Searching for the Perfect Shave

an essay by Saki

Last updated February 27, 2009




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Believe it or not, but my first memories of shaving were from middle school. I didn't think I was maturing faster than any of the other boys but the facial hair above my lip was dark and fairly coarse...I had my full-blooded Japanese background to thank (or curse) for that. I only shaved once a week back then but nonetheless, I was shaving.

I used my father's electric Norelco shaver. He had a few electric shavers but that is the one I remember best. Eventually, in high school, I had my own electric shaver. It did a fair job. I know some of those electric shavers ran over $100 but the one I had was probably around $30 or $40. I doubt that one costing 3 times as much would have done 3 times as good of a job though I could have been wrong.

The micro-thin electric shaving heads promised a shave as close as a blade or my money back. I still hadn't shaved with a blade back then so I had nothing to compare it to but I figured a blade must certainly shave closer than an electric shaver.

Shaving in the morning, I would press the electric shaving heads hard against my skin to get just a couple of microns closer but with no avail. I was in high school and I had a 5 o'clock shadow. Perhaps I was overly conscious about it but looking in the mirror, I saw what I saw.

Today, lots of kids would love to have a scruffy look...the boys, at least. But the new wave look of the 1980s was, for the most part, clean shaven. Of course there were exceptions like Don Johnson of Miami Vice and later George Michael went for the bad boy look but that was in the late 80s.

It was actually my first girlfriend who taught me to shave with a blade. Not that she cared what I used but my days as a civilian were numbered and I knew that in boot camp, we would shave every day with a blade. Better to learn sooner than later. I used a disposable double blade. I don't remember the brand but it was blue. That seems to be the color of choice for most double blade disposable razors. It wasn't difficult and the results were fantastic. After all these years, I now knew how my face was supposed to feel after a shave. Even 8 hours later, my face still looked freshly shaved.

On December 27, 1987, I joined the Marines. We were issued cheap, single blade disposable Bics. They were yellow. About 80 of us crammed into the common bathroom and shaved as quickly as we could while drill instructors yelled for us to move faster then clear out the head. All this on our first day which was also comprised of staying awake for 36 hours. Needless to say, we cut our faces numerous times. It was probably the worst shaving experience of my life. Still to this day, I avoid yellow razors.

Eventually, I had to opportunity to go back to using double blade disposables. I was still in boot camp but my life was now much better with these blue razors. Shaving wasn't exactly fun, but it was certainly much less painful.

By the time I graduated boot camp, I had about 6 years experience shaving with an electric and about 4 months of shaving with a blade. I knew single and double blade disposables. For shaving cream, we used Colgate shaving foam. Like most military issued gear in the 1980s, it was the cheapest the government could find and being E-1s, it was what we could afford. But I didn't know any better so at the time, it didn't matter.

When the Persian Gulf War broke out and we were told to deploy, the government told us not to take shaving cream in pressurized cans because our gear would be transported in non-pressurized spaces on airplanes. What else was there besides pressurized cans? The alternative was shaving cream in a tube. One could easily mistake it as toothpaste and I'm sure that happened a few times to one too many inebriated Marines. I bought the stuff and packed some razors to take with me but I don't remember using any. Resupply during wartime can be rough. You can't always count on getting razors and shaving cream so instead, I bought a cheap, battery powered electric shaver. It was small and ran on two AA batteries. It lasted throughout the war but not much longer. Now I know what you're thinking. While I didn't need to get resupplied with razors or shaving cream, I needed to get resupplied with AA batteries. But AA batteries were something we always had. We used them for our flashlights, Sony Walkmans, handheld video games, etc. We all wrote to our loved ones and asked for LOTS of AA batteries. If I ran out, a member of my squad would share his with me and vice versa. When it came to AA batteries, we took care of each other. Hence, I took a break from shaving with a blade for awhile. I never got the close shave I once sought but the desert environment did wonders for my skin. My oily, acne-prone skin cleared up quite nicely in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

My squad leader, Sergeant Mike B., told us about using a shaving brush to apply shaving cream. He said it would lift the whiskers and ensure a closer shave than without. I found it hard to believe it was possible to get a closer and better shave than using a disposable double blade razor with Colgate shaving foam. How naive was I.

Eight years later, I was still shaving with disposable double blade razors though I think my taste in shaving cream improved. Then sometime around 1999, I received a free promotional offer in the mail for a Mach 3 razor. How could 3 blades be better than 2? How could they improve on perfection? I was skeptical but since it was free, I decided to give it a go. That moment changed my life. Ever since then, I've shaved with Mach 3 blades. I still buy disposable double blade razors (blue) but only to touch-up my sideburns. The Mach 3s don't do that well. With the Gillette Mach 3 head and shoulders above the competition, I decided to also try out their shaving cream. I bought the Gillette Series Gel and the Gillette Series After Shave. They work well but more importantly, chicks dig it. It has a subtle, clean smell that isn't overpowering like Brut or some of the other colognes I've tried. So thanks to Gillette, I have a great razor, a great shaving cream, and a scent that chicks dig.

For awhile, I had a hard time finding Mach 3 blades. I don't like to shop so when it comes to something like razor blades (which don't expire), I buy lots, especially when they are hard to find. One day at Wal Mart, I bought enough to last me 2 years. Two years later, I was shopping at Costco. I didn't see the standard Mach 3 blades but I did se the Mach 3 Turbo blades. It looked like they would fit in my non-disposable Mach 3 handle so I bought some. I took them home and gave it a try. Oh my God! They've improved on perfection. The original Mach 3 blades shave incredibly close but the Turbo blades cut through my 200 micron thick beard hairs like a hot knife through butter! It hardly tugged at my skin. Once again, another shaving breakthrough.

As I write this, I wonder what the future holds for me and shaving. I've heard Schick makes a 4 blade razor called the Quattro. There is even a titanium coated Quattro. I don't know how titanium would improve shaving but it seems to be the "in" thing. Just use the word "titanium" and charge a little more. Some companies like Old Spice make a 5 blade razor. When did Old Spice start making razors? I have my doubts as to whether or not they are actually better or just cost more. But if 2 blades are better than one and 3 blades are better than 2, then shouldn't 4 be better than 3, and 5 better than 4? The iterative law of monotonically increasing blade cardinality.

Or, perhaps one blade really is best...if it is the right blade in the right hands. Remembering what Sergeant Mike said about applying shaving cream with a brush made me think about how the professionals shave. I'm talking about the old fashioned barbers. I've never had a shave from a barber but it is something I'd like to do before I die. They apply hot towels to the face to soften the beard, apply shaving cream with a brush to lift the beard hairs, then shave with a straight razor, sharpened on a leather strop. They don't use multi-blade razors, they use a single blade, honed to...well...razor sharpness. The old time barbers have been doing it for years. If the multi-blade razors and the expensive electric shavers are so good, then why are barbers still making money from shaving customers?

Or maybe the barbers really don't shave any better than us amateurs with a Mach 3 Turbo. Perhaps their regular customers get a professional shave because they like the atmosphere and culture of the barber shop. Or maybe they just like to be pampered. Sometimes we all like a little pampering. But until I give it a try, I'll never know what a professional shave is like. Perhaps I really don't want to know. After all, we all need something for which to strive. I'm perfectly happy with my Mach 3 Turbo. Maybe in 8 years, I'll try the Quattro and in 8 more years I'll try the 5 blade razor (notice how it doesn't have a catchy name yet...clearly a marketing flaw). In 24 years, there might be a Gillette Octo 8 blade razor! More likely than not, someday I'll walk into a barber shop and experience a professional shave. Surely, that would be the ultimate shaving experience!