Zero Waste Shaving


To me, the scariest part of going zero waste was not shopping with bulk bags, composting, or asking for takeout in my own containers. It was switching to a safety razor (and menstrual cup, but more on that later). YouTube videos depicted long, seemingly complicated shave routines requiring brushes, creams, and balms. Forums spun gory tales of bloodthirsty blades wreaking havoc on delicate areas. Research yielded the unsatisfactory conclusion that reducing my environmental impact- according to the EPA, over two billion disposable razors end up in landfills each year- would require learning to shave all over again. 

I appear vaguely Asian in countenance, but I'm 50% my dad's indeterminate swirl of ethnicities physiognomically, so my hair is coarser and there's more of it than the average, considerably less hirsute Korean. Fifth grade was a watershed year; I shaved ever since, drying the plastic-encased blade after each use. Most blades lasted around twelve months. If I'd been more diligent, I could have used them even longer! Still, that's a lot of cartridges and shave gel containers in the trash. What once made me feel grown-up and sophisticated soon made me self-conscious, thanks to chicken legs and razor burn. Venus wasn't easy on the allowance, either (remember when Jewel sang that weird song for the Schick Intuition commercials?).

When my interest in zero waste grew, I resolved to use up the last cartridges and switch to a safety razor. I braced myself for a lifetime of 30° angles, anticipating a sharp increase in nicks and cuts. Reading online, it sounded like women were at a distinct disadvantage when it came to safety razors, like shorter handles made shaving difficult, nearly impossible. Here are some of the unfounded myths I encountered during research. Spoiler alert: The "myth" classification is based solely on my own overwhelmingly positive experiences with safety razor shaving.

mYTH:
you need multiple blades for a close shave
Multiple blades catch and pull hairs, causing irritation. Prone to clogging, disposable cartridges tend to miss spots, slicing stubble only partway. A single blade cuts cleanly without the extra passes required of multi-blade cartridges, resulting in less razor bumps, burn, or ingrown hairs. From what I've seen, the smoothness of a shave is inversely related to the number of blades- I shave half as often with a safety razor. Someone should tell Chrissy Teigen this. Apparently she shaves twice a day!
MYTH:
safety razor shaving is time-consuming and difficult
It's the same as disposable razor shaving, only way easier! I can't believe I wasted time reading guides on how to use safety razors when the differences are nominal. I hate the internet. Just lather up with a bar of soap- I don't even use a brush- and shave as usual, applying less pressure than with a disposable. I use the same olive oil or Aleppo soap we use in the shower, but some people use Dr. Bronner's, coconut soap, oatmeal soap, DIY shave creams... whatever. It's not complicated. 



MYTH:
safety razor shaving is expensive.
Only if you want it to be. My Merkur long-handled safety razor was $12 three years ago and I'm still on the first blade. I also bought a pack of Kai double edged blades for less than $0.60 per blade, since I didn't realize I could sharpen mine indefinitely (still on the hunt for a vintage sharpener). Doesn't a Venus razor cost like $14 at Target? Cartridges are twice as expensive, plus shave gel is $4 a can. Safety razor shaving may require more of an upfront investment, but maintenance costs are significantly lower, according to a 2009 American Laser Center study estimating the average woman spends $191.40 per year shaving. I spend about $5 a year.



MYTH:
safety razors are more dangerous.
I'm really clumsy- not in the faux-relatable Jennifer Lawrence way, but in the if-I-get-one-more-concussion-I'll-be-a-vegetable way- and it took months to nick myself with a safety razor. Even then, that was only because my cat jumped in the bathtub. The infrequent cuts I get are minor compared to the chunks accidentally carved out with disposables. The safety razor is also gentle on sensitive and delicate areas. 

In short, I experienced significant time and money savings, no learning curve, and a markedly smoother, longer-lasting shave after switching to a safety razor. Less shaving means less water used and less trash! We could argue that not shaving at all is more environmentally friendly, and hairlessness merely a normative cultural imperative. However, it's far too late for me. Not shaving makes me itchy. If you're looking to switch, please use up any disposables at home first. I recommend a long handled razor (you can even buy vintage) with a butterfly head for easy cleaning- adjustable models are available, though I don't miss that feature one bit. Dry the blade afterwards, storing in a drawer or medicine cabinet. Some recommend keeping the blade in oil to prevent oxidation. Moisturize as usual, apply deodorant, whatever you normally do. Prefer waxing? Click here for a zero waste Oriental sugaring tutorial.

Paris to Go

49 comments:

  1. Ever tried waxing ? You can make your own at home with sugar and hot water with some lemon. A little messy but it gets easier. Eventually, you may need to do less of it.

