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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 master barber and educator at the Honed 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 master 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 barbers and men who have been shaving with them for years. 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.
What we’re looking for
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.
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.
Razor head type
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
Handle length: 3-inches | Weight: 2.72 ounces | Head type: 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 — no wonder it’s also our best-in-class razor for men. Four of our experts specifically named the Merkur 34C 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 for at least six years.
Best (less expensive) safety razor
Handle length: 3.34-inches | Weight: 2.36 ounces | Head type: 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
Handle length: 3.79-inches | Weight: 3.92 ounces | Head type: 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
Handle length: 3.87-inches | Weight: 2.12 ounces | Head type: 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.
Best butterfly safety razor
Handle length: 3.8-inches | Weight: 4 ounces | Head type: Butterfly blade mechanism | Closed comb
Parker is one of the best known safety-razor manufacturers, and this butterfly razor, which comes with five blades, is one of its signature models. “It’s the Cadillac of safety razors,” says Ruscetta, who told us that it’s what he uses at home. At almost four ounces, it’s one of the heavier razors on this list.
Best (less-expensive) butterfly safety razor
Handle length: 4.3-inches | Weight: 2.61 ounces | Head type: Butterfly blade mechanism | Closed comb
Dylan Rasch, senior design director at Nike, drops this blade in his Dopp kit when traveling. At 4.3 inches, it has the longest handle of this list, and Raasch says that this, combined with its light weight, makes it incredibly easy to maneuver. At $17, it’s also the cheapest safety razor on the list, and it comes with five replacement blades. Back in 2017, contributor Allison Schmidt called out this razor for being gentle on her sensitive skin when shaving her legs. So if your skin usually becomes angry or bumpy after shaping your beard, this could be a great, inexpensive option.
Best lightweight butterfly safety razor
Handle length: 3.75-inches | Weight: 3.84 ounces | Head type: Butterfly blade mechanism | Closed comb
Heather Manto, former owner of Austin’s Independence Barber Co., believes that butterfly safety razors “give you that old-time, nostalgic shave experience.” She recommends this model from Vikings Blade, another very popular safety-razor company but one that’s perhaps less well known than the old standbys, Merkur and Parker. It has a long, 3.75-inch handle — about the same length as the Parker and Merkur 38C models shown above — but is 25 percent lighter than either of those two.
Best adjustable safety razor
Handle length: 2.99-inches | Weight: 3.17 ounces | Head type: Screw-off blade mechanism | Closed comb
As our experts have mentioned, the “aggressiveness” of the shave is something common among all safety razors, most of which are rigid in their design, meaning you’re generally stuck with whatever cutting angle is built into the razor and how it closes around a blade. While the rigid design of most safety razors simplifies how you use them, it also makes it impossible to experiment and find what type of shave works best without buying multiple razors. This is where adjustable safety razors come in handy, says Solomon. “Adjustable razors let you control (by twisting the base) how much of the blade protrudes beyond the head, so in essence you can control how aggressive the shave is.” He notes that there aren’t a ton of options out there when it comes to adjustable razors, but the Merkur Progress is thought to be one of the best. The dial at the bottom has five settings to choose from, and the razor also comes in two different lengths. This one has a 2.99-inch handle, but you can also purchase it with a longer 3.7-inch handle.
Best safety razor for sensitive skin
Handle length: 4-inches | Weight: 3.1 ounces | Head type: Screw-off blade mechanism | Closed comb
Bevel is one of a few companies taking the direct-to-consumer approach with safety razors. It has a whole line of products, including blades, pre-shave oils, shaving creams, and more. According to master barber Julien Howard at New York City’s Blind Barber (who also does pop-ups around the country under the moniker the Velo Barber), Bevel makes one of the best safety razors out there for anyone prone to ingrown hair or with skin that’s especially irritable. “It’s tailored to work with African American facial hair,” he says, noting that it’s designed to minimize ingrowns and irritation. It has one of the longer handles of the bunch, at four inches, and weighs just over three ounces.
Best open-comb safety razor
Handle length: 3.7-inches | Weight: 2.2 ounces | Head type: Screw-off blade mechanism | Open comb
While all of the safety razors we’ve listed thus far are closed comb, if you’re looking for an open-comb style — which some insist provide the closest shave possible — the Muhle R41 is widely regarded as one of the best available. Solomon cautions, however, that this razor is “known to be a very aggressive shave, so it’s best for experts who know what they’re doing.” Its 3.7-inch handle is consistent with the other long-handle razors on the list, and it’s on the lighter end, weighing in at just over two ounces.
Best giftable safety razor
Handle length: 3.25-inches | Weight: 2.4 ounces | Head type: Screw-off blade mechanism | Closed comb
If you (or someone you know) is attracted to what Miguez calls the “romance” of using a safety razor, you might consider splurging on this safety-razor set he recommends, which comes with a short-handle razor, a badger-hair shaving brush, and a stand (all three are chrome-plated). While you need to buy your own blades — any of the most popular style will work — Miguez assures that the razor’s quality is on par with that of the Edwin Jagger model he uses. Baxter of California’s shaving products, we should note, have also been previously recommended to us by discerning men on multiple occasions.
Some Strategist-approved aftershaves to try, too
• Monica Davis, professional hairstylist and the founder of the Hair Scream blog
• Mike Gilman, founder of Grooming Lounge • Julien Howard at New York City’s Blind Barber
• Paul Langevin, co-owner of the barbershop Mildred New York
• Heather Manto, former owner of Austin’s Independence Barber Co
• Mark Miguez, who works at Friend of a Barber
• David Notis, former Strategist writer
• Brian Porteous, owner of Heritage Barbershop
• Dylan Rasch, senior design director at Nike
• Brittany Raposo, master barber and educator at the Honed Barber
• Karac Ruleau, master barber
• Angelo Ruscetta, master barber at American Haircuts
• Allison Schmidt, Strategist contributor
• Peter Solomon, the owner of Boston’s Tweed Barbers
• Joey Tasca, barber at Brooklyn’s Matter of Instinct
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