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Best safety razor 2023: The top retro razors for the closest shave from £16

Double-edge safety razors aren’t just for Grandad: they’re cheap, effective and a joy to use

If you’re looking for a cheaper, more sustainable way to shave, you could do worse than look back in time. The humble double-edge safety razor, which you may have first seen on the bathroom shelf at your grandfather’s house, is making a comeback and there are a number of good reasons why.

Saving money is the first big attraction. Shaving with a cartridge blade system could cost you £50 a year in blades alone if you shave twice a week (when changing blades every eight shaves), and even more if you shave every day. The best safety razors, on the other hand, use double-edge blades, which cost much less than cartridges, and you never need to change your handle to accommodate a new system.

Saving a bundle of cash isn’t the only reason you should consider a safety razor, however. They’re also better for the environment. Unlike cartridge-based razor blades, which are difficult if not impossible to recycle, a safety razor’s blades are made only from stainless steel, come wrapped in paper and cardboard and can be recycled.

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Best safery razor: At a glance

How to choose the best safety razor for you

What is a safety razor?

A safety razor is distinct from cartridge razors like the Harry’s or the ubiquitous Gillette and Wilkinson Sword systems. Instead of four or five thin blades suspended in a small plastic housing, safety razors use double-edge blades: thin, flat pieces of stainless steel sharpened on each long edge, with a series of holes cut into the centre to allow them to be secured in the head of your razor.

Sold in small boxes of five, they’re typically coated with a material like platinum or chromium to keep the blade sharp, ensure they don’t corrode and to keep nicks and cuts to a minimum.

In a safety razor head, these blades are sandwiched between two plates, the bottom one putting pressure on the centre of the blade, gently bending it to create a cutting angle.

The blades are exposed on both sides of the head so if one blade gets clogged you can continue with the other side without having to rinse. The design also incorporates a solid metal bar that sits just in front of and below the blade edge to protect your face as you shave, preventing nicks and cuts. This “safety” bar is what gives the safety razor its name.

What types of safety razors are there?

All safety razors operate on the same general principles, but there are several different types available.

Most are of the closed-comb variety with a single, straight-edged safety bar set below, and just in front of the blade. These are best for those new to safety razor shaving and offer the most comfortable, safe shave.

Open-comb razors use teeth instead of a straight safety bar. These give a more aggressive shave and are best suited to those with thicker, denser stubble.

The teeth allow more of the shaving lather to stay on the skin, thus lubricating it more effectively, and they expose more of the blade to your skin, leading to a closer shave. Open comb razors are also less likely to become clogged but you need to be more careful with them as you’re more likely to nick yourself if you’re careless.

Other, less common types of safety razor include the adjustable safety razor (see image below), which allows you to tweak the angle of the blade and often also the gap between the safety bar and blade for a super-close, aggressive shave. These are ideal if you find a normal closed or open comb razor doesn’t do the job for you, allowing you to adjust the shave to your liking.

Finally, it’s also possible to purchase razors that mount the blade at a slight angle by twisting the blade within the head. These slant bar razors are great for anyone with extra-thick or dense stubble, and work by slicing diagonally across hair, giving less of a tugging sensation while shaving.

Which double-edge blade should you use?

One of the joys of safety razor shaving is that the blades are very cheap to buy. But what’s also great is that there’s a huge variety of blade manufacturers and types to choose from. Unlike cartridges, the fitting holes in each one are standard so you can chop and change blade types without having to throw away your razor handle and head.

Here’s a quick selection of the more popular and widely available blades, plus an idea of how much you can expect to pay for 100:

Bear in mind that each of these will have a slightly different sharpness and feel to it. My blade of choice is the Astra Superior Platinum because it gives a close shave, lasts a couple of weeks and isn’t too sharp, so I don’t need to worry too much about being precise with my technique.

If you want the very closest shave, on the other hand, you could choose the Japanese-made Feather blades, which are renowned for their sharpness. We find these a little too aggressive for our liking but your mileage may vary.

The important thing, though, is to experiment with smaller boxes of blades until you find something you’re comfortable shaving with, and only then buy in bulk.

