YOU CAN’T BUY razors at CVS these days without enduring a certain indignity, in that you need to ask for help. So rife has shoplifting apparently become that the stores lock their shaving supplies in cabinets. You must press a big red button that might as well say, “I need an adult.” An employee eventually wanders over with a key, and you find yourself questioning why you’re going through all this for a flimsy, not-even-that-cheap piece of plastic.
After one such recent experience, I wondered, “Is it time to graduate from drugstore razors?” Department stores and trendy e-commerce sites sell handsome models by startups and luxury players that cost hundreds of dollars. Are these just nicely branded rip-offs—or might they hold the key to a better shave? Over several weeks I tested six manual razors ranging from $59 to $520, each lent by brands. My mission: To determine whether any justify their price tag.
High-end models can be divided into safety razors, which hold a single flat, double-edged blade, and ones with multi-blade cartridges where you swap out the whole head. I started with the latter. Many expensive models use generic Gillette cartridges, relying on special handles to distinguish themselves. Take Acqua di Parma’s Barbiere Yellow Shaving Razor ($435), a canary-hued beauty that found ways to impress beyond its standard blades. Its streamlined, made-in-Italy resin handle felt totally balanced, substantial but not heavy. I loved shaving with it. Not so the even-pricier Bolin Webb X1 Carbon Razor and Stand ($520). Despite its carbon-fiber paneling and newfangled magnetic stand, it felt awkwardly thin and uninspired in its futurism. This is a razor for people who are really into ChatGPT.
Onto the safety razors. Popularized in the early 1900s, these razors encase a disposable blade within an open-ended metal shell. That shell adds a barrier between blade and skin, in theory letting only hairs get through. Lately, these antique-looking tools, which can cost over $100 and supposedly provide a cleaner shave, have enjoyed a resurgence. “People started getting tired of over-engineered razors, and went back to the old way of shaving,” explained Leon Tarasenko, a proprietor of New York’s Pasteur Pharmacy, who says safety-razor sales have significantly increased over the past five years.
From unwrapping the blade (packaged in tight-wrapped paper, like adult bubble gum) to placing it in the razor head, a safety razor turns shaving into a ceremony, a hobby, a pursuit. And though these razors can require quite a cash outlay, their stainless-steel blades tend to cost far less than drugstore cartridges, so you save some money in the long run.
The Leaf Single Edge Razor ($59) immediately impressed. Its “open comb” design exposes more blade than usual, which means you need to be careful, but it delivers highly effective results. Though I found its flared handle annoying to hold, the razor was agreeably light and easy to maneuver.
By contrast, the top-heavy, stainless-steel Rockwell T2 ($250, or $270 with stand) was like wielding Thor’s hammer. That will appeal to some. But I found its adjustable settings that let you decide how much blade to expose a bigger draw. I used a 6 (the highest exposure) on my sideburns and a 3 on the trickier-to-navigate chin, with satisfying results.
The OneBlade Hybrid ($125) had me sitting on the fence. Its handle is marked with recessions that make it hard to grip. But, thanks to an ideal guard thickness, it felt super safe—I could shave quickly without fear of nicks.
Though most of the high-end razors I tried were a pleasure to use, not everyone will see their value. Some experts actually prefer cheap drugstore varieties. Thom Priano, a grooming legend and the co-founder of Miami haircare company R+Co, favors a Gillette Fusion, while Jordan Blackmore, groomer to stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, swears by a simple two-blade disposable, calling it nimble.
But for me, neither of those options come close to the Henson AL 13 ($70), the last safety razor I tried. Sleek and light, this ruthlessly efficient model rivaled Leaf’s in delivering the smoothest, most-consistent results—with minimal fuss. I’m afraid it has ruined drugstore razors for me forever.
A Lotta Dollars Shave Club
The six models our writer lathered up for
Source: The Wall Street Journal.