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    1. Hi Archana! I've sugar waxed before but it took so long and I hate waiting for my hair to grow long enough to wax :( the tutorial linked above is the method I started to follow, it was easy but just waiting for the growth was too much for me!

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  2. I have a Braun epilator. Try it if you can stand the pain.

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    1. Hi Heidi! I used to try my mom's epilator, it was smooth and the pain wasn't bad but after a few months I started getting weird hair growth patterns, scars, and ingrowns. My hair is really thick and coarse so maybe that's why? Eventually I'll probably get laser but for now shaving is so simple...

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  3. Safety razor for the win! I have a long handled Merkur bought new (was worried about properly sterilizing a pre-owned one) for only $15. I've been shaving legs, bikini area and under arms for 5 years. I use olive oil (or other liquid oil) instead of soap or shaving cream, which works well, keeps skin soft and supple and lubes the blade making it last longer. My only issue is that I'm a blade monster. I go through about 4 blades a year, I'm have quite heavy, thick coarse hair and my blades actually end up pitted, but I had this same problem with disposable blades too. Will need to look into sharpening the blades because I didn't know that was possible.

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    1. Yea I didn't realize it either, I have thick hair too so this will be a lifesaver! I love that you can use oil with a safety razor and not worry about the blade clogging like with a disposable. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  4. About a year ago, while traveling in Austria, I went into a knife shop and asked about safety razors. The guy could hardly believe a woman was looking to use one for herself, but after some thought, couldn't find any reason why a device that shaves the curves of a jaw and sensitive throat areas couldn't also be used on knees and around ankles.
    Since then, I've been extremely happy with it; and I'm still using the original blade; drying after use. I can only say, "hurrah" that there is something so simple and easy. The ironic thing is, my husband is afraid to use them. ^^ Personally, I think we've just been so brainwashed by marketing that sometimes getting over our mental thoughts about something is harder than actually doing it.
    All my best,
    j

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    1. I definitely think marketing has given us a phobia of safety razors and straight blades. Apparently bacteria breeds more profusely in disposable blades too! I read somewhere that the only reason people switched to disposables is because big companies realized they weren't making much money on safety razor shaving, and obsolescence increased profit margins. I think it was in the book The Waste Makers by Vance Packard.

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  5. Brilliant post and thank you so much for writing about safety razors. I really want to get one for my husband - he's forever trying to find affordable refills (they usually end up to be knock offs) and suffers from ingrown hairs - it takes a mere 6-12 hours for his facial fuzz to become a shadow after shaving. This is just the guide I needed!
    PS: I too have weird scars and hair growth patterns when using my epilator. I am looking to invest in laser eventually too; waxing does nothing for my coarse hair.

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    1. I had the exact same experience. My sister has much finer hair than me and encouraged me to try epilating. I only used it a short time and the scars and growth took several years to go away. I think it's because the hair is ripped out in every direction, as opposed to waxing, where the hair is ripped out only one way. I have success with threading and find it too time consuming for my schedule. So now my routine is threading my eyebrows only and shaving the rest. I've switched to coconut oil for shaving and will get a safety razor when my last disposable blade bites the dust in the next month or two.

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    2. Oh no! Your poor husband. I hope your scars go away too. Mine did, but it did take a few years also now that you mention it. One of my friends just switched to a safety razor after trying a few of those dollar shave clubs and finding them to be garbage. He is so happy now! And I like threading a lot but it's true, can't get in for an appointment all the time and for how much hair removal I need it's awfully pricey. Safety razor shaving and tweezing are just so convenient, although I love how clean my eyebrows look after a good threading... they really do get every little hair!

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  6. Great post! I totally agree, the fear is unfounded, and they're easy to use. I also think the heavier weight makes a safety razor steadier.

    Here's a tip: You don't necessarily need to sharpen a razor blade. Since hair is such a soft thing to cut through, it doesn't really nick the blade, and so rather than needing a true sharpening-- which is re-grinding the edge-- you can just hone the edge using a strop. I just use the back side of my leather belt. If you do it every few shaves, your razor blade will stay keen.

    I use an epilator, but I'm not sure what I'll do when I run out of the analgesic wipes it came with. That thing hurts!

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    1. That is a great tip! Thank you so much for sharing. Glad to have your personal experience, I read a few things online about leather straps and even using jeans to hone the edge but wasn't sure. I feel the same way about the weight- I find it easier to hold and control!

