Do it like a dude: shaving gets a sustainable makeover in this ultimate guide
25th Sep 2020
You bought the mooncup, the bamboo toothbrush, the deodorant refills. Now shaving gets a sustainable makeover
Paradoxically, binning a plastic refillable razor that won’t compose for several centuries might seem to defeat the purpose of going green. However, offset that against a lifetime of disposable cartridges and it’s a no-brainer.
It was estimated in 2018 that more than five million people in the UK were using disposable razors, while data from the US suggests two billion per year. Irish stats remain to be seen, but rest assured we’re not sloppy on the mindless landfill front either.
Most consumers are using refillable razors nowadays, ie ones with disposable heads, but they too are mixed-materials products – plastic, metal, lubricating strips – and also destined for the dumpster. This seems unacceptable in an age where we question plastic straws and tampon applicators, and diligently separate our food and paper waste. That we can be so flippant about vanity products is astonishing.
Chrome or wooden handles are infinitely more attractive than the infantilising pearlescent-pink, plastic abominations women have put up with for years
And so next on my sustainable bathroom list, after succumbing to period pants, refillable toothbrush heads and bars of soap instead of liquid, was the double edged (DE) safety razor. Popularised in the early 1900s by American businessman King Camp Gillette, of long-posthumous Mach 3 fame, this hair removing weapon has seen a revival among environmentalists and vintage fans, for their commonly chrome or wooden handles that are infinitely more attractive than the infantilising pearlescent-pink, plastic abominations women have put up with for years.
For regular leg shaving you’ll want a closed comb DE safety razor, the inbuilt safety bars keeping the skin more taut than its open comb counterpart, which is better for thick or long beards. My guess is that you have neither a thick or long beard on your legs – so closed comb it is.
Plucking the courage
Of course, safety razors are, well, razor sharp, which meant it took me several days to pluck up the courage to give it a go. Traditional shaving is not to be rushed. It requires time and space, which depending on your living circumstances, might mean locking your partner or housemate out of the bathroom for a good while. It’s just not as convenient as using a cartridge razor in the shower, so if you’re in a rush, forget about it, unless you want nicked legs.
I even watched leg-shaving tutorials online, as I was unsure about going against or with the grain, eg a downwards or upwards direction to the hair growth, and if there was a recommended way of holding it (there is: at an angle between 35 and 45 degrees to your leg). The mystery would only be truly dispelled when I tried it so when my regrowth got to yeti proportions, I bit the bullet. And if I scaredy-cat me can do it without a scratch or – my personal favourite – ingrown hair, so can you.
First up, prep skin with a hot bath or shower, and gently exfoliate skin with a scrub or muslin cloth. This will help open pores, raise the hairs and remove any dead skin cells. In fact, one of the primary causes of ingrown hairs and bumps is the blade pushing dead skills down into the open pores – disposable cartridges being the worst culprit, their multiple blades dragging over the same area.
Tilt the razor at around 45 degrees and let the head gently let it glide over small sections following the direction of hair growth, aka with the grain
Afterwards, sit somewhere stable in the bathroom and build up a lather of your shaving soap with the already-warm and wet brush in its bowl before applying to a damp leg in circular motions. This’ll “grab” and visibly identify the hairs, making them easy to remove.
You could lather one leg in one go, however I prefer to do it in strips so it doesn’t dry out (it’s also less messy). Tilt the razor at around 45 degrees and let the head gently let it glide over small sections following the direction of hair growth, aka with the grain. Don’t apply pressure – let gravity and the weight of the handle do most of the work for you – and avoid making long strokes down the length of your leg, as you’ll more likely cut yourself.
Rinse the razor in clean water after each stroke and top up the soap or cream if you need to do “a double pass”, otherwise known as “going over the area twice”. For the closest shave, you’ll want to then go against the grain on the second pass (some even go against the hair growth from the outset; whatever works for you). This may not suit those with sensitive skin, so if you’re unsure, do a test area first and see how your skin reacts later.
Blades of glory
I’m prone to pesky ingrown hairs and razor bumps so am pleased to report I’ve not had one dot of irritation by going against the grain on a double pass, which cannot be said for my disposable razors Victorious! Clearly the enhanced hygiene benefits of a single blade, coupled with a mindful, considered technique, is why the results are instantly noticeable. I’m also finding the regrowth to be much less thick and stubbly, too.
It’s nothing to do with results, but one drawback to safety razors is that you can’t carry blades in your hand luggage when taking a flight. So if you don’t want the hassle of seeking out refills at your destination – which almost always come in multipacks than as single blades – you might want to consider keeping that old Gilette Venus in your washbag, for when air travel one day resumes (sob).
So now you know how to shave with a safety razor. Now you’ll need the kit.
The Safety Razor
The market is awash with different designs of DE safety razors, so which one you choose will ultimately depend on personal aesthetic, although you will need one with a textured handle, to enable a steadfast grip.
I’m a sucker for sleek Art Deco design, so my weapon of mass depilation was the Edwin Jagger DE89 Chrome Lined DE Safety Razor … and then I discovered Bearradh, an Irish safety razor brand aimed exclusively at women.
