Q: After reading your advice to Derek the other week about his overactive armpits, I got over any embarrassment over my particular quandary and thought I’d drop a line. So here it is: I’m mighty hairy. I’m also mighty handsome (or so I’ve been told) and I like to generally keep a clean-shaven look. I have no problem with a bit of stubble but if I let myself go without shaving for more than two days I turn all Chewbacca… some guys can pull off the Harry and the Hendersons look but not me. For years, I’ve been using razors with disposable cartridge blades but lately I feel like between the fancy shaving creams and those expensive refills (I go through a cartridge a week), I’m spending a pretty penny and generating quite a bit of waste. Dry shaving with an electric razor seems like the more eco and economically sensible choice. Any thoughts on which would be best shaving tool for a hirsute guy like myself, my wallet and for the planet?
Trying not to go against the green grain,
-- Chet, Austin, Texas
A: Before I start in, I’m going to assume we’re just talking about shaving your handsome face since eco-friendly body hair maintenance is a whole other ballgame with some harrowing personal anecdotes (I used to swim competitively) to go along with it.
Let’s start off by addressing the high waste factor that comes along with using disposable razors. The EPA estimates that over 2 billon disposable plastic razors are landfilled in America each year. You’re on the right track by using the reusable blade cartridges instead of the throwaway handle/blade combos but it’s still not a zero-waste solution. It also, as you mentioned, gets quite expensive (I’ve always considered the price of blade cartridges to be highway robbery) with average American shavers spending around $100 annually on cartridges alone. Add on the price of handles and shave creams and gels and it’s obvious that maintaining that non-Chewbacca look is a pricey endeavor.
Using an electric razor is a less wasteful and inexpensive option once you invest in one. You’ll also be dry shaving instead of wet shaving so you’ll cut out the need for creams and gels and the hot water usage inherent in using a traditional disposable blade. The one caveat is that electric razors require, yep, an electric charge, but the amount of juice that they consume is low so don’t expect your utility bills to spike if you start using one.
But here’s the thing: Some shavers, this columnist included, can’t stand using electric razors. Personally, I like buying shaving accoutrement like creams and aftershaves and find that the shave resulting from an electric razor just isn’t close enough. I’ve dabbled with both wet and dry shaving and I always go back to the wet.
If you want to keep up your wet shaving rituals, here’s a sharp idea: Use a straight razor. I’ve never used one myself (I have a shaky hand) but for menfolk that want to curb waste and save cash while enjoying an old-fashioned, barber shop-esque shave it’s a fine eco-alternative. Instead of spending your hard earned green on disposables cartridges, you’ll just need a single straight razor and a razor sharpener so that you can use it again and again. Just make sure to mind your hot water use.
When using straight razors, you’ll continue to need shave creams. If you haven’t already, keep an eye out for natural varieties … products that aren’t packaged in aerosol cans and chock full of synthetic chemicals and fragrances that could possibly irritate your skin. I recommend Whipped Cream from Billy Jealously. It’s an old school, lathering shave cream that’s paraben-free and eschews synthetics for face-friendly natural ingredients like lavender oil and licorice root extract. Or, try out Herban Cowboy’s line of organic shaving lotions and potions.
So Chet, if you’re up for it, I say give a straight razor (in combination with a natural shaving cream) a spin. But please, take it nice and slow at first -- read up on how exactly to use one --since they require skill and a steady hand unless you feel like redirecting the money saved from buying disposable cartridges toward ER bills. Plus, shaving with an unprotected razor is a brag-worthy talent that’s a bit dangerous so if you’re looking to add a touch of macho to your grooming rituals, it’s the way to go. Happy shaving!