Start looking for any razor beyond a cheap disposable you’ll notice that there are a lot of options when it comes to blades.
In fact, finding a safety razor without multiple blades is near impossible. At a minimum, you’ll find three-blade cartridges, but even those seem to be replaced by razors with even more blades. Today, five blades seems to be the standard, with some razors going all the way up to seven(!) blades.
The satirical newspaper The Onion predicted this years ago, with its classic article.
Given that the number of blades in a razor has been a joke for years, are more blades just a marketing gimmick designed to beat the competition and get more money? Or is there a real reason that more blades can provide a better shave?
Why More Blades Are Supposed to Provide a Better Shave
The increase in the number of blades on today’s razors is rooted in some sound theory. According to Gillette, there are multiple reasons that more razors is beneficial.
The first reason has to do with the closeness of the shave. With more blades, razors are built to cut hair closer to the skin.
Take a feel of your stubble and you can feel that facial hair is thick and tough. It takes a sharp razor to cut, especially if you want to minimize the pulling that can come with shaving.
With multiple blades, the razor is designed to cut with the leading blade on the stroke. But when the first blade cuts the hair, it also slightly pulls that hair from the skin. The trick is to pull slightly, but not enough to cause discomfort.
The following blades are then designed to follow closely and repeat the process. So the first blade pulls and cuts, but before the hair returns to the skin, the second razor cuts it even shorter as the first blade has pull the hair farther from the skin.
Subsequent blades repeat the process, cutting hair continually shorter.
Second, multiple blades are designed to provide you with a smoother shave that has fewer nicks and cuts, making it more comfortable. That’s because more blades keeps your skin more taught.
Imagine yourself standing on a gym mat. Look down and you can see your feet pushed into the mat, creating a bulge in the middle. It’s the same principal when shaving.
We all know that the flatter a surface is, the easier it is to shave. It’s much easier to shave along your cheek and in front of your ear than it is to shave your chin. As you put the razor to your face, the blades and the head put pressure on your skin, just like if you were to stand on a gym mat.
With more blades (and a larger head) that pressure is distributed to more points, flattening out the skin and making it easier to shave with fewer knicks and cuts.
How Does Theory Translate to Real World?
While the theory behind more blades sounds reasonable, how does it actually hold up with your daily shave? Is there a noticeable difference in comfort and closeness of your shave with more blades?
For most people, there will be a difference with more blades, but the gain from each additional blade is less noticeable.
So if you were to shave with a single blade razor and then to switch to a three-bladed razor like the Gillette Mach 3, then the difference would be noticeable. There’s a reason that the Mach 3 was first introduced more than 20 years ago and is still popular today.
From there, you might still notice a difference as you increase blades, say from three blades to five blades, but the gain in comfort and closeness will be much less drastic. So if you are already happy using a three-bladed razor, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be blown away from one with five blades.
Beyond five blades, there is going to be little or no difference noticed from adding additional blades. So a razor with six or seven blades like the Dorco Pace 6 Pro may provide a marginally better shave, but we doubt most people will notice the difference. In our tests, we certainly don’t find the results to be much different than using a razor with fewer blades.
Bottom line: Having more blades on a cartridge head actually does result in a better shave, but the difference is noticeable only up to a point. Beyond five blades, you likely won’t be able to notice any difference in your shave.