How we test men’s safety razors

Evaluating safety razors is a fairly straight-forward process: a good razor needs to deliver a good shave without slicing the skin to ribbons. With traditional safety razors requiring more patience and a more precise technique, though, it’s essential to master the technique before diving in – something all men should do before wielding this particular kind of razor.

We test each razor on one day’s growth and again on two day’s growth to see how they tackle slightly longer stubble, and we prep skin using the same shave cream each time to ensure the type of lubrication was consistent.

When assessing safety razors, we pay attention to the materials used, the handle grip and how balanced they feel in the hand. We also take into account value for money, but ultimately it’s the quality of shave that matters most, with only those that offer a close, nick-free shave making the final cut.

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The best safety razors you can buy in 2023

1. Merkur 34C: Best safety razor for beginners

Price when reviewed: £49 | Check price at AmazonWith solid build quality and a closed-comb design that’s easy on your face, the Merkur 34C is a fabulous razor. It’s heavy without being unwieldy, the short handle makes it easy to get into tricky areas like under your jaw, and wide drain ports mean it doesn’t get clogged too badly and is easy to clean.

Our tester has been shaving with this model for years and it’s never let him down. You do have to go over the same area multiple times to get the shave super close, though, something that’s easier with an adjustable razor like the Merkur Futur or a more aggressive model such as the open comb Merkur 25C.

As such, those with particularly thick or dense stubble might appreciate a more gung-ho approach. However, as a way to get into the joys of safety-razor shaving, there is no razor better than the classic Merkur 34C. It’s a beautifully made thing and the perfect learner’s tool.

2. Edwin Jagger DE89L: Best-value safety razor

Price when reviewed: £24 | Check price at AmazonSheffield firm Edwin Jagger produces an impressive number of different safety razors, ranging from the simple, cheap DE89 tested here to fancier 3ONE6 models with anodised stainless steel handles.

This particular model is a classic double-edge safety razor. It comes in three parts – the head, baseplate and handle – and these all screw together to produce a razor that looks extremely smart for the money. We especially like the Edwin Jagger logos pressed into the inner surface of the head’s base plate. A lovely, neat touch.

As for the shave, the closed-comb head of the DE89 delivers a similar experience to the Mercur 34C. It’s comfortable and feels precise, but even with fresh blades you do need to go over an area a few times to get a really close shave.

Another thing to watch out for is that the area between the blade and the safety bar is prone to clogging. It’s a great razor for beginners, though, and even comes with a free Feather blade in the box.

3. Merkur Futur: Best overall shaver

Price when reviewed: £68 | Check price at Amazon The Merkur Futur is a razor for safety razor fans who appreciate the benefits of shaving with a double-edge blade but don’t get on with the retro styling of most models. Finished in anodised matte stainless steel and with the build quality we’ve come to expect from the German firm, this is truly the Rolls Royce of safety razors. It’s on the heavy side at 125g but this lends the Futur a luxurious feel. It’s as well made as safety razors get.

The Futur also has a number of useful extra features. To access and replace blades, the top pops off instead of unscrewing – simply lever one end off with your thumb. It’s also adjustable, allowing you to tweak the angle of the blade and the size of the gap between the razor’s edge and the safety bar below it. Just twist the bottom part of the handle.

We tested the Futur at its 1, 2 and 3 settings and, even at the lowest setting, the shave is a touch more aggressive (and, therefore, closer) than with beginner razors like the 34C and the Edwin Jagger DE89L. Settings 2, 3 and up get you an even closer shave, but require an assured and delicate touch if you don’t want to give yourself razor rash or cut yourself. And don’t go near the higher settings unless you have great technique and very steady hands.

All in all, though, the Futur is a superb razor that looks and feels wonderful to shave with. It’s a little expensive but once you’ve spent the money, you’re very unlikely to ever want to replace it.

4. Bluebeard’s Revenge Cutlass: Best for looks

Price when reviewed: £35 | Check price at AmazonBritish brand Bluebeard’s Revenge is more famous for its shaving accessories than its razors but it has been steadily expanding its range in recent times. It now sells two models of safety razor and a single-edge, cut-throat razor, plus its very own line of double-edge blades.

