testimonial back when I raved about the Single Edge. Too late to regret it now.
- I don’t think I’ll ever be able to remember how many l’s and how many t’s there are in that name without looking it up.↩