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Safety Razor Aggressiveness

Safety Razor Aggressiveness

It is difficult to describe the way a razor feels when it glides across the skin, but both the feeling and performance are classified by safety razor aggressiveness. There are several factors that affect how aggressive a safety razor is and how it performs. The size of the blade gap, the amount of blade that is exposed, and the cutting angle dictated by the design of the safety razor affect the way it shaves. This article simplifies cutting head designs to quantify safety razor aggressiveness.

Mild Safety Razor

A mild safety razor has a cutting head that is designed to limit the amount of force that is transferred to the blade’s edge. Usually this includes a smaller blade gap that exposes a small amount of the double-edge blade.  In addition, the design of the safety bar is a wider angle to allow the blade to cut beard growth without making significant contact with the surface of the skin.

Many men find these razors very comfortable and less likely to cause irritation or nicks during shaving.  Mild razors are preferable for many men with very sensitive skin or men with lighter texture beard hair that can easily fit through the small blade gap. Men with thicker beard stubble may dislike a mild razor because they know when they can’t feel the blade against their skin that the razor is not cutting enough hair and they may have to go over the same spots many times in order to get a clean shave. In addition, thicker beard growth may clog the small blade gap and take longer to shave.

Good examples of a mild safety razors is the Feather All Stainless.  This razor is designed to be very gentle on the skin and provide mild shaves.

 Medium Aggressive Razor

Medium aggressive safety razors have an average blade gap and expose a reasonable amount of blade edge.  A medium aggressive razor provides the shaver a good balance between mild and aggressive, allowing the razor to cut efficiently without causing excessive irritation or increased probability of cuts and nicks.  Medium aggressive regulars typically utilize a standard safety bar design that allows the blade to cut the beard hair cleanly while disallowing the cutting edge to make more contact with the surface of the skin than necessary.

Many of the most popular razors on the market today fall into this category because most wet shavers benefit from a good quality medium aggressive safety razor.  Beginners should start with a medium aggressive razor to become accustomed to using a safety razor and shaving at the proper angle. By starting here, a beginner will get an idea of what works best for his skin type and then can experiment with other razors to tailor the results.

Examples include the Parker 99R and Old World Razor "Shadow". These are excellent razors that cut well enough for tough beards without being overly harsh on the skin. 

Aggressive Safety Razor

An aggressive razor is one that has a larger gap and more blade exposure, which allows more hair to enter between the razor’s edge and the safety bar, so it cuts through the beard quickly and with fewer strokes.  Because more blade is exposed, these razors are harsher on the skin and can have a distinctive scratchy feeling, particularly during finishing passes when the length of stubble is very short and the blade makes closer contact with the skin.  These razors are usually favored by men with very thick beard stubble that have a difficult time getting a close shave without having to do a number of passes and touchups.  While aggressive razors do a great job of eliminating stubble quickly, some men can have issues with nicks and irritation on more sensitive areas of their faces, such as the lower neck. The increased gap and blade angle allows the cutting edge more contact to the surface of the skin during the shave. However, many men with sensitive skin get very good shaves from aggressive razors because they benefit from fewer passes across the skin.

An example is the Merkur Slant Bar, which is intentionally modified to have a more aggressive cutting action.  Open-comb razors are also considered to be more aggressive because the comb guard allows the blade to make closer contact with the skin when cutting.

Final Thoughts

Although a razor may technically fall into the mild, medium, or aggressive classification, this still may not predict how the razor will perform for each individual.  The choice of blades is a key part of the shave and significantly affects the speed and comfort of the shave.  In addition, the technique of the shaver (i.e., holding the safety razor, cutting angle, and amount of pressure applied) can affect the aggressiveness as well.

Some men have found the perfect razor and blade combination that work for them every day. I have a variety of razors to choose from that range from the Occam's, which I hardly feel the blade, to the Merkur Slant, which cuts down weekend shagginess in one pass. To determine which razor I choose depends on how much beard growth I have and how my skin feels on any particular morning.  If I am shaving 24 hours’ growth and just need a mild and comfortable shave or if I am shaving off a few days’ worth of stubble determines which razor I may choose.  The design of the razor’s cutting head is just another choice for the wetshaver among the lineup of decisions: Soap or cream? Fragrance? Blade? Pre-shave? Aftershave? Straight or DE? Mild or aggressive? All of these choices affect the feeling and performance of your shave and combine to give you a unique experience each morning.

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MarcP - May 13, 2019

A very good description of the different kind of DE safety razors.

steveg - May 13, 2019

It would be nice if someone could compile a listing of available (and discontinued) safety razors with ‘blade gap’, ‘blade exposure’ and ‘blade angle’ measurements to help people choose razors fitting their needs. I know of one list, but it only features ‘blade gap’ attributes. Given the continual release of moderately innovative safety razors, it’s long out of date. (Perhaps numerous safety razor manufacturers have such lists, if only to help with future designs.) I’d mainly be very interested in finding other ‘Aggressive Safety Razor’ designs, like the super-aggressive iKon Tech, but something not as harsh. The Mühle R41 is a pussy cat compared to the iKon Tech.

Mickey Oberman - May 13, 2019

Thank you for a clearly explained and pictured description of what may often be quite confusing.

Francis - May 13, 2019

Thanks for this informative post. I wonder if anyone can say where a Hans Beier butterfly-style fits on the spectrum of aggressiveness. Or should I find out the hard way?

Steve Stewart - May 13, 2019

I used an old Parker razor and Feather Hi-Stainless blades for years and got a nice, comfortable shave. A few months ago, I switched to an Occam and Pro-Guard blades. WOW! Even with the #2 Guard the shave was closer, but still comfortable. I switched to the #3 guard and, in my opinion, now get a great, comfortable shave. I thought the Occam might be too aggressive for my skin, but for me, it’s perfect.

Riley J McIntire - May 13, 2019

It would be really nice to have some indication of aggressiveness for each razor. Both the Merkur — which I got years ago from you — and the recent Parker have been too aggressive for me.

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