They kindly sent me a jaunty matte green sample (other colours include lilac, powder blue and a new rose gold), and I’ve preferred its longer length and slightly heavier weight to the Edwin Jagger. But if you’ve nothing to compare it to – since owning more than one safety razor kind of defeats the object of consuming less – you’ll soon learn a technique that works for you.
To clean the safety razor after a shave, run it under the tap, wipe the head with a clean cloth – avoiding the blades, obviously, unless you want a slashed flannel – and let it air dry somewhere safe, where it won’t fall or be grabbed by children. If you look after your safety razor, it’ll look after you, and last a lifetime in the process.
Similarly, never, ever leave your razor in the shower, safety or otherwise. Frequently wet blades can harbour bacteria, invite rust and also accelerate their bluntness, none of which are aspirational. It’ll also damage your beloved chrome or wooden handle.
PS You couldn’t pay me to shave my own bikini line with, well, any razor to be honest. The perfect mons pubis is stubble and itch-free, and as far away from sharp objects as possible. But that’s just me.
Most safety razors will come with a token blade or two, which are commonly sold in multi, or bumper, packs priced upwards of a few quid, which makes them considerably cheaper than cartridge refills.
I’ve not had chance yet to compare many brands, but Astra is my frontrunner so far, with Feather recommended by a stubble-free male friend.
How often you change your blade will depend on how often you shave your legs and also the coarseness of regrowth. The general rule of thumb by dermatologists, though, is to change it every five to seven shaves. Only you will know when the blade is less effective or not, and when to swap in a replacement.
Razor blade recycling is an area more grey than a five o’clock shadow, however I did manage to find clarity at MyWaste’s website, which states: “the used blade can be placed in your recycle bin – it will be picked up by magnets in the sorting facility.”
Obviously you’ll need to store said blades very carefully so as not to injure anyone else: I’m storing my used ones in an empty tin that’s also recyclable.
I’m not a monster so only a synthetic-bristled brush will do. Many are made from badger or boar hair, which some barbershop aficionados will argue are superior. However if the idea of factory-farmed badgers or boar, whose pelts are deemed more valuable than their welfare, then by all means, sell your soul to Satan and buy a natural one to tick the retro-hipster box. For the rest of us, synthetic absolutely does the job.
The shaving soap
Step away from the aerosol foam or shower gel. You’re going to need something a bit more lubricious to limit the risk of a nick.
Moreover, Castlebar-based natural brand De Facto claims that if just 1,000 Irish people swapped shaving foam for an oil, some 500,000 non-recyclable aerosols will be diverted from landfill over a lifetime, which has to be worth making the switch. A little oil goes a long way, also, which makes it an economical choice.
Natural soap refills are also an eco- and skin-friendly option, such as Clarke’s of Dublin (they also retail a beautiful Irish ash bowl, hand-crafted in Sligo by award winning wood turner Matt Jones), while among the best Irish shaving creams are by Marram Co, which are as heaven-scented as they are exquisitely designed – and check out its colourful Pop travel kit while you’re at it, which includes a collapsible bowl, brush, cream and carry case.
My soap bowl right now is a, er, mortar from the kitchen. But fancier folk with more room on their bathroom shelf might prefer something purpose-made.
Moisturising after shaving is a necessity, whether you used a disposable or a safety razor. Use what you normally use to rehydrate those freshly shorn pins.
I’m a long-term fan of The Well at Cliff Comforting Body Oil (rose, lavender, oak moss), VOYA Mindful Dreams (lavender, rosemary) and Yogandha Detox (lemograss, juniper), any of which I’ll happily slick myself up with after every shower and/or shave. When it comes to high quality oils, a little goes a huge way, justifying the often lofty price tag. However there are plenty of well priced baby products out there for similar results.
You’ll save money, reduce your waste and have flawless legs. What’s not to love?
Depending on your time management skills, the act of traditional shaving might be one rigmarole too far. For instance, busy mums rarely have the luxury of locking the bathroom door behind them for a moment’s peace – which is where supportive partners come in, if they aren’t already enabling the ritual simplicity of a hot bath (and if not, why not?). Throw in a mindful hair-removal session at the end of a long soak and it’s entirely achievable.
And to those happily hirsute readers raising their fist at this story and shouting ‘Feck the patrirachy!’, all power to you
I’m new to traditional shaving, so taking an unfeasibly long time, not that I’ve ever bothered to set the stopwatch, since it’s irrelevant: I’d sooner shave mindfully than do a rush job and have the cuts to prove it. But with practise and confidence, I expect to move a bit faster.
And to those happily hirsute readers raising their fist at this story and shouting ‘Feck the patrirachy!’, all power to you. I absolutely agree that women shaving their body hair is a centuries-old, feminine-ideal tyranny perpetuated primarily by men, then the mass beauty industry. However, once you’ve felt the delicious sensation of rubbing two silken legs together, it’s very difficult to go back to having Hobbit shanks. Freedom of choice is a pillar of feminism, and thank goodness we have more than ever when it comes to self-grooming. To shave or not to shave, that is the question. But if you are going to do it, do try and make it as sustainable as possible.
Read more: Here’s our ULTIMATE guide to sustainable period products (that really work)
Read more: Clothes-swapping app Nuw provides the perfect sustainable fashion platform
Read more: 8 waste-free self-care products to swap into your beauty routine
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