Ask most men — whether they’re bearded or subtly stubbled — about what they use to shave, and they’ll likely all reply with some twist on the same basic tool: a cartridge razor with disposable blades, either from a drugstore brand like Gillette or Schick, or a newer, direct-to-consumer company like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club. But according to most of the professional barbers we spoke to, the best way to shave at home — and avoid the irritation commonly caused by cartridge razors — is actually with a safety razor, a tool that has stayed almost exactly the same since it debuted in 1903.
Unlike a cartridge razor, which can only use blades from the same brand, a safety razor features a single double-sided blade, and any company’s blades are compatible with it, explains Mike Gilman, founder of Grooming Lounge. “It gets closer, is less irritating, and is infinitely cheaper than cartridge counterparts,” he says, calling safety razors “the best long-term solution for a regular shaver.” A cartridge razor typically has three blades — the first will do most of the cutting and once it gets dull, it’ll start to pull hair up, says Brian Porteous, owner of Heritage Barbershop in Portland. “That’s what causes irritation and ingrown hair.” A safety razor’s single blade makes it safer on the skin. Up front, a safety razor seems pricier, but as Peter Solomon, the owner of Boston’s Tweed Barbers, tell us, the blades for safety razors “generally cost 10 to 20 cents each — while cartridges tend to go for at least $2 to $3 each — so the lifetime savings are significant.”
Since a safety razor’s blade isn’t locked in at a certain angle, as it is with a cartridge razor, it’s easier to nick yourself if you don’t slow down, according to Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa master barber Brittany Raposo. But almost all the barbers we spoke to assured us that once you get your technique down (which really shouldn’t take long and, as barber Karac Ruleau notes, can be practiced by putting some shaving cream on an inflated balloon), it’s unlikely you’ll want to use anything but a safety razor. To find the best safety razors — and get tips for how to use them — we spoke with 12 barbers. You can use our handy, clickable table of contents to skip to the type of safety razor that suits you best. Or read on for every recommendation, as well as some tricks of the trade.
Best overall | Best (less expensive) short-handle | Best long-handle | Best (less expensive) long-handle | Best butterfly | Best lightweight butterfly | Best adjustable | Best for sensitive skin | Best open-comb | Best giftable
What we’re looking for
Handle length: Though it might sound counterintuitive, the barbers we talked to say shorter handles are generally easier to grip and more maneuverable. Barber Mike Sposito compares it to using a baseball bat: “The shorter the handle, the tighter the grip and the greater your control.” But it also comes down to personal preference and what feels best in your hand, says Porteous, adding that people with larger hands might find longer handles easier to grip.
Weight: According to Monica Davis, a professional hairstylist and the founder of the MyStraightener blog, the weight of a safety razor should do all the work for you. Joey Tasca, a barber at Brooklyn’s Persons of Interest, says the heavier weight of a safety razor helps to remind you that you have something powerful in your hand, which makes you less likely to cut yourself. All safety razors weigh more than their disposable-cartridge razor counterparts, but there’s a good amount of variation within that grouping. Master barber Angelo Ruscetta of American Haircuts in Kennesaw, Georgia, favors heavier safety razors because, as he puts it, “you don’t have to force it” and you can get a close shave without applying much pressure. It may feel strange at first, especially to those used to drugstore razors, but once you get the hang of using a safety razor, you’ll probably like the weight too. To help you get a sense of the difference between each razor below, we’ve listed their weights in ounces in the details.
Screw-off vs. Butterfly: Most safety razors have a straightforward screw-off top for replacing the blade, but a few have what’s called a butterfly top. The butterfly razor’s head pops open and closed with a simple twist instead of a more lengthy and fiddly unscrewing and rescrewing. Several of our experts recommend “butterfly” safety razors as a great option due to their unique one-piece head that makes swapping in new blades quick and easy.
Closed comb vs. Open comb: In addition to the way a razor feels in your hand, Solomon says one of the most important qualities to consider is the “aggressiveness” of the shave, “which is largely determined by how much space exists between the blade and the safety bar of the razor.” Solomon and all the other experts say closed-comb razors are generally best for beginners because they offer a more protected shave, at least as far as safety razors are concerned. With open-comb razors, the blade is more exposed, which some say provides a closer shave, but will increase the risk of nicks and irritation. Solomon says that the open-comb design handles longer stubble better than a closed comb, so it might be a good option for people with thicker beards, or for those who shave less frequently. As he explains, “an open comb has ‘teeth’ along the head of the razor where the blades protrude, allowing longer stubble to pass through the teeth and reach the blade.”
Best overall safety razor
3-inch handle | 2.72 ounces | Screw-off blade mechanism | Closed comb
German razor company Merkur came up more than any other brand by far, praised for its long history, good price point, and reputation for quality manufacturing. Merkur makes a wide range of safety razors, but it’s perhaps best known for this three-inch, roughly three-ounce model that four of the experts specifically named as a great safety razor for beginners. Its handle is the shortest of any razor on this list, but Porteous says that’s part of what makes it such a good option for someone new to safety-razor shaving. Using it, Sposito adds, is super simple. “You unscrew the button, the top pops open, you pop the single blade in, and screw it down again.” Incidentally, it’s not just barbers who told us they favor this razor: Former Strategist writer David Notis has been using his Merkur 34C for at least six years.
Best (less expensive) short-handle safety razors
3.34-inch handle | 2.36 ounces | Screw-off blade mechanism | Closed comb
Two of our barbers praised British shaving company Edwin Jagger’s safety razors, specifically this one, which has the same mechanism as the Merkur 34C but at a more affordable price (the price includes five blades from Derby, a brand many barbers endorsed, which come with the razor). The two experts who recommend this safety razor each add that they’ve given it to other guys as a gift, underscoring their endorsement of it. Mark Miguez, who works at Friend of a Barber, explains how the razor’s weight, combined with its shorter handle, make it user-friendly. “The handle is light and small, but the head is heavy, which keeps me from taking a chance and cutting myself, while still giving me that control,” he says. Miguez actually switched to using this razor after his skin reacted badly to shaving with Gillette and Bic cartridge razors, and tells us he’s experienced no irritation since he started using it.
Best long-handle safety razor
3.79-inch handle | 3.92 ounces | Screw-off blade mechanism | Closed comb
While Porteous says the Merkur 34C is a great all-around razor and his go-to recommendation for beginners, he personally prefers the Merkur 38C, which has all the same features but a longer, 3.79-inch handle. (At roughly four ounces, it also weighs more.) Ruscetta agrees: “A lot of tall guys like longer handles,” he says. But like Porteous, Ruscetta also says choosing the right safety razor ultimately comes down to feel. (He also favors the 38C’s slightly longer handle and heavier weight.)
Best (less expensive) long-handle safety razor
3.87-inch handle | 2.12 ounces | Screw-off blade mechanism | Closed comb
The 23C is another classic Merkur model with plenty of fans. Recommended by Paul Langevin, a co-owner of the Lower East Side barbershop Mildred New York, it’s the longest and lightest razor of the bunch (at 3.87 inches and just over two ounces, respectively). That makes it a good choice for someone who wants to smoothly transition from the feel of a lighter cartridge razor to the world of safety razors.