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  7. Hi Ariana.
    I hope you don't mind me jumping on this post to ask a non-shaving-related question. Can you recommend a good clothes brush? Most of the ones available here (UK) are the plastic/padded velour type.
    I love your blog and have taken many of your recommendations to heart.
    Many thanks, Annabel

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    1. you can check out the awesome traditional brushmaker Redecker.
      I saw they had great distribution in France, so probably you can find them in the UK as well!
      http://www.redecker.de/index.php/73.html

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    2. Hi Annabel! As she said, Redecker is awesome. The one I have is rubber and beech.
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Redecker-Large-Lint-Brush-18-5%C2%A0cm/dp/B00N7JTVOC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1453309766&sr=8-1&keywords=redecker+upholstery+brush

      If you wear a lot of dark clothes these are better, but they're not vegan:
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=redecker+clothes+brush

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    3. Thank you both so much for your help - Redecker it is then! Annabel

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  8. I've been thinking about switching over to this style of razor for a little while. The disposable ones really are junk, and the clogging between the blades is the biggest nightmare! Especially with the less expensive ones where the back of the razor is solid and it's nearly impossible to get the gunk out.

    I wish I had realized sooner that you were looking for a vintage razor sharpener. I actually saw a rotary version for sale in one of the general stores in Den Gamle By (The Old Town) in Aarhus, Denmark back in October! If you ever find yourself travelling through one of those touristy historic centres, check out the general store. If I go to Fort Edmonton Park this spring I'll look for you.

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    1. Yea I hated the clogging! I save so much time not having to rinse my razor so much. Thanks for the recommendation! I've seen a few at the flea markets here but I was unsure if I could clean them myself. I'm so slow to buy things anyway so no hurry :)

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  9. I got my husband to use switch to a safety razor a few years ago (this was after I got him to give up aerosol shave cream) and he hasn't looked back. It took me a while to make the switch to a safety razor - I always used soap so didn't have the aerosol problem. My mother was going to give me her old razor but couldn't find it. So instead of buying a new one, I found a vintage one on Ebay!

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    1. That is awesome Cherie! What made you give up the aerosol? So cool that you made the switch as a family!

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    2. Ariana - not only were the aerosol cans filled with chemicals, the empties went to landfill. Really didn't sit well with this green girl. :)

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  10. Thank you for the sugaring link Ariana - you're such a dear!!!
    I had never thought of the vintage razor, this article is so interesting.
    Also, for ingrown hair - does exfoliating works? either with a loofah or ground peach kernels / sugar / etc?

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    1. Maybe it does! Thanks for the tip! I haven't experienced ingrowns with waxing or safety razor shaving... only with epilator and disposable. I wonder why that is?

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  11. Thank you for this! I'm about to make the jump and this is really reassuring - plus, it helps me figure out which razor to go with. Cheers to zero waste shaving!

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    1. That is awesome! I hope you write a post about it.

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  12. Great post Ariana! I I recently began using a Merkur long handled, double edge razor and love it. It produces a much closer shave than the plastic razor I had used for years (and lost on a recent trip). The waste reduction alone is worth the investment in a quality razor. More women should consider this option ~ especially given the cost of replacement heads for plastic razors.

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    1. Thank you Ariel! Replacement heads are such a ripoff. So glad you like the Merkur too, what a great product, and so pretty too :)

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  13. I wanted to buy one of these a year ago but they were $119.00 CDN gasp! Just bought one now for $31.00 and true to your word it is terrific! Thank-you for lighting the fire that will guide us into a brighter future. Light the way my friend, light the way!

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    1. What! Why was the price so high?! Glad you found a much better deal and love it. Thank you for sharing!

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  14. Excellent post. I plan to "upgrade" to a safety razor once I use my stash of cartridges. I can give away or recycle my current razor.

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  15. Just a friendly PSA here: hold onto your old cartridge razors if you travel in the US! The TSA will absolutely confiscate the blade if you’re trying to take it in your carry-on luggage. If you travel with an empty razor, like I do when I fly to my parent’s house, (I keep stash of blades there as well) I recommend that you pull it out and send it through the x-ray loose in the tub. This will save you a ton of time digging through your suitcase to fish it out for them… I’ll even open it up ahead of time to show security that it’s empty.

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    1. I was always afraid of that, but this is the second time I was able to take my safety razor blade in a carryon! I definitely wouldn't recommend it of course. I hung onto my cartridges as long as I could specifically for that reason. For some reason I forgot to take the blade out and they haven't bothered me with it. I also keep my foundation, which is technically liquid, in my bag so I don't have to use a plastic one and they never say anything. I think it depends on the airport. Chicago I would never try it- they are so mean there!

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  16. Ha, I remember my first time using my safety razor... I was terrified of it, thinking it was like a straight razor or something. Took me like two times shaving with it to figure out, oh this is basically just like the disposable razors, except like 100x better because the blades are cheaper and the shave is closer.

