As a brief walk down the shaving aisle at your local drugstore will show, shaving is a big business. Three relatively simple ingredients -- razors, shaving cream and aftershave -- have spawned hundreds of different brands, many of which have rabid followers who swear by their favorites. Faced with the astounding array of choices, how can you find reasonably-priced products that will give you a good shave?
In this week's Savings Experiment, we look at some of the best -- and worst -- shaving options in order to help you find the products that are perfect for your face and your wallet.
Shaving Cream: A Foamy Dilemma
Shaving cream prices vary wildly, from inexpensive foam brands like Barbasol, which costs $1.59 per can, to old-fashioned badger shaving brushes and shaving soap, which start at $35. One popular option is a shaving gel, like Edge, which costs $4.29 per can, but will go a lot further than a can of foamy shaving cream.
Ultimately, the best shaving cream is very much a matter of personal preference; some, for example, find that gels can dry out skin or that shaving brushes can be too time consuming. For many men (myself included), inexpensive, foamy shaving creams like Barbasol or Colgate offer a good, close shave at a reasonable price.
Razors: Trimming Your Beard and Your Expenses
When it comes to razors, the biggest price concerns are brand name and the number of blades. The market leader is Gillette, whose Mach III, introduced in 1998, set off a blade arms race. Since then, other companies -- including second-place contender Schick -- have tried to keep pace, offering razor models that are very similar to Gillette's.
There's mixed opinion about how the number of blades affect performance. Personally, I've found that, the more blades, the smoother the shave. Unfortunately, as manufacturers pile more and more blades onto their razors, the cartridge heads get bigger and more unwieldy, and often can't get to the hard-to-reach places. At the same time, the extra blades also raise the price. To fix the huge-cartridge/tight-spot problem, Gillette and Schick put a trimmer blade on many of their four- and five-blade models, combining the smooth shave of a multi-blade razor with the precision of smaller cartridge heads.
As the most popular razor manufacturer, Gillette is also the most expensive. A pack of eight replacement Mach III cartridges cost $16.99, or $2.12 each. The next step up, Gillette's Fusion razor, has five blades and a trimmer, but eight replacement cartridges run a whopping $24, or $3 per cartridge.
Schick is a lot cheaper, with an eight-pack of Schick Extreme 3 blades -- a model that is roughly comparable to the Mach III -- costing $12.49, or $1.56 apiece. A four pack of Schick Hydro 5 Blades -- a model that is comparable to the Fusion -- costs $10.99, or $2.75 each.
Personally, I've found that the Schick Quattro Titanium, a four-blade razor with a trimming blade, gives a great shave at a reasonable price. An eight-pack of cartridges costs $18.99, which works out to $2.37 apiece, a price that makes them just a little bit more expensive than the Mach III. For the extra 25 cents per cartridge, I've gotten a razor that is easy to use, gives me a close shave, and is kinder to my skin than the Mach III. On the other hand, if I was desperately trying to save money, the Extreme 3, at only $1.56 per blade, is a great deal, and costs 26% less than the comparable Mach III.
Whichever brand you choose, replaceable cartridges are the way to go. A three-pack of disposable Mach III razors cost $8.59, or $2.86 each. On the other hand, a reusable razor and an eight-pack of cartridges work out to $26.98, or $2.69 per razor (the razor comes with two cartridges). The per-cartridge price continues to drop the longer you use your razor and cartridges.
Aftershave: Taking the Sting Out of Your Face (and Your Wallet)
No matter which razor and shaving cream you use, your shave will likely end with at least a few nicks and cuts. While most of these cuts are microscopic, they can still lead to unsightly and painful bumps and ingrown hairs. To protect against these problems, aftershave is designed to close your pores, disinfect your face and generally refresh your skin.
Most aftershaves are alcohol-based. Depending upon your brand, prices range wildly. Brut, which is on the lower end of the spectrum, costs $5.99 for 5 ounces; on the pricier end, 3.3 ounces of Burberry for men aftershave will cost you $45.
Alcohol-based aftershaves disinfect all the little cuts on your face and their astringent effects will close off your pores, which should prevent most bumps. Unfortunately, they also strip your skin's natural oils, which can dry out your face. Worse yet, as anyone who has ever poured alcohol into an open wound can attest, it's not a pleasant experience.
Cream or gel-based aftershaves generally don't contain alcohol, which makes them a lot more soothing. Depending on the brand, they usually contain an astringent, an antiseptic and a mild scent. Unfortunately, they can also be a bit pricey: some, like Barbasol, cost as little as $3.29 for 3.4 ounces, while others can cost $10 or more.
If you're trying to save money but don't want to burn your skin with alcohol, witch hazel is a good, inexpensive option. Drugstore brands generally cost less than $4 for 16 ounces, and even pricier options like Thayer's (which mixes in essential oils to offer a slight scent) cost only $8 for 12 ounces, putting them below even the cheapest alcohol and cream aftershaves. Like alcohol-based aftershaves, witch hazel is an astringent, which means that it will close pores and disinfect cuts. Unlike alcohol, however, it won't dry out skin or cause pain. However, as many companies mix witch hazel with alcohol, it's important to be sure that your witch hazel is alcohol-free to avoid the stinging and dry skin.
As with any other aspect of hygiene, shaving choices are very personal, and many of us are willing to pay a little extra for razors, shaving creams and aftershaves that we especially love. But if you're getting tired of your old shaving products and are looking for something new, try some of the cheaper brands you have been avoiding. Your face might not notice the difference, but your wallet definitely will.