In search of a sustainable shave

ShaveIt feels worth noticing the parts of our lives that are set up to make some regular use of disposable items.  Whether it's plastic bottles of water, plastic bags at the grocery or styrofoam coffee cups, there are a lot of things we use once or only a few times and then throw away when we don't necessarily need to.

Recently I went looking for a more sustainable way to shave, so that I didn't have to throw away as many of those ridiculously expensive blade cartridges.

At some points in life I've used an electric razor, which had fewer parts that needed regular replacing.  I suppose you could try to make the case that a really well-engineered electric razor with a long-lasting battery could end up being lower resource usage than the manual razor with cartridges, but as electric razors got more crazy in their design ("buy this special gel-pack that only fits this one model of razor so it can automatically douse your face with soothing chemicals at just the right time!") it felt simpler - and, okay, a little more manly - to just drag a blade across my face by hand.

But my cheap side cringes every time I walk into a drug store and pay $22 for 10 blades.  My cynical, paranoid side fumes as I see the razor manufacturers invent new models of razor blades that require a different model of razor handle and cost even MORE to buy, while also suspecting that the production quality is only decreasing over time so that the blade cartridges don't last as long.

Shaving CreamAnd let's not forget the "disposable" animals that some razor and shaving cream manufacturers use to test their products on.  This is an issue that's gotten more attention over the years, but there are still companies that perform toxicity testing experiments on rabbits and other animals.  (I recently wrote a letter to Gillette's parent company Proctor & Gamble that in part asked them to make a more firm and permanent commitment not to test on animals.  I got a generic letter in response that said "Thanks for writing, Chris!  This is feedback I was hoping for...I can't wait to share it with my team!" - sigh.)  You can find more products on mainstream shelves these days with "no animal testing" labels, if you want.

But back to the razor itself.

I found GFD, a German company that makes a diamond-tipped tungsten carbide razor blade that is supposed to stay sharp 1,000 times longer than regular steel blades, so that's a great choice to use after you go for a swim in your large vat of gold coins.  (Okay, they're only $150-$200 per blade, but try getting that to mass market.)

I briefly contemplated not shaving at all, and then looked at some pictures of myself experimenting with growing out facial hair in college, and remembered why that is not going to work.

And then I found what has so far been a magical piece of information in my search for a more sustainable shave:

It turns out that the quality of the shave with a particular disposable cartridge isn't decreasing over time because the blade is getting roughed up by the shaving process itself - it's steel, it can probably handle itself okay against hair and skin.  Rather, it's when water sits on the blade after washing it that you start to see corrosion, causing tiny bits of the blade to flake off over time.  As you can imagine, when the bits that flake off are the blade edge, your shave suffers.

How do you prevent this corrosion?

Dry your blades really well after each use.  Some folks are using blow dryers, some folks just blot them with a towel.  I've been using the towel method for a few months and I have indeed seen incredibly extended life from the blades I'm using.  YAY!  Shaving is a little less dependent on disposable things now, and a little cheaper.

I was at a drugstore this week and looked at the packaging surrounding razor blades and handles being sold, and none of them have any instructions about preserving or extending the life of the blades.  Of course, they don't have instructions of any sort, so maybe this is one of those things that's supposed to be passed down from generation to generation.  (Or maybe razor manufacturers don't mind too much if customers buy blades more often than they might otherwise need to.)

I know most of you read this blog solely for my personal hygiene tips, so I hope you get some mileage out of that one.  Next time I'll cover how to make your own prescription contact lenses using plastic wrap, steel wool and duct tape.

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Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie is an entrepreneur, blogger, technology consultant and community builder living in Richmond, Indiana.

5 thoughts on “In search of a sustainable shave”

  1. are really serious when it comes to shaving.. What's next...a discussion over types of toilet tissue? Actually that would be a good topic I think that single ply trend is the biggest scam ever. Same amount of paper and the toilet paper companies charge twice as much.

  2. I'm one year late to the party but this is a topic I'm interested in. I, too, wonder about the straight razor. That must take a bit of maintenance to keep sharp however (alas, all our sustainable activities take more time. Sigh.) I'm also wondering about SHAVING CREAM. If you think about it, the amount of shaving cream that heads out of all shaving cream production lines on a given day is how much goes down the drain every day. Ugh.

  3. Just read your comments. I've been vegan for 26 years and been shaving with a straight razor about about five of those years. One thing that made it easier is that a strop can be made out of leather, naughahyde, or even balsa wood. Yes, you can make your own strop. You will also need to invest in a stone. can help you with choosing a razor and I can help you with a strop. There is one guy on the net who makes vegan strops. They are lovely but he has a nice markup from when I purchased mine. This is because there weren't enough vegans purchasing and the cost of materials went up slightly too. They are very nice strops but they're more like travel strops. In other words, they're not the same length as a standard strop.

    Anyway, do ask the folks at classic shaving what they would recommend. I believe I started with a 5/8". I have around six new straight razors and about twenty vintage ones I purchased on ebay. I've yet to use any of the vintage. Also, there are some really nice vegan shaving brushes too. You can even search for a review of synthetic shaving brushes and it will give you and idea of what to look for.

    Finally, I don't use shaving cream. I bought a couple of shaving soap bars and I have a couple of nice recipes so I will make my own shaving soap in the future. How's this for the ultimate green guy? Did I mention I only use fountain pens and refillable rollerball pens. No ballpoints. So, I never have a pen to throw away and no ink cartridges in the trash. Also, no shaving cans go in the garbage.

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