    I should've made the switch years ago.

    Fred | TheWrightStache.com

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    1. Preach! I felt so gypped after I used it, realizing I bought into all the marketing ploys about how safety razors are more dangerous, etc. They're way better!!

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  17. Ariana,

    I bought my first safety razor after reading your post. I was inspired for a while, but never took the plunge til reading this.

    BUT... I just took two trips nearly back to back, and the TSA threw out my blade! So I couldn't shave while in my destination (for a week! ick!), then wasn't back long enough to order and have one delivered to my home, then onto the second trip as hairy as ever. I broke down and bought a disposable plastic razor and felt AWFUL, both from an environmental perspective, and because of point #1 above, other razors do a terrible job and give ingrown hairs!

    What's the suggestion for oft-travelers like me? Is there safety razor hope for us?

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    1. Oh no! I think it depends on where you're traveling. The past few times I've traveled to and from Cleveland they let me take my blade through but not all TSA will do that I know. Save the disposable plastic razor perhaps and just use that for trips? I travel only carryon too, and sugar waxed before and during one trip. It was very effective, but messy and time consuming.

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  18. Your hair sounds similar to mine, thick and there is a lot of it. I only shaved a few times in my life but got incredibly itchy few days after. Just let it grow out and you will be fine! I used to wax in the summer but stopped after having my first child, there are better things to spend time on than hair-removal! I now have an epilator that I use a few times a year when I have an important meeting or presentation, hair-removal makes me feel more polished, more corporate. But I hate doing it and after some four years of hair-removal detox, I much prefer being natural. Throughout my second pregnancy my instinct was telling me to stay away form any form or hair-removal, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

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    1. You are more courageous than me! I get very itchy if I don't shave. I love the feeling of smooth legs still. I notice it is growing a lot less now that I'm older so maybe I'll stop someday.

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  19. Ariana, your blog is a really helpful resource for things zerowaste in Europe. I have been reading it for a couple of weeks now but before deciding on a safety razor model I googled up some other blogs and forums. In the end I got to your post which, as always, is the most informative and detailed. Great job!
    It is interesting that double blades can cause irritations and ingrown hair. My legs were such a mess that I did a laser (cost me a lot of money and pain). Perhaps it could have been avoided with a single bade shave.
    So I am getting the same Merkur type that you got for other body parts. Perhaps my hubby will switch too...

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    1. Thank you so much! A lot of zero wasters recommend laser- would you recommend it, or is the money and pain not worth it? It seems like whenever I hear somebody get a Merkur the husband gets jealous and wants one too :) I hope you like it!

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    2. I think laser method depends on many factors such as laser type and the hair. I did some research before choosing a laser studio in Warsaw and three years after I did my problematic calves, I can spot just a few, thin hairs growing back, which I can rid off with a dull disposable.
      On a whole the money and pain was totally worth it. My hair is pretty fair but the laser handled it well and I feel a lot more freedom and confidence with smooth skin, even though it stays under jeans for most of the year in Poland :-)
      As for the pain, it was not so bad at all. So I recommend!

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  20. I have a couple of questions... Have you had to sharpen the razor since you bought it? I've also heard that to extend the life you can dip it in oil or lay the blade in a shallow dish of oil? I'm super nervous about switching, especially when it comes to underarm shaving. But is it really similar as shaving with a disposable or am I going to need to get used to a new angle etc?

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    1. Hi Tamlyn! Sorry I'm answering so late, I don't know how I missed this. I haven't had to sharpen the razor yet. I heard to keep it in oil too but haven't tried it yet. It is easier than shaving with a disposable and I didn't notice any learning curve, all I had to change was I didn't have to apply pressure at all. The blade cuts smoothly without having to press it down against the skin. It's especially good for underarm shaving- really, no cuts or nicks, and it irritates the underarm area a lot less than disposables do.

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  21. I thoroughly enjoy my safety razor as well! However, I wasn't quite so lucky the first few times I shaved. I nicked myself a few times. Sometimes I still do, but hardly at all anymore. It's a bit of a learning process, but it's completely worth it. As long as people go slow at first and always pay attention, it's the best choice for shaving.

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    1. I agree! It's so much smoother and once you get the hang of it easier than a disposable.

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  22. I get shave with a safety razor for last three years. Before this I used a five blades cartridge razor. But when I was getting shave with cartridge razor most of the time I felt razor burn. One day one of my friend advised me to use a safety razor. After this time I am using a safety razor and it provide me a closer and smoother shave all time. Shaving with safety razor

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