The latest addition is the Cutlass which, like its Scimitar razor, is finished in dark, polished grey and has the Bluebeard’s Revenge skull-and-crossbones logo engraved smartly on the head. As with most safety razors, the Cutlass comes in three parts: the handle, base plate and top plate. Blades are replaced by unscrewing the handle and taking all of this apart, then reassembling afterwards.

We had to fiddle with it a touch to get the blade to sit dead straight but once we had managed that, we had no problems at all with it. The razor has an average-length handle that’s slightly longer than the classic Merkur 34C but it feels lighter, which is likely due to its aluminium handle and zinc alloy head.

A heavier razor is preferable in a safety razor because it means sudden movements are less likely to result in cuts and nicks. Despite this, a slightly more aggressive head design means that with care and practised technique, it’s quicker and easier to achieve a close shave with the Cutlass than our regular Merkur 34C.

At a price of £35 it’s perhaps a little pricey for a razor with a lighter build, but that’s not to say it’s a bad choice. It delivers a precise, close shave, is comfortable to hold and looks great.

5. Merkur 25C: Best safety razor for a smooth shave

Price when reviewed: £26 | Check price at AmazonThe Merkur 25C is an open comb razor, which means that, instead of a safety bar that sits just below the blade edge, the razor has a series of teeth. This has the effect of channeling unruly bristles towards the blade and leaving more lather on your skin for a smoother, more comfortable shave.

Coupled with a long, slim handle that’s textured to provide plenty of grip, and Merkur’s usual top-notch build quality, the Merkur 25C makes a great choice for beginners and more experienced safety razor users alike. While it can’t quite give you as close a shave as the Merkur Futur, the 25C delivers a shave with about the same level of closeness as the classic 34C.

What you do have to watch out for, though, is getting carried away. Although the shave feels less aggressive than most, the risk of nicks is just as high, if not more so. Slow down, however, shave with care and you’ll be rewarded with one of the smoothest shaves from a double-edge safety razor anywhere.

6. Bluebeard’s Revenge Scimitar: Best cheap safety razor for long stubble

Price when reviewed: £35 | Check price at AmazonThe Scimitar is Bluebeard’s Revenge’s more basic safety razor. Like the Cutlass it’s reasonably priced and comes engraved with the firm’s skull and crossbones logo on the head and like that razor it’s also made up of three pieces: the handle, base plate and head. Finished all in chrome, it’s a smart-looking thing, plus it carries a lifetime warranty so, if you like the way it shaves, there’s no reason you should ever need to replace it.

In terms of the way it performs, the Scimitar sits just above razors like the classic Merkur 34c and the Edwin Jagger DE89 for aggressiveness and below the mid and high settings of adjustable razors such as the Merkur Futur. That’s due to a slightly wider gap between the blade and the safety bar. If you tend to grow your stubble a bit longer between shaves, you’ll find this cuts through more hair on a single pass as a result. The bigger gap also makes it easier to clean.

The flip side is that you’ll need to be that bit more careful with it to avoid nicks.

7. Lane 44 Reusable Razor: Best for ease of use

Price when reviewed: £16 | Check price at Lane 44The Lane 44 razor is marketed as a unisex razor (it’s available in rose gold as well as gunmetal grey and chrome) and the makers say it’s just as good at shaving your legs as it is your face. It’s certainly a well-made thing and it’s safer to use than standard safety razors as well since you don’t have to put your fingers near the blade when clamping everything in place.

Its quick-release butterfly mechanism makes replacing blades a snip. Simply twist the handle anti-clockwise and two “wings” open at the top. Remove the old blade and drop in a new one. Then twist the handle in the opposite direction and the wings close, securing the blade in place. It’s a lot less fiddly than most safety razors.

The downside is you’ll need to be careful to keep it clean or the pivots will clog with soap and hair. Despite that, the price is reasonable and there’s no hint of cutbacks in the finish or general build.

The dark gunmetal grey model we had on test looks extremely smart. It’s well-weighted, too, with a long handle and provides a close, precise shave; a touch more aggressive than our day-to-day Merkur 34C, perhaps. This means you have to be more careful to avoid cuts and nicks and be more meticulous in your skin preparation, but it’s overall a very fine razor.

Check price at Lane 44

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