There really is nothing like a close shave. Even better, there is nothing like a plastic free close shave. Let's go on a journey back in time to that first shave.
It was the summer before 6th grade, and I decided I was old enough to shave and asked my mom, "Can I shave my legs?" "Ok," she said. No fanfare, no life lesson. Just, "ok." Perfect! I sprinted up the stairs, found my 15-year-old sister's red electric razor, and shaved my peach fuzz legs (side note - this is one of the many benefits of having an older sister. Life's awkward parent conversations are greatly reduced - first shave and first period both came and went with very little discussion). Oh how I reveled in the resulting stubble. I was a pretty sophisticated 10 year old going to the pool that day. I told my BFF Susan I shaved my legs. She obviously didn't believe me until I let her feel my stubble, since we had not previously discussed the plan to shave. In no time, Susan was shaving, too, and we had transitioned to plastic bic lady razors bought in 8 packs. By September, our legs were regularly smooth, we had training bras, and we were ready to take middle school by storm.
The routine didn't change all that much over the course of 20-some years. I did the math: If I used 2 plastic razors per month since the time I was 10 until a few years back, I contributed 480 razors to the landfill. 480! Plus the plastic wrapping it came in and the cans of shaving gel that I purchased when I had my act together enough to buy shaving gel. I have harbored some guilt about the razors for a while, but I was slow to make a change. I transitioned about 6 years back to a simple razor handle with replaceable heads. It was a good option, but I started getting interested in a true zero waste option. As you may know, my favorite zero waste replacements are those that really don't interfere with the integrity of the chore in question and that cost no more, maybe even less, than the disposable version.
I researched safety razors for a couple of months before I bit the bullet and made the switch. I had heard of safety razors, but really wasn't sure what a safety razor was until I saw a picture of one close up. Flashback to watching my dad shave with a safety razor when I was a child, before Bic and Mach 3 commercials convinced us that the old, inexpensive way was inferior to the new way that requires recurring purchases. After watching YouTube videos and scouring the internet for blog posts of other women and men using safety razors, the change just made sense. I am now here to tell you - ignore the people who talk about being nervous to try a safety razor. The switch was so easy and not at all nerve-wracking.
The Case for Safety Razors
- You will spend WAY less on shaving. This Viking razor I have costs between $35 and $45 from Amazon and is a one time expense. If you want to purchase from an online shop that is conscious of packaging, purchase here. I didn't think to do this at the time. And if you need an even more convenient suburban option - Target now carries a safety razor for $50. If you buy the fancier plastic razors, you are probably spending that much every few months. Plus a package of 100 paper wrapped blades for $10, and I am shaving for at least 2 years without purchasing a blade.
- It is easy - for men and women. My husband is not always an eager adopter of hippy changes, but he has been happy with his safety razor and does not quietly purchase plastic razors (the way he sometimes buys paper towels). That should tell you something. The Viking razor is easy to change and is all one piece. When you turn the bottom, the top opens up to allow you to change the blade. Note: We can talk later about the sexist nature of razor marketing. All of these razors are marketed toward men.
- Fewer ingrown hairs. Maybe this is too personal, but I'm talking about shaving, which is already pretty personal. Shaving with a multi blade disposable almost always ended in skin irritation and ingrown hairs for me. I had no idea that shaving with a single blade would mean way less irritation. Apparently that's a thing!!!! Who knew? Big change.
- There is really so little waste. Paper wraps each individual blade. The blades themselves can be put into a slit cut into an aluminum can, kept in a jar, or in a blade bank. When you have stored up a bunch, check with your local recycling authority to see if you can drop them off or send them to Albatross in California to be recycled. There is a link at the end of this post.
Lubricate your Shave
I dropped shave gel and shaving cream forever ago, because I usually forgot to buy it at the store. Hair conditioner worked just as well and was more convenient. It's a whole other post, but I've been working on de-bottling my bathroom, so no more bottled conditioner. I have had positive results with a conditioner bar and with a good soap lather for shaving. The conditioner bar came from The Solid Bar Company - delivered with minimal packaging and no plastic. Yay! I love the conditioner for hair, by the way. Here is a link. I also use Dr. Bronner's bar soap for which lathers well and provides a surprisingly good shave. It is packaged in paper only and is available in lots of mainstream grocery stores.
When you start out, go slow and with shorter strokes. No need to press at all the way you may have with a disposable. The blade is slightly more exposed on a safety razor than it is on a disposable razor, so, if you go in with too much gusto, you will wind up with some cuts. Just chill a little, ok?
Last tip, rinse your razor well and dry after each use. Do NOT store it in the shower. Oxidation is what causes blades to dull, so keeping them dry is important. Your blades can last a pretty long while if you do this.
Thoughts on Children and Safety Razors
I have a child who is alarmingly close to an age where she may ask to start shaving. Will I buy her a safety razor? Definitely not. You may accuse me of being overly protective, but I don't feel comfortable putting loose blades into the hands of an unsupervised child or adolescent. It might be my line of work working with kids and adolescents in a mental health capacity, but I am nervous about self harm and suicide. Sorry for the nasty turn this post just took! The truth of the matter is, sweet, well adjusted kids sometimes turn to self harm during hard times, especially when they have an easy means. Safety comes before zero waste. I'm all about balance, and this is a compromise of zero waste with which I am comfortable.
When the time comes that my kids are ready to start shaving, I will either go for an electric razor (which, by some accounts, are even more green than safety razors and hopefully provide a better shave than they did in the 90's) or we will use a service like Dollar Shave Club. This is what Joe and I were using pre-safety razor, and it was pretty low waste and inexpensive for a disposable option. The humble twin razor head was very small and clipped onto a re-usable handle. The packaging was a small cardboard box (compost or recycle) with the exception of a small plastic tray to hold the razor heads. Not perfect, but better than a full disposable razor.
Do NOT toss used blades in the trash or recycling. That would be unsafe for you, your kids, your pets, and your trash people. Put them in a jar or use the can method mentioned earlier to dispose of or recycle later. As I mentioned, there are some recycling centers that will allow you to drop off razor blades. If that fails in your area, Albatross will take them and recycle them. Here is a link to the address.